Just like more than a quarter of the internet, we use WordPress to develop a good chunk of our sites. As a platform, it's hard to beat – and it gets even better once you delve into the massive range of plugins available in the WordPress community.
What's a plugin, anyway?
WordPress is a piece of software used to create websites – but despite the huge amounts of changes it's seen over 14 years since it first launched, it's still pretty bare-bones out of the box. In order to keep up with design and development best practice, you do need to do quite a lot to it. Fortunately, there's plenty of additional software that you can bolt on to WordPress's foundations to add a whole range of extra features. These are called plugins.
Our developers do most of this themselves, completely bespoke to our clients' specifications – but we do use a number of well-established plugins as building blocks to give ourselves a little bit of a head start. We'd recommend these to just about anyone looking to build their own site – but just be aware that some will need plenty of extra input in order to get them exactly the way you want them.
Our very favourite plugins
As well as coding features from scratch, we use plenty of plugins across our sites – these three typically make it into just about everything we build at some stage.
For security: All in One WP Security and Firewall
WordPress is a very secure platform, and it can absolutely be trusted to keep your data safe. However, with new online threats popping up literally by the day, it's best practice to take a few extra steps in the name of security.
All in One adds a firewall and extra security features to a WordPress site, keeping things extra secure – it's also an incredibly effective timesaving device in the long-run as it checks for vulnerabilities to keep a site up-to-date with the latest WordPress security practices.
This is a big help for many of our clients who manage their sites themselves – keeping on top of security updates can easily take a back seat when you've got plenty of other stuff going on, so it's really useful to have that automated.
All in One will also show you vulnerabilities and let you change settings through a really easy-to-use interface while taking care of everything behind the scenes. The full list of things it does to keep you secure is far too long to go into here, so go have a look for yourself if you'd like to know more. It's free, too!
For data capture: Gravity Forms
Capturing visitor data is an essential part of inbound marketing – not just the things you can track through Analytics either. Getting users to volunteer a bit more information about themselves is really important, and having easy-to-use forms is the most straightforward way to use it.
We're big fans of Gravity Forms – it creates contact forms that work exactly how you want them to most of the time straight out of the box, and it's simple for our devs to tweak it when we need to meet a specific requirement rather than building something from scratch every single time.
Gravity Forms isn't free, but it's a worthwhile purchase for any site that needs to add contact forms, sign-up pages, schedules, pricing fields and loads more into a site. Again, it's a very helpful addition for our clients who manage their site after we're done building it – you can build a form and add it to your site really easily. Have a peek for yourself.
For SEO: Yoast
Search engine optimisation (SEO) happens at every stage of a website build – from the page structure, to the content, and to any marketing activity that takes place afterwards. Yoast helps you to keep track of it across the board.
Yoast is incredibly useful for setting canonical URLs, optimising keywords and image tags, editing meta titles and descriptions, and sorting out no end of technical SEO bits and pieces in the background. It's also incredibly useful for seeing how your site will be displayed in search results and on social media, with very straightforward options to tweak things until they're just right.
It also offers a readability check, to make sure your content is as digestible as possible, but our content writer hates this feature with the fire of a thousand suns to be perfectly honest with you. Either way, have a look for yourself.
Beware the plugin bloat
Plugins won't solve all of your problems, as much as we might wish they do. And a common trap that people fall into when building and maintaining a website is to just add a plugin to solve every problem, or to add cool and flashy little features.
Our advice is usually: take a light touch when it comes to plugins. Not only does updating them all to ensure there are no security vulnerabilities start to take longer and longer the more you have, more plugins will also mean your site can take a lot longer to load. Too many plugins can really make a site slow and bloated if you're not careful.
Finally, plugins won't always solve every problem exactly the way you want them to – you might find plenty of solutions that come frustratingly close but just fall a little short. That's when it really does make a difference to have a top-notch, fun-loving, good-looking web developer on hand to help you out.