WordPress plugins are one of the most powerful features of WordPress. With just a few clicks you can snag bits of code to add extra functionality to your website. By that same token it can be overwhelming trying to find the right plugin for your needs. For example, you would think that a contact form plugin would be fairly standardized. But form plugins vary from too simple, leaving you with no option to customize their look to match your website, to very complex with more features than you need and a slow loading time.
Below you will find a list of my go to WordPress plugins for common features small businesses need in a website. If you don’t see the feature you need for your website hit me up on Twitter @cbgraphicsatl. I’m always looking for new tools to add to my belt, and would love to help you find your perfect plugin match.
Plugin Website: ninjaforms.com
In WordPress Directory: wordpress.org/plugins/ninja-forms
This is a freemium plugin, meaning that the base product is free, but you will have to pay to get extra features. The basic product (which is about to get a pretty sweet drag and drop upgrade) lets you build forms with text fields, radio buttons, drop down menus, wysiwyg editors, email fields, and spam protection. Ninja Forms also sells extensions for everything under the sun: document uploads, integration with other apps, accept payments, logic conditional formatting, and more. Even better, it is fairly good at picking up on the style of your website, so you don’t need to make it pretty because it already is pretty out of the box.
I have found that some people get tripped up on some of the settings. I HIGHLY recommend that you go in and look at the other tabs after you build the form. You have to manually configure what actions happen after the form is completed, like: does it get emailed to you, does it get emailed to the person who filled it out, do they get a success message, etc.
Plugin Website: mc4wp.com
In WordPress Directory: wordpress.org/plugins/mailchimp-for-wp
Most of my clients use MailChimp for their email marketing (myself included). It’s one of my favorite platforms because it is easy to use, CAN-SPAM compliant and fun. If you are doing any email marketing you should have a form on your website for people to sign up. I’ve used a lot of different plugins to accomplish this task ranging from a simple form in Ninja Forms to complicated pop-ups.
Where ever you need your newsletter signup to appear you are going to want it to automatically add people to your mailing list. If you are just using a standard form you will have to manually add those people to your email marketing platform. Using a newsletter specific plugin will ensure that all of your readers are immediately and automatically added to your mailing list.
There are lots of plugins that do this for MailChimp, some of them are paid and others are overly complicated. I like the simplicity of this plugin. Really, all you need for a newsletter signup is the person’s email and you don’t want a big bloated plugin to slow down your website. MailChimp for WP also seems to do a good job of picking up the styles that are used in your theme so that it looks right. You also have the option to design your form by setting colors and styles manually if you want.
In WordPress Directory: wordpress.org/plugins/google-analytics-dashboard-for-wp/
If you have a website you should have Google Analytics. This is s a free service offered by Google to track traffic on your website. You will need to sign up for a Google Analytics account before connecting the plugin. By taking half an hour to set this up you will be able to see how many visitors you have on your site, where they are coming from and basic demographic information. This can help you make more informed decisions in your business by arming you with information.
With that being said, I wouldn’t take Google Analytics too seriously. It is a metric, not a measure of the health of your business. There are lots of reasons why your statistics might not be where you would prefer them to be. Your customers are what make your business awesome, if you focus on the number instead of on your customers it will show.
Technically you do not need a plugin in WordPress to use Google Analytics. However, it is nice to be able to see all of those statistics right there on the dashboard when you login to WordPress. There are a lot of different plugins that connect with Google Analytics, but Google Analytics for WP has proven to be really reliable for me and gives me lots of data. I like being able to see the big overview data on the dashboard and then data on individual pages inside the “posts” and “pages” menus.
Plugin Website: synved.com/wordpress-social-media-feather
In WordPress Directory: wordpress.org/plugins/social-media-feather
A lot of my clients, especially ones that are blogging, want the “social share” buttons. These are the buttons that appear at the top or bottom of articles that let you share the article on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. While I don’t think that the social share buttons are a requirement for a blog, they can be helpful.
Social Media Feather allows for a lot of customization and integrates pretty smoothly with most themes. There are settings for icon style, which platforms you want to show, and more. It’s also really easy to get up and running.
Plugin Website: theeventscalendar.com
In WordPress Directory: wordpress.org/plugins/the-events-calendar
I did a lot of research to find the perfect calendar plugin for a client a while back. Since installing The Events Calendar in that first theme I won’t use anything else. It is one of the most beautiful calendar plugins I’ve ever used. You can have it pick up styles of the theme or use the default styling native to the plugin. Users can search and sort using different views and you can set the default view to best match your business.
Like Ninja Forms, The Events Calendar is a freemium plugin. The basic calendar has a lot of features, but if you need to sell tickets, need additional view modes, or need to have users submit events to the calendar you will have to purchase extensions. All of the extensions I have purchased so far have been bug free and delivered exactly what was needed. This is one of those WordPress plugins you just have to play around with in order to see how awesome it is.
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