While a vanilla installation of WordPress provides a whole wealth of features enabling a business to start blogging right away, regardless of their level of knowledge of the inner workings of Web design, the platform offers even greater potential by way of plugins. There are literally thousands of plugins and themes available to help you add more functionality and customization to your blog, and the vast majority of them are available for free. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and useful plugins for WordPress.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

Anyone with a knowledge of WordPress SEO will likely tell you that the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin is the single most important one to have installed. It greatly simplifies the process of making your blog more readable to the search engine crawlers by providing you with a quick and easy way to complete your meta tags and much more. One of the most downloaded WordPress plugins available, it helps by guiding you through the various techniques to increase the visibility of your blog in the search engines, including automatically setting up canonical link elements, creating XML Sitemaps for Google and Bing and more. The plugin also provides am import functionality for compatibility with other popular SEO-related plugins.

W3 Total Cache

One of the most commonly purported problems of dynamic websites (i.e.: those that are database-driven and powered by a content management system like WordPress) is poor performance. Increased loading speeds are a result of the fact, that to render a page, the system has to query a database to get the required data, rather than simply render a single HTML file for each page. W3 Total Cache enhances performance by caching pages in such a way that your content is delivered in the form of static webpages. This plugin allows you to greatly reduce page load times, save bandwidth consumption and provide a significant overall performance boost.

Contact Form 7

As the name suggests, Contact Form 7 is a plugin for adding a contact form to your WordPress blog or website. Numerous websites can make use of a contact form, particularly those that need to offer some form of customer or visitor support. Contact Form 7 allows you to create and manage multiple, customizable contact forms, and it also supports spam filtering, CAPTCHA and Ajax-powered submission. It is by far the most popular of such plugins available for WordPress, and it is fairly easy to use. You can choose from multiple fields to add to your forms and edit your mail templates from within WordPress too.

BackUpWordPress

You might think that all of your data is safely stored on a remote server, but your website will always be at risk to some degree, and for this reason, keeping your WordPress database, along with all of your plugins, backed up at all times is strongly advisable. BackUpWordPress does exactly what the name suggests, and it requires minimal user interaction due to the fact that it automatically backs up your database and associated files on a schedule that you can define yourself. No setup is required, and it allows you to create and manage multiple backup schedules. It can also email you a copy of your backups as they are created.

Broken Link Checker

Broken links are the bane of the Internet, and having too many of them quickly turns away large numbers of visitors who will likely never return. As your blog continues to grow, manually checking all of your internal and external links becomes completely impractical. Fortunately, Broken Link Checker takes care of the problem for you, even going so far as to check your comments and other content as well as just your posts and pages. Optional features are also included to change the way that broken links are displayed (if not removed) or stop the search engine crawlers from following them.

Jetpack by WordPress.com

If you’re used to using WordPress.com, you’ll probably find yourself disappointed by the relatively limited number of features available in the standalone version of the platform. However, with the Jetpack plugin, you can greatly enhance WordPress’s functionality by making use of all of the features that are otherwise only available to WordPress.com users. Jetpack consolidates a whole range of useful plugins and features into a single installation, including tools to help customize your blog, manage traffic and content and enhance performance. This completely-free plugin also comes with a responsively designed theme for mobile users.

Remember when you install plugins that not all plugins are created equal, and each one that you install has the potential to open up security holes, slow down your site, or worse. Its also a good idea to make sure plugins are compatible with each other before you install them. You can usually count on reviewers to point out some of the weaknesses in plugins before you install them, so make sure to do your research before you install a plugin.