There are so many free WordPress plugins you can install. But which ones are the best for new blogs? That's what I'm going to go over today.
What is a WordPress plugin?
Plugins are software that can be added to your blog to enhance its functionality. Plugins add new features and let you customize and optimize your blog.
For example, if you're a photographer want to add an image carousel on your homepage, you would need a plugin for that.
How do you install a WordPress plugin?
To install a plugin, log into WordPress and head over to Plugins > Add new.
Search for a plugin, such as "image carousel". Once you find one you want to install, click Install, then Activate.
For some premium plugins, you have to download the actual plugin source code (in a zip file) and manually add it to your blog.
To do that, go to Plugins > Add new > Upload.
Click browse, select the zip file, then Activate the plugin.
Which WordPress plugins does my blog need?
Your blog doesn't "need" any plugins. WordPress is fully functional from the jump!
However, if you want to create a more powerful website, you're going to need a few plugins for that.
At the time of this writing, there are over 50,000 plugins in the WordPress plugin repository. The mistake many new bloggers make is they install too many plugins.
The end-result is a sluggish blog that struggles to load them all! Blog speed is a huge factor, not only in ranking your website in Google, but with the overall user experience as well.
So in this list I'm only going to list well-coded plugins that don't hurt your page speed and boost the functionality of your blog.
Here's my list fo the 12 best WordPress plugins for a new blog.
Thrive Architect (page builder)
To create the best user experience you need a page builder to create visually-rich blog posts.
Blogging is evolving and you can't get away with boring plain text anymore. Google announced that in 2021 they'll use "user experience" as a ranking factor.
Now more than ever it's important to keep readers engaged with our content.
With Thrive Architect, you can build well-formatted content with things like highlight boxes, pros and cons, reviews, styled lists, click-to-tweet, and built-in lead generation for your email list.
With a page builder you can visually build not only your blog posts but to create high-converting sales and landing pages.
Their popularity may stem from the fact they offer a free version in addition to their $49 paid version, unlike Thrive Architect which goes for $67.
Personally, I don't use Elementor because I use most of the Thrive Themes suite of products. Namely, Thrive Architect as my page builder, Thrive Theme Builder as my theme, Thrive Leads for list building, and Thrive Comments to replace the regular WordPress comments.
Watch this tutorial to see how to build better blog posts.
Best WordPress page builder. It's the one I use to build all of my blog posts, landing pages, and sales pages.
ConvertKit plugin (email list)
The ConvertKit plugin for WordPress lets you insert your ConvertKit optin forms directly inside of your blog posts.
While the plugin is free, you do need an account with ConvertKit first.
To use ConvertKit for free, use this link to unlock unlimited forms, landing pages, and to be able to send emails to up to 1,000 email subscribers for free.
If you don't have an email marketing provider - you need one. Having an email list is a must for monetizing your blog.
Email marketing is the best way for a blog to make money because it's really hard to sell directly from your blog posts.
Via your email list you can provide value and establish trust. And trust is important if you ever want to sell something or recommend affiliate products to your audience.
The ConvertKit plugin is the best way to add email signup forms into your blog posts.
Thrive Leads (list building)
Once you have an email list set up, the next step is to get a lead generation plugin like Thrive Leads.
With it you can grow your email list faster with high-converting signup forms, exit intent lightboxes, welcome mats, etc.
While I use Thrive Leads, I don't use every type of form. The main reason I use it is for the ridiculously detailed data reporting they offer.
I can see which form someone joins from (to see which type of form works best), via which blog post (to see which blog post converts best), and via what source that traffic came from (to see which traffic source works best).
Thrive Leads is the list building plugin I use and recommend. If you're as obsessed with conversion optimization as I am, you're going to love it.
Social Warfare (social sharing icons)
Social Warfare is by far the best WordPress social sharing plugin. Most WordPress social sharing plugins slow down your site but the Social Warfare share buttons are both lightning fast and beautiful.
See the Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter share icons below? Click on one to see just how easy it is for users to share this post on social media.
And at the bottom of this post, you can hover over the vertical image to see how easy it is to save it on Pinterest.
The free version of Social Warfare is enough for most bloggers. But if you want to customize their look and add additional icons - you need the pro version which is $29.
In the pro version, you can:
Beautiful social sharing icons to add to your blog posts. You can also add Pinterest Save buttons directly onto your images.
Thirsty Affiliates (cloak affiliate links)
If you're going to do any sort of affiliate marketing on your blog, you need the Thirsty Affiliates plugin.
Affiliate marketing is awesome because you can make money selling other people's products. For new bloggers it will be the best way to monetize your blog.
The benefit of signing up with a large affiliate marketing program is that the payouts are combined into one check every two weeks.
To get credit from sales coming from your blog you will need to use your unique affiliate link. It looks something like this:
Pretty ugly isn't it? But when you use the Thirsty Affiliates plugin you can turn ugly links like that into pretty ones like this instead:
Plus, you can track outgoing affiliate clicks to see which blog posts users are clicking affiliate links from. Awesome-ness!
Cloak your affiliate links to prevent your commissions from theft with this plugin.
ExactMetrics (Google Analytics)
Google Analytics is a must-have for bloggers to see how much traffic you get (and how you got it).
To begin tracking your stats, you need to sign up with Google Analytics and add your tracking code. You need to insert the tracking code into the header.php page in your theme so it appears before the closing </head> tag.
The super easy no-code way to do this is to use the ExactMetrics plugin.
I use the pro version of the plugin specifically to see metrics like pageviews, average session duration, and bounce rates right on the WordPress dashboard.
Not only does this plugin add your Google Analytics code for you, but it lets you see your data right on the dashboard.
ShortPixel (image optimization)
Ever save an image and notice the file size is HUGE? Well big file sizes mean slow-loading sites and a bad user experience (source). Not only that, but slow sites don't rank well in Google search, either.
One way to speed up your blog is to upgrade your hosting account to a faster host like WPXHosting (who I use).
But another way is to simply have the browser download less data by reducing the file sizes of your images.The trick though is to reduce the file size so your blog loads fast without compromising image quality.
For this I recommend using the ShortPixel Image Optimizer plugin.
To use the plugin you need to register a free account on their site first. You get 100 free images per month and a bonus 100 images if you use this link.
What I love most about this plugin is that the optimization happens automatically in the background every time you upload an image.
LinkWhisper (building internal links)
When you're building a blog with the intention of getting Google traffic, you need to pay attention to your internal linking structure.
I use the LinkWhisper plugin to make the process of adding internal links really simple.
Here's how it works. As you're writing a blog post, the plugin will recommend internal link suggestions to your past content.
While that's good, but where this plugin excels is the ability to add links to your new content from within older blog posts.
It also finds broken links (internal and external) and "orphaned posts", which are blog posts that aren't linked from anywhere.
You can also auto-link keywords throughout your entire website with your affiliate link. I recently did this when I signed up for the Canva affiliate program. Within a minute I was able to link all previous Canva mentions to my affiliate link across all of my content.
LinkWhisper is the best plugin to create a powerful internal linking structure on your blog.
Akismet (stop comment spam)
Akismet protects your blog from comment spam. This plugin is a must-have for any new blog.
Akismet will automatically delete spam comments so you're only notified of authentic comments from your readers.
Here are instructions on how to get your free API key and activate the plugin.
Upgrading your comments section could be the key to spurring Facebook-like engagement on your blog.
Look at my blog comments and compare it with the typical WordPress blog comments. With the Thrive Comments plugin, my comments now have added functionality like upvoting/downvoting, badges and featured comments.
Akismet protects your blog from comment spam. Best of all, it's entirely free to use.
Yoast (for SEO)
SEO (search engine optimization) is what you do to optimize your content to rank in search engines.
What the Yoast SEO plugin does is help you make sure your blog posts are Google-friendly. For example, in every blog post you can:
As a new blog, you won't be getting much Google traffic. But it's still important to optimize each post for Google right from the start. I have a guide on SEO for beginners here if you want to learn more.
Yoast is hands-down the best SEO plugin for WordPress and has been for years.
UpdraftPlus (automatic backups)
Back up your blog to the cloud on schedule and restore it with a single click. Yep, it's that easy with this UpdraftPlus.
My host (WPXHosting) already does daily automated backups for me, but I still like to keep an actual copy of the backup myself too, so I scoured WordPress and tried a bunch of WP backup plugins before landing on this one.
While other backup plugins may only back up the database, this one can back up anything - even back up items outside of WordPress.
You can (and should) set up weekly (or at least monthly) automatic backups to your Google Drive (or other cloud service) for peace of mind. Then in the settings, set it to only keep the most recent 1-2 backups so you don't run out of cloud storage space.
UpdraftPlus is the world's highest ranking and most popular scheduled backup plugin, with over 2 million currently-active installs and a perfect 5 star rating.
You need to have recent backups of your blog, just in case anything bad happens. And there's no better WP plugin for backups than UpdraftPlus.
W3 Total Cache (speed improvements)
You've heard me mention blog speed a few times throughout this list. There's a reason for that. Having a fast loading blog isn't just good for your readers, it's one way you can improve your Google ranking too.
You'll notice that most of the plugins I mention on this page don't slow down your site at all. Some run on the back-end and don't load on any page-view.
But this next one makes major changes to your blog on the front-end, but trust me you will notice a drastic difference in site speed with W3 Total Cache.
The fastest way to speed up your site is to switch to a faster host. Most shared hosts, whether it's Bluehost or Siteground, overload their servers with far too many customers.
First, the plugin generates fast-loading static html files of your slow-loading PHP-heavy blog posts. Then when a visitor lands on your blog post, your web server will serve the fast html file instead of processing the original PHP-heavy one.
If you don't understand that, it's okay. Just install the plugin watch it speed up your blog. You can test your before and after speed score on this page.
Wrapping this up
If there's a WordPress plugin you love that I didn't mention, let me know in the comments section.
If this post has helped you find some new WordPress plugins for your blog, I'd appreciate it if you could save it on Pinterest to your WordPress board.