WordPress is the most popular technology used to build websites. It’s the framework for about 40% of the websites online today.
If you’re thinking about building your website using WordPress, be sure to take a look at our article on How to Install and Set up WordPress.
What makes WordPress such an attractive content management system (CMS) is the fact that it is easily customizable using themes, plugins, and other modifications to the default WordPress installation.
I use WordPress to power several of the businesses I own, including this one. Using the WooCommerce plugin, I have built ecommerce stores that look and feel very different from each other, and that cater to very different audiences. I have a clothing store (SweatshirtStation.com) and a safety products business (OnlineSafetyDepot.com) that both run on WordPress using the WooCommerce plugin.
What Are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress plugins are third-party (meaning not built by the WordPress core team of developers) applications that can be installed alongside WordPress to work within its framework, providing specific, added functionality that doesn’t come as part of the basic WordPress installation.
When you install WordPress, you’re essentially installing a content management system that allows you to write, edit, and publish posts and pages, including the ability to add images and other forms of content to your pages. The basic WordPress installation also gives you the ability to design the look of your site by editing the default theme. To really make a website your own, including having it do what you want it to do, you’ll need to use plugins.
Similar to other software that facilitates the use of additional functionality through plugins, WordPress plugins allow their users to increase the usefulness of their websites without messing around with the core components of WordPress. By keeping added functionality compartmentalized in plugins, if something goes wrong, or if you decide you don’t want to use that functionality, you can simply remove the plugin rather than having to backtrack your way through the code for the WordPress installation itself.
WordPress was built with the idea in mind that people would extend and modify it through plugins.
There are currently over 54,000 WordPress plugins that provide as varied an array of tasks as there are publishing and business needs out there. As I mentioned, you can use a plugin to add a shopping cart to your website. You can use plugins to migrate your WordPress site to another web host. You can add contact forms to your website. You can install a new editor plugin for posts and pages. You can make your WordPress installation more secure…the list goes on and on.
Which WordPress Plugins Are The Most Popular?
While there are thousands of WordPress plugins that address one need or another, the most popular WordPress plugins tend to have much wider appeal across most websites, addressing the needs of the majority of WordPress users. I’m going to share with you what are currently the most popular plugins used with WordPress websites. Popularity is determined by how many active installations of these plugins exist.
#1: Yoast SEO Plugin
Active Installations: 5 million+ Purpose: The Yoast SEO plugin gives you options for improving how well your website is found in search engines.
The Yoast SEO plugin is the most popular plugin for WordPress users. This plugin has lots of SEO features that, if used correctly, will attract more traffic to your website through search engines. The Yoast SEO plugin has been around since 2008, and it has added features to help with technical and other aspects of search rankings as Google and other search engines have updated their algorithms. The Yoast SEO plugin helps WordPress publishers understand and write their content more attuned to how search engines will respond to it, including keyword and readability analysis.
Active Installations: 5 million+ Purpose: The Really Simple SSL WordPress plugin configures your WordPress pages to be served up securely using your server's SSL connection.
Over the past decade, the importance of running all pages (not just ones where private information is shared) on secure connections has been emphasized. Google and other search engines have been clear about favoring sites that serve content using SSL encryption (https instead of the traditional http). This means that website owners need to make sure their web pages are secure. Really Simple SSL is a very easy to use plugin that allows WordPress site owners to quickly make all pages on their websites secure.
Active Installations: 5 million+ Purpose: The Elementor Website Builder plugin WordPress plugin is an advanced editor that allows you to design your WordPress posts and pages with blocks of content elements that are preformatted.
The Elementor Website Builder WordPress plugin provides you with greater flexibility and ease when designing pages. Using this plugin, you can organize and add page elements to look great without having to know how to code html or php.
Active Installations: 5 million+ Purpose: The WooCommerce Shopping Cart plugin for WordPress allows you to create a store out of your WordPress site, complete with a catalog and checkout system.
WooCommerce is the world’s most popular open-source shopping cart system. WooCommerce adds a set of menu options and functionality to your WordPress website that accommodate setting up a product catalog, as well as configuring your cart and checkout system. With WooCommerce, you can configure shipping options, payment methods, coupons and discounts, and many other aspects of an ecommerce store that make it successful.
WooCommerce has almost 1,000 extension plugins available, allowing store owners a lot of flexibility with choosing payment providers, shipping settings, and more. One of the benefits I see with using WooCommerce and WordPress over SaaS shopping cart solutions (like BigCommerce or Shopify) is the seamless integration the shopping cart has with your publishing system.
Active Installations: 5 million+ Purpose: WordFence provides security for your WordPress website, keeping hackers out and identifying when there has been a breach to your WordPress site.
The major criticism that developers and other technical types have against WordPress is its vulnerability to being hacked. That vulnerability exists mostly because of how popular WordPress is, making it a target for many more hackers than other content management systems. WordFence allows WordPress to overcome the “WordPress is vulnerable” stigma with advanced security features.
In spite of how complicated security for any website, and especially sites running on WordPress, WordFence simplifies the process of securing your website.
Get To Know Your WordPress Plugins
This is just a sampling of the most popular WordPress plugins. There are dozens of others that I use on a consistent basis for my websites, depending upon specific needs that I have.
The most popular (most of these are also considered the best WordPress plugins because of how generally useful and applicable they are) plugins are certainly must-haves (maybe not WooCommerce if you don’t need a store; up to this point, Prosperopedia.com doesn’t have WooCommerce installed) in order for your website to stay up with the times.
For WordPress website administrators, I recommend browsing through the WordPress plugins repository and checking out what’s there. You can do this inside of your WordPress site admin by going to Plugins -> Add New. If you click on either the Popular or the Recommended tabs at the top of that page, you can see what the majority of WordPress users are including with their websites, and you can determine whether any of those should be part of your specific WordPress website.