I have written some WordPress posts and the different things that you can use to create a fast speed blog with it. A few critical components include using a fast speed WordPress theme like GeneratePress, a CDN like CloudFlare and some good WordPress plugins. I have not written about WordPress plugins yet so it looks like it is time to show you the ones that I like. There are so many plugins and it really depends on what you are planning to do with your WordPress website. Since blogs are common and simple, it will focus on them. Many businesses use their websites to share important product and service information. They also use websites to reach their users with contact information and forms. Another critical asset is to create pages that are meant for SEO to rank on search engines. This typically happens in the form of a blog with keyword rich articles or landing pages that are meant to convert users using a call-to-action. I will go through each plugin and explain why I think it should be a part of your WordPress blog. Be mindful not to download and use too many plugins. Understand what each plugin does and make sure that it is absolutely necessary in order to accomplish what needs to be done.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
This plugin is for AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), something that came out awhile ago in 2015. Back then it was new and had a lot of buzz about it. According to that Wikipedia entry, it looks like Google is scaling back on its importance. Instead Google wants to focus on page load times and user experience. I recently wrote an article about Page Speed Insights that gives my thoughts on Google’s page speed scores. Since AMP has fallen out of favor, I would place less emphasis on this plugin. I am still using it just to see if it can offer any positive effect on rankings. Again, since AMP is a Google creation just like Page Speed Insights, it does not hurt to use it. Anything Google, you should give it a shot. What this plugin does, is that it creates an AMP version that is optimized for mobile. I actually do not need this plugin as I am using the GeneratePress theme and it has very good page speed scores. The page speed scores are so good that I suppose that GeneratePress renders AMP redundant. I just shared with you what I think about the importance of this plugin. Now I will actually tell you how it works if you should use it.
How Does this AMP Plugin Really Work?
What this plugin does is that it creates AMP versions of your pages. In the case that a search engine is able to offer AMP pages, if your website supports AMP, then the search engine will serve the AMP version. AMP pages for the plugin that I am using look like this, https://www.webdevelopertuan.com/is-generatepress-the-best-wordpress-theme/amp/. You can see the word “amp” appended to the end of the URL link. Usually, the page for that article does not possess that word at the end of it. That is how you know that you are accessing an AMP page. When you access an AMP page, its layout will look different than the theme that you are using. So you should check the AMP page layout when you use it before actually using it. Since this is a plain simple blog, I just want to have something that is clean and simple for people to be able to read and use. So the default AMP page layout is just fine by me. I mainly want to focus on writing articles for this blog so the layout becomes secondary to me. The only time that I want to think about the layout is if I want to enhance the user experience and make it easier for people to use this website. I will now talk about cases where AMP would not be a good choice for websites.
What Websites Should Not Use AMP?
The main idea behind using AMP is speed. I have written articles on this website about how speed is important and that often means going easy on using so much JS. Since GeneratePress is practically devoid of all JS except for jQuery, it is really fast but has very little functionality. With little JS, a website like this blog can use AMP because the AMP page layout uses as little JS as GeneratePress. However, if you are running a complex application that is JS heavy, then AMP might not work for you. You would have to be selective and use AMP only on pages that can be easily converted to AMP without the loss of any JS. This might be one of the reasons why AMP’s importance has waned since its inception. Some websites need JS because it gives them user interactivity to make web pages actually work. So the idea that we can just stop using JS is impossible. The idea is not to completely get rid of JS. Rather, we need to optimize it as much as possible and realize our other assets like images and CSS need optimization also. I gather that Google understood this and made AMP not as important as it once was.
The Community Determines What Sinks or Swims
This is how it usually works when introducing new creations to the populace. People will try them out and provide feedback. If people like it, then it will become more popular and more people will use it. Good creations will take care of themselves because they have the user support to sustain themselves over time. However, any creation that does not have anyone using it will not last long because it is the users who keep creations alive and not the creation itself. Makes sense right? If you have a product or service that no one is using, then how long do you actually think that it will last? Same concept here. It was always the people who determine whether something sinks or swims in life. So I wanted to talk about AMP because it was a really good idea but as time evolved, people realized that it would only be another factor whose importance might not be as strong as when it started.
Easy Table of Contents
This is a great plugin to make it easy for your users to navigate to sections of your article. This plugin creates a table of contents for your articles, just like in a book. A table of contents is a list of chapters, each chapter telling a different part of the story. As the story progresses and the plot changes, the reader moves onto the next chapter in the book. This plugin not only lets users go straight to certain sections of your article but also lets them see all of the sections at once. So users can tell exactly what you are going to talk about before they even start reading your article. This can also be used to help you keep track of your articles as you can easily glance to see your sections whenever you feel like updating them.
Create a Table of Contents Automatically Using Your Article Headings
This plugin automatically creates a table of contents for each of your posts using your heading tags H2 through H6. This is great because you do not have to go back to your article and add a table of contents to them one by one. Instead, you just have to make sure that you use your heading tags in the proper way so that your H2 tags are your main section headers and H3 tags are your sub-headers that go under your H2 tags. If you placed your H3 sub-headers under your H2 headers, then your table of contents should look good. When you click on any of the links in the table of contents, you will go straight to that section of the article.
Really Simple SSL
This SSL enforcement plugin is really just so that you force all of your pages to use the HTTPS instead of just the HTTP protocol in your URL. Interesting thing about SSL certificates is that they are used to encrypt confidential and personal data when submitting it online. Think credit card numbers or any personal identification information. When you buy something online, you typically do not enter any personal information until you reach the checkout page. This is where all of your sensitive information is entered. The HTTPS protocol that is part of an SSL certificate that lets you send confidential information online without exposing it to any outsiders. This gives users peace of mind when not only entering their credit card information, but also any login account information that requires passwords, which is also very sensitive data.
A long time ago, you would only find SSL certificates in e-commerce websites. Before you would see websites use just plain HTTP in their URLs. Now, things are different and Google places higher value on websites that use HTTPS. This occurred in 2014, when Google placed values on HTTPS over HTTP. This makes sense as a lot of data breaches involve the loss and compromise of user data. So this scares people and Google knows that. So this makes Google rank HTTPS websites higher than those without. If you are in need of a SSL certificate, you can get one at CloudFlare for free. I highly recommend this as CloudFlare is a good CDN and can not only secure your website, but make it faster also. If you registered your domain from somewhere like GoDaddy, then SSL certificates are not exactly cheap. At that price, I would just take the SSL from CloudFlare and use it. Since security has become such an important issue on the web, you need everything that you can get to help your rankings up.
Simple Custom CSS and JS
I really like this WordPress plugin because it makes it easy to add global CSS and JS to your website. Notice that I said global. This means that unless you set up your code to work only on certain pages, the code will run on every page. For JS, you will need to read the URL in the browser and separate your code using conditional statements. For CSS, you will need to target specific classes or IDs that are present only on certain pages if you are trying to isolate your CSS to certain pages. The Gutenberg block editor makes it easy to do that since it has the ability for you to define CSS classes to your blocks. Then you can just target your custom CSS to that block only. Another feature that I like about this plugin is how you can toggle your CSS and JS on and off very easily just by clicking a toggle button.
I used to use another plugin to insert scripts like Google Analytics but you could not toggle the scripts on and off like this plugin. So in order to turn off the script, you would have to comment it out. The problem with this is that commented out code still shows you in the source when viewed. So even though the script does not execute, it still shows up in the show and people can still see it. This is just like “hiding” HTML using the CSS display property and setting its value to hidden. The element or script is not on the page but is still in the source.
Right now, I am using this optimizer because it is simpler than this other one that I have used, W3 Total Cache. I remember W3 Total Cache has more options than SiteGround Optimizer but seemed more complicated. SiteGround Optimizer has most of the features that you need but a few of them do not work if your website is not actually hosted with SiteGround. So you might have to think about which optimizer plugin to use. You should definitely use one because all of the optimization features that these plugins provide are great. They help speed your website up when they take your code and combine, preload and cache it. Even plain websites like this blog benefit from a caching/optimization plugin. This plugin along with the GeneratePress theme and CloudFlare are all crucial in getting those coveted high speed scores.
Anything can happen to your website so you want to make sure that you have a copy saved on your computer. This backup plugin is very good even for the free version. You can schedule backups on an interval, like once a day to keep your backups current. You can also tell the plugin how many plugins to keep before deleting old ones. You would only want to keep backups for the past two or three days because if your website gets a lot of activity and data changes frequently, old backups are useless. Also, you do not want to keep so many old backups that they take up space on your server. Some web hosting plans throttle your speed if your website takes up a lot of server space. So just be mindful of how much space you are using and just keep a couple or few current backups just in case. We want to use our space very efficiently and not just place a bunch of files online that never get used and forgotten. So this is why Updraft is such a great plugin for web hosting that does provide daily backups. Even if your web hosting does provide daily backups, have some more insurance and have extra backups with this plugin. Another feature that I like with this plugin is that you can do WordPress migrations with this.
If you need to move your WordPress website to another server to create copies for staging or local environments, you can do it with this plugin. What you do is download every zip file that the backup provides. This includes the database, themes, plugins, uploads and also the miscellaneous other zipped file. Then you can just install a fresh copy of WordPress on your new environment and just place the unzipped folders to their appropriate location. Also, remember to change your wp-config.php file to point to your new database when you import the download database to its new location. This is much faster than downloading your entire website via FTP and then uploading it to a new server. The reason why is because Updraft gives you only the files that you need to perform a migration. With FTP, you are downloading every single file, even ones that you do not need. I have tried both methods and Updraft is way faster than FTP. You will save so much more time migrating with Updraft.
Security is of the utmost importance because people are always trying to get into your website, even brand new ones that are trying to make it on Google. WordFence has pretty much been the most popular WordPress security plugin for a very long time. This plugin runs in the background of WordPress and monitors the users who access it. The best part of WordFence is that it works automatically without much setup required. There are some settings that you should take note of like preventing IP addresses from accessing your website. This plugin allows you to block any IPs that are known to infiltrate websites. WordFence has access to a database of known malicious IPs and constantly monitors your website to see if the IPs accessing it are part of that malicious list.
Alert E-mails Keep You in the Loop
WordFence also sends you daily e-mails on the activity of your website. This is a great feature as you can see who is trying to access your website without actually having to go to WordFence. The e-mails provide you with a quick summary on what IPs are trying to get into your website and from where. If you notice a high amount of activity, then you can tighten security and make WordFence block IPs if they hit your website too many times in a short interval. Really good stuff here, this is definitely a must-have plugin, no questions asked. You cannot have a WordPress website without this plugin to protect it.
Another feature that I like is how WordFence is that it e-mails you whenever people login to your website. So you can check and see how active your website is and if there are any strange users who you do not recognize. If you notice some weird usernames showing in the e-mails then you should take action and ban those user names from logging into your website. Have I mentioned that you get all of these features for free? That is a lot to expect from a single plugin. I still cannot believe how good WordFence is for being free. There are just so many features in it that it has to be one of the most helpful and comprehensive free plugins on WordPress.
Of course this plugin would be on the list because we are all about SEO after all right? I was thinking about All in One SEO or Rank Math, but I do not know about these other ones. I just feel like Yoast is to SEO like WordFence is to security. These are THE plugins to use for their respective categories. They are so popular and highly recommended that I do not see the need to even suggest trying those other plugins out. Sure, I will mention them and you can do your own research. Maybe those alternatives will work better for you but I will just stick with what is popular. The reason why is that user support is high and the features are rich and plentiful. Once you have cornered the market, you are pretty much set.
Custom SEO Meta Titles and Descriptions for Each Page
Feature that I like about this plugin is the ability to write your own meta titles and description for each page. You can customize exactly what you want your pages to look like when people find them on the search engines. This part is important because SEO is both about getting traffic to your website and also keeping it on your website. This is why you should focus on the impression first, then click later. People have to find your website first before they actually click on it. Once you get the impressions, you can use this plugin to fine tune your meta titles and description and try to perfect that copy that will get you clicks. Also, remember to keep your content current because new things are happening everyday and your users expect you to bring the best content to them.
Submit Your Sitemap to Google Search Console
Ideally, you should submit every new page that you create to Google Search Console as soon as you publish it. This lets Google know that you are taking an active role in telling it when you publish new articles. You could just wait for Google to find your new article, but we do not know for sure when Google will find it. Other people are getting their content to rank right now so you need to be active also in getting your pages found. Sitemaps are great because they list all of the pages for your website and help Google keep track of them all. So make sure that you also submit your sitemap to Google Search Console so that it can monitor what your active pages are. Usually, the link for your sitemap is something like “https://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml”. So you just need to access the file “sitemap.xml” from the start of your domain.
I hope that you found this article helpful in what can be considered a starter pack in your blogging journey. I think of this as a starter pack because it contains what I think are just the minimum plugins to get a WordPress blog up. As you use your website more and create more pages, you will know what other plugins you will need in the future. Again, try your best to keep the number of plugins to as few as possible as a combination of too many plugins might not make them work together. This is why we have backups in case you ever have to do a restoration. As I find more plugins to be useful, I might update this article with newer content.