This week’s guest post is from Patrick Foster:
The biggest strength of WordPress as a business platform is its ability to integrate plugins that provide added functionality necessary to give your customers a great experience.
However, with nearly 50,000 available plugins, it can be difficult for the inexperienced entrepreneur to find a plugin that best suits your business needs.
To help you focus your efforts and create an effective business website, let’s look at seven of the most essential plugins that every WordPress user needs to manage quality, increase traffic, and deliver an overall better experience to your customers.
MailChimp For WordPress
Email marketing is a must for every business, and MailChimp is one of the most popular and effective email marketing services around. And with email having the best ROI of all marketing types, every small business should use MailChimp.
It provides a complete suite of tools to send out email marketing campaigns, track detailed results regarding opens, click-throughs, and other metrics, and manage subscriber lists.
The MailChimp for WordPress plugin provides you with the ability to create personalized opt-in forms that you can integrate directly into your WordPress site . The plugin allows for a great deal of customization options for the form, letting brands create highly personalized forms that can build subscriber lists with ease.
One of the most popular WordPress plugins is Yoast SEO, the king of search engine optimization (SEO) plugins. Search queries are a significant source of traffic for businesses online, and Yoast SEO covers all the bases by helping you develop the most search engine friendly site possible.
Integrating directly into the content editing page, Yoast SEO starts by having you enter a focus keyword, and keeps track in real time to ensure that the keyword is used often and appropriately, including in headings, the post title, and all tags. This is ideal if you’ve picked up a flagging brand and want to boost its Google ranking.
Yoast provides recommendations on post length, manages meta tags, and even monitors your keyword against previous posts to ensure that you’re not overusing it. If any plugin is a must-have for WordPress site owners, this is it.
Google XML Sitemaps
Major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo are able to index the contents of the internet through a process called crawling. This process involves automated bots called spiders scanning the content of known websites, discovering new links on those sites, and following them to create new content to add to their index.
For WordPress users, this can be prohibitively long and arduous, especially if you’re having trouble building external links. On top of that, any content on your website that isn’t explicitly linked to from another location, such as content that can only be found by using a search form, will never be indexed by the major search engines. This renders it effectively invisible to search engines.
Google XML Sitemaps presents an easy solution to this problem. As the name implies, this plugin produces an XML file that contains a complete listing of every page on your WordPress website. This XML file can then be submitted to search engines, which in turn will then be able to completely index your site and include relevant pages in search results.
Without question, social media has become the most popular and influential platforms for raising brand awareness. One need only look at the many prolific businesses for sale online to find examples of thriving brands whose success is built on a powerful social community. Even businesses as prosaic as stationery stores possess a strong social strategy that drives traffic and sales.
The amount of information shared through social media in the modern day is absolutely staggering, and for WordPress users, it’s an essential component of your content marketing strategy.
The Social Icons plugin provides you with a simple, straightforward way to display social media sharing buttons on your business’s blog. It includes functionality for a wide array of social media platforms, both small and large.
The plugin gives you the ability to add social media icons either in widget form or by using shortcodes which allow you to insert them into any webpage on your WordPress site.
W3 Total Cache
When you type a website address into your browser and hit enter, your browser sends a query requesting the text, images, and other page elements from the web server that the website is hosted on. When the web server receives this request, it finds the elements in its database, fetches the appropriate files, and transmits them back to the requesting computer.
The process is pretty straightforward, but as the volume of traffic on a website increases, the amount of system resources required to process these requests increases dramatically and can cause significant slowdown and possibly even complete unresponsiveness on your WordPress site. Visitors who experience these issues when visiting a website are far less likely to return than if the website ran at an acceptable speed.
This problem is addressed by a process called caching, wherein website data is temporarily stored in a unique temporary file called a cache, from which it can be quickly served to visitors without needing to query the central database repeatedly. W3 Total Cache is one of the most popular and useful caching plugins.
If you’ve bought an existing business you want to scale up, this is the perfect plugin for you. Many businesses aren’t built to cope with rapid traffic growth, but W3 Total Cache helps you combat this.
W3 Total Cache also includes the ability to integrate with an external CDN (Content Delivery Network), freeing up even more system resources by completely transferring the cashing process to an external service.
Insert Headers And Footers
Many WordPress users find at times that they would like to add elements to their website’s header or footer sections. For anybody without coding experience, however, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, because it involves editing the main files of your chosen WordPress theme.
Even worse, any mistake made while deleting those files has the potential to cripple your website’s appearance and functionality at best, or take it completely offline at worst.
Insert Headers and Footers simplifies the process and removes the dangers involved in tinkering with your WordPress themes core files. Very simply, it provides one field each for the header and footer, into which you can enter any scripts, HTML, or other elements that you desire.
If you would like to build a community on your business and elicit discussion based on the content you create, there’s no better commenting plugin to turn to than Disqus.
Rather than forcing visitors to create an account specifically for your website, Disqus allows visitors to sign in using their existing social media profiles. This provides ease of use, as well as the added benefit of giving your site visibility to anyone looking at that person’s social media timeline.
Disqus provides you with notifications anytime somebody post a comment on your website’s blog, allowing you to remain active in the conversation. This is brilliant if you’ve started a business with a local niche — communities are one of the key components of local SEO.
Disqus also includes the ability to upvote and downvote comments, and even sort comments by age and popularity.
WordPress is an incredibly versatile platform, and the power it gives you to tailor your website to your specific needs is absolutely unmatched by any other platform. While the plugins described in this article are only the tip of the WordPress functionality iceberg, they’re an essential starting point for any entrepreneur who wants to get the most from their business website.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert from Ecommerce Tips — a renowned ecommerce blog, packed full of marketing advice. Check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.