Have you noticed how much of our language is infused with words, phrases, and symbols that refer to obsolete technology and practices? We still refer to video clips as “footage,” even though that term originated from the motion picture industry, where scenes are recorded on film that is measured in feet. We might even “tape” TV shows on our DVRs. To call someone on the phone, you “dial” the number, although phones haven’t had dials in ages. To accelerate an electric car, you “step on the gas pedal.” And to save a file in most software programs, you click on an icon that looks like a 3.5-inch floppy disk, even though a growing segment of the population has never seen such an object.
And so it is with “out of the box,” which refers to the state of software when it is first installed, before configuration, modification, or customization. It harkens to the days when most software was purchased on some physical medium that came in a box. Although you can still buy software this way, most of it is downloaded over the internet.
Out-of-the-box WordPress—a software title that probably has never seen the inside of a box—is a website platform that is fully-functional and feature-rich, and getting more so all the time. You could build a perfectly functional website with it, but it would be a bit like plain vanilla ice cream without sprinkles, nuts, syrup, or cherries. To jazz things up visually, you add one of the thousands of themes that are available. But even that’s not enough: To make your life easier, and your visitors’ experience more pleasant—to turn your plain-vanilla site into a full-on banana split—there are some must-have plug-ins you need to install.
Essential Plug-in Categories
This blog will not attempt to recommend specific plug-ins; every situation is different, and a plug-in that is ideal for one site will miss the mark for another. Instead, here are some plug-in categories that you need to consider when setting up a WordPress site:
- SEO: Numerous WordPress plug-ins are available to help you manage, evaluate, and track your SEO strategy and execution. A good SEO plug-in will automatically generate <META> tags, optimize page titles, notify search engines of site changes, and more.
- Analytics: Closely related to SEO (and sometimes available in the same plug-in), analytics plug-ins help you visualize your traffic, including visitor profiles and trends, and track the effectiveness of specific SEO campaigns. Many of these plug-ins offer integration with Google Analytics.
- Back up and Restore: Any time you make major design or functionality changes to your site or update WordPress, you need to back up your site and have the ability to restore it if things go awry or disaster strikes your hosting provider. Backup-and-restore plug-ins make this process much easier.
- Security: Another popular plug-in category involves security. Although native WordPress supports user accounts and authentication, this is usually not enough. Many plug-ins are available that offer enhanced user authentication, CAPTCHA support, and more. Some plug-ins automatically detect and flag spam visitor posts, sparing you the effort of reading and rejecting them manually.
- Forms management: Forms management plug-ins make it easy to design, create, and manage forms for your website. You still need to use good form design principles, of course, but these plug-ins give you the tools to make it a breeze.
These are the essentials that any site needs. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish with your site, there are other plug-ins that you should consider as well. As with any plug-in or theme, you need to evaluate carefully and test thoroughly before deploying to your production site. But once you have the right mix of essential plug-ins, you will have a good foundation on which to build a fantastic WordPress site.