The best plugins for WordPress do so much more than help with your site design.
They can increase conversions, improve user experience, and help you make more money with your blog.
Unless you graduated with a computer science degree or just enjoy learning new programming languages in your spare time, odds are you don’t know a whole lot about coding or web development.
That’s where the best WordPress plugins come in handy. They can transform your basic WordPress blog into a money-making machine, and you can install them in less than two minutes.
If you’re struggling to monetize your blog, these tools are here to help.
One thing to keep in mind is that even the best monetization plugins don’t literally print money. Instead, they often contribute something I like to call the “intangible effects” — better user experience, traffic growth, and increased conversion rates.
They’re not seen by your users, but you see their direct impact on your bottom line. And while blog monetization is far too large a topic for me to cover in-depth here, these WordPress blog plugins are absolute must-haves if you are looking to make money online through a blog.
Just so we’re clear here, I have personally used/still use all of these plugins, so I can attest to their functionality.
I would never recommend a plugin or software that was scammy or that I thought might crash your site. That being said, it’s always wise to backup your website regularly, and before making any major changes.
Best Plugins for Direct Monetization
These plugins will directly impact the money you earn from your blog.
1. Google AdSense
Whether or not ads are appropriate for your site to begin with is a discussion we could have all day. But no one can deny that AdSense provides an immediate return on the work that you’re putting into your blog.
As with most things in life, there is likely an appropriate balance of ad usage that negates the all-or-nothing approach. You should seek to achieve a balance that 1) maximizes your return on time invested and 2) does not substantially detract from your user’s experience. The Google Adsense Plugin allows you to:
“…place AdSense ads using a simple point-and-click UI rather than manually inserting snippets yourself. Google automatically determines potential placements for AdSense ads, suggests an initial ad layout, and allows you to lay out ads on your site.”
The latest version includes the following features:
- Easily add AdSense ads to your site to make money from advertising.
- With one click, enable mobile-specific ad layouts with Automated Mobile Ads.
- Manage your ads quickly and easily through a point-and-click interface.
- Manually insert ads in locations that you determine yourself.
- Exclude pages from having ads on them.
- Verify your site with Webmaster Tools with just one click.
If you’re not using Shareaholic on your site, you could be missing out on valuable traffic. The plugin is primarily designed to be a social sharing expansion, but it is so much more than that.
It is a money-making machine if you’re using it right. I am not endorsed by Shareaholic in any way, I just really do like it that much. Some of the many benefits include:
1. You can turn on floating social sharing.
Expanding your blog’s reach, in part, is about making it easy to share. Don’t go all overkill and put sharing buttons everywhere, but a good balance of near the top, on the side, or near the bottom of all your pages/articles will do.
You can’t monetize your blog if you don’t have people coming to it. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see we have the social sharing option enabled at the bottom of our articles as well.
2. There is a related posts feature.
This is likely far more important than you’re giving it credit for.
Everything is about bounce rate. Your Google search rankings, your self-esteem, your dinner choice tonight, the number of page views per visit each visitor has…everything.
The longer you keep people on your site, the more money you make. Plain and simple. If you can get your average pageviews/visit to increase from 1.17 to 1.59, you can expect to see a similar positive correlation in your earnings. It really is that important.
3. There are multiple ways to directly monetize your site.
a) You can enable ads amongst your related content at the bottom so that they don’t clutter the page and/or your sidebar. How many ads you place is up to you and can be tailored towards your advertising goals.
b) You can enable ads on all your social sharing pages. If someone chooses to share a post, it will display a targeted banner ad similar to the content they’re already viewing. How’s that for reaching your target audience?
c) While I have this option disabled as we utilize our own affiliate links, Shareaholic has the ability to append normal links to products into affiliate links that generate sales for you. Pretty cool.
And like I said, these are only but a few benefits. As with most trusted plugins, if you don’t like it, you can deactivate and uninstall. You need to give this one a try.
3. WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions
WooCommerce is everything you ever needed to start an online shop packaged into one little click of a button.
From fully-functional product description pages to a shopping cart to checkout and refund pages, you really can sell physical or digital items online with essentially 0 coding knowledge.
If you have a unique idea, service, or product that you can sell, you’re missing out by not having WooCommerce installed. Consider this: with over 7 million installs, WooCommerce now powers over 30% of ALL retailer websites in the world.
It’s trusted because it works. It is also developed by the same people that designed WordPress, so that comes as no surprise.
And while the WooCommerce platform itself is open source and free to install, there are a number of paid enhancements that are well worth the money. However, it’s fully functional without any paid enhancements, so don’t let that discourage you.
One of my favorite add-ons is the WooCommerce Subscription Plugin. The subscription package allows you to make certain content private and then sell it on a renewing basis to your members.
If you’d like to have a membership product on your site with a renewing revenue stream, this is the easiest way to do it. It’s about $200/year but more than pays for itself if you’re generating revenue from it.
Best Plugins for Social Sharing, Email List Growth, and Search Engine Optimization
I considered putting this category first because while these plugins don’t lead to direct monetization of your blog, they are one of the most important when it comes to revenue growth. If you’re not constantly striving to expand your social reach, grow your email list, or optimize your website for search engine crawling, your priorities are seriously misaligned.
If your goal is to make blogging your primary income, then you need to scale. The sad truth is the highest-quality content in the world is still going to fall on deaf ears if you don’t have an audience that is willing to share it.
These plugins will help with that.
4. Yoast SEO
You need to think of Yoast SEO as a liaison between you and Google. And on that same note, you need to think of Google as the top prize. Let that sink in for a minute – Google is the top prize.
Nearly every action you ever take should be with the search engine in mind. Why? Because traffic. Traffic is why. Search traffic is why. Purchase intent is why. It’s so important I can’t stress it enough.
Perhaps one of the best plugins on this list, Yoast SEO is essentially a framework of things to keep in mind when choosing a blog topic and writing the ensuing article. By implementing good keyword usage/research (highly-searched, long-tail keywords with the least competition) and including all the ingredients of good metadata, you prime yourself for Google to take notice.
Now, none of this will help if Google doesn’t like your site to begin with (low domain authority, high spam score, poor backlink profile).
That said, if you’re constantly working on the parenthesized items and your scores start to improve, you allow Google to find your content easier by having excellent metadata. Google can learn what each page is about, which helps when ranking your content.
You start seeing targeted search traffic. You start seeing traffic with purchase intent; buyers found your website because they were actively looking for your product/information.
Be smart, help Google know how to index your page. Pinterest or Facebook may be your largest referrers now, but Google (or search engines in general) is the ultimate prize.
5. Social Warfare (or Shareaholic)
As I mentioned earlier, Shareaholic is a great social sharing tool and one of the best free plugins for WordPress. However, we’ve moved away from Shareaholic’s free plan to the Pro version of Social Warfare (there’s a free version as well).
Social Warfare simply one-ups the other social sharing plugins out there. More features, more versatility, more ways to share your content. If someone can’t share your article within 1 second of searching for share buttons, they’re just going to give up.
Attention spans keep getting smaller and smaller, so if your social sharing isn’t well placed or immediately available, readers are just going to move on.
Don’t make that mistake.
A single share could expand your reach by thousands of readers (the average Facebook user has 338 friends, and that assumes you get 0 further organic reach). Furthermore, social sharing increases the likelihood that you get backlinks to your site, and backlinks equals more authority, which means search engines rank your content higher.
Features of Social Warfare include:
- Support for every popular social network.
- Display total and individual share count.
- Display floating share buttons.
- Add “click to tweet” boxes within your content.
- Display popular posts widget organized by share counts.
- Upload Pinterest-specific images and descriptions to your posts (great for boosting Pinterest traffic).
- Tracks social shares with UTM tracking code (see exactly how much traffic this plugin is sending your way).
- Fully mobile responsive.
6. MailChimp for WordPress
When you first start a blog, you quickly realize that there are a million different directions blogging “experts” recommend you take. You need to be on 1,347,234 social media sites, figure out Facebook ads, write 17 life-changing blog posts a day.
With so many distractions and directions you could take, you need to be really intentional about where you focus your time. The two areas with the biggest payout: SEO and your email list.
You need to be building an email list. Of all the big-name bloggers we know, including ourselves, not focusing on their email list early on is the number one mistake the majority of them say they made.
If someone gives you their email, they’re signaling to you that they are interested in what you have to say or what you’re offering. And those same people are way more likely to be interested in similar things in the future.
Email lists are excellent for building an engaged and loyal audience. They can also help boost your traffic, get to know your target demographic, and have a major impact on your bottom line.
MailChimp has a free version that will allow you to start building your email list right away. It allows you to design custom fields/forms for readers to sign up, create separate email lists for certain audiences, and gives you analytics on how well your emails are performing.
Note: We use ConvertKit for all our email marketing needs and highly recommend it. ConvertKit was created by bloggers for bloggers, and it’s by far the superior email marketing tool, in our opinion. ConvertKit used to only offer paid options, but now they have a free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers.
Have I mentioned that email lists are important?
Well, let me stress it further by adding a second plugin to this list that is an absolute must-have. For free, you can install SumoMe on your website and start testing numerous methods for collecting email addresses.
From a slim, interactive bar at the top of the page to polite pop-ups as you scroll down the page to minimized collection forms in page footers, SumoMe allows you to test which email method works best for you and your site. It’s one of the most versatile and user-friendly methods for collecting email addresses without burdening and/or annoying your readers.
The Pro version of SumoMe also integrates with all the major email service provides, so you don’t have to worry about manually entering new subscribers.
Best Plugins for Website Speed and Optimization
Search engines have long placed an emphasis on user experience, and website speed is a huge factor in ranking algorithms. If your desktop or mobile speed scores are low, odds are Google (or any search engine, for that matter) is penalizing you for providing a poor service.
Ironically, installing numerous plugins on your WordPress website can negatively impact your speeds (plugins are resource-intensive and just add to the number of things your user has to download when they access your page). While plugins add to the functionality of your website, having too many can be a huge burden on your load times.
Furthermore, the awesome plugins below will help keep your website moving faster by compressing images, caching information for future visits, and hosting resource intensive images on outside servers.
JetPack is like 16 plugins in 1, but the most interesting feature that relates directly to website speed is called Photon. This plugin uses a CDN (content delivery network) hosted by WordPress.com itself to display your images.
This speeds up your website by not burdening your servers with the task of delivering large image files to the user. Instead, they serve a saved image off the WordPress.com cloud that helps reduce your page load times.
Again, SEO rankings depend heavily on page load times, so anything that could plausibly reduce them gets a thumbs up in my book.
Plus the plugin is designed by Automattic (the parent company of WordPress), so you can pretty much always count on it to be functional/not break your website each time a new update comes out. Other cool features include downtime monitoring (get an email if your site goes down), daily backups, increased social exposure, and brute force prevention.
9. WP Smush
JetPack serves a cloud-based image from a CDN, but you can speed up the process further by compressing unnecessarily large images that take a long time to load. WP Smush will crunch those file sizes down and serve a much cleaner, lighter version of media that you uploaded in your admin panel.
Better yet, WP Smush has a bulk cleaning tool that allows you to clean up dozens of pictures at a time. So if you’ve had your WordPress website up for a long time with thousands of images scattered about, don’t fret, just let WP Smush run in the background for a few hours and see just how much file space it cleans up.
10. WP Super Cache
Think of WP Super Cache as doing the same thing Smush does for images except for the web pages (HTML) themselves. The plugin allows you to serve static HTML to the vast majority of your users.
This results in reduced bandwidth usage, server load, and perceived lag issues.
Don’t understand much of that? You don’t really need to. Just understand it’s a good thing. After all, that is the entire purpose of many of these plugins — to add functionality to our websites with code snippets that we would otherwise know nothing about.
The Best WordPress Plugins Aren’t Directly Noticeable
It may be hard to wrap your mind around why some of these plugins are important. However, each one serves its own purpose in making your site the best it can be. From improving your user experience (speed, design, etc.) to getting your name out there and making money (SEO, social sharing, ads, etc.), each piece is crucial to your success as a blogger.
My advice (from blogger to blogger): take the time to create a solid foundation for your blog using some of the best plugins listed here, most of which are free. You’ll see progress a lot more quickly, and you’ll be more motivated to stay with this whole blogging thing for the long run.