A self-hosted WordPress site is currently one of the best ways to spin up your own personal blog or small website. It provides ease-of-access for anyone to publish good-looking content. At SaviorLabs, we use WordPress to set up sites for many of our clients. It provides both a good platform for us to do development on and an easy package to hand off to our customers, leaving them with real control over their site.

Starting out with WordPress can be daunting, however, as it gives you so many tools– and with those tools come potential technical issues. Maybe you’re wrestling down tons of spam in your comments. What’s the best plugin to deal with that?

Even worse is the “things that you don’t know you don’t know” – how do you work to keep hackers from getting into your site? What happens if your entire site gets deleted?

For each of our site setups, we use a variety of reliable and regularly updated plugins that we find both essential to a site’s well-being and easy for clients to maintain. Check out our list of recommendations to keep any WordPress site in top shape (and the best part is, most of them are free!):

Security Support

As soon as your site is up and out on the internet, it is at risk. All of these plugins are great risk mitigators for the large majority of web issues. These plugins are good “install first” options.

iThemes Security is a great means to prevent simple malicious attacks against your website. Just install the plugin, run the recommended auto-setup, and your site will instantly have smart auto-banning protocols to stop brute force attacks. The free version can also detect file changes and make sure all your passwords are strong.

Google Authenticator – Two Factor Authentication allows Google Authenticator to be used as two-step verification every time a user logs in. This extra layer of security can help if one of your users (or admins) has their password stolen.

Maintenance Must-haves

Comments are frequently an important part of a WordPress site, since it allows for users to have meaningful interaction with, and investment in, your product. WP Spam Shield Anti Spam is a great solution to slimming down the spam you receive from maintaining a comment section (all without CAPTCHA!). It is easy to install and low-maintenance.

Site backups are also essential as “website insurance”. Much like real insurance, you may not be aware of your need for it until your house catches fire, a branch falls on your car – or your website gets corrupted or lost!

Akeeba Backup is the only paid plugin we’re recommending for a reason: it’s the absolute BEST out there for backup and recovery. Most similar plugins require you to do some intensive manual reconstruction of your site when you go to restore a backup. Akeeba has an excellent “site restore” function that does much of that work automatically, and all the steps are excellently documented.

Speed Enhancement

Once you are nearing the end of customizing your site (adding plugins, pages, etc), you’ll want to optimize and “compress” all of your site’s code so that users can get your information quickly and painlessly. Google recommends that any site load in under 200 milliseconds – this is a lofty goal, but there’s a couple plugins that can help you achieve that.

WP Super Cache is a popular optimization tool and is one of the go-to plugins for many WordPress sites. It creates and maintains “cached” versions of your site, so that most content on your site can be delivered as a static, unchanging package, rather than dynamically created through back-end code on each visit.

One of our favorite (and less-known) optimization tools is Autoptimize. This plugin tends to do well with drastically improving the Google Page Speed score: it compresses and combines code files, packing your page down into the smallest deliverable possible. (WP Super Cache and Autoptimize can run on the same site, though occasionally they will conflict with one another. Pick WP Super Cache if both aren’t working at the same time!)

Conclusion

These plugins are a recommended part of a good, technical foundation for any WordPress website. I hope you find success with them! Let us know which ones you really like – and if there’s any “essentials” that we missed!