10 Essential WordPress Plugins for E-Commerce
For anyone considering, building, or operating an e-commerce website using WordPress, here is a list of 10 plugins that I consider to be necessary in building the ultimate WP e-commerce shop. The list is a mix of free and premium plugins and covers different areas of your site, including some that aren’t directly e-commerce but are important for an e-commerce website. Without further a due, here they are:
1. WordPress SEO by Yoast
Starting with covering some basics, WordPress SEO by Joost De Valk has become the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. Any website owner wants their website to be found in search engines and that all starts with some basic on-page search engine optimization. This plugin analyzes the content of your posts, pages, products, etc. Some features include keyword focus, page titles, meta description, and XML sitemaps. Once you’ve written your content, the plugin will run an analysis and tell you what you’ve done well and what you need to do to improve your page’s ranking. This plugin is always included in my WordPress installations.
2. Google XML Sitemaps
When I install WordPress SEO by Yoast, I like to disable the XML Sitemaps feature in lieu of Google XML Sitemaps. The reason for this is because Google XML Sitemaps is dedicated to just that, sitemaps. Therefore, I have more control over my sitemaps and can easily regenerate whenever I like. Don’t let the “Google” part fool you, though. Even though Google is the most important search engine to notify of your site’s changes, it also notifies Bing (you can ping others individually or by using a tool like Ping-o-Matic!).
3. Google Analytics for WordPress
Another plugin by Joost De Valk, Google Analytics for WordPress is arguably the most popular Google Analytics plugins for WordPress. It allows users to easily install Google Analytics on their WordPress site. Additionally, I like to supplement this plugin with the Google Analyticator plugin. Google Analyticator is another Google Analytics plugin for WordPress but the nice thing about this one is that it installs a simple analytics chart with some stats right in the dashboard. Call it laziness, but I don’t really like logging into the Google Analytics dashboard all that often so having the basics right in my WP dashboard is awesome! Google Analyticator is a minimalist plugin. It doesn’t offer as much as Google Analytics by Yoast and, fortunately, I haven’t experienced any conflicts while using them both simultaneously.
4. Disqus Comment System
The default comment system in WordPress is pretty basic. No bells or whistles here. Some may like that but I think most users will want to consider a few things. First, spammers will begin flooding your posts with comments almost as soon as you’ve published your site. There are tools like Akismet that will help with spam but I found that Akismet blocked too much and comments that should have been approved wound up marked as spam along with the thousands of actual spam comments. Second, you may want a way for your readers to subscribe to your post’s comments. Sure, you can achieve this with something like Subscribe to Comments Reloaded but it’s just one more plugin to add and configure. Lastly, giving your readers a way to connect with your blog and comment via their social media is huge and, therefore, is something that should just be done. As a result, Disqus is the only (to the best of my knowledge) solution that offers all of these features out of the box. It’s also a very popular system and you will see it on many websites (not just on WordPress sites).
5. Broken Link Checker
A very simple but useful tool, Broken Link Checker scans your site for any broken links. This includes the annoying 404 (Not Found) error that displays when you change your permalink, switch pages, or whatever the case is. It installs a dashboard widget for easy monitoring and you can also have emails sent alerting you of a broken link. Broken links can bring your page rank down (or your whole site’s ranking if you have a lot of them) so this is definitely something you need to keep track of.
6. Gravity Forms (free alternative Contact Form 7)
>Gravity Forms is the premier forms plugin for WordPress. If you have any need at all to collect user information or have your users send you information, there is no better way than with Gravity Forms. It also integrates seamlessly with other third-party add-ons for services like MailChimp, WooCommerce, and PayPal. Conditional logic allows you to create very advanced forms and achieve almost anything you could need to do with a form. Setting up auto-responses (including conditional responses) is very simple. To accomplish what you get with Gravity Forms, you’d likely spend thousands to have a developer custom build.
A free alternative to Gravity Forms is Contact Form 7. In terms of ease-of-use, they’re both about the same, although I think Gravity Forms may be more intuitive for a beginner. However, to save money, Contact Form 7 is a solid choice. It doesn’t come with the advanced features you’ll enjoy with Gravity Forms but it does a great job with basic forms. I think it’s also important to remember that Contact Form 7, by default, does not store form entries. All submissions are emailed to the email you designate in the form’s settings. Most users probably won’t care about this but it’s something that may be important to some.
7. BackupBuddy (Backup to Dropbox)
BackupBuddy backs up your entire WordPress site (even widgets). I can attest to the gut wrenching feeling you get when your site breaks and you don’t have a backup to restore it. Don’t put yourself in a position to have to deal with this headache. Simply schedule backups to run on a set schedule (i.e. daily) and have the backup sent to your email, Dropbox or Amazon S3 (the list goes on). This way, you’ll only need to worry about it if your site breaks (and it won’t be as scary).
8. Hide My WP
Although I am a WordPress enthusiast and am proud to work with it, not everyone shares that same sentiment. For anyone who wants to prevent others from knowing that their site is run using WordPress, Hide My WP does exactly that. Hide My WP packs plenty of cool security features, including control of PHP files, hiding the WP admin and files, changing directory names (i.e. wp-content), and much more.
A free alternative to Hide My WP is Better WP Security. It features many of the same or similar things and does a great job at protecting your WordPress site. Better WP Security also has a useful backup and email tool to schedule and send backups of your WP site.
As an e-commerce buff and WordPress fanatic, I know a thing or two about e-commerce for WordPress. There is no better e-commerce solution for WordPress than WooCommerce. The standard features are many and it’s not too difficult to learn. Best of all, it’s absolutely free! That means you can have an e-commerce site up and running for nothing more than your domain and hosting. For something more advanced, though, there are tons of extensions to really beef up your e-commerce site. From memberships, to auctions, to advanced table-rate shipping, WooCommerce is capable of almost anything for e-commerce.
One of the most important things to note is that WooCommerce is not compatible with every theme. Most new theme developers today are integrating WooCommerce compatibility but you may not be able to use it with your existing theme. To test it out, I recommend setting up a test site (either locally or on a subdomain). This way you can see how well your theme plays with WC without having to make changes to a live site.
Feel free to browse our WP shop to see some of the extensions and themes available for WooCommerce (we take requests for things not currently offered).
10. WP Awesome Support
I decided to include WP Awesome Support because your website is the most efficient way of offering support to your clients, even if you don’t do a lot of your business online. WP Awesome Support allows you to easily setup a public or private support ticket system. Customers submit a ticket by completing a simple form that is emailed to you or an agent you designate. It also keeps support conversations in a nice dialog view and, thus, spares you and your customers the hassle of having to scroll and navigate through previous emails. Oh, it also integrates with WooCommerce!