I’ve been cooking up a list of essential WordPress plugins that every internet marketer should have. The key point here is that these plugins are essential if you eventually want to make money with your website.
I already assume you have most of the Must Have FREE WordPress Plugins already. If you don’t, check out that list. Those are plugins you absolutely need and since they are free, there is no excuse not to.
This list here are premium plugins. That means you have to pay for them. But it also means you are getting a good product. And each of these fulfill a specific purpose, especially if you are trying to make money online in some way. There are likely FREE alternatives or other alternatives that are cheaper. These are the best though.
If you’ve been told it’s FREE to make money online, well you’ve been lied to. The startup costs are far lower than creating any sort of physical business, but there are costs and not just the basic wordpress theme + hosting costs you pay. Those costs are in TOOLS that your business — be it building an email list from your visitors, backing up your site, building forums, creating landing pages, and so on.
These are the best plugins I’ve found that offer needed functionality for affiliate marketers, bloggers, digital content marketers, or infoprenuers. You might not need ALL of these plugins, but chances are, you’ll need at least a few of them, depending on what sort of website you are running.
These are premium, PAY plugs, not free ones. I’ve tried to list plugins that offer good value and are one time purchase products, not that crappy pay each month model that many plugins and online services now charge you.
If you guys do find this post useful, I’ll likely revise and expand it in the future with MORE plugins and also offer some good alternatives for each type of plugin.
Let me state that I personally use every single one of these plugins on my sites. And some of these links are indeed affiliate links. But, I own and use each one of these myself, so I’m not recommending anything that I don’t use myself and that I don’t consider the best of it’s type.
1. OptinMonster (Newsletter Optin Plugin)
There’s a lot of newsletter plugins on the market, some cheap, some expensive, some even free.
Personally, I absolutely recommend you just pony up and buy OptinMonster (affiliate link). It’s the best newsletter plugin and absolutely the most popular one out there. There are cheaper alternatives if you can’t afford the cost of OptinMonster (they used to have a lifetime membership for around $300 USD for unlimited sites and unlimited updates, but as of last month they cancelled that plan and made their whole system pay per month).
There is a reason pretty much every single website that’s actually getting visitors opts for this plugin. It’s the best, hands down. There’s number of different packages to choose from, pricing wise to meet every budget.
Building a list is key. I use OptinMonster on this site (well I have it installed, I’m in the process of setting it up to be honest since there is a bit of work involved in setting a newsletter system up) and I use it on all my other main websites that I make money from.
Building a newsletter is one of the best things you can do. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I didn’t bother to do in the early stages of my make money online efforts — much to my chagrin.
Why do you want to collect newsletter subscribers?
1) You ‘keep’ a portion of your visitors who normally come to your site then just fuck off right away.
2) You have one most effective groups of people to market to and a direct line of communication with them
Because in #2 you have people going out of their way to first sign up for your newsletter and second, confirm this (known as the double optin), you basically ensure your list is full of people who want to hear what you have to say.
And trust me, you will notice the difference. Think about this for a moment. Not only do you have a direct readership, but you have a very WILLING readership who actually want to hear what you have to say.
For some of my newsletters, I regularly have a 40-65 percent OPEN rate. This means for every 1000 people who subscribe, 650 or so open my letters and read what I have to say. You can’t beat that with Facebook or twitter or any other medium out there. Facebook Pages these days give you 1-10 percent of your total followers.
I have one website with 80,000 Facebook fans and with every regular Facebook post made, I reach on average about 6-10,000 visitors or just under 10 percent! This is shit compared to how well my newsletters do. Imagine if I had 80,000 newsletter subscribers instead. With every email sent off to my list, I would have 40,000 reads!
Honestly, I personally hate yearly fees myself, but OptinMonster is one of the rare cases it’s actually worth the cost.
The Downsides: TIME
The only problem with newsletters is it takes a lot of work to set up a campaign and you need to offer some sort of free incentive to really increase your optin rate. By free I mean some free ebook, or free content or free discount (if you sell a service or product) to convince your readers to sign up. You can still get signups of course if you don’t offer anything, but your optin rate will dramatically increase if you do offers some valuable information for free as an Ebook or something.
And this takes a lot of time on your part.
Besides actually spending the hours to put together free material, you also need to set up the optin plugin, create the optin forms, set up a mail service (I recommend MailChimp as the best one, hands down), and configure some sort of automated email work flow so you can get subscriptions and send off the free material + your newsletters automatically.
There are some cheaper alternatives. But trust me, Optin Monster IS the best and you get what you pay for. Still if it’s between new newsletter or one that’s not the best, go with
What is Formidable Pro?
If you are looking for a premium form builder, well you have pretty much four options on the market, Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, Visual Formbuilder, and Formidable Pro. The safe pick is probably Gravity Forms, which is the form builder that is by far the most popular with more features than you can shake a stick at.
It’s also expensive as fuck, and it’s on that whole yearly prescription module, which I hate.
I’d rather pay $200 dollars for an unlimited lifetime membership than $30 dollars a year.
Gravity forms makes you pay to play. If you can afford it, well go with Gravity Forms. It’s probably the best. But you’ll pay at least $100 bucks a year (or more depending on your pricing plan), but that’s a drop in the bucket if you are making money online.
But let me present to you a great alternative to Gravity Forms, one that pretty much offers the same core features, with some extra ones too.
At a fraction of the price, with unlimited sites as a lifetime member.
Yes, I’m talking about Formidable Pro.
I own and use Formidable Pro myself and I’ve used it to create sales forms that sell digital products. It’s effective and you can make money with it (if you have product you are selling).
You can do pretty much the same thing you can do with Gravity Forms. It’s not as easy to create the forms, BUT there is more power under the hood for customization. Gravity Forms has a lot of 3rd party ad-dons you can buy which is a big bonus, but for the most part Formidable Pro offers most of the same core functionality, either as part of the package or as a 3rd party add-on.
What is Backup Buddy?
Backup Buddy (affiliate link) is a plugin you install which automatically backs your WordPress site (database + files or some combination of both) to a remote storage you specify. You can back up to Dropbox, Google Drive, a remote server via SFTP (basically any server with FTP), etc. You can configure pretty much everything to do with how many backups you want do, what you want to backup, how often, etc. You can also easily restore old backups directly — either a whole backup or specific files in an old backup or an older database version. There is a file manager utility built right into the plugin where you simply click on an old backup, your website directory opens as a list of files, and you choose what specific files you want to restore from that backup version. I’ve already used this feature several times already to restore messed up WordPress themes after I fiddled with something and the whole site stopped working.
Why Use Backup Buddy?
Save your sites from a catastrophe with this plugin. I already talked about how to create a backup workflow to save your ass from catastrophe. Trust me on this one: you don’t want to wake up and suddenly find your server crashed, your databases corrupted, and your data deleted.
Yes, even in 2015, this can happen. It’s happened to me several times already in five years. And even if your files don’t somehow evaporate one day, a far more likely scenario is you accidentally delete something important yourself or you get some malware infestation through a shitily coded WordPress plugin/theme.
I used to have 400 or so WordPress sites and several of them were hacked regularly each month. So hacking is NOT at all rare. Hackers often upload some malware on your site which redirects visitors, changes affiliate id’s, or plain out steals your private information.
And it’s a bitch to get rid of this malware. I actually had to pay someone $500 bucks to remove a Male-ware infestation on my server recently.
Ideally, you want to have two tier backup solution where you back up all your websites at the server level to a remote storage (see my article on how to set a backup workflow for your website on the cheap) and at the WordPress level. Backup Buddy is the best solution I’ve found that directly handles your WordPress backups.
Not only does it help you backup your WordPress sites automatically, but it helps you RECOVER a backup in a few clicks if you ever need to restore.
Trust me on this one: it’s one thing to back your sites up and it’s another thing to restore them. You can back your stuff up, but if it takes you days to restore your site, you’ve lost both money and time.
I also use this, besides a backup solution, to migrate / clone wordpress sites from one domain to another. And I also use it to set up an awesome Live Testing environment where you have your live site on the main domain, but you create a subdomain and clone the lives site there.
My favorite feature is the ability to set up a Staging Site (test site). Backup Buddy allows you to link the two together and you can push any changes from the Test Staging Site to the Live Site (and vice versa). This allows you to change themes, test plugins, or make huge modifications to your actual site without impacting your live site or visitors at the single click of a button between each site. For example, you want to change your live site’s theme to a brand new theme but you don’t want do it on your live site, which might crash or take days to set up the new theme (affecting your visitors). So you simply do it on the staging site, setting up the new theme (remember, it’s an exact clone of your live site so you are ‘working with’ your live site except on on a test environment. When your new is working and set up, just push the changes live with the click of a button. If you don’t like the new theme or the changes don’t work well or your CTR goes down or traffic tanks because of the theme, you simply can restore your existing old theme with the click of a button. This is HUGE and I LOVE this feature to death.
Again, I own and use this plugin (I signed up for the lifetime membership because I hate paying each month).
4. Profit Builder (Landing/Splash Page Creator Plugin)
Profit Builder (affiliate link) is one of the best landing page / splash page / squeeze page creators for WordPress and the best priced one to boot. This is the landing page builder my brother and I are currently using to create the landing/sales pages for our digital products (an eBook on one website and another digital service sold on another website).
If at some point you are trying to convert your readers to BUY something from you (which if you want to make full time living online — you will at some point!), well, you are likely going to need some special page setup just to convert your reader into a buyer.
These types of specialized pages are known as ‘Landing Pages’, ‘Lead Pages’, ‘Splash Pages’, and so on.
If you already have your website set up on a theme and don’t want to go out and get a brand new theme built around a landing page or your site is one that’s more blog-ey in style and not ideal for a landing page type setup, you can find landing page plugins that will allow you to set up a landing page anywhere on your site, from any page. This is a more flexible option than using a landing page theme.
This works great in my experience. You can have your regular site, but if you want to sell a product you’ve come up with from your site, you can send your readers to a specific landing page created on your site just to convert them .
There’s a lot of plugins and themes that allow you to build awesome looking landing pages, either as a single page or as an entire website. The best of these offer both a THEME and a PLUGIN, so for the most flexibility (so you can make an entire landing page website based around a product or just a single page on your existing blog).
OptinPress and Landing Pages are two of the best such plugin + theme combos out there, and alternatives to Profit Builder.
But they are pricey and you have to pay yearly to use these. As stated, I HATE this sort of money grabbing model. As such, I recommend Profit Builder as a better alternative.
In my opinion, Profit Builder is the best of the bunch. It offers exactly the same feature set as OptimizePress, comes as either a theme or a plugin for maximum flexibility, but is ONLY 67 dollars for lifetime updates and unlimited sites, versus the $200 or so you would pay per year with one of the other solutions. The only downside here is the product create looks pretty sleazy and tries to sell you on all his other products when you try to buy Profit Builder.
5. Thirsty Affiliates (Affiliate Link Management Plugin)
The base plugin is free, BUT, there are some very good enhancements you can buy that are worth it if your do affiliate marketing on any one of your sites. Since, likely, you do, there there are some key addons that can help you.
Many of these will be especially useful if you promote amazon products.
Amazon Module: If you have an site that sells amazon products, you absolutely should get the Thirsty Affiliates Amazon add on. It can save you a LOT of time.
ThirstyAffiliates Geolocations Add-on: Automatically detects the geo-location of your visitor and serves up the right affiliate url based on the person’s location. For sites like Amazon that make you serve different affiliate links for different countries (or you don’t get credit), this can add some extra cash to your income.
Thirsty Affiliates Split Testing: Split test your affiliate links. No more wondering if your text is effective. You can create different versions of your links and this addon will split test them, showing you what performs best.
Many of you will probably won’t bother with split testing, but it can be an incredibly effective way to increase conversions.
The principle of split testing is basically to randomly show two different versions (of a page, a form, a website title — anything) to visitors and test which one does better.
This basically takes the ‘guesswork’ out of your design — you come up with a couple options and test them against the other, eventually picking the clear winner. It takes some work on your part because you have to come up with different versions, test them, pick the winner and test that against another option. Eventually, you get the best performing versions and you go with this as the winner.
There are some plugins for WordPress that allow you to test different posts or pages against each other and track which performs better at converting something. The problem is that A/B testing is usually expensive with the companies offering this service charging you anywhere from 20 to 200 dollars per month and they store the data on their servers (so if you stop paying, you lose it).
However there are some good options.
My favorite of the bunch, in no small part due to the simplicity, ease of use, and the price, is Simple Page Tester. This plugin basically allows you to
- Set up a simple page split test in less than two minutes
- Run split tests without having to put in a single piece of code
- Track results in Google Analytic
- Track actual conversions (premium version of plugin)
- Automatically have the winner of your split test become the master page
For the vast majority of you marketers, this $59 plugin (no monthly or yearly bullshit payment) it’s all you need. Buy it, install it, and start testing two different pages with offers. It’s that easy.
Some other options, though you will pay more:
- Nelio Split Testing is the best option and the most fully featured split testing plugin (you can test everything, pages, titles, css, etc), but it’s also $29 bucks a month for the cheapest plan and over $200 per month for the more fully featured plan. Did I mention I hate paying per month for WordPress plugins?
- AB PRess Optimizer is another good option, but the cheapest option is $49 for a year and you only can use it on ONE site. After the year is up, you need to renew your license if you want to access updates, but at least you can still use your then-outdated plugin. However, 1 site is limiting for most of us marketers who have multiple sites, so the next best option is the $99 which gives 3 sites, but this is still limiting for most of us.
7. Ad Sanity (Ad Manager Plugin)
If you want to display ads without a fuss, Ad Sanity is the best ad plugin I’ve found. There are a number of widgets and shortcodes that will display whatever ads you set up. This means you can show ads in sidebars, posts, pages, and wherever else you want. You can control how long ads show for (scheduled ads, infinite ads), and it has a whole stats system to track and compare the click stats.
a WordPress ad management plugin focused on ease-of-use. Adding new ads in Adsanity is very similar to adding a post. It comes with with widgets and shortcodes support to display ads, so you can display ads in sidebars, posts and pages. You can create either time-based ads (that run for a specific time) or infinite ads (that would keep running unless you remove them). It also has graphs and stats for ad views and clicks. If you’re looking to display advertisement in WordPress, then you should be using this plugin.
There are other ad managers out there (some even free), but I’ve found Ad Sanity to be a comprehensive and fully featured Ad Manager that’s easy to use and worth the money you pay.
8. Soliloquy (Premium Slider Plugin)
If you are shopping around for a sweet, sweet, slider, Soliloquy is the best out there. It also does not slow down your website and there is a free version you can try. This slider often come packaged with some of the better, premium WordPress themes out there so you may not need to buy it if you get a theme that includes it.
9. Sucuri (Security Plugin)
This pay plugin basically offers you complete protection for your site. You get access to real-time alerts, a website scanner, and a maleware removal service.
I used to be ambivalent about WordPress security, but having a shit ton of my WordPress sites hacked and all manner of malicious files uploaded to some of my sites has taught me better. What I like about this plugin/service is your website gets scanned every 3 hours for malicious software. If anything is found (such as maleware, spam link injections, or your site gets on one of those blacklist websites), you are notified right away.
Server Scanning: the pay service gives you access to server scanned. So not only do you get front end scanning, but you get backend server scanning, which is the only way possible to detect if there is something particularly malicious installed on your website.
Audit Login: The software also keeps track of what files belong in your wordpress installation. If there are any files that are NOT part of your core installation, you get notified. This is pretty handy as often malware injections put a innocuous looking file into your WordPress directly that looks like it’s part of your core installation. I once had this happen to me and the file was redirecting visigtors to my homepage to a porn website!
Malware Cleanup: If you are a paying customer and you get an infestation, these guys will do the cleanup for you. This can save you a lot of time. As I stated earlier, I had a hack on one of my sites and the hack got into several different websites sharing the same server. I had to pay over $500 bucks to an expert to track these infestations down, remove them, and block them. This ain’t cheap to get done yourself.
Arguably if you have a good backup workflow down, you don’t need to have this pay service. However, I do recommend it if you have a medium sized website with decent traffic that you make money from, especially if you are dealing with customers/clients.
10. Easy Social Metrics Pro (Social Signal Tracking Plugin)
Want to keep track of all those social signals? Facebook likes, Tweets, Google Plus’s, Reddit’s, and such. It can be a pain in the ass to track these. There are some free options out there, but the interfaces all suck. I finally found a program that does a magnificent job at tracking all your social signals. It’s called Easy Social Metrics Pro. I use this program myself on all my major websites. It costs $28 bucks and you can install it on unlimited sites (and trust me, you will).
Easy Social Metrics lets you track just how well your site is doing with all major social signals (Facebook Likes, Twitter, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Google+, etc) right from your WordPress Dashboard. You can show all social stats by individual posts, all posts and sort it out by different time frames (days, weeks, months, etc) in a table or graph format.
Basically, you can drill down exactly how well your posts (or website as a whole) is doing with social authority.
If you get a site that picks up some good social signals for your posts (I have one specific site that sometimes gets anywhere from 300 to 5,000 likes per post), this can really help you track how well everything is doing. And with this information, you can optimize your content around topics that have gained a lot of social traction so you can repeat those successes.
11. Woo Commerce (eCommerce Plugin)
Online shopping plugin. If you want to use WordPress for eCommerce, well, there is no better solution than WooCommerce. The basic core product is free, but you have to pay a pretty penny for the Add-Ons which extend the functionality — which you likely will need to buy at some point.
There are other options and even some good non WordPress options (PrestoCart, Opencart, etc). But WooCommerce is one of the world’s most popular. Note though, I personally have never used WooCommerce. I do find WordPress kind of slow as an eCommerce platform.
12. Exchange by iThemes (Membership Site Plugin)
There’s a shit ton of membership sites out there. Literally dozens. My favorite pick would be Exchange which, I feel, works as one of the best membership plugins for people who are starting out with a membership site and don’t specifically know exactly what they need. Likely, Exchange will be exactly what you are looking for. The basic plugin is FREE which will give you what you need to start a basic membership site, but you do have to pay for the premium Add-ons.
Like most of these ‘freemium’ models, realistically if you are going to set up a fully fledged membership where you charge people money to access protected content on your site, you are going to want to pay for the Pro Pack which costs $200 for the unlimited license. But compared to some of the comparable membership plugins where you have to pay EACH month, that’s not a bad deal.
There are dozens of other options, but Exchange is one of the best, NO BS options out there.
Other Membership Plugin Alternatives:
- MemberPress (comes highly recommended)
- Paid Membership Pro is another highly regarded option.
- And my final alternative would be Digital Access Pass.