Every tradesman has a toolbelt. Designers, artists, and creatives have a suite of materials and tools and resulting portfolio. Single parents have tote bags that put the famous Mary Poppins purse to shame. So, of course, every startup founder making their debut on the web must have the right tools. Here’s a sneak peek at some of my favorite go-to plugins, extensions, and sites for small business success.
Disclaimer: I’m Team WP, so everything website-related is WordPress-centric.
For Website Design
Every online brand masterpiece must begin with a canvas. While there are several known canvas manufacturers, WordPress is the obvious favorite, at least in my circles. First, I’ll share my go-to tools for designing or modifying beautiful pages for WordPress sites.
1. Elementor (WordPress Plugin)
Hopefully, we don’t have to spend too much time talking you out of trying to code a website from scratch yourself. But, those who have spent any time whatsoever designing a website from a template know that not all themes were created equal. And even some of the most popular themes can be cumbersome or limiting when it comes to customization capabilities.
Page builders, such as Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Page Builder by SiteOrigin extend the customization capacity of virtually any theme, empowering non-developers and expediting the process for savvier web designers and devs. Elementor is my favorite, as I find it to be the least clunky while producing the cleanest code. And the free version of the plugin includes tons of advanced features such as responsive menus, custom headers, image sliders, and advanced blog layout customizations.
2. Adobe Photoshop Elements (Photo-Editing Tool)
Adobe is the defacto photo-editing software provider. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements for the lengthy list of professional features. I can crop, resize, and optimize images for web. Better still, I can create custom image collages and work with layers to create templates, which is especially useful when creating beautiful feature images for blog posts.
Elements gives me everything I need without the overwhelm or expense of more robust solutions used by professional web designers. If you’re hoping to avoid paying for photo-editing, I’d suggest exploring free alternatives to Photoshop such as Gimp or Pixlr.
For Website Performance and Security
We know speed and performance impact website search visibility. We also know people aren’t likely to stick around and wait for a dinosaur webpage to populate and hopefully reveal the answers for which they are searching. They’ll bounce and find a website that will give them the answers faster. Furthermore, a website security breach can mean devastation for profit potential and brand credibility for businesses of all sizes.
As unglamorous as website performance and security tools might be, they’re of utmost importance to business owners. If you want the world to trust your site, turn to the trusted experts.
3. W3 Total Cache (WordPress Plugin)
W3 Total Cache is a fan favorite caching plugin for WordPress. It’s hosting provider-agnostic, requires no modifications to your theme or website files, and tackles far more performance optimizations than the standard page caching plugin.
Real Quick: What is Caching?
Caching, put simply, is a mechanism for displaying your webpage content faster. Remember, websites are essentially computers, not magic genies showing you whatever your heart desires with the quick rub of a lamp.
When people are visiting a website, imagine a large administrative building with several file clerks trying to process simultaneous requests for information. One individual has to tell the clerk what they’d like to see, and then the employee must run to wherever said data is located, fetch the requested information, and run some internal processes before showing the data to the requester. Multiply that by hundreds, thousands, or millions of simultaneous requests, and you have the internet experience.
Now, think of caching as a file clerk with a photographic memory. She gets the request from the individual and replies, “I remember what that asset looked like the last time I pulled said file. Let me show you.” Boom! The requester is happily taking in the information they were looking for in a matter of microseconds.
Real Quick, Part II: And Why Do I Need Caching?
By implementing a cache feature for your website, you’re storing a snapshot of webpage and site file content locally so there’s no need for a new request to the home base server every time someone wants to view your page. This lowers the burden on your website’s servers and decreases the response time, which, in turn, enhances the user experience and increases your chances of ranking higher in Google search results. With W3TC fully configured, you can expect 10-times faster page loading, which is measurable using tools such as Google PageSpeed Insights (more on that later).
4. Smush (WordPress Plugin)
The objective of the website performance optimization game is to reduce the amount of time it takes for assets to load. And images are no-doubt the biggest burden on page load speed. By using an image compression plugin, such as award-winning Smush, you can not only compress and resize your artwork for optimal site performance, but you can also take advantage of lazy loading. Lazy loading just means you prevent off-screen images from holding up the show when loading page content (i.e., if the image is further down the page, wait to load it until the user scrolls into its viewing territory).
5. Cloudflare (Web Security and Performance Tools)
When it comes to website security and performance tools for small business owners, I’m a proponent of set-it-and-forget-it technologies. I trust the Cloudflare name to handle the nitty-gritty details in the background. And I love that my hosting provider includes a Cloudflare CDN for free with all accounts.
A content delivery network, or CDN, enables much faster page loading by caching your site’s content and distributing the cache throughout a network of servers. When your viewers request your site, they will get the cached version located nearest to them. Cloudflare also mitigates malicious attacks on your site by identifying and blocking potentially dangerous requests.
6. PageSpeed Insights (Website Speed Testing Tool)
Now that you know a little bit about caching and how to optimize your website’s imagery for screaming-fast performance, you need a tool to put your new tools to the test. Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom (up next) represent the gold standard of page load testing. PageSpeed Insights is free and couldn’t be easier to use. Enter your webpage URL, click a button, and see how your site performs.
7. Pingdom (Performance Monitoring Tool)
Pingdom goes a step beyond page load testing and gives you a full health report of your website’s speed, uptime, and potential performance bottlenecks. I like to use Pingdom to quickly identify pages, posts, or images that might be negatively impacting a website’s user experience and related search rankings.
For SEO, Web Traffic Monitoring, and Analytics
While we’ve glossed over a lot of topics an tools that influence online search rankings, let’s get to the heart of the matter. How do I monitor, measure, and maximize my site’s presence in Google search results?
8. Google Search Console (Web Traffic-Monitoring Tool)
The easiest way to get information is to go straight to the source. Google’s Search Console (formerly WebMaster Tools) is your primary means of communication with Google. This is where you let Google know your site exists, including when you’ve updated or added content, and make sure what you’re expecting users to see and what Google sees when viewing your webpages are aligned.
9. Google Analytics (Web Analytics Service)
To take a deeper dive into your website’s traffic, delineating between organic visitors and those coming to you via PPC advertising campaigns, you need Google Analytics. This service is your behind-the-scenes peek into what your customers or visitors are looking for. You can use that intel to refine your site content and business offerings to better serve existing users and attract more visitors to your online brand.
Bonus: The Google Analytics curve is significantly lowered with the right plugin for WordPress. MonsterInsights (featured below) does half the work for you.
10. Yoast SEO (WordPress Plugin)
Second only to the Google team itself, the Yoast family is probably the most trusted authority on WordPress SEO best-practices. The Yoast SEO plugin empowers non-technical site owners to configure their site to rank optimally. If you use nothing else, install this tool.
11. SEMRush (Keyword Research Tool)
For more ambitious website owners who want to delve into the keyword component of website optimization, SEMRush is a must. The all-in-one marketing toolkit offers robust reporting on competitor keywords, backlink profiles, on-page content, and pay-per-click (PPC) opportunities. Frankly, it can be overwhelming. I recommend dipping your toe in with the keyword research tool. Slowly ingest the tutorial documentation to get started. It’s a bit like drinking water from a fire hydrant, but it’s worthwhile information to digest!
12. Mozbar (Chrome Extension)
The free MozBar extension for Chrome makes it easy to analyze on-page elements, such as backlinks and keyword content, as you’re browsing the web. Easily visualize your website’s authority compared to that of competitors and avoid inadvertently sending off spam signals by monitoring your Spam Score.
13. MonsterInsights (WordPress Plugin)
The MonsterInsights plugin for WordPress requires zero developer intervention and hardly any Google Analytics knowledge. You can link your Google Analytics account in less than 60 seconds, and the plugin features a dashboard that puts the most important analytics insights centerstage. You don’t have to fully understand what you’re looking for, just follow MonsterInsights.
For Content and Collaboration
If this post alone isn’t enough of an indication, content is king when it comes to building a successful online brand or web presence for your brick-and-mortar. And, might I add, it takes a village! Next, let’s cover productivity tools.
14. Grammarly (Chrome Extension)
If you haven’t already, install the Grammarly extension for Chrome. Even if you don’t yet own a website, you should take advantage of this awesome editing wizard. Whether you’re cranking out a fire blog post, writing a dissertation, or composing an email, Grammarly is the second set of eyes we all need to review our wordsmithing attempts (and fails). The extension catches spelling errors, sentence fragments, misused commas, and virtually every content faux pas imagineable. It’s an editorial life-saver!
15. Google Suite (Collaboration & Productivity Tools)
Yet again, Google reigns supreme. G Suite encompasses everything you might need to collaborate in business:
- GMail (web-based email client)
- Google Meet and Google Message (for video/voice conferencing and chat)
- Google Docs (Microsoft Word alternative)
- Google Sheets (highly recommended Microsoft Excel alternative)
- Google Slides (Microsoft PowerPoint alternative)
- Google Forms (survey builder)
- Google Calendar
And those included apps are just the highlights! All files are stored and shared from your web browser of choice using Google Drive. You control sharing and editing permissions, and colleagues can easily leave tracked comments and edits as they collaborate in real-time.
For Email and Contacts
As we bring this behemoth list to a close, let’s get connected. Below are the recommended tools for contact forms and email marketing campaigns.
16. WPForms (WordPress Plugin)
The available contact form plugins for WordPress can range from clunky-to-customize to downright non-functional. A feature that seems so simple can be tricky, so stick with the popular vote on this one. WPForms is ideal if you’re looking for a powerful drag-and-drop editor to create beautiful submission forms and manage messaging coming from site visitors.
17. MailChimp, If You Must (Email Marketing Service)
As much as I personally hate email marketing (as a recipient and sender), it’s here to stay. Throughout my career, I’ve dabbled with several CRMs and email platforms, including HubSpot, MailChimp, and MailJet. And MailChimp wins for user-friendliness and customization potential.
There’s Probably a Plugin For That!
Now you too can have a Mary Poppins bag full of plugins, tips, and tricks to prime your business site for success! Remember, this list is based on personal experience and industry-vetted recommendations. But each brand and team is unique. If you have a need that’s not adequately covered here, put in a little research of your own and you’ll likely find a plugin, technology, or service that’s already been put to the test for your similar situation!