Five essential plugins for self-hosted WordPress author websites

Simon Appleby, Bookswarm

WordPress is a massively popular and important Content Management System (CMS) these days. It’s important to be clear about the difference between self-hosted WordPress and

·         Self-hosted WordPress is the full WordPress CMS. This can be used with any theme (including bespoke themes), any plugin and on any one of thousands of potential hosting companies. It’s available to download for free at

· is a ‘stripped down’ version of WordPress - provided as a service - on which only a limited range of themes and plugins can be used, and no modifications can be made to the software.

It’s very common for this to cause confusion – especially because the term ‘WordPress’ - when entered into a search engine - returns as the first result! is less work to get up and running, but you have to accept a limited range of features and customisations compared with going self-hosted.

If you're self-hosting WordPress, here are our five essential plugins that we use on EVERY website:

1. Firewall - WordFence

The downside of the growing popularity of WordPress is the increasing incidence of security threats which can lead to sites being defaced or compromised. Failure to keep plugins, themes or core WordPress files up to date is the most common cause of vulnerabilities.

We use WordFence on all of our sites, but Simple Security Firewall is also good. A security plugin should be one of the first things installed on any new WordPress site. It blocks attempts to gain admin access and offers the ability to scan WordPress files and detect suspicious changes.

2. Cache - WP Rocket

Caching involves generating static versions of some or all pages of a WordPress website. This way, users can view pages faster because it’s not necessary for any database activity to take place. Cached sites can cope with many more visitors and deliver a speedier user experience.

The optimum cache approach depends on a site’s hosting setup. The premium WP Rocket plugin is very simple and, even if no settings are adjusted, it will make an immediate difference to page speed. Some specialised hosting companies such as WPEngine have caching built in to their WordPress hosting offer, so you don't always need a cache plugin.

3. SEO - Yoast

WordPress is a good place to start with any website because of the search engine-friendly way it’s built. And the power can be ramped up with software like the awesome (and free) Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast includes the ability to add keywords and descriptions to your metadata, ‘score’ your content to see if it will perform well against target keywords, and add additional text and images that can be shown when a page or post is shared on social media.

However SEO-friendly WordPress is (especially with Yoast installed), don’t forget that there are always things you can do to positively influence search engine performance, including:

  • Adding relevant and useful links within blog posts and pages

  • Linking to the author’s site from your publisher website, social media feeds and relevant book community sites

  • Adding descriptive captions or alt text to images

4. Backups - BackWPup

No matter how well managed and secured a WordPress website is, it’s always important to back it up regularly for peace of mind. Some specialist hosting providers, including WPEngine and Cloudways, include backups in their offerings, but many don’t. In this case, plugins like BackWPup can handle your author’s backups too. Using a plugin is important because backing up the WordPress database is, in many ways, the most important part of any backup. It contains all of a site’s content and settings, which normally change far more frequently than the site’s files. Unlike the files that make up your site, it can’t just be backed up using FTP.

5. Form builder - Gravity Forms

There are loads of reasons you might need a form on a website - from a simple contact form to running competitions, or selling tickets or signed copies. A good form builder will make creating and embedding these forms quick, easy and secure, and help you to manage the submitted data too. Our favourite is Gravity Forms. Not only is it drag-and-drop, but it includes integrations with all kinds of other useful tools, such as PayPal, for taking payments, and Mailchimp and other Email Service Providers for easily capturing list sign-ups. Other form builders are available, but Gravity Forms has been an essential part of our toolkit for many years.

Simon Appleby is the founder of Bookswarm, find out more about them here:

Bookswarm offers a discount to members of The Empowered Author.