The Best & The Essential WordPress Plugins

I’ve worked with WordPress for at least six years now – on both personal and client projects. As a company we’ve been focusing on larger custom-built projects in the past few years so staying current in the WP community has been a lot more difficult.

Because of this, I’m transitioning the WordPress courses to a new instructor so that I can focus on my series of web development courses (which are my primary focus anyway). Before I put the materials I’ve developed for the WordPress courses into eternal digital storage I thought it would be best for me to share the list of tips and plugins used or mentioned in any of these courses.

I’d love your comments or recommendations on any plugins I’ve missed.

Essential Plugins – For Every WP Install

  1. WP-DB-Backup – You can always re-download WordPress, and you’ll most likely be able to find your theme again. But you don’t have any backups of your database, which is the most important part. Install this plugin and schedule a backup so that if something happens, your content is still safe.
  2. Google XML Sitemaps – An XML-based sitemap is simply a directory of every page, post, and other information that search engines should be immediately aware of. It’s an amazing plugin working with an awesome standard  – and it’s done wonders for SEO on every website.
  3. Akismet – It even comes with WP. Comment spam is bad, and annoying but Akismet will handle it all for you. Free for personal use, with a small recurring fee for commercial.
  4. All in One SEO Pack – This tool modifies some basic functionality so that you can improve your search engine indexing. By making minor changes to the page titles, and meta information, your content is better suited for spidering.
  5. W3 Total Cache – WordPress isn’t exactly the fastest the piece of software, and with enough incoming traffic (usually unexpected traffic when someone popular links to you) it can quickly consume your server resources. The total cache plugin has a huge number of options that all help speed everything up. As the name implies, it caches page content so that php and apache aren’t churning as hard with every single request. Some great options for css, javascript, and html compression as well. Speed is worth every penny.

Statistics Plugins

  1. Google Analyticator – Google Analytics is the current leader in website statistic software. Even though adding the necessary javascript to your theme isn’t difficult, it’s still a pain especially if you’re not familiar with FTP software. Plugins like Analyticator insert the code for you, no matter the theme.
  2. GetClicky – Google Analytics is the leader, but I don’t see that lasting forever with the rise of real-time analytics tools. Clicky is pretty neat service and in many cases, better suited for clients who a) have small sites, b) want real-time information, and c) find G.A. too complex to work with.
  3. Feedburner – The analytics tools are great, but they typically fall short when determining who’s subscribed to the RSS feeds of your website. If you have your feeds routed through FeedBurner.com, they can.

Social Media Integration

  1. Twitter Widget Pro – This plugin ads a widget (requires themes with widget support) that will display your last x tweets.
  2. Facebook – There are so many plugins now for Facebook, and so many for posting info as well as reading, I’d recommend just browsing the Facebook Plugin directory.
  3. Facebook Comments – This plugin uses the Facebook comments API to load their commenting system onto your posts. Users with Facebook accounts can immediately discuss your post without messing around with the WordPress name/email and spam protection system.
  4. ShareThis – Personally I despise seeing tools like these on a website, but they are still in high demand. ShareThis and a few similar plugins allow users to share your content on dozens of social networking websites. A range of icons and logos are displayed and the users choose which network to “share this” on.

Contact

  1. ReplyMe – This plugin will send an email to users when a comment they’ve made has been replied directly to. If you need more control, and you need to let them opt-in to such a service, Subscribe to Comments may work better.
  2. ContactForm7 – By far the most popular contact form builder. Before this plugin showed up in the repository, developers were essentially building such forms manually – whether they were directly in theme or wrapped inside of custom plugins. ContactForm7 is now the leader and offers a lot more than just basic contact form support.
  3. Contact Form 7 Campaign Monitor Addon – There are many popular email campaign services out there – MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc. They all have some basic WordPress plugins. Campaign Monitor is one of the most popular, but it’s even easier to setup because of this plugin which is simply an addon to ContactForm7.

Other

  1. WP Touch – If your WordPress theme doesn’t have any mobile device support, WP Touch and WP Touch Pro are cheaper alternatives. These plugins create mobile-friendly versions of your content (independent of your theme however).
  2. Syntax Highlighter Evolved – For those of you who need the ability to display code snippets in your posts (like us) then you need this plugin. By providing a series of WordPress shortcodes, you can add proper syntax highlighting, line numbering, and the ability to copy the entire snippet to any block of code. Even better is the fact that it works in the comments too!
  3. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (Related Entries) – There are several plugins that attempt to automatically link related posts, but this one seems to work out the best when properly configured. Still, changing the title of the link lists to “Possibly related” gives you a lot more leeway when things go wrong.
  4. MapPress – I’ve spent a lot of time working with the Google Maps API, so being able to add in a simple map directly from the posts page is extremely helpful. The free version has all of the important features but the pro version adds some more advanced functionality. Now that Google doesn’t require an API key, it’s even easier.

Resources

  1. The WordPress documentation.
  2. http://www.wpbeginner.com/
  3. http://www.wp-tutorials.org/
  4. http://wordpress.tv/

I’m sure there are hundreds of useful plugins that I haven’t listed. I’m always interested in trying out new plugins, so feel free to post any suggestions in the comments.

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