Plugins have so much to do with making your WordPress site and your experience using WordPress great. I’m often asked which plugins I recommend people use on their sites so here’s a list I’ve put together of 10 useful WordPress plugins. As with any list like this, some plugins may fit your site’s needs and some won’t so feel no obligation to use them all.
Simple Page Ordering
WordPress has the ability to set the order of pages (and other hierarchical post types) in your dashboard, but it’s really tedious. You have to enter an order number for each one individually or it won’t work. That may not be a problem when you have 3 or 5 items, but many more than that and it’s a huge pain. Updating the list order after it’s been set can also be a chore.
To make setting the order easy, use the Simple Page Ordering plugin. It allows you to drag and drop your pages to set them in the order you’d like to have them. Best of all it doesn’t require a special order screen like many other plugins do. You can simply re-arrange them directly from the listing screen.
It’s one of those spots where seeing is easier than describing,so here’s a quick video showing how you can use it to set the order of slides in our Foundation theme.
That’s all there is to this plugin. It doesn’t even have a configuration screen. I’d love to see this functionality added to the WordPress core. This wonderfully simple plugin is brought to you by the nice folks at 10up.
Sometimes the best way to display content on a page is with columns, but adding them can be rather tricky. I personally believe the best way to add them is with a plugin that lets you use “shortcodes” to insert columns on the fly. Some themes include these shortcodes, but it’s better to use a plugin so you don’t loose all your columns when changing themes. You’d also be left with random shortcodes that would then be visible in your posts which would look bad.
There are a lot of plugins out there that can do this, but I happen to like Grid Columns by Justin Tadlock. This plugin is much less complicated than many of the other alternatives out there and it works well too. You can use it to set up multiple columns of various widths all in the same page.
Twitter Widget Pro
Once upon a time, Twitter was very developer friendly. It was simple to incorporate your latest tweets just about anywhere. That time has passed and many of our old favorite Twitter widgets, no longer work reliably. I spent a good deal of time exploring options that use Twitter’s new API and discovered Twitter Widget Pro by the nice people at Range.
One of the great things about Twitter Widget Pro is the plugin is made to pick up the styling from your theme instead of inserting it’s own thoughts on how a Twitter widget should look. Too many widgets stick out like sore thumbs because of the bundled styling. If you’d like to, you can style the Twitter Widget Pro feed to look just about any way you want. It’s well made and reliable.
The Events Calendar
Not all that long ago, the state of calendars for WordPress was abysmal. Most didn’t work and the ones that did required so much tweaking to fit in with the rest of the site, you would be better off creating something from scratch. It was awful.
Then Modern Tribe created The Events Calendar plugin. I started using the “Pro” version when it was first released on Code Canyon on every site that needed a calendar. It’s been my go-to solution ever since.
Now they have a free version with an optional paid extension. Unlike many freemium products, the free version of this calendar is loaded with features. It plays nicely with most themes and doesn’t overload them with it’s own styles either. That way you don’t end up with a calendar that looks like it belongs someplace else in the middle of your site.
This plugin is also regularly updated. Very soon, version 3 will be released which is bringing some really amazing new features.
Bottom line, you can start and stop your search for a calendar plugin with The Events Calendar.
Most every site needs some type of form. Gravity Forms can easily handle everything from a simple contact us to a lengthy, multi-page registration. It’s rare that I’m involved in a site that doesn’t use this handy plugin.
On Organized Themes, it runs our Contact Us form and also the registration for our theme demos. They have numerous add-ons which can extend the functionality of Gravity Forms into donations, product sales, registration forms, polls, and integration with third-third party services like MailChimp.
It is a paid plugin, but it is such an amazing value.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
Search engines can generate serious traffic for your site and the WordPress SEO plugin can help tremendously with your SEO plans. For me it, WordPress SEO not only does a good job of supplying the titles and descriptions of my pages and posts, but it helps me think through creating them.
The snippet preview that shows how your title and description will look in search results is such a simple, but powerful tool. When I switched to using the plugin, I saw an immediate jump in my search engine traffic.
So many sites need the ability to sell items directly to their visitors. Like calendars, this was once an area that WordPress really didn’t do well. Thankfully we have plugins like WooCommerce that make running an online store with WordPress pretty simple.
I’ve been using it on our store since last summer and have had a really good experience so far. I purchased extensions for PayPal Pro, Kissmetrics and the Dynamic Pricing one. You can extend it in so many ways with all they have to offer.
My only complaint would be that they don’t have as easy a way to integrate the store into themes as The Events Calendar does. That plugin lets you choose a page template that will be used for your calendar pages. WooCommerce requires you to either have a theme with a specific structure or for you to add in some custom functions to your theme to adjust the layout. That’s not a problem that’s unique to WooCommerce, but I do think it’s an spot where a change could help many user’s experience.
Having recent and automatic backups is vital for your site. Something could happen, even something completely out of your control, and you’d loose everything. That’s why I use and recommend BackupBuddy. It automates my backups and then sends them away to Amazon’s S3 storage without me having to do anything. That way I have local backups and remote ones too.
If that’s all it did, it would be great, but it also makes moving sites from one server to another a breeze. You just upload the zip file of your backup and an import file and run the wizard. It’ll import your database, change any file paths that need updating and unzip your files. You can even use it for rapidly deploying a custom WordPress setup.
The one quirky thing about Backup Buddy is you can’t change the file name of the backups. They have to keep their name the same in order to work correctly when imported. It’s not that big of a deal, but since not being able to change a file name is a bit unusual, I though I would mention it.
W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache
Both of these are great plugins, and can speed up your site tremendously. But one of them may work significantly better than the other depending on your server environment. When I hosted my site at VPS.net, I test both of these plugins with Pingdom Tools and discovered that W3 Total Cache was by far the fastest option.
A few months later, I ended up switching to Cloud Sites by Rackspace and ran the same test again. This time around, WP Super Cache was the fastest by a wide margin (770 milliseconds vs. 4+ seconds). That’s why I don’t recommend a specific caching plugin. Try them out, one at a time and test them. Find the best settings for each plugin on your site and then go with the one that ultimately gives you the fastest response.
Content Aware Sidebars
Many users want the ability to add widgets to their sidebars and have them appear only in certain situations. To fill that need, many plugins have been created, but my favorite is Content Aware Sidebars. This plugin has such a nice interface where you can quickly and easily pick where the sidebars will be visible.
Just choose your options and create a new sidebar. You can add widgets to it like just like any other sidebar, but the plugin will control when that one is visible and when it isn’t. And you don’t even have to edit your theme to make it work either.
So those are some of my favorite plugins that I routinely count on. If you have any favorites, share them with us in the comments.