A frequent question that keeps coming up when I tell people I work with WordPress is “What plugins do you use?” At the present rate I set up a new WordPress site every two weeks and over time I’ve compiled a list of 10 plugins I install on pretty much every one of those sites.
This list is by no means complete – there are other plugins I install in addition to these, and there are also sites that don’t have all of them – but overall I’d say these are plugins you should seriously consider installing on your site or blog because they will make it safer, easier to use, easier to find and more functional. All the plugins featured here are available directly from the WordPress Plugin Directory and thus can be installed from within WordPress.
WordPress Database Backup
Quite possibly the most important plugin you will ever install on your site. The WP DB Backup plugin by Austin Matzko lets you run complete backups of your WordPress database including plugin tables and other external content. You can even choose what tables you want to backup and what tables to ignore.
Using WP DB Backup you can either do instant backups that are saved to your computer, schedule hourly, daily, weekly or monthly backups to be stored on your server or schedule backups to be sent to an email address. I set up scheduled backups on all the sites I work on and send them to a dedicated GMail address I’ve set up for just this purpose. That way if a site goes down, a database is corrupted or hacked I have backups to revert to.
Akismet – vital comment spam moderation
WordPress comes with two plugins installed out of the box: Akismet and Hello. I activate Akismet right away and delete Hello. So should you.
Akismet serves one very important function and does it exceedingly well: Saving your WordPress site from being overrun by spam comments. For reference Akismet catches close to 3000 spam comments each day on DesignIsPhilosophy.com. Yes, that’s right. THREE THOUSAND spam comments every day. Needless to say without that plugin my site would be unreadable.
All In One SEO Pack – Pump up your site findability
By default whatever title you give your pages or posts in WordPress becomes the title attribute for that page or post (the text you see at the top of your browser window or tab). The problem is this title is prefixed with the name of your site, so the title attribute for this post would be “Design Is Philosophy – 10 WordPress Plugins I Use All The Time”. This is not good for search engines as people are unlikely to search for the name of my site when they want info on WordPress plugins.
Likewise the description attribute for the page or post remains empty by default leaving the search engine to index the first part of your article. If that part happens to be an image then the description will be an image. Again not very good for people wanting to find your article.
The All in One SEO Pack plugin adds a new field to your post and page edit areas inside WordPress where you can set separate title, description and keyword attributes for your articles. That means you can give your article a normal title and then set the title attribute to something more descriptive. And you can set a short description for your article that is more likely to grab the attention of people trying to find content on a particular topic.
With the introduction of the new WordPress 3.0 custom menus the All in One SEO Pack plugin added two more fields for pages to set a ScreenTip and the menu label for individual pages featured in menus. That means you can change these from within the page itself rather than having to go muck around in the menu settings. Very useful.
WPTouch – one-click mobile theme for your site
With the introduction of smartphones and other mobile devices web developers have a whole new problem to deal with: Sites that look great on regular computers usually look terrible on mobile devices, especially if they have a lot of sidebars and other wide content. What you need is a mobile theme for your site. Fortunately if that site runs WordPress all you need to do is install a mobile theme plugin. And of those, the WPTouch plugin from Brave New Code is by far the sleekest and easiest to manage.
If you don’t care about customization WPTouch can be a set-it-and-forget-it type thing. That said you can do a lot of customization if you want to and there is also a premium version available with even more options if you so desire. Bottom line is if you think anyone is going to visit your site with a mobile device, install WPTouch.
WP Typography – proper typography for the web
Although WordPress outputs clean text just fine, if you want to be nitpicky about it there’s a lot left to be desired. “Proper” typography means you use custom “pretty” ampersand symbols, em-dashes, elevated fractions and a whole range of other typographic elements. And let’s not even mention all the code standards like properly class-wrapped abbreviations and definitions. I’ll be frank with you: Writing proper typographic markup for the web is a total pain and it’s something very few people do. And now you don’t have to: There’s a plugin that does it for you.
The WP Typography plugin takes all your content and marks it up with proper typographic settings. Out of the box it’s a bit overzealous so I urge you to play around with the settings until you find something you’re happy with, but the end result is quite impressive. The plugin has more options than you can figure out what to do with and is very easy to understand, so my best advice is install it and start experimenting.
WordPress.com Stats – local stats for your site
The WordPress.com Stats plugin brings the same kinds of visitor stats you’d get on a WordPress.com site to your self-hosted WordPress site. For the plugin to work you need to have a WordPress.com API (which requires a free account) and you can run stats for multiple sites under that one API.
The stats are fairly basic but give you a clear picture of how many people visit your site, where they come from and what they read. It also lists out sites that link to you but I find that list to be quite wonky and hard to trust. Nevertheless WordPress.com Stats gives you a quick and easy overview of what’s going on with your site.
Be advised that WordPress.com Stats adds an annoying little smiley face to the bottom of your site. The easiest way to get rid of it is to install the WordPress.com Stats Smiley Remover plugin. Stupid and unneccesary, but that’s the way it is.
Contact forms: Two options for two scenarios
If you are running a WordPress site and you intend to have people contact you through the site, you need a contact form. Under no circumstances should you ever leave your email addres in plain text on a site – it’ll get you on all sorts of spam lists and your inbox will be flooded with crap. There are tons of contact forms out there, all with pros and cons, and these are the ones I’ve landed on due to their relative ease of use:
If you need one form: Clean-Contact
If you need just one contact form, go with Clean-Contact. This form is by far the easiest to manage and the style code makes sense and is easy to customize (ie you can make the contact form look like pretty much anything). In general the style code for contact forms is unneccesarily convoluted and hard to work with but Clean-Contact is very clean and logical just like the name implies.
If you need several forms: Contact Form 7
Although not as easy to style and manage as Clean-Contact, Contact Form 7 lets you set up multiple contact forms on your site and style them the way you want. If you need more than one contact form this is the option you should go with, pure and simple.
Fancybox for WordPress – Showcase your photos in style
Of all the lightboxes I’ve tried, Fancybox is by far the best one, both in terms of visual appeal and functionality. Up until about a year ago there were no Fancybox plugins, but now there are several. The one that works the best, and has the most options and functionality is Fancybox for WordPress.
To get it to work all you have to do is install it, and it comes with customization options and the ability to scroll from photo to photo built in. Very sleek and very easy to use. We use it both right here on Design is Philosophy and on the 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon site if you want to check it out.
ShareDaddy – interactive social network sharing buttons
Getting your content featured on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is becoming more and more important, and the easiest way to make this happen is to add social sharing buttons to your posts and pages. There are a myriad of otions available here as well, but my current favourite is the new ShareDaddy plugin straight from Automattic – the creators of WordPress.
ShareDaddy comes equipped with all the standard social networks and sharing buttons (Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon email, RSS and so on) and also has the option to add new buttons. What’s cool about this plugin though is that you can choose to use the fancy interactive buttons the different services offer rather than the dull standard inactive buttons. That means you can add Twitter and Facebook buttons that actually count how many times your article has been Tweeted or Liked. Very cool if you want to show people how popular you are.
WP PageNavi – paginated navigation for all
This last plugin is one I don’t install everywhere and that doesn’t work everywhere. Nevertheless it is a great plugin you should consider.
WP PageNavi adds pagination to your index and archive pages. In simple terms this means rather than just having the standard “newer posts” and “older posts” buttons at the bottom of your pages you get an actual paginated list so people can jump from page 1 to page 8 without having to click 8 times.
This functionality makes a lot of sense for sites that are updated frequently and feature a lot of the same type of content, but may be a little weird for other sites. You’ll have to make up your own mind if it’s right for you. That said it works better than most other options and is easy to install.