I have a certain collection of WordPress plugins I always use with my own sites and sites for customers. These plugins increase security, add functions to WordPress and generally make WordPress a little but better and more useful for myself and the end user. Some of these plugins are very popular, some little known, and a few I developed myself (which I’ll cover in a future post on basic utility plugins).
Some WordPress users shy away from using plugins because they don’t want to slow down their site or make it overly complex. But plugins really don’t do either. If your site is slow, there are other problems with it. (Yes, if you are running 40+ plugins on an inexpensive shared host, your site may be slow). Plugins can add very necessary functions for SEO and other aspects that are not included – for various reasons – in the core of WordPress.
It’s easy to search for and install plugins from the plugin directory at WordPress › WordPress Plugins, or from your dashboard (see the image at right). But if you install a plugin from elsewhere the web, be very careful; there are stories of malicious plugins being distributed from sites other than the official WordPress plugin site.
That said, here are some of the plugins I use most:
One plugin I use for security is called Block Bad Queries. This plugin protects against malicious URL requests, which are constructed URLs that don’t attempt to find a page or post at your site, but try to break into it. Depending on your web host and its security settings, these exploits can work against you, so this plugin is a good blocker for those hack attacks. Even when the hackers can’t break in, this plugin will help stop all the wasted bandwidth that they use up. If you have seen lots of strange 404’s in your site logs, this will stop a lot of them. (And checking your site logs is a good thing to do on a regular basis; maybe that’s a good subject for a future post).
When I develop a new site and want to keep search engines out of it – as well as any other visitors – until it’s ready, I use Absolute Privacy which will lock down a site so only those with logins allowed in. You can also control the level of access to those logged in, too, allowing some to see the admin backend, while others can just view the site. And you can put up a custom front page to let people know the site will soon be live.
A very good contact form is Contact Form 7, which is advertised as “Just Another Contact Form Plugin for WordPress.” But it’s not just another plugin – not with more than 14 million downloads. It’s very popular and works very well and has lots of options. I seldom use any other contact form plugins, and have made some nice, multi-page forms that collect lots of data. There are even plugins for Contact Form 7 that will dump data to the database, and more.
Do you want to display 20 search results on the search page but only 2 blog posts on the front page? This can be a basic problem with WordPress, because the setting for the number of posts used on the front page is a global, and also sets the number of results for search and for category archives. You need Custom Post Limits, a plugin that lets you easily modify the queries that produce the post count results. Custom Post Limits lets you independently control the number of posts listed on the front page, in author, category and tag archives, in search results, etc. It doesn’t work very well with Genesis themes, since Genesis has their own loop structure, but that’s the only case I’ve found where the plugin doesn’t work.
One long running issue with WordPress is its built in site search engine; it shows search results by date, not by relevance, and that’s a problem. So a very good plugin to fix that and also provide many other options is called Relevanssi. It’s got a whole lot of options you may not use, but the simplest default settings will get your search results to sort by relevance and not date. The Pro version is even better, but the free version is way ahead of the WordPress default site search capabilities.
Everyone needs a good backup plugin. The free version of BackWPup works very well, and will backup your database, uploads folder, themes and anything else, as well as make copies of wp-config.php and make lists of all your plugins, too. It runs by itself in the background, and can be set to run anytime, once a day or once a week. You don’t miss your data until it’s gone, so use a backup plugin. I always use it, even if the webhost advertises their own backups of your files and database.
For Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I always use All in One SEO Pack. It’s very popular, with more than 17 million downloads. And with it you can work with all your meta descriptions and keywords, social networking metadata, no indexing for certain pages, and more. It can run on “auto-pilot” if you set it to automatically generate page meta descriptions; that’s an advantage for your user and cuts down on their work load.
And an XML sitemap is important for SEO. I use the plugin Google (XML) Sitemaps Generator for WordPress. It also runs by itself in the background. XML sitemaps are a bit geeky to use, but are necessary for good SEO. Follow the docs for that plugin and link your sitemap in Google’s and/or Bing’s Webmaster’s Tools.
For social networking, I usually use a service called AddThis for clients and place the code manually rather than use their WordPress plugin, but you can use the plugin. I don’t use AddThis for my own sites, but do for clients since it is easier for them to use than the methods I use.
If you allow comments on your site, you already know you need to prevent comment spam; so there is always Akismet, produced by Automattic themselves, the parent company of WordPress. For very high traffic sites, you may need to supplement Akismet with other plugins, but all alone, it’s pretty good. Akismet is free for non-commercial sites.
And for site performance, WP Super Cache is the standard, with millions of downloads, too. It’s easy to setup and the easiest, non-technical settings work very well. But WP Super Cache can also work with a Content Delivery Network (CDN) for very high performance, it works well with commenting systems, and allows for the disallowing of file types so your advertisements work, too.