10 essential WordPress plugins

Here at Exact Abacus, as well as developing our client’s sites in our proprietary 3ex.net software, we build sites (and blogs) using WordPress from time to time.

I have worked with WordPress for a number of years now, so I thought I’d share some suggestions of of my personal favourite WordPress plugins. Here are ten of them:

WordPress SEO By Yoast

One of the biggest and best SEO WordPress plugins, WordPress SEO by Yoast, was developed by dutch developer Joost de Valk. It’s widely recognised within the industry as the definitive SEO plugin. Oh and it’s completely free!

As well as taking care of titles and meta description, Yoast can help with robots meta, canonicals, breadcrumbs, xml sitemaps and more! I love the way that it allows you to set a keyword for each page or post, and then ranks your page/post’s SEO with a score.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/

Disqus

WordPress comes with its own built-in comment system. However, it’s not that great looking by default, and it requires users to sign up for each individual WordPress website they visit (or at the very least requires them to create an account with WordPress themselves)

Disqus commenting allows users to bypass this and sign in using an existing social media account. I’ve found that this is great, since it allows people to take part in conversations over multiple websites while keeping their active social media accounts visible to others.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/disqus-comment-system/

smart website tools by addThis

One of the most requested features when developing a website nowadays is the ability to easily share your content. Whether it’s a product on an eCommerce site or simply a blog article, people love to share.

AddThis quickly and easily adds a sharing facility which supports a large number of social networks including Facebook and Twitter.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/addthis/

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)

Another popular feature frequently seen on popular blogs. WordPress by default does not include any facility for displaying related posts, only the next/previous posts in any specific blog category.

What YARPP will do is scan blog posts and tags in order to find posts that have content that’s relevant to each other. This way if a visitor comes across an interesting post on your website, you can have your site set up to automatically display other blog posts that will be of use to them.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/

w3 Total Cache

If you visit a website, particularly on a mobile device, how long will you give the site to load before you give up on it completely and visit a competitor? According to numerous sources, visitors will leave your site if it hasn’t loaded in just 2-3 seconds. With the rise of dynamic websites comes frequent polling to databases, and with that comes loading times. A few milliseconds here and there can really add up.

w3 Total Cache will cache pages of your site as basic html, so that WordPress can make fewer requests to the database in order to serve your content to visitors. Less loading time means happier visitors!

https://wordpress.org/plugins/w3-total-cache/

PHP Code Widget

A handy one for the developers. As standard WordPress will only allow you to enter plain text into widgets on your website. This can be an issue for developers looking to do something a little special, or introduce some unique functionality to their site.

PHP Code Widget does exactly what it says on the tin; it allows you to use PHP Code within your widgets!

https://wordpress.org/plugins/php-code-widget/

Advanced Custom Fields

Used extensively on this very site, this is another one for the developers. Advanced Custom Fields lets you create and associate fields with multiple posts and pages across your site. This allows a huge degree of flexibility within WordPress, and really lets you stretch the limits of what is possible on your website. This is one of those WordPress plugins that can help you realise the potential of your site.

There are a vast number of field types available; from Google maps to colour pickers. Read the FAQ to find out more.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/advanced-custom-fields/

Custom Sidebars

Normally within WordPress you have a sidebar, and within that sidebar you have your widgets. These might be a contact form, popular posts, or the last 10 songs you’ve listened to. However, you might get to the point where you would like a sidebar that is specific to a page.

For example, you might have a special offers page with voucher codes appearing in the sidebar on this page only. Custom sidebars will let you do just that.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/custom-sidebars/

NextGen Gallery

An often requested feature for a website, particularly a photographer or portfolio site, is a photo gallery. There are numerous options available for your WordPress photo gallery needs, but it’s widely recognised that NextGen is one of the best on offer.

Available in both a free version (linked below) and a paid premium version (accessed via their official website) with extra features, NextGen allows you to create and manage responsive lightbox galleries for your site.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/nextgen-gallery/

Gravity Forms (Premium)

For the most part I’ve tried to avoid including premium plugins. Since WordPress is an open source platform, I find that people like their plugins to be open source too. However, sometimes you get what you pay for.

From a basic website contact form to an online calculator, from a multi page questionnaire to an eCommerce order form. Gravity forms simply has to be seen to be believed. It has so many features, and is deceptively easy to use.

http://www.gravityforms.com/

One last thing

It’s very important to note that you shouldn’t get too carried away with WordPress plugins. Yes, some of them are excellent, and yes, some of them will really cut down on your development time. However, you should always remain aware of the bloat added to WordPress sites when you add a plugin. Some plugins are glitchier than others, and some more heavyweight than others, but the majority of them will have some sort of impact on load times on your website. Always remove plugins that are no longer in use.

by Paul Devine on 03/12/2014