WordPress is by far the most popular content management system in the internet. Part of the success is based on the fact that you can set up your own blog at www.wordpress.com without the need for any hosting and it is totally free. If you do have your own domain, hosting and/or server, you will opt for the download version of WordPress on www.wordpress.org. No matter which version you use, WordPress is designed from the scratch as a very modular system where WordPress itself is only the core or the basic operating system. It is a little bit like Windows, which runs out of the box and you can write a text with the editor, but if you really want to use it, you will want to buy more applications. With WordPress there are two kinds of features that broaden the potential of WordPress. On the one hand you have themes which mostly add towards the design of your site, but sometimes they also provide new functionalities. On the other hand you have tens of thousands of plug-ins for almost anything you may need. The vast part of plug-ins is free, but it is well worth to install only those plug-ins you really need. The more plug-ins you use, the higher the chance that some of them may not be compatible when used together. If that happens and you have countless plug-ins installed, it can become tricky to identify what is going wrong. Being free of charge, one is often tempted to give a try to many plugins and you might quickly end up with lots of plug-ins installed without using them. I really recommend to avoid that, as each plug-in could potentially add or alter your database and if something goes wrong you might face real trouble. Trying out plug-ins is something that is best done on a testing site and only when one is sure that the plug-in does what it is supposed to do, it should be installed on the live site, of course, after doing a full backup. If you know what you will need before you actually start your web project, it can be a good idea to install most or all of the plug-ins you will need at the very beginning when you do not have content yet. You can install all the plug-ins and test them out, configure them and see whether they will work for what you want to do. After years of working with WordPress, I have identified a selection of plug-ins I consider most essential and which I use on most projects right from the beginning. This list keeps changing as some plug-ins become outdated if the developers do not continue to work on them, and other new plug-ins appear doing things better than other plug-ins that have been around before. This is my list as of June 2014, in alphabetical order (use them at your own risk, I am not responsible if something goes wrong. Try them out in a testing or development environment to check whether they work for you, before installing anything on a live website):
Advanced Code Editor
When you edit a CSS or PHP file the standard editor of WordPress offers few features, not even line numbering which is often essential when you have large CSS files and someone in a support forum telling you e.g. “modify around line 1924 the following..” This plug-in no only adds line numbers but it also adds colour to the content of the files which makes it far easier to work with this sort of files. There are other advanced editors available which might be equally good or even better, but I am used to this one and it works well.
This is a great plug-in which helps you to avoid receiving countless spam comments on your blog. In the early days I worked with WordPress this has always been annoying me a lot and since I have this plug-in the problem is entirely gone. It has a solid 4.8/5.0 rating on wordpress.org.
BAW Post View Count
This tiny plug-in may not be the most essential around, but if you like to keep track of how many people read your posts without going into Google Analytics it could serve you pretty well. Optionally you can set it to display the figure in the front-end too.
Broken Link Checker
This is a small but very useful plug-in. It checks the entire site on broken links, be it inside your posts, or the links blocks of WordPress. Broken links can degrade your rating with search engines and they are a nuisance for visitors. A small widget in the backend keeps you up to date. It has a 4.1/5.0 rating and while it works fine for me, there are quite a lot of people having problems with it. I have not tried it on multi-site though.
Codepress Admin Columns
Wordpress out of the box shows only a few columns in the Posts and Pages admin overview page. If you have installed a number of plug-ins you might wish to have some more columns to have better a better overview of your content. This is the plug-in which allows you to reconfigure the columns the way you like.
Coming Soon / Maintenance mode Ready!
When you start with a new website or overhaul one, you may want to let your visitors know that you are working on it or you might opt to redirect to some other page in the meantime. This plug-in lets you do all this and in particular I like the 301 redirect which works pretty well. While logged in as an admin you can still see the page and work on it.
Contact Form 7
A contact form is a must have feature on almost any website. It helps you to keep in touch with customers, visitors, etc. Contact Form 7 is the first choice of the plug-ins available offering this functionality. You can create custom fields, allow users to upload files and style it to your needs.
Cookie Law Info
You may have your own opinion about the requirement to have a cookie notice on your website but the fact is that you should have one, at least when we are talking about a company website run in the European Union. So, this plug-in allows for a non intrusive notice that you are using cookies with a link to your cookies policy page. A solution like this or similar is used by many pages, but as with all legislation related matters, it may or may not be sufficient to comply.
When you have trouble with your WordPress website, it can be a time consuming process to find the source of the problem. This plug-in helps you with some 49 debug modes that allow for quick and easy identification of problems and errors.
Featured Image Column
This is one of the greatest plug-ins for WordPress and I wonder why WordPress out of the box does not feature what this plug-in does. It adds a column to your Posts and Pages admin overview page showing the featured image if it is available. This is great as you can identify a post very quickly and you have far better control over whether or not you have assigned a featured image to your posts. Rated 4.9/5.0 for good reason IMHO.
Force Regenerate Thumbnails
This plug-in is required for the Infinite Slider plug-in, a very powerful and attractive slider which allows you to show off your post in a horizontal slider of images using the featured images of your posts. Given the differently sized images on the slider, the existing featured images must be resized to additional image sizes to show up correctly. This can be a time consuming process depending on the quantity of posts and content you may have.
This is a very useful and powerful plug-in allowing you to visualize maps in interesting manners. Not only is it possible to place a single marker, but you can load a GPX file which may contain dozens or hundreds of markers, each with a different marker image and it can even load GPX files with tracks which are shown on the map along with an elevation profile. Potential usage ranges from showing a map with your business to a comprehensive map of a number of stores along with opening hours, to tracks for cyclists, hikers, etc. If you use this plugin, you may find the website www.gpsvisualizer.com pretty useful to create tracks easily in GPX format.
Google Analytics for WordPress
Keeping track of who visits your website and where people come from is important for anyone running his own website. This plug-in, along with a Google Analytics account, connects the two and allows for extensive statistics.
Google XML Sitemaps
Unless you have a renown brand and domain, the main source of visits to your website is likely to be the major search engines, notably Google, Bing and Yahoo. They crawl the web themselves but if you help them with things they ask for, your content is fetched better and your ranking can go up. That is the purpose of this plug-in, which creates a XML sitemap which Google honours.
There are many sliders available and surprisingly many of them just display one huge and very wide image, sliding to the next one. Many people in the web like it simple but if you want to showcase your content visually in a non-mainstream manner, you will like this plug-in. It creates a horizontal slider composed of a number of differently sized images representing your content. Conclusion: A very attractive way to promote the content of your site.
This plug-in was previously known as Better WP Security and it has become one of the leading security plug-ins for WordPress. As with all commonly used software, be it operating systems, browsers e-mail clients or content management systems, those systems which are most widely used are often the ones that face most attacks. WordPress itself has seen security issues in its history too and it is well worth to take the matter seriously to avoid your website or blog being hacked. You can read in the internet about making your WordPress site more secure and you can take he measures yourself, but if you want to save time, this plug-in is pretty good and it solves many potential problems easily. However, be careful with the settings you set up, because you could lock yourself out or make your site unavailable. Make sure you understand the settings you chose and adjust. Properly used, this is a great plug-in. If you use it without understanding what you are doing you are likely to end up with big trouble.
Leaflet Maps Marker
This is an extremely powerful maps plug-in for your WordPress site with almost infinite possibilities. You can not only use Google Maps, but also those of Bing and other map services. You can add layers, custom markers, images, etc. Along with the Google-Maps-GPX-Viewer plug-in those are the two most powerful plug-ins for WordPress when it comes to visualize things on a map.
Limit Login Attempts
Brute Force attacks can be very efficient these days with very powerful computing hardware around. If you want to avoid that your WordPress administrator account is being hacked, there are three things you can do: Firstly do not use “admin” as the default administrator user account name. Secondly use a complex password with a combination of at least 12 letters, numbers and symbols. And thirdly you can install this plug-in which will prevent an infinite number of login attempts. After a number of attempts which you can specify, the access is temporarily blocked.
P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler)
The more plug-ins you have, the more there is to load when visiting your website or when working in the admin area. Some plug-ins are pretty resource hungry and depending on your hosting they could slow down your wordpress installation considerably. This plug-in checks all plug-ins on the amount of resources they require. If you try out new plug-ins it can be helpful to identify those using large amounts of resources slowing down the system and if you are tight on resources you can identify the ones you might need to deactivate. Pretty useful, but it takes some time to perform the check if you have 30 or more plug-ins installed.
This is a plug-in you may never need, but when you require it you will appreciate it a lot. Imagine you have your blog or website up and running and you want to use a new theme or re-design the website at some point. In case that the size of your featured images changes, in particular when you want them to display in a larger size, your existing thumbnails may look blurry as they are only upscaled. In case your original images were larger in size, this plug-in just regenerates all the featured images to the new size specified in the theme. If you have hundreds or maybe thousands of images, this can save your hours or even days of work. It always worked reliably for me.
Working with tables is admittedly not the way modern HTML 5 is meant to work. Still, if your theme only features few and rather large widget areas, this plug-in comes in very handy, as you store content in tables which you can then call with shortcodes anywhere you like. So if you have “blocks” of static content which usually does not change often, this can be a very useful plug-in.
Transposh Translation Filter
Maintaining your blog is a time consuming issue and opinions on whether or not to use built-in translation is subject of plenty of discussions out there. Of course, there are Google, Bing and others which can translate an entire website, so why should I do it myself?
The default post editor of WordPress lets you do only a few basic things with your text. If you want to have more features like changing fonts, text colour, etc. this is the plug-in which broadly enhances the basic WordPress out of the box features.
UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore
This plug-in is pretty useful to generate automated backups of your website to cloud services like Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive, etc. It has seen almost a million downloads so far, and it can save you a lot of trouble if something goes badly wrong with your WordPress site.
User Role Editor
Wordpress out of the box comes with a number of different user levels which is probably sufficient for most people running a WordPress website. However, if you want to create more user levels or add specific permissions to existing ones, this plug-in will allow you to do so. Not essential, but for those who need it a must have.
Whitelist IP For Limit Login Attempts
The plug-in Limit Login Attempts is pretty useful and this additional plug-in for it allows you to whitelist your IP address in order to avoid unwanted trouble when logging in yourself.
The larger your site becomes and the more complex its structure, the more you will love this plug-in which gives you virtually total control over where content appears and where it does not. The more widget areas your theme provides you with, the more you can do with this plug-in. It is not one of those very easy plug-ins to use where you just tick a box and activate things, but once you know how to use it, you can do great things with it. It allows you to display e.g. widgets in the sidebar only for those posts that belong to a specific category, rather than have the same widget in the same place all over your site. This allows you to display much more relevant content in sidebars or certain widget areas, depending on your content, and thus helping you to make your site much more attractive and achieving better pages per visit view rates.
WM Simple Captcha
Registering on a WordPress website is fairly easy, not only to users but also to spam robots. They sign up on your site and check whether they can exploit it to send out spam. If your site is up and running for some time already, just check in the backend in the users section and you might be surprised how many people have registered. Along with them, you may receive a lot of spam comments which takes time to clean up. Using this nice plug-in along with Anti-Spam helped me solve this entirely, without turning off the entire comment system. Highly recommended.
With a rating of 4.9/5.0 and more than 2 million downloads as well as a feature list long enough to spend time reading it, this is, alongside the iThemes Security plug-in another must have to make your WordPress site a lot safer. As with iThemes Security make sure you know what you are doing, because tweaking security features and settings can have severe impacts on whether or not your site works. Make sure you know what you are doing and try it out on a test site before applying changes on your live site.
Surprisingly this plug-in is not part of WordPress out of the box. I think it made more sense to have this right from the beginning for example instead of the Helly Dolly plug-in. Anyway, if your theme provides you with sample data or if you want to import large amounts of content via XML, this is the plug-in you definitely will need. A kind of must have.
This tiny plug-in adds a small widget to your backend dashboard, showing you the memory usage of your site. This is useful to identify early whether you are approaching the memory limit for PHP set on your server. It’s a simple alternative to WP System Health.
This plug-in has a solid 4.6/5.0 rating on wordpress.org and it can be very useful. At the same time it is a dangerous plug-in too, as you can destroy quite a lot of things on your site if you do not know what you are doing. Luckily potentially dangerous operations are coloured in red. The plug-in optimizes your database which can be very important if you run a large blog on a shared hosting environment where your provider might limit the size of a database to something like 100 Mb. WordPress stores many draft states of posts which are not cleaned up by default. However, once you have your final post, you may not need all those drafts. Also it optimizes your database, removes entries that are not valid or required anymore and all this can reduce the size of the database substantially. Highly recommended but use with caution!
WP Fastest Cache
Wordpress out of the box runs pretty fast, but when you start adding content, plug-ins, complex themes, videos, etc. things can slow down considerably, in particular on share hosting environments. Rather than investing in an expensive server, caching is the common method to accelerated a WordPress website. Caching creates a static copy of content which is served rather than going through PHP and SQL creating lots of server load. Finding the right caching plug-in has been a time consuming process for me, trying out most of the solutions available with rather mixed results. W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache, Quick Cache, Hyper Cache are only a few names of plug-ins I have tried and I have come to the conclusion that any of them may work well, depending on the hosting environment install onto and the settings you chose. Any of those not properly configured only gave me quite some trouble. While I am happy with some installations of WP Super Cache which is lightning fast when 100% correctly configured, I was looking for a solution that works out of the box with little to nothing to configure. WP Fastest Cache does this and you do not loose your valuable time on trying out the countless settings. It has a 4.8/5.0 rating on wordpress.org which is among the highest for any caching plug-in available, even better than the most popular W3 Total Cache which is the most popular one with more than 3.5 million download.
WP Google Fonts
If you are still using the Times New Roman or Arial font on your website, you may want to give a try to this plug-in which allows you to choose from hundreds of modern and fancy fonts provided by Google for free. Using a modern browser, it does not matter anymore whether someone has a font installed or not. Definitely one of the must haves IMHO.
WP System Health
This plug-in is pretty useful to keep track on your server environment and the system status. A large widget in the dashboard shows you all the details from PHP Version, Memory Limit, SQL Version, Server Load, etc. If you ever run into problems, this can provide you useful information when trying to solve things.