Every WordPress developer has their favorite plugins. Over the years developing on WordPress, there are some that we really love and find ourselves using over and over again. We have given our Top 10 list below (with a bonus), and divided the list up between “Mandatory” and “Optional”. Mandatory plugins are, of course, not mandatory, but we find that we use them on almost every site we build, so we install them by default.
Don’t forget, if you are using a free plugin, DONATE! Even a few bucks keeps the good developers in business, which in turns keeps US in business!!! Pay it forward! Good karma all around!
Our “Must Have” WordPress Plugins:
If a theme comes with “custom sidebars”, we don’t even look at them. I remember when we first started developing sites with WordPress, and most themes had only one default sidebar for all pages and posts. The reason for that was simple: Wordpress began as a blogging platform and so you would either have a running list of your blog posts or excerpts and then each post with it’s own page. So you would really want the same sidebar on each page. As companies and business began to develop their websites on the CMS of WordPress, they needed different sidebars for different pages. I remember using some plugins that were so kludgey – we would be entering in syntax and the box was barely enough to see anything, so you’d have to move your arrow key over and over to find the part where you made a syntax error – ugh! Then themes began to put custom sidebars IN the theme. What we found, many times, was that the themes were poorly written so that when you updated the theme your sidebars disappeared! Or if you had an issue and were testing a different theme for troubleshooting purposes, when you went back to your original theme, your sidebars and/or content in the sidebars was gone!!
No more craziness. Use WooSidebars. Now they are in the WordPress Plugin Repository so you can just search under plugins in your back end and find them. In addition, they replaced the old sidebar manager that came with WooThemes, and let me tell you, it is an awesome plugin. Install WooSidebars on EVERY site you are setting up. From the get-go. No questions asked.
2. Gravity Forms
Many themes come with a form manager as part of the theme. Most of these are not customizable, and don’t have conditional logic. In addition, the entries are not saved anywhere – they are just sent to you via email. Gravity Forms is great. Entries are saved in the back end. You can collect fees for applications, products, services, memberships, etc. You can page your forms. You can have pages built on conditional logic. You can have hidden fields. You can have notifications sent to whoever you want and even based off of conditional logic in your form. The list goes on.
3. Google XML Sitemaps
This plugin will create an XML site map once a day on your WordPress website and place it in a readable format for Google and other search engines. After you go live, you set up your Google Webmaster Tools and tell Google where to find this file. It works, Google can read it, and it is dynamic.
4. Google Analytics by Kevin Sylvestre
Easy, easy, easy. Just install and enter your UA number, and you are done. If you do this before you set up your webmaster tools account, Webmaster tools now will verify off of this!!! That is great news!
5. Velvet Blues
We rarely build live, so we always need to move our site to a new URL when we go live. That is where Velvet Blues comes in. After your site is live, just go into the settings, enter your OLD URL and your NEW URL and boom, all of your pages/links/images/etc have the new URL! Well, almost all – the exceptions are Widgets you have coded with links and Theme Options – you need to go into those screens and manually make your changes. This plugin saves hours and hours of work.
We strongly suggest to all of our customers to backup. Your site is only as good as the ease and validity of the restore. BlogVault backs up every day and saves the backup files and database off premise. You can test a restore on their servers. You can run a manual backup. You can download a copy of your backup. You can MIGRATE a site with just a few clicks. You can restore the latest version or one three weeks old with just a few clicks! This is a paid service, but well, well worth it! We use BlogVault all the time and ALWAYS recommend this plugin and service!
7. Wordpress SEO
WordPress SEO by Yoast! is totally awesome. Use this plugin to tweak your Google snippets. Use this plugin to see how miserably you are failing at your SEO. Use it to FOCUS your website and your business! We like this plugin because you are given a bulleted list (we love bulleted lists) with tasks you need to take care of. Watch your SEO button go from Red (bad) to Green (good) as you make changes! It is interactive and very hands on. We love this plugin.
Our “Optional/If Needed” WordPress Plugins:
8. Nextgen galleries
If you need a gallery, Nextgen is lightweight, fast, and can handle many photos and albums at once. The software will let you do all kinds of things like add a watermark or create your own thumbnail of each image. Organize your images into albums, sort them in a custom order, add alt tags and title tags and descriptions. You can also find skins for Nextgen so you can make it look really nice.
If you are selling a product, this is your plugin. We have managed stores for clients using other online services, etc, and have found that WooCommerce, while young, is sturdy, stable and has support of the WordPress Community. That means people are developing for this plugin such as creating themes around the functionality found in WooCommerce, or creating extensions to expand the functionality of WooCommerce. Check it out.
If you need a table that needs to sort, or if you need a table that will appear on multiple spots on your website, use Tablepress. Formerly WP Table-Reloaded, this plugin is powerful and easy to use. You can combine cells across columns and rows. You can display your table using shortcode. You can use CSS to modify the colors of individual cells. You can sort your data, and the list goes on. We really love this plugin if you need tables.
11. Crazy Egg Heat Map
This service is quickly becoming and invaluable tool for our customers. Using this plugin, you can see visually where visitors to your website are clicking when they arrive at your site. This helps you make decisions about menu items, naming conventions, placement of items. We have been evaluating this plugin for a few months and so far have been extremely enlightened! TechCare is offering a service where we will review your heat map once a month and provide suggestions on how to improve your site based off what we see in the heat map. This information is invaluable. It is a bonus as it is a paid service, but so far, the bonus is definitely icing on the cake! And who doesn’t love extra frosting!!???