I received an email from a reader over the weekend who asked about the plugins I use and recommend for my own websites. While I have posted a list of must-have plugins before, as well as a followup post with additional plugins, I’ve never talked in depth about the ones I use personally. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no “one way” or “best way” to use plugins for your sites – there is always a tradeoff in terms of load times and performance, so it’s important to choose wisely and use only what is necessary for what you want to accomplish.
Recently I came across an awesome free service called PluginBot. Once you create an account, you can make a list of all the plugins you install regularly. The next time you install WordPress, you can upload the PluginBot plugin, check all the plugins you want to install from your list, and install them in one click. It’s amazing and such a great timesaver! Like I said, it’s free, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Anyway, onto my list!
Andrea’s Must-Have WordPress Plugins
These are the plugins I install on every single WordPress site I build, no matter what.
Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin (GASP) - Puts a simple checkbox on your comment form to prevent spam comments (most spam scripts can fill in fields for name, email, etc. but can’t check a box). It also has a hidden form field that real visitors won’t see, but spam bots will try to fill out – this lets the plugin know that the comment is spam. This is, hands down, the most effective spam plugin I’ve ever used.
Simple Trackback Validation with Topsy Blocker - I’ve had to disable trackbacks on more than one site because of trackback spam. This plugin checks a submitted trackback to make sure the link actually exists on the site in question, and if not (or if it’s just a link to your home URL) it will send the trackback to moderation, spam, or the trash depending on your settings.
Gravity Forms (aff link) - Need to create contact forms, quizzes, polls, or order forms? Gravity Forms does all of the above and then some. With unlimited options for customizing your forms, buttons, notification emails, and redirections after people submit, there is simply no reason to use anything else. I won’t even consider another plugin for forms because Gravity Forms does more than I’ll ever need it to do.
WP Smush.it - One of the biggest issues I see when it comes to load times is the use of enormous, uncompressed images. While I highly recommend using images in your posts, it’s important to (1) resize them instead of depending on WordPress to do it and (2) compress them so the files aren’t gigantic. WP Smush.it won’t do the resizing, but it will automatically compress every image you upload, helping your site load faster for visitors.
WP Super Cache - I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of W3 Total Cache because it is difficult for most people to configure and it tends to conflict with a LOT of themes and plugins. WP Super Cache is much easier to use and does a good job of reducing load times for most sites. I’ve also used Hyper Cache a few times lately as it’s even more simple to set up, but I haven’t tried it extensively so I can’t recommend it just yet.
WP Optimize - Over time, your site’s database becomes clogged up with post revisions, spam comments, and the like. WP Optimize allows you to clean up the mess in a few clicks and it’s basically impossible to break anything – you just check a few boxes and click the button to optimize. Easy!
Widget Context - Allows you to choose where certain sidebar widgets display on your site. For instance, if you need to place an ad on your homepage only, you can configure it that way using Widget Context’s checkboxes (which will display directly under each widget in Appearance > Widgets).
Simple Google Sitemap XML - Install, choose where you want your sitemap (your root directory or the plugin directory – I always opt for root), and submit in Google Webmaster Tools. It updates automatically when you publish new content and doesn’t mess up your robots.txt like some of the other sitemap plugins I’ve used.
StatCounter - StatCounter, while not always the most accurate for counting traffic, is amazing when it comes to showing where your visitors come from, what they read on your site, and where they go when they leave. You also get an IP address for each visitor, which is handy if you suspect abusive AdSense clicks and need to self-report to Google.
BackupBuddy (aff link) - Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s worth every penny. BackupBuddy is my absolute go-to solution for backing up, restoring, and migrating WordPress sites. I have it configured to make a complete backup every week as well as a database backup every night, and the files are sent straight to my Dropbox account in case I ever need them.
Everyone knows I use the Genesis framework exclusively – here are the plugins I love that are specifically made for Genesis sites.
Genesis Extender (aff link) - An amazing plugin from Cobalt apps that allows you to create drag and drop layouts, edit CSS on the front end of your site, create new widget areas, and so much more. This one is definitely worth a look if your site runs Genesis!
Genesis eNews Extended - Nearly every Genesis child theme comes with styling for the eNews subscription box. eNews Extended allows you to create easy opt-ins for your mailing list without a lot of hassle.
Genesis Title Toggle - Puts a checkbox on the editor for each page to let you decide whether or not to display the page title.
Genesis Easy Columns - Yeah, you can use Genesis column classes without a plugin. But why deal with a bunch of
<div> classes when you can just click a button in your post editor and make the shortcodes magically appear?
Genesis Simple Sidebars - Need different sidebars for certain parts of your site? This plugin allows you to create them easily and choose what sidebar to display based on the page or post you’re editing.
Other Plugins I Love
While I don’t install these on every single site I own, they are great depending on my needs.
Cart66 (aff link) - If you need ecommerce, you need Cart66. It’s that simple. There’s no takeover of your entire site/dashboard (I’m looking at you, WooCommerce), no complicated setup, just easy shortcodes you can paste into any post, page, or widget once you add your products. It integrates with any theme, and the new Cart66 Cloud option allows you to offer secure checkout with no SSL certificate required.
Premise (aff link) - Premise is my current go-to for membership sites and landing pages. Since Premise comes from CopyBlogger, the creators of the Genesis framework, you know it’s well-coded and easy to use. I won’t tell you it’s the best membership plugin out there because it depends on what you need it to do, but it’s my favorite for the moment.
Simple Social Icons - Install the plugin, drag the widget to your sidebar, and choose your social networks and colors. It’s that easy to get easy social follow icons on your site. Simple Social Icons is currently being used on this site, as you can see in the sidebar and the footer. I love it!
WordPress HTTPS - If you use SSL on your site, you need this plugin. Period.
Ultimate Category Excluder - Want to keep certain posts off your homepage or out of your RSS feed? This plugin will help you do that quickly and easily.
There you have it – all my favorite plugins in one (long) list! What are your must-have WP plugins?