Having built more than 20 websites, I’ve compiled a list of must-have plugins for every installation. I’ve divided these plugins into 4 categories.
- Administrative plugins – Help to organize the backend user interface (UI).
- Functionality plugins – Help to get the job done simpler and faster. These include Contact forms, photo galleries, events calendars, etc.
- Security Plugins – Help to keep your website as secure as possible from adware, malware, and malicious hackers.
- Maintenance and Compliance plugins – Help to backup your content from catastrophic loss and provide the necessary Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so people can find you on the web.
The first plugin I always install is the Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu. This plugin changes the control panel navigation from vertical to horizontal and helps to keep everything visually organized to the top of the screen, rather than down the left side.
We installed Genesis Simple Edits Back in Part 4 of this series, which is usually the second plugin I install, but I wanted to give you a chance to use the native control panel first. Now, you can appreciate how much better the Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu is laid-out and easier to use.
These plugins include anything you may need to customize the way your theme functions.
Scrolling banners (or Sliders as we call them) are a very popular way to quickly engage your users and advertise your most important campaigns. I choose Soliloquy Slider for this job – visit their website, because it’s so simple to setup. The controls are super intuitive, which gives this plugin a very small learning curve.
Soliloquy is a responsive WordPress slider plugin that makes building sliders in WordPress a task that you will want to experience over and over again.
Fast Secure Contact Form
Most every website includes a contact form or some way to contact your customers. While there are literally hundreds of good contact form plugins, I choose to use Fast Secure Contact Form. Fast Secure Contact Form is a very easy to use plugin with a simple drag and drop interface that’s extremely easy to setup right out of the box.
The Events Calendar
If you need an events calendar for your website, I highly recommend The Events Calendar plugin – visit their website. This calendar can do just about everything; even pre-registration and ecommerce. The free version works great and is probably all you’ll need, but if you have reoccurring events, it’s well worth the money to purchase The Events Calendar Pro version. With the pro version, you can quickly setup your reoccurring calendar events for the year in a matter of minutes.
WordPress’ default search feature is lacking at best. To give users a better search experience, I always install Relevanssi search plugin to display more relevant and expected search results. To test this plugin, search without it activated, then activate it and see what you would’ve been missing. I’ll never build another website without Relevanssi working behind the scenes.
Relevanssi replaces the default search with a partial-match search that sorts results by relevance.
Website security is an absolute must these days. This is not an area you want to overlook or leave to chance. There are many ways to help protect yourself from a cyber-attack and Acunetix WP Security covers most of them.
A common way to “obscure” your website from potential hacking is to rename your database tables. I used to dread going to phpMyAdmin and running a MySQL query on the database to search for and rename the database tables. That used to take about 20 minutes. Acunetix will do it for you in less than 5 seconds…pretty cool, huh?
Acunetix WP Security has many tests and reports to teach you exactly how to lockdown your website and make it as secure as possible. I highly recommend this plugin!
Acunetix will do it for you in less than 5 seconds…
Maintenance and Compliance plugins:
You’ll need help organizing and backing up your content. You’ll also need to display your content in a certain way, so search engines can easily find it when someone does a search.
Google XML Sitemap
Google and others like Bing and Yahoo strongly suggest you provide a sitemap of your website so their bots can crawl your site to index your content. If the search engines don’t know what content you have on your site, they won’t be able to list your content in their search results. For a better explanation go here – What is a Sitemap?
Since Google is the largest search engine, let’s install the Google XML Sitemap. XML stands for Extensible Markup Language and is just another way to organize data. This is a set it and forget it plugin. Install it – make sure it works properly – forget about it!
…sometimes forget about it just means – forget about it. Donnie Brasco
Jetpack is automatically installed with WordPress and is an extremely powerful and feature-packed plugin. You must have a WordPress.com account to activate Jetpack, but it’s free and only takes a few minutes to setup.
Here’s a list of the most useful features:
- Extra Sidebar Widgets – exactly what it says
- Gravatar Hovercards – adds some bling to your comments section
- Jetpack Comments – allows users to login using social media
- Publicize – allows you to automatically post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
- Sharing – adds sharing buttons to your website
- Subscriptions – lets users subscribe to comments
- Widget Visibility – lets you select which widgets will display on which pages
- WP.me.Shortlinks – provides short links to use in emails and Twitter
Note: Be sure to click on the name of the feature and NOT the “activate” button to get a popup explanation of what the plugin does.
WP Smush.it strips hidden, bulky information from your images, reducing the file size without losing quality. The faster your site loads, the more Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines will like it.
W3 Total Cache
The last step to optimize your website is to turn on caching. Caching is a difficult concept to grasp. Simply put, caching is when your browser stores a webpage in local memory so the page will load much faster the next time you visit. W3 Total Cache is the most comprehensive caching plugin I’ve ever used. I will have to devote another article to this plugin alone.
In the meantime, here are some helpful resources to help you set it up:
By no means is this a complete list of plugins, but it will get you started. The plugins listed above are popular, have forums and tutorials, and best of all – work well together. Feel free to put together your own list and share it with us.