Everyone’s got to have a best-of list, and The High-Tech Coach is no different. Here’s my list of the plugins I consider essential for the sites I develop for my clients, and some additional plugins I consider nice to have. Note that I’ve tried and rejected a lot of competitors along the way … some of them because of lack of support, others for scanty functionality, still others because they play havoc with other plugins and themes. If you’re doing your own WordPress site (or creating sites for clients), you might want to check these out.
Note: these solutions are WordPress only – they don’t work on sites developed with other software. These have all worked for me, but I’m not guaranteeing you’ll find them as useful … this post represents my personal opinion, and at present I have no affiliate relationships at the time of this post’s publication with any of these plugins.
This is my basic toolkit … all sites I create, whether for my personal use or my clients, will have most of these installed since they provide the basic performance, findability, analysis, and security needs for a WordPress site.
QuickCache – I don’t use this on every site, but where I do, boy can it make a difference. Simple, easy to use caching plugin that improves performance on many sites. I’ve found it much easier to use than some of the others out there, but if you use WPTouch for mobile access, be aware that you have to fiddle with them to get them to play nice together. Free.
WPTouch Pro - Again, I use this for sites where the client wants a site that’s customized for smart phones and pads. Elegant and simple solution that works especially great on the iPad. $39 for a single site license — there’s a free version but it doesn’t provide iPad support.
BackupBuddy – Really elegant and fast solution for backing up sites, and migrating them (I use it to migrate client sites from my test server to their live servers). You can backup to cloud storage (like Amazon S3, Dropbox, or RackSpace) with this tool. Includes backup scheduling. $75 for a two-site license — yeah, it’s pricey, but worth it if like me you work with a lot of sites. If you’re looking free, I’ve used and recommend XCloner — it’s one of the best solutions for someone who just has one site to backup.
Better WP Security - All-in-one security management for your site. If you’re going to use it, be aware that some of the option can interfere with the proper functioning of other plugins, and can mess up your site’s functioning — so be careful. Note that you can do a lot of this manually, or with other plugins — I prefer it because it lets me do it all in one place. Free.
Akismet – Simple low maintenance spam elimination; free for non-commercial sites, license fee for commercial sites (a single site is $5 per month). The approach I’m currently taking with commercial sites (including the current one) is: Growmap Anti-Spambot plus Topsy Blocker plus add Discussion blacklisted terms in WordPress. This combination is a free solution. Another solution that may work for you is Defensio, which is currently free for personal sites and small businesses (up to five employees). However, I’ve found Defensio conflicts with Gravity Forms (see Nice-To-Have Plugins, below), and that’s why I’m not using it on this site. If you’re not using Gravity Forms, however, Defensio may be a great solution for you.
All-In-One SEO Pack – A good SEO solution that I prefer to the others I’ve tried. Note that it may mess up Permalinks, and the fix is to simply go to the Permalinks setting and save it again (you’ll know you have this problem if you start getting 404 errors when going to your pages following activation). Free.
Google XML Sitemaps - Creates an XML sitemap file and pings the major search engine when there’s a change to your site. Free.
These are some of the more powerful plugins I find myself going back to over and over again. You may find them useful for your personal sites, and if you’re a WordPress developer, you really should consider adding these to your toolkit.
Link Library – Great way to organize a whole lot of links by category. Free.
Pods CMS - Create custom content types; I’ve used it to implement book reviews on a site. Requires some PHP skills to be able to use effectively, but very powerful. This is the one that turns WordPress into a true CMS, in my opinion. Major new version soon to be released. Free.
Comprehensive Google Map Plugin – Great way to embed Google Maps in your site. Free.
Ultimate Category Excluder – I like to use this on sites where there are Category pages as well as a main blog on the front page; Excluder lets you exclude those Categories from the front page. Free.
Content Scheduler – Use for scheduling publication and expiration of post content. Great for things like time-sensitive information and announcements. You can also set it up to notify people on expiration. Free.
Smart Sliding Notes Pro – Awesome skinnable plugin to do inline notes, accordions, and tabs. Well worth the $22 for the paid version.
Tippy and Glossy – Create fancy tooltips (popups) that can include things like HTML and images. Glossy is an add-on for Tippy that lets you create tips that can be used throughout your site. Free. UPDATE: Since upgrading client sites to WordPress 3.4.2 (September 2012), those using Glossy/Tippy give a white screen when the administrator logs in. At present, I recommend looking at other options … I’m looking at alternatives like Easy Tooltip (for simple tooltips) and Thickbox Content (for more complex tooltips) as replacements.
All-in-One Event Calendar - Powerful event management calendar; in my opinion, the best in its class. Free.
Events Manager is a powerful system for event registration … it’s much more than a simple calendar. Free (but there’s a Pro version for $75 that integrates PayPal payments and supports custom booking forms).
Ninja Announcements Pro - Great addition for sites that do a lot of announcements. $30, but there’s a free Lite version, too.
WP Google Fonts - There are a lot of font replacement plugins out there, but I like this one for its simplicity. The only downside is, it doesn’t show the fonts in the interface so you have to go to the Google Fonts site, find fonts you like, then verify that they’re supported by the plugin. The site title is generated using this plugin. Free.
Amazon Product In A Post – Really easy way to embed links to Amazon products on your site. Free.
Sociable, ShareThis, TF Social Share, Social Sharing Toolkit, Slick Social Share Buttons - Out of the many social networking plugins out there, these are the ones I like the best. Main difference between them is the presentation; I typically use the one that seems to work best with the theme I’m using and the site I’m creating. All are free.
WP Symposium – Turns a site into a social network. An easier-to-use and less complex alternative to BuddyPress. You might also want to look at Mingle as an alternative (it’s supposed to be even simpler to use than Symposium), though I haven’t tried it myself. Note that BuddyPress has its own themes, and it can be a real hassle to get it to work with other themes (which is one of the reasons I chose to go with Symposium). All are free.
Wishlist Member – Create membership-driven sites, with dripped content and paid membership programs. Pricey, but pays for itself if you need it. $97.
WP Simple PayPal Shopping Cart – Really simple and easy to use option for adding a PayPal shopping cart to your site. Free.
Officers Directory - Useful for organizations who want to create directories of their officers; provides a contact form that can be used to send email to various officers in an organization. A one-trick pony, but a great convenience if you need it. Free.
Gravity Forms - Create complex, paged forms for your site. Optional add-ons for various mailing list programs and payment options are available. $39 for a single site. For a free option, have a look at Custom Contact Forms.
Scribe SEO – Adds content authoring help to help you ensure your content will give the best SEO results. Nothing here you can’t do in other ways, but the whole package is well worth the membership price. Starter package is $17 per month; you can cancel at any time, so you can do your analysis then cancel your membership when you don’t need to use the tool any more.