With over thirty thousand WordPress plugins listed in the official WordPress plugin directory alone, it is no surprise that WordPress users are a little unsure about what plugins they should be using. There are just so many to choose from; which explains why there are so many plugin top lists online.
Most plugin lists focus on which plugins are the best, though the plugins which are listed as the best usually have the most features. Today, I would like to share with you a collection of plugins that are not necessarily The Best. This is more of a collection of what could be considered essential plugins, and not plugins that offer the most features.
For the most part, these plugins address issues that are inherent in the core version of WordPress.
Everyone uses WordPress in different ways. That is why the developers of WordPress have made the core version of their platform so lightweight. This allows users to add features and customize WordPress in their own way using plugins.
However, I do feel that there are a lot of ways in which the core version of WordPress can be improved. The following plugins add functionality that I feel is missing from WordPress.
If you use WordPress to develop blogs, you will know that blog posts do not always publish at the times they were scheduled. This problem rears its ugly head every now and then, and unfortunately, WordPress does not email you to let you know that a scheduled post has not been published. You will only see that a post has missed its schedule publication time when you log in and see an error about the post missing its schedule.
One way to fix this problem is to install the aptly named WP Missed Schedule Fix Failed Future Posts. The plugin creates a cron that searches for scheduled posts that missed publication and then ensures they are published. It works well and does not affect your server’s performance.
Widgets can be used to place content in a variety of places such as your sidebar, header, footer, and home page. By default, a widget will show in a widget zone in all areas of your website. This is not always ideal. You may want widgets to only be displayed on certain areas of your website.
For example, let’s say you have a basic HTML widget that displays at the top of your sidebar. This widget would display a photograph of yourself and an invitation to readers to visit your about page and learn more about you. There would be no need to display this widget on the about page itself. You can therefore stop the widget from being displayed by using conditional tags (i.e. !is_page( ‘about’)). You could also use it to remove advertisements from your member area and remove recent posts from pages.
Scheduling posts in advance is essential if you want to run a successful blog. Sadly, the default post area in WordPress is not practical for doing this.
With Editorial Calendar, I can easily view the upcoming posts for that month. If something urgent comes up that I need to cover, I can simply drag and drop one of the scheduled posts into another day or week. It also lets you quickly edit titles, change content, change scheduled times, and more.
WordPress does not have any built-in functionality for hiding pages. This can be a problem as there are certain pages that you do not want to appear when someone searches your website, searches your archives, or searches your website through a search engine.
PC Hide Pages can be used to hide pages that you do not want indexed. I use it to hide the “Thanks for Subscribing” message that is shown to new newsletter subscribers. I also use it to hide my eBook download page so that it is not indexed by Google.
WordPress does not allow you to modify existing user roles and capabilities. This means that you cannot allow contributors to upload images to posts or allow authors to publish pages. It greatly limits what you can do with WordPress.
User Role Editor is a fantastic plugin that I looked at closely in January. It gives you complete control over what users can see and do. It also lets you create custom user groups. This is very useful if you have have a lot of authors or members.Members offers the same functionality as User Role Editor. The plugin can also be used to create a member website as it allows you to restrict content.
WordPress is not known for having great search functionality. Results are frequently irrelevant and out of date; which makes it difficult for readers to find the articles they are searching for.
In my article “Replace The Default WordPress Search Engine With Something Better“, I looked at ten solutions that you can use to replace WordPress’s default search functionality. Relevanssi is arguably the best solution available.
The plugin ensures search results are ordered by relevance and offers many great features for visitors such as highlighting search terms, searching through comments, and searching with phrases. It is an effective way of resolving the limitations of WordPress’s limited search functionality.
Spam & Security
Two battles that all WordPress users need to contend with on a daily basis are spam and website security. Even if your website has low traffic, you will still face spambots and hackers.
Protecting your website is not something that you can afford to be complacent about, therefore I recommend being proactive and strengthening your security from day one.
Along with the irrelevant Hello Dolly, Akismet is the only plugin that comes packaged with every single version of WordPress. It is not a full proof solution for combatting spam, however it will block the majority of spam that your website attracts.
The plugin will check all of your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam. It sometimes get things wrong, so you need to check your spam folder regularly to be sure that legitimate comments are not being marked as spam (which can frustrate real commenters).
Activating Akismet and configuring your comment settings correctly should eliminate most of the comment spam your website receives.
Unfortunately, it is not always enough. If you find that Akismet is still letting a lot of spam through, you may want to install a plugin such as Better WordPress reCAPTCHA or Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin to make it more difficult for spammers.
Better WordPress reCAPTCHA uses Google’s anti-spam solution reCAPTCHA to display an image that spambots cannot decipher. It integrates with Akismet and Contact Form 7 too. If you do not want to inconvenience your commenters by asking them to complete a reCAPTCHA image, you may want to consider Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin. The plugin will add a checkbox to the comment area that asks them to confirm they are not a spammer. Simple, yet effective.
Accessing your admin area by guessing your administrator username and password remains a popular way for hackers to infiltrate your website. One way to discourage unauthorized users from logging into your website is Login LockDown.
The plugin will block repeated attempts from a given IP range and lock them out for a defined period of time. This will effectively stop hackers from accessing your website with brute force password discovery.
Lockdown WP Admin helps you hide the admin area and the WordPress login page. Anyone who tries to view these pages will be presented with a 404 page error message. It also lets you rename the login URL.
Activating this plugin makes it very difficult for any unauthorized people from accessing your admin area. You will still be able to login yourself using your unique login URL.
Additional Website Security
There are advanced security plugins available for WordPress that can strengthen your website in a number of ways. They can scan files and scan your database for unauthorized injections, address common WordPress vulnerabilities, and monitor your website on a daily basis.
Below is a list of four of the best advanced security plugins for WordPress. To ensure that your website performance is not affected, it is normally best to use only one of these plugins. However, it may be worth activating each one and checking whether the plugin finds a security concern that the others may not. You can then leave one activated to perform security scans on a regular basis.
- Sucuri Security – Sucuri Security is a malware scanner that detects malware, spam injections, website errors, and more. It can prevent phishing attempts, PHP mailing scripts, IP cloaking, malicious iframes and malicious redirects. The plugin can also harden the configuration of your website. It can remove the WordPress version, protect the uploads directory, disable the plugin and theme editor, and restrict access to the wp-contents and wp-includes directories.
- Acunetix WP Security – Acunetix WP Security can address security concerns that are caused in the core version of WordPress, such as the removal of update information for non-admins, disabling of error reporting, and the protection of your admin area.
- iThemes Security – Recently renamed from Better WP Security, iThemes Security can address a lot of common WordPress security vulnerabilities such as renaming the admin account, changing the database prefix from wp_, and changing the user id for admin from 1. It can also monitor your website files for unauthorized changes and enforce strong passwords on all users.
- BulletProof Security – BulletProof Security can protect your website from code injections of XSS, RFI, CRLF, CSRF, Base64, and SQL. It also enhances login security and will monitor your website for security issues. It primarily uses the .htaccess file to harden your website security.
Backing Up WordPress
It is vital that you back up WordPress on a regular basis. Hosting companies tend to keep their backup servers in the same datacenter as their main servers, therefore you need to ensure that you make additional backups yourself.
There are many great backup plugins available for WordPress. Below you will find four of the best:
- VaultPress – VaultPress is a premium backup service from Automattic (the developers of WordPress). From only $5 per month, they will back up your website on a daily basis. The service features one click backups and restores; and you can download backup files at any time. I use VaultPress to backup all my websites as it is cheap, reliable, and only takes a minute to configure. Check out my review of VaultPress for more information about the service.
- BackupBuddy – Developed by iThemes, BackUpBuddy is a premium backup plugin that allows you to back up to Amazon, Dropbox, Rackspace, FTP, and more. Backups and restores are straight forward. The plugin costs a one off fee of $80 for two websites, $100 for ten websites, or $150 for unlimited websites. While I do love VaultPress, there is no getting away from the fact that BackupBuddy is a more cost effective solution in the long term.
- UpdraftPlus – An easy to use free backup solution that has a simple backup and restoration process. It supports backups to Dropbox, Amazon, Rackspace, Google Drive, FTP, email, and more. It has some cool features such as encrypting your database for additional security and the option of splitting large websites into multiple archives.
- WordPress Backup to Dropbox – A free plugin that lets you schedule regular backups to your Dropbox account. It will backup all website files and your website database. A couple of extensions are available for between $9-$19 that offer additional functionality; however the free plugin works well on its own. Unfortunately, it does not have any restore functionality.
Speed & Performance
A slow web page can drive visitors away and hurt your search engine rankings. The following plugins will help you reduce the size of your web pages and make pages load quicker for visitors.
WP-Optimize is a great little plugin that can help reduce the size of your database and make your website run more efficiently by removing post revisions, auto draft posts, and comments, that are older than two weeks.
Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions works in a similar way. I used the plugin to reduce the size of my blog by a whopping 59%.
WP Smush.It utilizes Yahoo’s Smush.it API to optimize your images in a number of ways. It will strip meta data from JPEG images, optimize JPEG compression, convert some GIF images to PNGs, and remove unused colours from indexed images. Be warned, however, that the plugin can put strain on your server CPU when it is optimizing a backlog of images.
Installing a cache plugin will make the biggest difference to your website speed. The two leading cache plugins for WordPress are W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. They allow you to create static HTML copies of your pages that are displayed to visitors, which drastically reduces the time it takes to load a page.
W3 Total Cache can improve page loading times significantly. Lighter web pages will help improve your search engine rankings and reduce your bandwidth costs.
Search Engine Optimization
Both WordPress SEO by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack will improve your website’s search engine presence.
I recently looked at which plugin was best for SEO. A few Elegant Themes blog readers were unhappy that I did not choose a winner; however the truth is that there is not much between these plugins when it comes to adding essential SEO functionality to your website.
They both allow you to configure meta information for posts, pages, and social media services. They also allow you to create XML sitemaps. WordPress SEO by Yoast has many other tools such as breadcrumbs, RSS editing, and bulk title and description editors. Some of these additional features are included in the premium version of All In One SEO Pack, some are not. Though I believe your decision on which one to use still comes down to which interface you like best.
You will not be disappointed with either plugin as they both add SEO functionality that is missing from the core version of WordPress.Both WordPress SEO and All in One SEO Pack allow you to modify page titles and meta information.
WordPress SEO by Yoast and All In One SEO Pack can be used to create an XML sitemap for your website. However, if you want full control over what is contained with your sitemap, I recommend using Google XML Sitemaps.
The plugin allows you to choose exactly which parts of your website are included in your sitemap. Indexing frequencies and priorities can be specified. It also allows you to add additional pages that were not created using WordPress.Google XML Sitemaps gives you complete control over what is listed in your website sitemap.
More Great Plugins to Consider
My original list of plugins for this article was longer, though many plugins cannot unfortunately be considered as essential. You will, however, find them useful.
Here is a quick look at some great plugins that nearly made the list:
- Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms – Two of the best plugin solutions available for adding a contact form to your website. They have advanced features such as file uploads, eCommerce integration, and spam protection.
- Subscribe To Comments Reloaded – Allows commenters to be updated of new comments. A fantastic plugin for those of you who are not using an alternative comment system.
- WP-PageNavi – Replaces the older posts and newer posts links with a more user-friendly paging navigational interface.
- Optin Forms – A great way of integrating beautiful newsletter sign up forms into your website.
- Smart Layers – I shared with you all the best social media sharing plugins for WordPress last month. Yet the most common question I receive from Elegant Themes blog readers is ‘What social media plugin is powering the floating bar on Elegant Themes?’. The answer is: Smart Layers by AddThis.
- Google Analytics for WordPress – Allows you to track a lot of additional information on Google Analytics. For example, it can use custom variables to display traffic for authors, posts and pages, specific categories, and more.
- SEO Smart Links – Allows you to automatically link keywords and phrases in your posts and comments to other posts and pages from your website.
- Pretty Link – An essential tool for affiliate marketers. It allows you to mask ugly affiliate URL’s and track the number of clicks to links.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – A whopping thirty two modules and counting. Jetpack adds a lot of functionality to your website including social media sharing, comments, related posts, and spelling and grammar correcting.
- Types – A tool for managing custom post types, custom taxonomy, and custom fields.
- Comprehensive Google Map Plugin – Let’s you insert Google maps into your website using widgets or shortcodes.
I hope you have enjoyed this list of top WordPress plugins. With tens of thousands of WordPress plugins available online, it can be difficult to curate a list that includes everyone’s favorite essential plugins.