10 Essential WordPress Plugins in 2011

Every so often I write a post like this one – and this is a subject worth revisiting, since new and better plugins get released all the time, and older ones stop being supported.

Since my last article of this nature, two years and a whole load of WordPress releases have come and gone, so it’s high time I took a fresh look at the plugins I find myself using again and again when starting new projects.

There’s one significant difference between this list and my previous one (apart from it being longer!) – this time around, I have included commercial plugins (you know, where you have to – gasp – pay for them!) as well as free ones. But I’ll explain why further in. Also, this time I’ve given it a “top ten” countdown flavour, because I felt like it.

Aside: I’m not affiliated with any of these plugins (except the one whose name starts with Zig ? ).

10. Akismet

Right, let’s get the boring one out of the way first. Boring because it’s bundled with WordPress, and because when it’s doing its job you almost don’t know it’s there. But vital nonetheless.

At the time of writing, this website has 780 approved comments. There were also a further 9067 which were caught by Akisment, marked as spam, and then deleted in bulk from time to time by WP-Cleanup (see No.4 below). That’s a lot of reading time saved.

9. Tweet Blender

So many sites now need to show Twitter feeds that a Twitter plugin has actually made it into my top ten. Tweet Blender is the best one I’ve tried – versatile and stable. It’s working away in the footer of this site as I write.

8. MCE Table Buttons

The WordPress visual editor with all those nice buttons is a pretty good tool – well, it’s not bad anyway – but if you suddenly find that you need to display some tabular data, it’s worse than useless. “I need a table!” you cry. But is there a table button? There is not.

Install this plugin, get an extra row of table-related buttons, and create tables in your posts to your heart’s content. Then add classes to them, tweak your theme CSS and you’ve got content that would make a physics textbook blush.

7. Superfish Dropdown Menu

I know dropdown menus aren’t for everyone, and some front-end developers turn their noses up at them, but they can be awfully useful for somewhat complex site structures.

If you use them, you will probably be aware that Superfish is probably the best CSS+JavaScript dropdown menu tool available. It’s (reasonably) accessible, it’s (reasonably) easy to customise, and it works on a wide range of browsers.

This plugin simply brings the Superfish tool into the WordPress environment, so you can use a Superfish dropdown menu in your WordPress site without getting your hands dirty.

6. ZigDashNote

If I may blow my own trumpet for just a moment, ZigDashNote is a nifty little plugin I wrote that gives you a simple scratchpad area on the admin dashboard page. Use it to leave notes for other admins, to remind you what your defined image sizes are, to remind a colleague not to upgrade a particular plugin because you tweaked it, to help you remember a shortcode, etc. The possibilities are endless. And it will linkify URLs as well.

5. Google Analytics by Yoast

If you use Google Analytics, you need a Google Analytics plugin, to help automate the logging of downloads, outbound links, etc. Yoast’s is as good as any. Install, configure and forget.

4. WP-Cleanup

As you use your WordPress site, the site database gradually gets larger and larger, filling up with temporary revisions of articles, spam comments, and other stuff that you can’t easily clear out on your own.

Wp-Cleanup simply scans your site database for all data that can safely be removed, and removes it. This keeps your database size down and your site speed up. Simple as that. And it has a pie chart ?

3. BackupBuddy

OK, now we have a couple of commercial plugins. Take a deep breath…

Backing up your WordPress site and database is so important, it needs to become second nature. FTPing the site down to your PC and creating an SQL script of the database is all very well when you have one site, but if you have 5 client sites, or 10, or in my case over 50, it’s just way too much hassle and you’ll inevitably find that you neglect it. Not good.

BackupBuddy simply automates and schedules the process, and also provides a simple process for recovery, and site migration to another domain.

It’s not cheap (from US$75), but it fulfils a vital role, and it does it far better than any of the free backup plugins.

2. Gravity Forms

A form is a part of at least 95% of websites. I actually plucked that figure out of thin air but I bet it’s not far off. Forms are important – they make a website into a two-way communication tool instead of just a way of talking at people.

A few months ago I wrote a comparison review of some popular free WordPress form plugins.

A few weeks later, I discovered Gravity Forms, and seriously considered deleting the article altogether. Instead, I settled for adding an update paragraph at the end.

Gravity Forms is so far ahead of any other forms plugin I’ve seen (commercial or free) that it gets added to every new WordPress install I create, whether or not I know at that stage if the project will actually need a form. It’s become second nature. Partly because it has all the features I need, but mostly because the form creation screen is such a joy to work with. Go and try the demo. Go on, do it now. I’ll wait.

Yes I know, it’s not free. But US$39 isn’t actually a huge amount of money when you think about it.

1. WordPress SEO by Yoast

The No.1 spot has to be an SEO plugin, right? If your site can’t be found, then why have a site?

I remember the days when every one and their dog used the “All In One SEO Pack”, because that was the only proper SEO plugin available…

Not any more. There’s a new kid on the block, and though it’s still in beta, it’s already more powerful and easier to use than the old All In One warhorse.

There are two things in particular that I like about Yoast’s plugin: firstly, it does XML sitemaps as well, so you don’t need a separate plugin for those; and secondly, it does site breadcrumbs as well, so you don’t need a separate plugin for that either. And this is on top of all the normal functionality you used to get with All In One.

And that’s it.

These are the 10 plugins that I paste into every new WordPress project in case I need them – and I usually end up needing most of them.

What are your 10?

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Posted by Web Monkey