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What are the Essential WordPress Plugins You Can’t Live Without?

WordPress PluginsIn my WordPress session at Barcamp Portland this past weekend, one of my favorite questions started the discussion: What are the most essential, must-have WordPress Plugins?

My answer? None.

Okay, not really. My honest answer is one: Akismet.

Spam is the bane of our web experience. It comes in our emails and site comments. While filters have long been improving for email, it was the work of some amazing people behind Akismet who said we ain’t going to take this any more. Akismet is crowd-sourced spam control. You mark a comment as spam and another blogger flags it as spam…soon Akismet gets the message and the rest of us don’t get that spam comment. The 3-10 comment spams you have to deal with daily are nothing compared to the hundreds to thousands prevented from hammering your site each day.

That’s a WordPress Plugin I can’t live without, nor should you.

As for the rest of the essential, must-have WordPress Plugins, there are none. Honestly.

Here is a sample of those who disagree with me recently.

Why do I disagree with them? Because your site is special and shouldn’t be treated like everyone else. The WordPress Plugins you must have are the ones you can’t live without.

Learn from them. Listen to their advice, but decide for yourself which WordPress Plugins are most essential to your site.

The WordPress Plugins You Can’t Live Without are the WordPress Plugins You Can’t Live Without

Out of the box, WordPress has all the major tools you need to start publishing. Turn on and you are good to go. What happens next is up to the needs and goals of your site.

Each time you add a WordPress Plugin to your site, you either save time or increase your work load – sometimes both. A good podcasting or video or audio WordPress Plugin can save you a lot of time, making it easier and faster to publish multimedia content. An SEO WordPress Plugin requires attention for every post, making sure all the information is set before you hit publish, adding to your workload. Choosing the right Plugin for you requires evaluation of needs and goals versus time and commitment constraints.

Either way, with each WordPress Plugin you add, you also increase the demand on your server, database, slow down the page loading, and possibly increase the chance for conflict or errors. While most WordPress Plugins have minimal impact on your site, choose carefully and wisely. Your site depends upon it.

It doesn’t mean these people putting out the “top X WordPress Plugins you must use on your WordPress site” articles are wrong. Most of them feature the Plugins I often recommend. What I don’t like is the presumption, and people taking their list as gospel. I’m asked daily which WordPress Plugin is best for this or that, and my answer to everyone is “it depends.” Read the articles and listen to their advice, but only you know what will work for your needs.

The best WordPress Plugin is one that makes your site sit up and dance. It does the thing that you can’t do any other way. You depend upon it to deliver the goods. You might change Themes or tweak the colors and design a little here and there, but if something happens to that WordPress Plugin, your site is a mess. That’s the sign of an essential WordPress Plugin.

If you are a podcaster, then podPress or Blubrry PowerPress should be at the top of your list. You honestly can’t live without such Plugins. If you aren’t a podcaster, you don’t need them.

contact formIf you need a good contact form, there are many to choose from, or you can simply write your own if you wish with a simple tutorial from W3Schools or free online form builders like pForm or HTML Form Builder. Contact Form 7 and Fast Secure Contact Form WordPress Plugins are popular but it doesn’t mean they are the right ones for your site. Maybe all you need is to put in your email address in your contact information or let people use the comment box to contact you. A comment form isn’t required on every site.

Don’t listen to the peer pressure that says you have to use specific WordPress Plugins or your site will be no good. There are literally thousands of mind-blowing WordPress Plugins for you to choose from, and many are redundant, giving you choices and options. You still need to narrow down the decision to which one you really need.

Instead of thinking you must use a specific WordPress Plugin because X blogger says that’s the right one, determine for yourself if you really need that Plugin.

  1. What goal are you trying to achieve with that Plugin?
  2. What do you want the Plugin to do?
  3. What must it do to satisfy your needs?
  4. What would be nice extra features?
  5. What do you NOT want it to do?
  6. How will it integrate naturally into your site and its design?

Answer those questions specifically. Make a list of goals and needs. For example, should the contact form just confirm the sending of the form or should it redirect back to a specific page on your site? Do you need the ability to completely customize the contact form or are the basics enough for you? Do you need the contact form to go directly to one person or should it go to multiple people on your team?

Think it through thoroughly, then read through the WordPress Plugin descriptions on the WordPress Plugin Directory.

The majority of WordPress Plugins are free to use. Install it and try it. Doesn’t work, try another. Keep experimenting until you find the one that best meets your needs. It’s a small amount of time to find the one that meets your needs and makes your life truly easier.

The WordPress Plugins you can’t live without are the WordPress Plugins that define your site, your content, and meets your needs and the needs of your audience.

Personally, I can’t live without the Customizable Post Listings WordPress Plugin. I use it with many of my client sites as well as my own. It has the ability to place lists of posts and comments in over a thousand different ways and places. I’ve bragged about it for years and it continues to be a staple in my WordPress Plugin arsenal.

If you do a lot of multimedia publishing, especially video, you can’t live without the Viper’s Video Quicktags WordPress Plugin that makes it easy to embed videos from a variety of sources. Otherwise, the built-in functionality to easily embed YouTube links in your posts is about all you need or the share code that comes with most video services.

There are many WordPress Plugins to help you manage or improve the functionality of comments in WordPress. I’ve yet to find a reason to use one as the native functionality of comments is excellent. I find these often get in my way when leaving comments. The blight of the web, CAPTCHAs, the annoying visual or question tests found on many comment forms died a long time ago. It has been proven repeatedly not to stop spammers, so don’t bother. With the growing number of human spammers, they can pass those a thousand times a day, and bots typically break them within a couple weeks. Treat comments with respect. If you choose a comment WordPress Plugin, test it thoroughly and check with your fans. Not all sites should have them nor need them.

The demand for mobile versions of our sites is high and growing. WPTouch or WordPress Mobile Edition WordPress Plugins make it simple to make your site mobile accessible, but are they necessary? More and more WordPress Themes come mobile-ready, so adding these Plugins could be redundant. With the new US federal laws for accessibility compliance, all commercial, government, and public sites must meet the new laws for access from cell phones, web TV, and other access points, and WordPress Themes must be compliant. If your Theme isn’t mobile-compliant, then these Plugins could be essential.

Manage Multiple Author Tips and TechniquesIf you have multiple contributors, managing them is complex, thus you need WordPress Plugins like the ones mentioned in my How to Manage Multiple Bloggers on WordPress article series. They include post reminders, editorial calendars, schedules, author post customization, author widgets, and more. Do you need all those features? Maybe. Maybe not.

If you have one to three contributors, use the built-in capability to assign them user roles and take advantage of the Pending for Review option in the post panel to let editors know when a post is ready for review and publishing on the site. Use Google Docs to create collaborative documents or an editorial calendar. Keep things simple unless you need all the power of multiple post WordPress Plugins.

File Gallery WordPress PluginIf your site features extensive use of photographs and images, often multiple images per post, the File Gallery WordPress Plugin is indispensable as it allows you to quick upload images then add them directly from a section on the Post Panel to your post, fast and easy. You can add them in gallery format or individually, controlling the positioning and size with a few clicks. For articles similar to this with multiple images, this Plugin saves me 10-30 minutes per post. It is my dream to see this Plugin and its functionality in the core of WordPress.

If you have a high volume and traffic site with a great deal of content, a cache WordPress Plugin like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache becomes essential to keep the database and server load down to acceptable rates, but should everyone use it? Nice thought but no. It’s not for the beginner nor even the average user. It’s for those who know they need it. If you don’t know you need it, you probably don’t.

SEO WordPress Plugins are also not necessary for the average WordPress user. While most of the above must-have WordPress Plugin lists include Google XML Sitemaps, Google Analytics for WordPress, and WordPress SEO WordPress Plugins, if you pay close attention to your post titles, content, tags, and categories, using keywords and words people use to search for your content, you really don’t need those Plugins. Those that do know why they do and use them appropriately, but why add more work for yourself or burden your site with Plugins you probably don’t need. stats chartJetpack by is a commonly recommended WordPress Plugin which actually includes multiple Plugins all wrapped up into a single install. Included are After the Deadline, Sharedaddy, Wickett Twitter Widget, Gravatar, URL shortener, and Stats.

Gravatars come automatically with WordPress now, so the Gravatar Plugin just adds hovercard popups for comments, which some find annoying and others find helpful. After the Deadline WordPress Plugin is great if you need help with writing and finishing up your articles in WordPress. Sharedaddy, URL shortener and Twitter Widget are handy, but not necessary for every site, and not everyone needs the statistics available in stats. The stats are great for novice bloggers but not enough for the serious web publisher. Activate just the Plugins you need in Jetpack.

It’s the little details that will make all the difference in a can’t-live-without WordPress Plugin. Sometimes you can’t find what you want. A musician needed an audio player that would allow automatic play stop when the next song on the Listen Page was clicked. Most audio players won’t do that, causing multiple songs to play at the same time. He finally found a custom script that worked with lists of songs that automatically stopped when the next was played. It’s not a WordPress Plugin yet, but he’s determined to convert it accordingly. You don’t need such a Plugin, but those that do can’t live without it.

Which WordPress Plugins are Really Essential?

Hopefully I’ve got you rethinking the WordPress Plugins you have as well as ones you will consider in the future. WordPress Plugins are essential for adding functionality and features to your WordPress site, but do so wisely. Choose the best one for your needs. If you can’t find one, work with WordPress Plugin authors to create one that does or make one that currently exist even better.

When I sit back and think about all the WordPress Plugins I’ve recommended via my sites and to my clients, it boils down to these as “essential” for a typical site.

Subscription WordPress Plugins

subscribe by feed list of linksWithout a doubt, if you have an interactive site or you offer informative articles where the commenters add to the discussion, such as helpful advice on how to choose a WordPress Theme or rebuild an engine, Subscribe to Comments WordPress Plugin should be near the top of your list.

Subscribe to Comments is among the oldest and continuously active WordPress Plugins. It adds a checkbox to the bottom of the comment form for commenters to be updated by email when new comments are added. It’s simple and necessary if your site has that specific need to keep fans informed on the activity of specific posts – not your entire site. That’s something different.

There are many subscription WordPress Plugins which will notify registered users by email when you update your site. If they actively use a feed reader, make sure your feed icons are visible and prominent to help them add your site to their reader.

You can also chose from a wide variety of subscribe by email WordPress Plugins such as Benchmark Email Lite, Navayan Subscribe, RSS to Email. The latter is fairly simple, sending feed versions of your content by email. The first, Benchmark Email Light, allows for a wide variety of customization options to personalize the email update notifications to meet your specific needs.

At a minimum, your site should prominently feature feed icons or a Subscribe page listing all the ways people can follow your site’s activities. These are usually created manually, but some WordPress Plugins make this easier.

Backup, Backup, Backup

I’ve learned the hard way to not trust my server hosting company to ensure my site is completely backed up. Most do a good job but not all – all the time. Regularly scheduled or frequent backups are critical to protect your site.

There are now several options for backing up your WordPress site. WordPress Backup, WordPress Database Backup, and WP-DBManager are the most popular, and a new one, WordPress Backup to Dropbox WordPress Plugin, is ideal if your backup doesn’t exceed your Dropbox limits.

While these do excellent work at backing up the database, don’t forget to manually backup your site’s Theme and uploaded files regularly. There are some WordPress Plugins being developed to make that process easier, but so far, I haven’t found one that works consistently. A good FTP program is your best bet.

Search and Replace in the WordPress Database

Search and replace code in the MySQL database with phpMyAdmin WordPress PluginsIt doesn’t happen very often but it does happen. You change your domain name, you decide to change “blog” to “site” throughout your posts, you change email addresses, or need to make a change across more than a few posts and Pages on your WordPress site. That’s the time when you need to do a search and replace in the WordPress database.

You can do this through your cPanel or phpMyAdmin, but there are WordPress Plugins that will help speed up the process.

Each add an interface panel to the WordPress Administration Panels to allow you to easy complete the task of finding, search and replace, delete, or make other changes to your WordPress database safely.

Next of Kin – Site Update Reminders

In 2007, I met the author of the Next Of Kin WordPress Plugin – and I haven’t stopped laughing at it since. It’s a brilliant why-didn’t-I-think-of-it concept. The goal of the Plugin is to automatically send a reminder note to yourself if you haven’t logged into your WordPress site within a specific time period. If you haven’t checked within another few days, it emails a designated person to nag you to check in to your site. After another length of time, it notifies the designated person with a request to stop by your place and sniff the door to see if you are still alive.

It’s a clever way to keep yourself or someone else active on the site without personally nagging. The Blog Update Reminder WordPress Plugin is a newer version that does the same thing with more customization.

While not essential, and I have often joked that we need something like this in the core of WordPress. I think it’s important if you wish to make your site a priority in your life. Stuff always gets in your way, so a gentle reminder to give some love and attention to your site is a great way to bring you back to your blog.

Which WordPress Plugins are Essential to Your Site?

The WordPress Plugins essential to your site are the ones that meets the needs of you and your site. I think it’s important to share this information so we can all learn from each other. We must also respect ourselves and choose the right Plugin for our needs and not make wide sweeping assumptions about what works for everyone.

Which WordPress Plugins can’t you live without and why?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.


  1. Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi there

    I enjoyed this article, and I must agree that each of us are on our own path. This determines which tools we see as being essential.

    I am started my WordPress powered site about 2 months ago, although I have been playing around with the CMS for a long time. I have also adopted the regime to add applicable plugins as I progress.

    Thanks for a great series of articles.


    • Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Thank you and good luck with your new site. Glad you are taking the appropriate forethought in development.

  2. camu
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I totally agree with you, and in my case the plugins I can’t live without are the ones I write myself 🙂 You mentioned Subscribe to Comments, which as you said, is one of the oldest out there, but I’ve written a ‘reloaded’ version, which adds some extra functionality and has been well received by the community. It also fixes some of the most ‘dangerous’ bugs of Subscribe to Comments, and although I’ve not updated it recently, it’s actively supported and maintained: Subscribe to Comments Reloaded.

    Thank you,

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      @Camu: Subscribe to Comments does not have any bugs or danger in it. It is maintained constantly by one of the top lead developers of WordPress, and updated if necessary. Hasn’t been necessary in a while I guess. The one you’ve mentioned is another good alternative.

  3. mmaguire
    Posted April 3, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle: Good, interesting, and a bit “tonngue in cheek” article 🙂

    When using WordPress as a blog – great, simple is as simple does.

    When adapting WP as a cms , then you really need to have some if not a lot of plugins, even if the main purpose of these are just to give you more time to do some of the more important things.

    One area I would like to see someone like yourself discuss is:

    “WordPress and Sex”,

    and now that I have got your attention I am referring to the potential of women, epsecially older women who may not had a great amout of exposure to or use of information technology in their earlier careers but who as educators and leaders may still not realise the potential value of this in the work that they do.

    I am looking for examples of or strategies where “older” women have become not only IT enabled and gone on to ensure their own communities are taking full advantage of this – ie adapting Web 2.0 tools for wider community benefits.

    Thanks and keep up the good work

    Kind regards

    • Posted April 3, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      @mmaguire: When using WordPress as a CMS, which it is already depending upon how you use it, the capability to create a static front page is built-in, which is the key to what many think of as a CMS. The rest again is specific to the needs of the site and its audience.

      As for the WordPress and sex topic, I have a ton of examples though it’s not a topic I would tackle. It’s fascinating though. If you would like some examples, let me know.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      What’s older? I’m teaching my Mother to use a blog and still working with her for the computer and email in general. I’m feeling old myself and wondered what your cut off was for “older women”.

    • Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      @thatgrrl: i think the moment one receives the “older” stamp is when people start calling you “sir/mam”… before that, we were “young man/miss”…

  4. geekbharat
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I always forgot to backup up my blog, there are many plugins available to automatically backup sql tables, but I’m looking for the most reliable one, can you please help me with that ?

  5. Nandita B
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    My all time favorite is One and Only ” Akismet”. It is the WP Plugin I can die for.

    Rest all the plugins are for Saving Time + Wasting Time = 0 (end result).

    Thanks for the nice article.

  6. Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Customizable Post Listings hasn’t been updated since 2005, are you sure this is the one?

    File Gallery is awesome, thanks!

    • Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Yes, Customizable Post Listings is the one. It worked last time I checked but I’ll check again.

  7. Posted April 9, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Hi.I have a couple of questions. I read your blog for help with my blog. First I have heard the term scraping for the first time. And I am going to look for it. But is scraping the same as copyright infringement or totally different? In other words if you do it does the owner who copyrights their blog have the right to sue you in a court of law? Also for wordpress plug ins- do they allow you to put in Amazon ads to sell things? I am going t try the wordpress plugsin. i have akismet i believe but i thought it cost money. i will check it out.

    • Posted April 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Akismet is free for non-commercial sites. It comes free on sites. You can learn more about copyright, which involves scrapping, in What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content.

      There are WordPress Plugins that can help you monetize your site in various ways including Amazing, but such activities are not permitted on sites, not can you install WordPress Plugins on sites.

  8. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    Thanks for the link to Quick Blog Tips. 🙂 Actually, I don’t disagree – my post starts with “So, what are the 10 plugins I find essential for my blogs?”. It’s just my view 🙂

    I actually use GASP rather than Akismet.

    You’re right in saying that different plugins work for different people. I published my top plugin list back in April 2011, and it’s probably due for an update. I might do that soon. Thanks for prompting that idea 🙂

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      The list of “essential” WordPress Plugins tend to shift and change, but I’m always surprised at how they also stay the same, meeting the same needs years after year. Akismet is such a powerful choice for protecting your site from comment spam as it is crowd sourced and used by millions and millions of WordPress (and other publishing platforms) around the world, making it a faster and more diverse crowd from which to source its protection, unlike others which use a variety of techniques with little or no crowd sourcing which are typically beaten down rather quickly. Either way, always use what works for you and comment spam protection is like safe bloggy sex in today’s world. 😀

  9. genius
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Is it Ok to mention one of your own plugins? I use the HTML text editor – rather than the visual editor – and it was driving me crazy that I couldn’t make the font bigger. Call me an old fart but I was having to write my posts with a telescope.

    So I came up with a plugin to solve the problem. No more telescopes for me and I find I write faster too.

  10. Posted May 1, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    My favourite plugin is Time Machine. It’s functional for readers and SEO but what I really like about it is the look back at myself. Time Machine lists your posts from on this date (or a few days before/after) for years of old posts. It’s a trip down memory lane every day. I’ve been blogging a long time.

  11. maheshone
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I have a list of 25+ Essential WordPress Plugins. Can you please list the same here?

    – Mahesh

    • Posted May 20, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      You have just done so, though there are better ways of spreading the link love. Good luck with your project.

  12. Thue xe may da nang
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to use plugins for free account?

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      For the free Please read the terms of service before signing up. You will learn that you cannot install WordPress Plugins on You are using some powerful Plugins on as features, but you cannot install them.

  13. Steven DeBo
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    While there may not be a lot of general plugins that are essential, when you start marketing with a WordPress site you will find that there are a number of plugins that are essential for various types of clients. I would not put up a photograoher’s site without a very robust gallery plugin, nor an Internet marketing site without an ad management plugin. A real estate site will need a plugin for listings, an automobile dealership a vehicle inventory, resturants need maps,etc.

    Even generally, some kind of SEO plugin is needed, especially for small businesses who need their SEO to be sopt on but cannot aford to hire an SEO specialist.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Luckily, the majority of individuals and small businesses on the web do NOT need a specialist nor a Plugin for SEO. All they need to do is write intelligent content without pronouns. 😀

  14. Mas Crazant
    Posted August 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    im using capcha pluggin and akismet, i hope its could control spammer in my website, nice article 🙂

    • Posted August 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Akismet is awesome, however your captcha is a waste of everyone’s time. It doesn’t work.

  15. Posted September 20, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for providing information about wordpress plugins..
    post more tips..

  16. magdaily
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful Article…Well Lorelle, I like ALl in one SEO pack and ofcourse Akismet is great for spammy comments and is doing a good job.
    By the way i once installed jetpack but it gets real buggy for me… 😦

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Sorry you are having problems with JetPack. I recommend you contact them with your issues so they can resolve them. It is constantly being updated and improved with user feedback.

  17. Andrew
    Posted August 21, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink


    I have been searching across the internet to find a plugin, which creates a checkbox under the comments “Notify me of new posts via email.” Please, tell me the name of the plugin or maybe it is a function inside wordpress and I don’t know how to turn it on. Please, let me know. Thank you

    • Posted August 21, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      There are many of them. Subscribe to Comments WordPress Plugin is one of the oldest and most popular.

  18. Andrew
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I have it installed. But you have 2 checkboxes. I have only one – Notify me of follow-up comments via email. But i need to have another one – Notify me of new POSTS via email. Subscripe to comments doesn’t have such an option.

    • Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      WordPress comes with a sidebar widget to add subscribe to site, which is what you are looking for. If you are using JetPack, there is a shortcode you can add to a Child Theme of the Theme you are using to embed that option below the comment box. There may be others.

      Too many checkbox options around the comment box are often distractions and confusing to users. I’ve heard from many that the more they have to do to leave a comment, they faster they don’t. I recommend highlighting the subscription options in the sidebar instead.

  19. Paul Johnson
    Posted December 29, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I do agree that Akshimet is very important when anti-spam protection is the subject, but also I would add that there are many other very useful plugins, and that their importance is different with different content on a particular web site. Would you agree?
    Since I am in photography business, for me very valuable plugin is NextGEN Gallery.

    • Posted January 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes, there are many useful Plugins. I’ve written about thousands of them over the years. As stated in the article, you choose the ones you can’t live without. Doesn’t mean I can’t.

      NextGen is nice and they’ve come a long way. Perfect for a photography site.


  20. Radha
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    i also use wordpress plagin fore my blog on , but very intresting info fore development

    • Posted November 25, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      WordPress Plugins are not permitted on sites. They come with the site as a feature but you cannot install or uninstall them.

12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  8. […] Next Of Kin WordPress Plugin would have helped. I’ve written about this novel Plugin, and Blog Update Reminder WordPress Plugin appears to replace it. It is a Plugin that automatically […]

  9. […] reading through Lorelle’s article, “What Are The Essential Plugins You Can’t Live Without?” written in April of 2012, there are quite a few links to “top integer amount favorite and […]

  10. […] reading through Lorelle’s article, “What Are The Essential Plugins You Can’t Live Without?” written in April of 2012, there are quite a few links to “top integer amount favorite and […]

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