In 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.
- 20 Essential WordPress Plugins to Turbocharge your blog in 2012 – MoneyCTL.com
- 10 Essential Plugins for Your WordPress Blog – SproutSocial
- 8 Essential WordPress Plugins for the New Blogger – The Next Web
- The 32 Essential WordPress Plugins to Keep Your Blog Amazing – Erin Smith
- Setting Up Your Site: 7 Essential WordPress Plugins – DNF Blog
- 5 Essential WordPress Plugins for Beginners – Fuel Your Blogging
- 10 Must Have WordPress Plugins Of 2012 Every Blogger Should Know About – Jeffbullas’s Blog
- 16 Essential WordPress Plugins Every Blog Must Have – OurTuts.com
- 19 Essential WordPress Plugins for Your Blog – @ProBlogger
- 10 Essential WordPress Plugins For Your Blog – Quick Blog Tips
- 11 Essential WordPress Plugins To Get Your Blog In Motion – Social Media Examiner
- 7 Essential WordPress Plugins for Your Blog – The Social Craft
- Top WordPress Plugins Every Blog Should Have – Yoast
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 Akismet 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 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.
- What goal are you trying to achieve with that Plugin?
- What do you want the Plugin to do?
- What must it do to satisfy your needs?
- What would be nice extra features?
- What do you NOT want it to do?
- 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.
If 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.
If 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.
Jetpack by WordPress.com 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, WP.me URL shortener, and WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com 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
Without 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
It 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.
- Adminer WordPress Plugin
- Find replace WordPress Plugin
- Portable phpMyAdmin WordPress Plugin
- Safe Search Replace WordPress Plugin
- Search and Replace WordPress Plugin
- Text Replace WordPress Plugin
- WP RegEx Replace WordPress Plugin
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, Matt Mullenweg 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?