13 essential WordPress plugins

Jun 04, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. 1. Clean Options
  2. 2. Disqus Comment System
  3. 3. Future Posts Calendar
  4. 4. Google Analytics for WordPress
  5. 5. Jetpack
  6. 6. Revision Control
  7. 7. SyntaxHighlighter Evolved
  8. 8. W3 Total Cache
  9. 9. WordPress SEO
  10. 10. WP Maintenance Mode
  11. 11. WP No Category Base
  12. 12. WP Security Scan
  13. 13. XCloner - Backup and Restore

After using WordPress for a number of years now, I’ve found a handful of plugins that I find myself installing every time I set up a new website. As you can probably tell, Culttt is built on top of WordPress, and so I’m actually using every single one of these plugins on this very site. How’s that for an endorsement?!

For me, the best plugins integrate so well into WordPress that you forget it’s not part of the core files. It’s only when you make a fresh installation do you realise something is missing.

WordPress is an Open Source community, yet some of the following free plugins will allow you to build an extremely powerful, professional website. From SEO to keeping things clean and tidy, I’m sure you’ll find at least one of the following plugins extremely helpful on your WordPress site.

1. Clean Options

When installing plugins from the WordPress marketplace, some need to add extra tables into your WordPress database in order to function correctly. However, after you uninstall certain plugins, those extra tables are not always deleted. This can leave orphaned tables scattered about your database, whilst usually not causing any harm, they shouldn’t really be there. This is especially annoying if you are like me and like to have everything completely neat and tidy.

Clean Options will scan your WordPress database and find any tables that might be orphaned. You can then simply delete them from the WordPress backend without having to go into PHPMyAdmin.

2. Disqus Comment System

As you can see from Culttt, I choose to use Disqus as my commenting system. Disqus allows your audience to leave comments from any of their social media profiles and allows them to build up a reputation across many different communities across the web.

If you’ve ever made a WordPress comment template from scratch, I’m sure you’ll agree it can be a bit of a pain. With Disqus you simply install the plugin, sign in to your Disqus account and you are good to go. Also, moderating comments is easy as you can simply reply to the notification email to delete comments or mark as spam.

Disqus have a lot of interesting community and interaction features in the pipeline that are only going to enhance the possibilities of building a community around your website. For me, using Disqus is a no-brainer.

3. Future Posts Calendar

Once you get into some kind of routine for posting to your blog, you are going to need some kind of calendar to see what you have lined up, and what days in your schedule you need to write posts for. I use Future Posts Calendar because it’s clean, light and simple and does exactly what I need it to do. Future Posts Calendar adds a widget on the main dashboard and in the sidebar of the new post window so I can see clearly when I have posts scheduled and where I have gaps in my calendar. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

4. Google Analytics for WordPress

Ok, so this isn’t exactly essential, but it is really useful. Google Analytics for WordPress allows you to quickly add your Google Analytics code into your WordPress theme, plus it adds some really useful extras and enhancements so you can make the most of tracking your blog’s progress.

5. Jetpack

Jetpack adds the powerful functionality of a hosted WordPress website to your locally hosted blog. Some of the useful features are, artificial intelligence based spell, style, and grammar checker, simple, concise stats and social media sharing. Jetpack is created by the fine folks at Automattic (the founders of WordPress) so you know this is definitely worth installing.

6. Revision Control

Depending on your use of WordPress, revisions are either incredibly useful, or incredibly annoying. For me, they are annoying. As I alluded to before, I hate having my WordPress database getting bloated with extra data it doesn’t need. Each revision you make to a post is saved as a new entry into your database, and whenever you make a change to a post you make a new revision. So as you can guess, you quickly get a lot or revisions for every post on your blog. For each blog post, you might have 10 or more revisions, which is extra database entries you really don’t need, especially once you hit publsh. Revision Control is a beautiful plugin because it allows you to quickly and easily manage how you store revisions either across your whole blog, or on individual posts. This means that once you hit publish, you can quickly get rid of all those pesky revisions that will be bloating your database up, or, as in my case, you can select for WordPress to simply not create revisions at all so you can keep your database storing only the minimum amount of data.

7. SyntaxHighlighter Evolved

If you are going to be posting any kind of code tutorials, you will want to display your sample code in a clean and effective way. If you try to just type example code into WordPress’s new post content box, it will interpret it as code you actually want to use as part of your site. SyntaxHighlighter Evolved allows you to easily display code in your posts, and will automatically highlight the code depending on what programming language you are writing. To see this plugin in action, take a look at my How to connect to MySQL through PHP tutorial.

8. W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache does so many good things for your site, I don’t know where to start. Essentially what this plugin will do is to cache your blog to speed up page loads, minimise database queries and greatly improve your websites performance. Have a look at the details page that lists all the plugin features and the endorsements from some big names bloggers, web hosting companies and WordPress experts. If you plan on growing your website to more than a few thousand uniques a month, you are going to need W3 Total Cache at some point. You may aswell get it set up now, before you get that huge spike of traffic that brings down your server.

9. WordPress SEO

If you care about the Search Engine Optimisation of your WordPress blog, then WordPress SEO is an essential plugin for you. WordPress SEO will handle every detail of your SEO strategy, from page titles, to htaccess, indexation, breadcrumbs and more. Joost de Valk, created of WordPress SEO is one of the leading authorities in both SEO and WordPress development and so this plugin ensures you are covered for every aspect of a good Search Engine Optimised website. They are other good SEO plugins out there, but for me, WordPress SEO is everything you will ever need.

10. WP Maintenance Mode

From time to time, you will need to make critical changes to your live site. Whilst the majority of development should be done in a local environment, sometimes there are just some things you need to do on a live site. Once your blog gets a good amount of regular traffic, there never seems to be a good quiet time to make a couple of changes that could render your site unusable, even if it is just for a short amount of time. The bad thing about the Internet is, if a visitor experiences a bad user experience with your site once, it makes it even harder to get them to come back. WP Maintenance Mode allows you to quickly put up a maintenance page so your visitors know that you are making changes and they should come back in a while when you are finished. This is particularly useful if you are making drastic changes to your theme that could render your site completely broken for a period of time. WP Maintenance mode allows users with a certain level of authority to continue to view the site normally whilst showing a customisable front page to everyone else.

11. WP No Category Base

If you are using categories to organise your posts, you will see that WordPress links to a category page like _/category/category-name_. However, you will probably want to have shorter, cleaner URLS for your categories. At one time, it was really easy to alter your .htaccess file to make this rewrite work. However, at some point down the line, this stopped working. Now however you can just use WP No Category Base to quickly and easily remove the category base so you have short and clean URLs for your categories.

12. WP Security Scan

It can be soul-crushing to have your website hacked all because you left a silly vulnerability that let a hacker get easy access to your database or admin area. WP Security Scan scans your WordPress installation and looks for potential security holes that you should fix to keep your blog safe. When you first install it, it’ll probably recommend a couple of things you should fix straight away like changing your admin login and the prefix for your database table. After that you shouldn’t have much else to do, but it is definitely worth having installed.

13. XCloner - Backup and Restore

I’m sure you know that you should be regularly making backups of your WordPress files and database, but I know it’s easy to neglect it. XCloner makes it easy by automatically backing up your installation and allowing you to quickly and easily restore it from a backup should something go wrong. This is another plugin that you can really just set and forget, until the day you are thankful that you took the time to set it up in the first place.

What are the WordPress plugins you could not live without? What have you found incredibly useful? And what are the hidden gems or the WordPress market place?

Philip Brown


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