One of the beautiful things about using WordPress as your sites CMS is the fact that there are so many awesome and thoroughly tested plugins available to make your life easier, as well as making your visitors experience more pleasurable.
I have spent many countless hours (and will no doubt spend many more) installing plugins on my various blogs, playing around with them, testing them out and finding out which ones really do an excellent job.
Many people have asked me what plugins I regularly use, and here is my comprehensive list of my must-have plugins, as well as those nice to have plugins that I will use as and when required.
The 12 Must Have WordPress Plugins
#1 - Askimet
The ultimate spam killing machine. Askimet sits quietly on your server, monitoring all the incoming comments and trackbacks for spam. The spam filter works by consolidating information about spam captured on all participating blogs, and then using those spam rules to block future spam.
As you can see, it's doing a good job on one of my sites - automatically deleting over 12 thousand spam comments from ever getting into my moderation queue!
#2 - Clicky for WordPress
I used to be a huge fan of Google Analytics, but since they rolled out the new user interface, I've found myself getting frustrated and annoyed by how un-user friendly everything is. I set about looking for a replacement, and was bowled over by the simplicity of Clicky.
I've been using it for several years now and am very happy. Just for consideration, here's a detailed comparison feature wise of GA vs Clicky.
The plugin means you can easily add your site into your Clicky analytics - and get some extra features such as a dashboard widget showing you traffic statistics.
This is another plugin by Yoast, and a super neat feature to help engage your visitors more by redirecting all those who post a comment to a particular page.
When people comment on this blog, they get redirected to a page giving them a little thank you message and an extra form to register for email updates. It's surprisingly effective, I beleive due in part that once someone has made the effort to connect via a comment, they are willing to connect in other ways as well.
I'll be split testing the thankyou for commenting page over the next few months, with my internal email list, or something more social like my twitter account or a Google Plus page.
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#4 - Contact Form 7
Creating forms used to be a major PITA, but luckily for all WordPress users - you can create decent forms that work effortlessly with this plugin. Does exactly what you'd expect, without all the bloat and fluff that other form generators come with.
#5 - Digg Digg
Social signals are very important - it's been mentioned a bunch of times by Matt Cutts and John Mueller that they are taken into consideration when ranking your sites, so you have got to be using some kind of plugin or widget to facillitate the sharing of your content through the web. If it's any harder than clicking a button, people just won't share it - so using a neat plugin like Digg Digg takes all the pain away and presents social sharing in a popular floating side menu.
I wouldn't have the first idea how to code something like this up, so it makes me happy that the guys at Digg Digg have uploaded the plugin for all to use freely.
#6 - Easy Tynt
This is a cheeky little plugin that connects your site to the Easy Tynt service. Now, I bet not many of you have heard of this - but I would be willing to bet that after reading what this can do, you'll check it out.
It's a fact that 82% of all content shared on the web occurs via copy & paste.
Tynt inserts your page URL when your content is copied and pasted into emails and social sites. Your traffic increases and SEO improves as pasted text will contain a back links.
Copy some text on this page, and paste it somewhere to see how this works.
#7 - Pretty Link Pro
The first plugin in the list that I would recommend paying for the upgrade to the Pro version. The pretty link plugin does an excellent job of creating short 'pretty' links on your domain, that you can use to track in and outbound clicks.
You can use it in place of services such as bit.ly and goo.gl to create pretty affiliate links, and you can also use it to monitor the effectiveness of your social marketing efforts.
An example of an affiliate link, might be texfly.com/aff instead of the long convaluted affiliate links you usually get.
As a quick example, I might create the following Pretty Links on my site (all pointing to this Plugin post)
I'd post the link with the 'e' in it when I send out my email newsletter, I'd share the link with the 't' via twitter. The one with the 'f' would get posted on Facebook and the one with the 'g' would be shared on my Google+ stream.
I'd then be able to look in my Pretty Link statistics and clearly see which channel of social media activity is bringing the best traffic to the site. I can then try and find out why one or the other is underperforming.
Extremely useful plugin this one, and one I'd be lost without.
This does exactly what it says on the tin, without any fussing.
If you enjoy creating long articles (like me) that have lots and lots of Headings and Subheadings then this plugin makes it much easier for your readers to navigate your site.
It will automatically create a Table of Contents for your post, based on the headings that you use throughout the post, so jumping to the right section will be a breeze.
My preferred cloud storage solution is Google Drive, and this plugin allows me to automatically and regularly back up my entire site to a predefined directory in my Google Drive.
It backs up both the files and the database, so should something terrible happen to your hosts, or your server, then the chances are you'll easily be able to restore your site with a few clicks.
It supports a whole range of cloud based backup providers, Google, Amazon, Dropbox etc - so definitely one you will want to check out.
#10 - WP Insert
You will have seen in my WordPress article how I used this plugin to generate some standard legal pages for my site. This is a necessary step, but one that can take more time than it should.
There are other paid for solutions out there that might accomplish this with more flourish, or one or two clicks less - but I find within a few minutes I can set up some boilerplate legal pages on a blog.
#11 - W3 Total Cache
A fast site will undoubtedly please your visitors, and Google. They now use page speed to bump fast sites up the serps, and bump down slow sites, so I will tend to use w3 total cache on all my sites to cache the site and allow it to be delivered to the browser very quickly.
W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network integration.
Feeding Google and Bing a well constructed sitemap will greatly increase your chances of getting all your pages indexed and in the SERPS. I have used a few of the other sitemap generators, but have encountered problems. The XML Sitemap plugin linked to above has consistently produced working XML sitemaps that I upload to Google and Bing via the webmaster tools interface to get ALL posts and pages indexed.
8 Highly Commended WordPress Plugins
#13 - Author Sure
If you want to see a little face next to your site in the SERPS (apparently this will increase the CTR, although I'm not sure what happens when everyone has a profile picture in the rankings) then you need to set up Google authorship correctly.
Some themes (I use Thesis and it has it) already will have this built in, but many others don't. By using this plugin you can easily add a link to your Google Plus page, or Twitter Profile to verify and confirm yourself as the author. Once it's set up properly, you should start seeing your face appearing in the SERPS.
#14 - Broken Link Checker
Systematically checks all outbound links from your site (in posts, pages, comments etc) to see if they are still valid. If a broken link is detected then the plugin can either disable it or highlight to you in the dashboard area that there are broken links that need fixing.
No-one likes browsing a site, and coming across a link to a resource that doesn't work any more, and with this plugin you can keep your readers happy by providing top notch services and no broken links.
I have read that WP-Engine (a host specifically for WordPress sites) has banned the use of this plugin because:
The "Broken Link Checker" plugin overwhelms even our robust caching layer with an inordinate amount of HTTP requests.
So this is something to bear in mind, although I've not had any adverse affects from using it for years.
#15 - EWWW Image Optimizer
Smaller files = less time to load = Happy visitors. I use this to automatically optimise my images on the site, and speed up the site.
I wish all sites used this type of lossless compression to speed up the browsing experience. Many times I've watched a 750kb image file be used with small 200 x 200 dimensions just resizing it...
#16 - Social Metrics Pro
Not an essential plugin, but one I have found to be pretty useful in keeping a track on my social sharing and promotion of published articles.
You get a dashboard widget that will show you how many times your site has been shared across a whole host of different social media platforms, which is very useful for tracking and monitoring how your posts get promoted.
[quote name="Leo Widrich Co-Founder of Buffer and at KissMetrics.com" align="right" picture="http://www.texfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/leo-widrich.png"]If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve.” Goes one of the most important sayings in business. And this is particularly true for tracking of your social mentions I found.There were two things that helped me a great deal to increase sharing after installing Social Metrics: First, I was able to see that some of my articles would perform much better on networks I wasn’t particularly using, such as StumbleUpon for example. Secondly, I could filter out the best performing content more easily and analyse what makes my readers share. Since then I have focused strongly on producing and replicating those posts that performed best.[/quote]
#17 - upPrev
This will display a neat little box that appears when your readers get towards the end of your articles. The idea behind this is that once they have read all the way to the end, you'd figure that they would enjoy other articles - so they are presented with a selection of posts that are most highly related to the article they have just read.
The thinking behind this is to lower bounce rate, increase time on site and take a small step closer to taking a new visitor from a single visit, into someone who will visit time and time again.
This plugin has to be installed with the YARPP plugin (which is at the end of this list).
#18 - WordPress SEO
Thoroughly comprehensive and well written plugin to improve all the onpage aspects of SEO on your site. I could write another 1,000 words on this plugin but many already exists - and none written better than by Yoast himself.
#19 - WP-DB Manager
Optimize and enhance your database performance with this plugin. I use this in conjunction with the w3 total cache plugin to create super fast sites.
There are a few guides out there on setting up WordPress with W3 and WP-DB, here is one I like (although I use some slightly different plugins to accomplish the same things)
This plugin looks at all your content and automagically determines which of your other posts contain similar content. It will add a neat little bullet list at the end of each post, linking internally to similar articles that you have published. Hopefully your visitors really enjoyed the post they have just read, and will want to read some more!
Well here we have another momentous post - CONGRATULATIONS if you managed to make it all the way through without dropping off!
Did I miss any killer plugins out? What plugins do you have to install immediately when you set up your latest WordPress blog? Let me know in the comments below! If you introduce me to a good one, I'll happily add it to my list and give you credit.