Essential WordPress Plugins — 2017 Edition
One of the best things about WordPress, and one of the reasons I choose to use it (among many) is that it is unbelievably extensible. At this moment, there are 50,608 in the official WordPress plugin repository, and that doesn’t include many 3rd-party premium plugins. Chances are, if you need to do something with your website, there’s a plugin to help you get there. And the user interface for installing them is as slick as any app store, with ratings, support, reviews, instructions, the works.
One of the other best things about WordPress is that if there’s a way to do it with a plugin, you can probably code it yourself, so as I’ve gotten good with code over the years, I’ve come to rely less and less on plugins, but I still use a few because they make a time-consuming thing simple, or because they offer functionality beyond what I can accomplish on my own. I can rest easy since once I hand one of my websites over to a client, and they happen to move on, they’ll still be able to make their website do whatever they want it to do, no coding skill necessary.
Of course, you have to be careful! Just like any app-store environment, there are good’uns and bad’uns, and you need to makes sure you don’t install some clunker that’s gonna slow down your system or open you up to vulnerabilities. Pro Tip — If the app hasn’t been updated in over a year, you may want to find a different one. WordPress is really great about letting you know what versions of WordPress plugins have been tested with, and reading reviews and the support section can give you a pretty good idea of what experience people are having. It also lets you know how many people have the plugin installed, so if you see a ton of people use a plugin, it’s a pretty good sign it’s worth checking out.
Over the years, I’ve come to rely on a handful of go-to plugins that I either install with every site, or use on a regular basis. So let’s dig in so you can see the awesomesauce that powers the cool stuff that I make!
Advanced Custom Fields PRO — Making interfaces via custom fields by hand is cumbersome and tiresome and all sorts of other ‘somes. Advanced Custom Fields PRO makes it possible for me to whip up interfaces on the fly for even highly complicated systems. You need a photo gallery that lets the client upload photographs, see thumbnails, add image meta information, drag and drop the order of the photos and create multiple galleries on a page and name them and reorder the galleries as well? ACF PRO can do that, and so much more, so very, very quickly. And then it also makes it easy to implement those systems on the front end as well. I LOVE ACF SOOOO MUCH! Where I used have to search for the perfect plugin to do the task I needed to accomplish, now I just build ’em myself, to specification. Amazing.
BackupBuddy — Migrating a website is one of those tasks that used to take forever, and now doesn’t, thanks to BackupBuddy. Now, when I need to move a site from one place to another, it takes me 2 minutes. BackupBuddy automates the whole thing, backing up the website, moving the files over, unpacking them in the new place, setting up the database and converting all the old site urls into new site urls. Poof! Your website is in it’s new home. And then you can use BackupBuddy to set up scheduled backups to a ton of different locations for the rest of eternity.
Gravity Forms — Gravity Forms lets me quickly create complex forms, validates them to make sure they’ve been filled out accurately and then handles the email notifications and also integrates with a number of other platforms like email marketing systems such as Mailchimp or Infusionsoft. It’s slick interface means spinning up new forms is easy for clients to do on their own, should the need arise.
Yoast SEO — Search Engine Optimization is affected by so many things. You build your site well, it goes up. You use the right keywords in the right places, it goes up. But how to know if you’ve done it well, especially as you create new content, that’s the real question. Yoast SEO is the answer. It analyzes your site and let’s you know if it’s run into any issues. It reads your copy and grades it’s affect on the SEO, and then recommends practical solutions to get any issues fixed. It shows you previews of how each page or post will appear when listed in Google. It handles passing information to popular social media networks in good format. In short, it does a ton, and makes it very easy to implement.
iThemes Security — Made by the same people that make BackupBuddy, iThemes Security is my goto plugin for hardening WordPress against invasion. It does all sorts of fun anti-hacker stuff like automatically blocking anyone who tries to login with “admin” as the user name. You’re not still using “admin” are you? Are you?! It will monitor any suspicious file changes on your system and send you email notifications if it notices anything fishy going on. It also runs an audit of your system and can automatically fix any security holes it finds. Pretty neato, and good for the peace of mind.
My Own Custom Plugin — Every site that I build comes with my own custom plugin, in which resides a lot of the smaller functionality I need websites to do often. It ain’t fancy like some of these other big-city plugins I’ve got around these parts, but it sure does come in handy now and again, I reckon.
And that’s it for now. There are a bunch of other ones I love, but these are the big hitters that get put into everything. I’ll come back with another list of plugins that I love, a little on down the line. Got a plugin you find essential? Let me know below, I’d love to hear about it!