I’ve seen quite a bit of change in WordPress, as a content management system, in the past three years, but one thing has stayed the same. The power of the open-source community to create plugins. Plugins can be your best friend, but they can also create problems if you choose the wrong ones. To add a crucial bit of functionality, provide search engine optimization, or take your site to the next level, the proper plugin is a panacea (for my friends of alliteration!).
Here are six plugins I install on almost every project.
You’ve put your heart and soul into your personal blog, or you’re investing time creating a business website for a client … either way, you don’t want to lose all that work. BackupBuddy is a premium plugin that’s worth the price. From within the WordPress Dashboard, you can backup your entire site with one click. Not just the database, but also the themes, widgets, and plugins as well. And if you’re switching hosts, restoring the site in a new location is simple and straight-forward. You can find out more about BackupBuddy and all the cool plugins at the PluginBuddy marketplace here (affiliate link).
2) Google Sitemap XML
This free plugin creates and submits your sitemap to Google and all the top search engines. The plugin creates a special XML sitemap, which makes it easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently. The plugin indexes all your pages as well as custom URLs. Once you’ve activated the plugin, it will notify all major search engines of new content every time you create a post. Find out more here.
3) Gravity Forms
Even if you’re just creating a simple form for your contact page, Gravity Forms is a great option. But if you’re wanting to create complex forms, collect contact information for a directory, develop your own surveys, and more … all without coding a single line, there’s really no other comparable choice. It is loaded with features: an easy-to-use visual editor, conditional fields, multi-page forms, and the ability to integrate with popular online services like Freshbooks, Mailchimp, Twilio, and AWeber. The styling is great out of the box — simple look and seamless integration with WordPress.
Click here to learn more about Gravity Forms (affiliate link).
Make it easy for your visitors to share your content. This is probably in the top ten commandments of blogging and internet marketing. ShareThis is a free plugin that allows users to share your content through email or any one of 50 social networks including the biggees: Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and Google+. It’s easy to choose the placement of the share buttons on your blog post and you can choose from 4 different display types — big and small buttons, counters or no counters. If you register and create an account with ShareThis, you’re able to customize the widget on your site and get access to enhanced analytics for your shares. Here it is in the WordPress Plugin Directory.
5) Genesis Simple Sidebars
Now, this one only works if you’re developing your site on the Genesis framework (affiliate link). For the last 18 months or so, this is where I start every new WordPress site. If you’re a beginner or experienced developer, I highly recommend this secure and search engine optimized framework (they also have the best support forums I’ve ever experienced!).
Back to Simple Sidebars. This free plugin is the quickest and easiest way to have different sidebars on different pages within your site. Want to highlight some things on your “About” page but have a completely different set of widgets on your Blog sidebar? This is the plugin to do it. I almost always have 2-3 different sidebars for calls-to-action and different cross-linking, but on one project in 2011, I pushed this plugin to the limit and created 30 different sidebars for kix.com.
6) Slickr Flickr
This is a great free plugin for integrating your photos from Flickr. Slickr Flickr has everything I like in a WordPress plugin: a user interface that’s easy to navigate, ample instructions within the Dashboard (and the plugin website has even more, if you want to take the plugin further), and light-weight functionality — it doesn’t bog down your site in the least. You can easily have an unbranded set of thumbnails or an unbranded running slideshow in your sidebar or within your page content by inserting a shortcode. It comes with ready integration with Lightbox display and you can add Galeria display options fairly easily. Check it out in the WordPress Plugin Directory here.
So, what about you? Which plugins are essential for a great WordPress site? I’d love to hear from you and find out what I missed — let me hear from you in the comments.