Over the past few years the demand for Content Management Systems (CMS) for websites has steadily increased, and while Drupal and Joomla are decent back end programs, the star is WordPress. Powering over 70 million websites, WordPress is the system behind notable online sources such as NPR (National Public Radio). New York Times Blogs, and thousands over high end online journals. The reasons: functionality, simplicity, expandability…and, it’s free.
While the WordPress core has recently incorporated a number of features such as Featured Images, Galleries, Excerpts – and continues to add more with each upgrade – there are over 17 000 free available plugins which provide extra functions behind the scenes, and for presentation. Plugins can be searched for, and installed, directly from the Administration Dashboard of WordPress (under Plugins/Add New) or through the WordPress.Org Extend Section.
A few tips. Not all plugins are created equally! Look for the following when trying to find the best for your requirements. All WP verified plugins have essential information on the profile pages..
- Compatibility: make sure the plugin works on the latest version of WordPress.
- Check when the latest upgrade was completed. If the plugin has not been updated for months or years it might mean the developer is no longer providing support
- Downloads: the more people using a plugin, the more likely it works well
- Ratings: if the rating is high, and plenty of people have added a +, that usually means the plugin ranks better than others which might offer similar functions.
- Author: Plugins created by tech or design companies often have better functionality, fewer bugs, more frequent upgrades, and better support. They are often offered for free to showcase the abilities of the company.
The following are WordPress plugins we almost always install for client websites:
Search Engine submissions and Analytics
Google XML Sitemaps: Being found and correctly indexed in search engines, especially Google, is vital for most websites. Sitemaps provide SEs with a route map to your entire website, and this plugin automatically re-formats the XML directory file when you publish blog posts and update pages.
Google Analyticator: Set up a Google Analytics Account, enter your domain information, and get the UA code (a Google tracking code) – enter the UA into this plugin, and all your pages and posts will be tracked, without have to add the individual tracking code within the WP template. There are also Dashboard visuals to display the past 30 days, including top pages, and a widget to show viewers number of widgets.
another analytics display, and one which shows page views within the ‘All Posts’ section, along with the Dashboard is Google Analytics Dashboard
SEO Ultimate: SEO Ultimate is a complete all-in-one SEO plugin. Control of your on-page SEO with user-friendly settings and tools for optimizing your titles, meta data, robots tags, canonicalization, autolinks, post slugs, and much more. There is extensive documentation for high end SEO, while the Edit Page/Post fields are self-explanatory.
Social Media – Shares and Displays
Add to Any – Share, Bookmark, Email: Offering the ability for viewers to quickly and easily share your pages and posts to networks is vital in the social media world. This customizable plugin sets a drop drop display within pages, and/or a sidebar to almost every service available – Facebook, Stumbleupon, Email, Google+….
Subscribe 2: This installs a basic email list system, with a subscribe form, for viewers to sign up for email notifications when you publish a new blog post. It can also operate as newsletter program. You can add/edit and delete subscribers (import and export a list) and each subscriber can manage their own subscription to set categories.
Twitter Goodies: While Add to Any has a Tweet out, Google Plus and Facebook function, it is often nice to have set buttons and extra functionality for the top social media networks. This plugin will show your twitter tweets under Sidebar Area (Widget), Post and/or Pages. Tweets will refresh automatically. Also it has a reply option with a mouse over action. A button wil display on pages and posts showing the number of Twitter shares, built in with the function for viewers to click the button to send to their Twitter stream. The widget allows you to display your tweets in the sidebar, and to create ‘in post’ windows with search or user streams.
Facebook Social Plugins: Adds a ‘Like’ button to pages and posts, and display the number of shares, along with thumbnail profiles. You can also create a Facebook ‘Like Box’ for the sidebar displaying your Facebook news feed.
WPtouch: WPtouch automatically transforms your WordPress blog into an iPhone application-style theme, complete with ajax loading articles and effects, when viewed from iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Palm Pre, Samsung touch and BlackBerry Storm/Torch mobile device,
Contact Form 7: Highly customizable, but simple to implement. Creating a basic contact/email form, or more complex input/send fields, this is the most robust plugin.
Really Simple Captcha: Works very well as an integrated Captcha system for Contact Form 7.
SI Captcha/Anti-Spam: Adds a Captcha to login, comments and registration forms. Can be configured to allow verified subscribers to post comments bypassing the Captcha.
There are thousands more plugins that offer rich features for photo and video galleries, e-commerce, caching, and so much more. Basically, if any website has required a function, someone has likely developed a WordPress compatible plugin. To remember though, is while plugins provide seamless and automatic extras beyond the basic WordPress code, they can add server load, increasing the download time of your website pages and posts.
The above are some of the plugins we utilize for most of our client WordPress driven websites. Have others you feel are essential? Let me know!