I’ve been working and developing websites with WordPress since version 1.5 and before that I was using b2. WordPress has come along way from a blogging platform to a very powerful content management system. I’ve used WordPress to build catalog sites, e-commerce sites and even an ebay/etsy like market place. Some people like to have their say about it but you can’t deny the numbers. WordPress currently powers 19% of ALL websites on the Internet. I have a lot of people ask me what WordPress plugins I use so I thought I would write an overview of the ones I use. These are the free plugins I use but some of them have paid add ons you can get to enhance the functionality.
The biggest argument for not using WordPress is security. A lot of general practices should be followed such as keeping your plugins updated, use a WordPress framework or theme that is secure and making sure you use the right plugins to keep the crap out.
This plugin has shipped with WordPress for as long as I can remember. It is built by the guys behind WordPress Automattic. It’s primary role is to stop comment spam which can be a huge problem on your site if you configure it badly. Activate this and sign up for an account. If you have a high traffic site, pay for it. Otherwise you never know when a service like this is forced to go to a payment system.
Soon to be renamed iThemes Security (cause they bought it). I’ve been using this plugin to harden WordPress for a quite a while now. It has a pretty easy recommendations page to tell you what you should be locking down. A lot of it can be pretty complex for the non-technical person but since using it I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in security related incidents. It also provides a backup system which is VITAL for any website. If you aren’t running regular backups you will wish you did.
This is a recent plugin I’ve added to my standard list and can’t recommend it highly enough. If you have a high traffic/visible site chances are you’ll have open registrations. This means you’ve opened the gates to spammer registrations. Spam comments is one thing but having your site fill up with bot/splogger accounts can be a real nightmare to manage. This is where WangGuard comes in handy with stopping these bad registrations. It uses an antivirus approach to block spam registrations and is very effective. On top of this it’ll scan the existing users on your site and mark ones that it thinks are spam accounts based on their very accurate system.
Statistics and SEO
Jetpack is another plugin from the guys & girls at Automattic and provides quite a few different sub-plugins and features. I mainly use it for the contact form and the WordPress statistics. This will give you a pretty straightforward look at your site visitors what search terms are bringing people in and daily visits on the site and pages. It’s not very complex and if you want detailed stats you should look at google analytics or another complex stats tool. The contact form is simple and can reduce your overall plugins if you don’t need a fancy form such as whats provided by contact form 7. On top of this it hooks into Akismet to reduce spam on your forms.
This is one plugin that you must install on your site if you want to get any traffic to come your way. It allows you very fine grained control over the SEO of your site and hooks in nicely to a number of other plugins and services. Its straight forward and being the most popular SEO plugin there are numerous how-to guides around the net.
Site performance is an important part of making sure you keep your visitors and please the search engines. There are some interesting studies from a bunch of smart internet professionals about bounce rates and site load times. I’ll summarise it with this, if your site loads slowly then it will bother your users and the search engines. This is where W3 Total cache can come in very handy, it will make your site faster by reducing load times. WordPress is PHP based with a MySQL database on the backend which makes for a very dynamic engine which is great for a small site but can be problematic on the higher traffic sites. If you are on underpowered web hosting this can also help you. There are guides around on how to configure it so I won’t go into detail on that here. If you are smart about your front page design you can get some significant speed gains. A recent site I launched I got the front page load times from 10seconds down to 1.2 seconds with a simple design and caching.
Woocommerce is the go to e-commerce add-on to WordPress for me these days. It did take a bit of getting used to in terms of theme development but if you’ve got a theme that is already Woocommerce enabled you’ll be fine. It’s got a nice system but be prepared to pay for extra functionality, its a good system for small, medium or large catalogs. The latest version 2.1 has brought in a new admin interface and a REST API that allows for some cool extensions to come about.
Surprisingly the built in gallery that comes with WordPress is quite good for small galleries that you want to include in a post. It can get limited if you’ve got a site that is very image/gallery heavy. So long as your theme has support for the WordPress galleries you’ll be able to use them in your posts for the majority of what you need.
I have been using this plugin for years and can’t recommend it enough. I believe its also got the honour of one of most popular plugins of all time. If you need a complex gallery setup and like to have your images in a sensible order I can’t recommend this plugin enough. They have simple thumbnail galleries, slideshow galleries and more. You can embed the gallery in a post or have a dedicated album page.
When I need more than a simple contact form from Jetpack I always turn to Contact Form 7 as my go to form editor. It’s got a pretty straightforward interface to build complex forms that allow you to have different forms on different pages. It uses email notifications to keep things simple. There are additional plugins you can get to allow you to store the responses in the database if you like.
There are a bunch of paid plugins I use but they are usually case specific to the client project. I also like to recommend the free ones as I know its hard to spend a lot of money on plugins. Especially with the new trend to subscription based models for plugins where you’re having to pay for the plugin every year.