When you install WordPress, you’re installing what I call an enhanced version of a bare-bones blog and a Content Management System. This is one reason that WordPress is so popular. The default install gives you the basic system and some additional goodies. From this point on the sky’s the limit! You can customize to your heart’s content with add-ons called plugins. If you’re PHP savvy you can even modify existing plugins or create your own! If you’re not into PHP, there are plenty of developers out there you can hire to do some pretty amazing things.
There are literally thousands of plugins created and used to enhance a WordPress based website. Some are for adding ease in functionality, some for fun and adding nifty features which will “jazz things up a little” or any number of reasons. The default install of WordPress comes with several plugins but there are some which aren’t included that I feel are essential for security and basic functionality that I install for every WordPress website that I develop.
The links I’ll provide will take you directly to the official WordPress site where you can read more about each plugin and download them for your use. If you want more information than what’s provided on the WordPress site, there are links on the right side of each plugin’s page that will direct you to the plugin-maker’s web site and/or the plugin’s official home page.
Due to it’s overwhelming popularity, WordPress is by default prone to hackers and spammers. The Worpress developers do everything they can to keep this from happening but there’s just no getting way from it and so it’s important that users understand that it’s crucial to do whatever you can to protect your WordPress sites from hacking and spamming. By installing these plugins are you guaranteed 100% to not be hacked or spammed? Is it possible that by installing a few safety measures that your WordPress sites will never be attacked? Absolutely not! If there were, the WP Developers would do it! There is no guarantee, but you can take steps to keep your site as safe as possible. Because security is of the utmost importance, I’m going to start with plugins that I feel help tremendously to help keep your site safer.
1. Akismet is included with the default WordPress install. Curiously, I’ve found that not everyone installs it, which I have a real hard time understanding. It’s right there in your face in the plugins section of your admin. All you need to do is apply for a key with the folks at Akismet. After you get it, input this key and click the UPDATE button. Simple to do even if you’ve never done a WordPress site in your life and a great tool for helping to keep comment spam at bay. Does it catch it all? Unfortunately, that’s an impossible task because the hackers and spammers always seem to be one step ahead of the game finding new ways to infiltrate. The folks at Akismet work hard to keep the plugin updated so it’s also important that when an update is available (which you’ll readily see in your Admin) that you update your site with the newest version as soon as possible.
2. Bad Behavior currently does not come with the default WordPress install, at least not up to WordPress version 2.9.2 but I’m hoping it will be included in upcoming versions. This is another plugin where the Bad Behavior developers keep it as current as possible and it’s essential that you install the available updates as soon as possible.
Plugins for Maintaining & Updating Your WP Site
If you have a website, for many reasons it’s critical that you keep it updated. For example; fresh, current content is a must for the search engine bots, and your customers or readers! By doing this you’re showing these all important people that you care about your site, your products and them! Think about it, where would you or your business be if it weren’t for your customers and readers? Just like your car needs upkeep, you have to look under the hood of your website and keep it properly maintained and you can include changing the way your site looks on a regular basis. I recommend updating your site design every 18 months or so, it helps to keep people coming back. They want to see what you’ll do next! These plugins will help accomplish these things.
3. WP DB Backup is especially good for those who are not familiar with how to backup a WordPress database or prefer to not do so manually. It’s imperative that you keep your database backed up and do it often! You can set this plugin to do automatic backups at intervals of your choice (current options are hourly, daily, weekly or twice a month). If you need a quick backup, you can do it manually. I do wish it would offer a monthly backup option for sites I do where content doesn’t change often but the “twice a month” helps. If your site crashes (which is something no one is immune to!) you can use the backup to bring your site back to working order. This plugin works best when used in conjunction with the default “Export” feature in WordPress which exports your site content to an XML file. You need both of these to assist you in restoring your site should it ever crash. I’ve only had to restore one site after a hack-job and I can’t begin tell you how valuable and time-saving these two tools were!
4. Maintenance Mode is a huge help. For example, I find it particularly handy when switching a newly redesigned website over to the new look which can occasionally take some time. It’s also quite the little Santa’s Helper when you don’t want your site to look completely down when people hit it. Everyone understands that maintenance is necessary. Maintenance Mode tells people at a glance that you’re making improvements and can give them the notion to stop back later and see what’s new! Sure beats people hitting your site only to find a “404 Page Not Found” error message and leave thinking you’re not in business anymore. The ability to configure the temporary maintenance page to say whatever you want gives you the ability to make your maintenance statement personal which gives things that personal touch and if you like, even add a bit of humor to lighten things up for your site visitors.
5. Broken Link Checker is a little dandy that’s particularly helpful for notifying you that you have a broken link(s) on your site. It installs in the Dashboard and not in so many words, tells you “Hey! Ya got an oops here!” You don’t even have to go to the page to fix the link, you can repair it directly from the Dashboard using the Broken Link Checker interface.
6. Theme Test Drive is absolutely amazing! Makes it super-easy to develop a new design without disturbing the existing site! Visitors see the existing site, you see the new one! Your new look is in stealth mode, no one but you knows you’re working on a new simply fantastic design that’s going to wow them to no end! This plugin is absolute genius!
Plugins That Make Editing Your Text Content Easier
The default WordPress install comes with an editor but it’s quite basic. Upgrading the default editor to include some nifty features is like giving this kid a whole new toy box full of toys to play with!
7. TinyMCE Advanced is my cat’s meow enhancement to the default WordPress editor which works fine for those who love hard-core coding or who don’t need or want to do a lot of tweaking. Some people think the default editor is perfect the way it is. Every website needs tweaking but to much hard coding slows me down. Being limited to entering and editing content via the basic editor isn’t high on my priority list. TinyMCE Advanced simplifies hard coding for me, greatly reducing the time it takes me to enter and edit content. It’s versatility offers me a quicker way to do things. TinyMCE Advanced is simply a more efficient way for me to work which saves my clients money and rescues me from unnecessary frustration.
8. RB Internal Links Love this one! It makes it a snap to add internal links to your site. Select your anchor text, click the RB Internal Links button which is automatically installed in the editor when you install this plugin, click through the options in the popup window and voila! You’ve just created a link from one page to another on your website or an external link to another site in a matter of seconds! RB Internal Links absolutely beats hard coding links into a website.
Some of My Favorite Plugins
Every designer has their favorite plugins based on things like personal preference, their level of experience, the types of sites they develop and the needs they have to develop them and/or special features their clients need or want. They may find plugins that for whatever reason they just gotta have’m! Personally, I think you’re crazy if you don’t have these on your list but that’s just me.
9. Dagan Site Map Generator is a super simple way to put a sitemap on your web site! Hint: the search bots LOVE sitemaps! Want to see an example? Here’s the sitemap from my own website which is automatically created and updated by Dagon Site Map Generator whenever I add a new page or post to my site. I see there’s a new version called Dagon Site Map Generator Plus. I haven’t tried this one but if it’s anything like the original, it’s got to be good!
10. Reveal ID’s For some crazy reason the WordPress folks removed this default feature with the release of version 2.5. The Reveal ID plugin returns this functionality by making your page and post ID numbers viewable in the Admin. There are times when you absolutely need to know the ID numbers and Reveal ID’s gives you back this capability.
Important! Keep Your Plugins Updated!
There you have it, my list of “Must Have WordPress Plugins” and it’s just that … my list … it doesn’t have to be yours but I do urge you to add these to your WordPress sites or find others that are comparable. If you work with WordPress a lot you may find you have your own list. I will try to add to this list as I find new ones. In any case, no matter which plugins you use you must keep them current.
Available updates will show up in your admin and when they do, install them. Don’t do this haphazardly! Plugins sometimes do not play nice with one another! Read the update information first, look for any warnings or known incompatibilities with WordPress versions or other plugins you may have in use. Update one at a time and then check your site after each one to make sure nothing has broken or you could very well be in for one big headache! This is especially important if you’re a do-it-yourselfer developing your own site and not working with a professional designer who’s familiar with WordPress. It is possible to break your site and not be able to fix it on your own which could be costly if you find you need to seek the assistance of a professional web designer. Installing plugins falls into the same category as having a web site. It’s not a “set it and forget” it option, it’s not like autopilot! You need to stay on top of the updates.