10 Essential WordPress Plugins in 2011

Every so often I write a post like this one – and this is a subject worth revisiting, since new and better plugins get released all the time, and older ones stop being supported.

Since my last article of this nature, two years and a whole load of WordPress releases have come and gone, so it’s high time I took a fresh look at the plugins I find myself using again and again when starting new projects.

There’s one significant difference between this list and my previous one (apart from it being longer!) – this time around, I have included commercial plugins (you know, where you have to – gasp – pay for them!) as well as free ones. But I’ll explain why further in. Also, this time I’ve given it a “top ten” countdown flavour, because I felt like it.

Aside: I’m not affiliated with any of these plugins (except the one whose name starts with Zig 🙂 ).

10. Akismet

Right, let’s get the boring one out of the way first. Boring because it’s bundled with WordPress, and because when it’s doing its job you almost don’t know it’s there. But vital nonetheless.

At the time of writing, this website has 780 approved comments. There were also a further 9067 which were caught by Akisment, marked as spam, and then deleted in bulk from time to time by WP-Cleanup (see No.4 below). That’s a lot of reading time saved.

9. Tweet Blender

So many sites now need to show Twitter feeds that a Twitter plugin has actually made it into my top ten. Tweet Blender is the best one I’ve tried – versatile and stable. It’s working away in the footer of this site as I write.

8. MCE Table Buttons

The WordPress visual editor with all those nice buttons is a pretty good tool – well, it’s not bad anyway – but if you suddenly find that you need to display some tabular data, it’s worse than useless. “I need a table!” you cry. But is there a table button? There is not.

Install this plugin, get an extra row of table-related buttons, and create tables in your posts to your heart’s content. Then add classes to them, tweak your theme CSS and you’ve got content that would make a physics textbook blush.

7. Superfish Dropdown Menu

I know dropdown menus aren’t for everyone, and some front-end developers turn their noses up at them, but they can be awfully useful for somewhat complex site structures.

If you use them, you will probably be aware that Superfish is probably the best CSS+JavaScript dropdown menu tool available. It’s (reasonably) accessible, it’s (reasonably) easy to customise, and it works on a wide range of browsers.

This plugin simply brings the Superfish tool into the WordPress environment, so you can use a Superfish dropdown menu in your WordPress site without getting your hands dirty.

6. ZigDashNote

If I may blow my own trumpet for just a moment, ZigDashNote is a nifty little plugin I wrote that gives you a simple scratchpad area on the admin dashboard page. Use it to leave notes for other admins, to remind you what your defined image sizes are, to remind a colleague not to upgrade a particular plugin because you tweaked it, to help you remember a shortcode, etc. The possibilities are endless. And it will linkify URLs as well.

5. Google Analytics by Yoast

If you use Google Analytics, you need a Google Analytics plugin, to help automate the logging of downloads, outbound links, etc. Yoast’s is as good as any. Install, configure and forget.

4. WP-Cleanup

As you use your WordPress site, the site database gradually gets larger and larger, filling up with temporary revisions of articles, spam comments, and other stuff that you can’t easily clear out on your own.

Wp-Cleanup simply scans your site database for all data that can safely be removed, and removes it. This keeps your database size down and your site speed up. Simple as that. And it has a pie chart 🙂

3. BackupBuddy

OK, now we have a couple of commercial plugins. Take a deep breath…

Backing up your WordPress site and database is so important, it needs to become second nature. FTPing the site down to your PC and creating an SQL script of the database is all very well when you have one site, but if you have 5 client sites, or 10, or in my case over 50, it’s just way too much hassle and you’ll inevitably find that you neglect it. Not good.

BackupBuddy simply automates and schedules the process, and also provides a simple process for recovery, and site migration to another domain.

It’s not cheap (from US$75), but it fulfils a vital role, and it does it far better than any of the free backup plugins.

2. Gravity Forms

A form is a part of at least 95% of websites. I actually plucked that figure out of thin air but I bet it’s not far off. Forms are important – they make a website into a two-way communication tool instead of just a way of talking at people.

A few months ago I wrote a comparison review of some popular free WordPress form plugins.

A few weeks later, I discovered Gravity Forms, and seriously considered deleting the article altogether. Instead, I settled for adding an update paragraph at the end.

Gravity Forms is so far ahead of any other forms plugin I’ve seen (commercial or free) that it gets added to every new WordPress install I create, whether or not I know at that stage if the project will actually need a form. It’s become second nature. Partly because it has all the features I need, but mostly because the form creation screen is such a joy to work with. Go and try the demo. Go on, do it now. I’ll wait.

Yes I know, it’s not free. But US$39 isn’t actually a huge amount of money when you think about it.

1. WordPress SEO by Yoast

The No.1 spot has to be an SEO plugin, right? If your site can’t be found, then why have a site?

I remember the days when every one and their dog used the “All In One SEO Pack”, because that was the only proper SEO plugin available…

Not any more. There’s a new kid on the block, and though it’s still in beta, it’s already more powerful and easier to use than the old All In One warhorse.

There are two things in particular that I like about Yoast’s plugin: firstly, it does XML sitemaps as well, so you don’t need a separate plugin for those; and secondly, it does site breadcrumbs as well, so you don’t need a separate plugin for that either. And this is on top of all the normal functionality you used to get with All In One.

And that’s it.

These are the 10 plugins that I paste into every new WordPress project in case I need them – and I usually end up needing most of them.

What are your 10?

33 Comments

  1. Nice list of WordPress plugins. Thanks 4 sharing this.
    I am using Akismet, All in One SEO and XML sitemap generator, plus NextGen for galeries in combo with ultimate wordpress templates with million sidebar and footer wigdets integrated from DC.

    But, I have to say that I am very interested for that new SEO kid on the block.. :]

  2. Great list of plugins! I’ve Yoast plugin and it’s very simple but usefull

  3. Im using the 3 out of your 10 (Zigdashnote,Tweetblender and WP-Cleanup). You gave me an idea about the others and I might try them and see how it works for me.

  4. Thanks for the link to MCE Table Buttons. Didn’t know that one yet, but was looking for a solution to insert tables into blogposts.

  5. Thanks for sharing this tip. Keep up the good posts. This will be useful for everyone who use Wordpress. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  6. I am new to the whole concept of SEO and analytics, but have been amazed at all of the insightful information that I have received from your blog. I am looking forward to utilizing Zigpress’ plugins. Thanks.

  7. I would recommend TinyMCE Advanced over MCE Table buttons any day because TinyMCE Advanced allows you to add ANY of the missing MCE buttons and rearrange current ones.

  8. I’m new to wordpress and your article just saved me a lot of time! Thanks!

  9. Thank you so much for the plugins you mentioned here. After I installed them they saved me so many headaches I would have otherwise had to deal with! You have an excellent blog here. I love your quality articles.

  10. Nice list! I’ve bookmarked this page so I can try them all. Thanks for bringing Wordpress SEO by Yoast to my attention — I already have his plugin for Google Analytics and it’s very useful. I’ll be trying out your ZigDashNote too — what a good idea! Please keep up the great work!

  11. I see you’re a big Yoast fan. Me too. I am sure he will be happy to see you giving honest plugs to his plugins.

    I recently switched from using the All In One SEO to the Yoast Wordpress SEO plugin too. Yoast’s is definitely better.

    Looks like your own plugin there Zigdashnote would be useful for a community based site.

  12. great list, thanks for the info; keep up the good work!

  13. Helpful to know there is a new SEO plugin as you can get so busy with work/blogging that you don’t keep up to date on the new plugins around…so thank you for letting us all know. I’ll yoast to you! Cheers….

  14. Gotta say, Yoast’s plugin’s put the AllInOne “thingy” to trash five minutes after i got it. Reliable enough, easy to use – just the thing one needs.

  15. Definitely digging this list! I’ve been using Yoast’s seo plugin since it came out – it does so many things in such a simple way. I like the sound of your plugin at #6 just to remember all the little things without needing a txt file to reference all the time =)

  16. Thank you so much for the plugins you mentioned here.I’ve bookmarked this page so I can try them all.

  17. Nice list! I’ve bookmarked this page so I can try them all. Thanks for bringing WordPress SEO by Yoast to my attention — I already have his plugin for Google Analytics and it’s very useful. I’ll be trying out your ZigDashNote too — what a good idea! Please keep up the great work!

  18. I use backup buddy a lot, it is a very important part of my blog creation process. I would just upload the zip file and upload it to my server and have a plain wordpress blog up and ready to be customized. This saves the time of actually deleting all the default pages and links.

  19. Im using the 3 out of your 10 (Zigdashnote,Tweetblender and WP-Cleanup). You gave me an idea about the others and I might try them and see how it works for me

  20. Thanks for the link to MCE Table Buttons. Didn’t know that one yet, but was looking for a solution to insert tables into blogposts.

  21. Great info on the Yoast plugin, I have been using All in one and have just recently learned about Yoast i’m going to try it out and see if it will work for me.

  22. What about All in one SEO pack and Google sitemap genereator?

  23. @Cecilio: if you read the post properly you would have realised that WordPress SEO by Yoast actually replaces both of those.

  24. Thats a list I can use!
    Thanks for the information, it will definitely bring me benefits.
    Yoast is graet.
    Keep on posting!

  25. Personally, I’m not a fan of Akismet. It does it’s job, but it goes overboard and blocks a lot of legitimate stuff as well. I’ve had it block legitimate comments on my sites plus block me from leaving legitimate comments on other people’s sites and once you get blocked, you’re pretty much screwed from posting on any other blogs that have the plugin enabled. And support is awful. Despite repeated efforts, I’ve never received a response from them. Love BackupBuddy. Worth every penny.

  26. Thank you so much for the plugins you mentioned here.I’ve bookmarked this page so I can try them all.

  27. I would suggest Friendly Image Plugin as well. Keeping check of all your image alt tag

  28. wordpress seo by yoast is just amazing. I am using it. Its like a combo pack. I really like it.. Thanks

  29. Thanks for the List of awesome List of Plugins
    do UPDATE the list again.

  30. I’m using BackupBuddy and WordPress SEO by Yoast and i have to say they are super!! highly recommended.

  31. I wonder if some of these plugins will eventually get sucked into the main Wordpress build, like the developers of Minecraft did with the 3rd party mods.

    Some of the plugins in the list above are ones that no-one should be without, so why not just add the same functionality to WP out of the box?

  32. I’m now getting more engaged with Twitter. I see that you mentioned the Twitter Blender. Is this still the best plug-in to use for Twitter, or is there any newer ones you would suggest. Regardless, I would like to try it out in my next project.

  33. Hey , thanks for the article .
    My photo site is using the google analytics by yoast . Akismet is bundled and the best one the Yoast SEO plugin . I enjoyed it.
    The Others are new for me and I would Install them on my site for sure .