Your search for WordPress plugins produces list after list after list … after list. By now you are probably thinking, “Oh no, I don’t want to sift through yet another WordPress plugins list!” Don’t worry—we know how you feel so we’re doing something a little different here. Before we get started, here are some fun facts we uncovered about WordPress plugins while taking notes for this blog post.
Fun Facts (You’ll Never Use)
- There are currently 32,469 free plugins on WordPress.org.
- On average, 16-18 new plugins are reviewed and added to WordPress.org on a daily basis.
- Automattic has contributed 74+ free plugins to the WordPress community.
- There are over 3.1 million search results for “Best WordPress Plugins” on Google.
- The phrase “Best WordPress Plugins” is searched over 400% more frequently than the similar phrases “Must Have”, “Essential” and “Premium” combined.
- This blog post doesn’t use any of those titles (see, we told you it would be different).
Clearly, WordPress has plenty of options, but we’ve narrowed our list down to five plugins (with the added bonus of an honorable mention, too) that we consider absolutely critical to any new WordPress project.
The Big Five
WordPress SEO by Yoast
We can’t say enough good things about this fantastic (and free) plugin. Across the company we use WordPress SEO in every phase of our search engine optimization process. The plugin author has expertly integrated SEO controls in an intuitive and discoverable way, from in-page improvements to automated XML sitemaps to fully customizable social integration.
WordPress SEO updates your list view with indicator icons (green, yellow and red) to give you a quick overview of how well your content is optimized. There are dozens of helpful recommendations built into the interface including how long your title or description should be and how frequently you are using target keywords on a page. You’ll also get a preview of what your content will look like on a search engine results page (SERP) among other helpful features.
Most importantly, WordPress SEO is updated frequently to stay current with new releases of WordPress and SEO best practices. As an SEO professional, Yoast has grown a successful business out of WordPress SEO including paid review services and premium extensions for sites specializing in local and video based content.
W3 Total Cache
There are many things that WordPress does well right out of the box. Unfortunately, caching is not one of them. Enter W3 Total Cache, a free plugin by W3 EDGE, which takes the guesswork out of speeding up any WordPress powered site.
By itself, W3 Total Cache does a fantastic job of fine-tuning performance via minification, file system caching and Alternative PHP Cache (APC) integration. However, the integration with third-party content delivery networks (CDN) and Memcached really sends W3 Total Cache to the head of its class.
With built-in support for the most popular CDN services you can select your favorite, provide a few credentials and W3 Total Cache is ready to sync your media library, WordPress core files and theme assets to the cloud for high-speed access across the web. Memcached environments are no problem either. The configuration screens are well documented and W3 Total Cache can test your connections directly through the WordPress Dashboard, saving hours of debugging.
Advanced Custom Fields
Let’s be honest. The native custom fields interface in WordPress isn’t very intuitive and proprietary solutions require time and resources to maintain. That’s why Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) has been a welcome addition to our WordPress arsenal for years. The interface is clean, intuitive, highly customizable and adding new fields requires no programming at all. Even better, ACF stores all of its data natively in WordPress so even if you change your mind about the plugin your content remains intact.
If you still aren’t sold, consider this: ACF is a free plugin with over 2.2 million downloads and nearly 1200 five star reviews on WordPress.org. With an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 it is the highest rated plugin on our list and (considering the competition) that is quite an accomplishment.
Unlike the other plugins on our list, Redirection isn’t chock full of configuration settings or premium upgrade options. Its sole purpose is to manage 301 redirects and it serves that purpose quite well. Whether you are renaming posts to improve your permalink structure or setting up vanity URL’s for your most popular content, Redirection has what you need.
With a simple and intuitive interface it takes just minutes to train new users. With native support for regular expressions, advanced users will feel right at home. As an added bonus, Redirection tracks how many times each redirect is triggered and helps maintain a clean linking structure by logging 404 responses throughout your site.
Gravity Forms is the only “premium” plugin on our list, but its place on our top five is well deserved. In our experience it is one of the most polished and versatile plugins we’ve had the pleasure of working with. The built-in controls can handle everything from simple contact pages to multi-step surveys with ease. Gravity Forms is also extensible via action hooks and filters making it ideal for forms with complex interactivity.
The form builder features an intuitive drag and drop interface and every input type has dozens of customization options baked right in. Submissions are automatically validated and stored in the database and configuring email notifications for one or more recipients is a breeze. With support for AJAX, custom styles and import/export features we’ve never needed to look any further than Gravity Forms for all of our user input needs.
We’ve had great success with Gravity Forms but if the price tag is a deal breaker we also recommend Contact Form 7 as a strong alternative.
One For The Road…
We couldn’t close out a blog post about enterprise ready WordPress plugins without mentioning Akismet. We didn’t add it to the top five because many WordPress sites either disable comments or use comment moderation services such as Facebook Comments, Disqus or Intense Debate. For sites that fall into the native WordPress comments category though, Akismet is an absolute gem!
The premise is quite simple: every comment submitted to your site is passed to the Akismet service for analysis. If deemed inappropriate, Akismet flags the comment as SPAM in real-time and you never have to look at it. Even better, Akismet is actively learning new anti-SPAM techniques every day. Using pattern recognition and an evolving algorithm, Akismet is currently blocking about 7.5 million SPAM comments every hour. Not bad for an honorable mention!
What Would You Add?
We deem the above plugins as essentials when piecing together your next enterprise ready WordPress project. If you have widgets that you think no WordPress site should be without, let us know in the comments below! We would also love to hear your feedback or experiences with the 6 mentioned in this post.
By D.S. Webster