One of the top reasons why I love working with WordPress is the amount and quality of free plugins that extend the functionality of the website. Even though WP was initially built for blogging, IMO it’s the best free CMS solution ever built. That’s why I wanted to share with you my list of essential WP plugins, the ones I use on most if not all the websites I build. Off course, there’s no need to use them all, but these help build a professional website with WP as a platform.
Contact Form 7 lets you easily build all kinds of forms and embedding them in a post or page, or in your theme via [shortcode]. When you start a new form it comes with default fields, so that you can leave it as is, or extend it to suit your needs. The forms come with instant checking (the default styles of the warnings could be improved), tag generation with smart interface, and you can choose from several languages.
This popular plugin not only has all you need for SEO, it also has Breadcrumbs, sitemaps and other functions that replace entire plugins. It’s the best all-in-one solution for your website search engine optimization.
The selection of newsletter plugins for WordPress leaves much to desire, but one of the best existing free plugins is MailPoet, formerly known as WYSIJA. It’s very user friendly and allows you to manage manual and automated email campaigns, make different subscriber lists and easily build professional looking emails.
The most advanced performance optimization plugin ever, but W3TC is the nightmare of many WordPress developers because it’s very complex to set and adapt to your hosting environment and website requirements. However, when set correctly, it can make your website “fly”, providing a much better user experience.
Despite it’s rating at the WP plugins
repository, AddThis is a great first-aid plugin with plenty of options, very useful for less skilled developers or when you haven’t got enough time to develop custom share buttons. I’ve tried many similar plugins, but for me, this one wins. It also offers analytics.
Tip: You can also use customized AddThis code in your theme, without a Plugin.
Disqus is the most popular alternative to WP-s native comment system, thanks to it’s flexibility, quality and the large community that allows you to use your Disqus profile, comment with a Twitter, Facebook or Google profile, or to comment anonymously on any of the hundreds of thousands of websites that use it.
I use this plugin on most of my websites because it has a smart choice of related posts based on both categories and tags, you can configure the style of the posts, whether you want it as a list or a block of thumbnails and many more options.
Note: The plugin has not been updated for the last two years. If that is a concern, I recommend using Contextual Related Posts instead.
The Lightbox effect enhances the user experience in most cases, and it’s definitely more appealing than the native solution for images in WordPress. There are many plugins for this effect with more or less configuration available, however, this one is my personal favorite because it does the trick without being too complicated and heavy on the server load. Lightbox Plus ColorBox allows you to easily integrate and customize a powerful and light-weight lightbox plugin for jQuery into your WordPress site.
Ditto for the above, the lightbox gallery is a much cleaner solution for the native WordPress gallery. Works very well out of the box, yet you can configure a couple of parameters to make it your own. If used together with the plugin mentioned above, the styles can be configured even further.
If you run a website with more than one language, this plugin might be your savior. It can detect the language automatically, you can configure how to display the language URLs, set matching posts and pages for any language and more. However, it’s not the easiest to use, and it can’t change themes and widgets. The next plugin on this list can help you with that.
This plugin allows you to translate all translation-ready parts of the theme, plugins, and WordPress core into any language, and manage the .mo and .po files from your website’s admin panel.
These are the plugins I have in mind whenever I develop a website on WordPress. What are your essential plugins? Which would you recommend to beginners to become familiar with?