150+ WordPress Plugins to Take Your Blog to the Next Level

wordpress.jpgIf you use WordPress, you are undoubtedly aware of the idea of plugins and are probably using some already, but perhaps you are missing out on some others that can raise your blogging skills considerably. That’s understandable since there are so many thousands to choose from and since there are some great plugins that do things you didn’t even know you might want to or be able to do.

Recently, I needed to update my site for the first time in many years and in the process I did a lot of research on plugins that I might like to use. Read on to learn about the ones I found to be very useful. I have sorted them into functional categories and included (hopefully) useful extra information. If you are looking to do something I haven’t covered here, make sure to check the official WordPress Plugin Directory as a plugin probably already exists to suit your needs.

Note: Plugins can be a great way to enhance your site, but beware that they can also affect your site in a couple of significant ways. First, some plugins are poorly coded and can slow down your site’s performance. Likewise, having too many plugins can also slow things down. Second, plugins can pose a security risk. Oftentimes, when you hear about a WordPress site getting hacked, it was the result of vulnerability in a plugin being used on that site. Whenever choosing plugins, be sure to read the user reviews and pay attention to how many users the plugin has and when it was last updated.

Also Note: The number of installed users—along with the ratings and reviews—can be a good (but not perfect) guide when trying to decide between plugins that do more or less the same thing. One interesting thing is that the number of installed users shown on the public WordPress repository is not accurate. For accurate numbers search for plugins from within your WordPress installation using the add plugin option.

Administration – Backup and Database Optimization

When we talk about backup, we must concern ourselves with two things: the database itself (which consists of core WordPress tables and possibly extra tables created by plugins you are using) and the files that define how your installation is customized, most notably your uploads, theme(s) and plugins. Some plugins focus only on backing up the database and others will backup your DB and files as well. Other features to consider include optimization, scheduling, restoration, and the ability to backup to the cloud.

Optimizing your database regularly is a good idea, and many of the good backup plugins do not offer this feature. Fortunately, WP-Optimize is a great option to use with whatever backup plugin you end up choosing.

If you search the official plugins repository for “backup” you will find a great many with good reviews to choose from. In addition, several of the security plugins I will discuss later also offer backup features, including Acunetix WP Security, All In One WP Security & Firewall, Bulletproof Security and iThemes Security. I am not sure there is a best option to recommend, but I think you probably cannot go wrong with any of the following.

UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration is a popular and highly-rated plugin that includes the ability to schedule, restore and to backup to the cloud (S3, Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace, FTP, SFTP, email + others). UpdraftPlus also features a site duplicator/migrator, whereby you can copy a site and (with an addon) move it to a new location. Another nice feature is the ability to schedule file backup and database backups separately. Additionally, failed uploads are automatically resumed/retried.

Duplicator lets you clone and move an entire site from one location to another. It also serves as a simple backup utility for both files and database, though you cannot easily backup files and the database separately. There is also no scheduling feature. While UpdraftPlus can move a site as well, it requires the premium version so if you are looking for a simple way to setup a development version of your site, this is a good option that gives you backup capability as well (All-in-One WP Migration is a popular alternative that I have not tried).

WP-DB-Backup is a popular, simple backup option that has been around a while. You can choose which tables to backup and save to your server, download to your computer or send via email. Scheduling is supported (email option only) but no restore option exists. It hasn’t been updated since late 2013, but perhaps there is no real need? Note that it doesn’t add any special menu to your WP Admin panel so you have to access it from the Tools option.

Tip: If you are somewhat new to using plugins, be aware that they don’t all behave the same in terms of user interface (UI). Some add a dedicated menu to your admin panel’s main menu (left sidebar). Some add a dedicated sub-menu to one of the existing admin panel menu items (often the Tools menu item). The same applies to configuring your plugin. Some will add a settings or configuration option to their dedicated menu as a sub-menu. Some will make a sub-menu option in the admin panel Settings menu and some will include a Settings link directly in the plugin information listing.

BackUpWordPress is another simple plugin but this one offers manual or scheduled backups of both database and files (either separately or together). You can have your backup sent via email but the plugin does not offer a restore option. Like WP-DB-Backup, you will have to access this from your Tools or Plugins menu.

WP-DBManager allows you to optimize, repair, backup, restore, query and modify your database. It supports scheduling, optimizing and repairing of the database. There are a couple of interesting technical differences about this plugin that aren’t worth discussing in detail, but the end result is that it might not work on some shared hosting servers. It is also uses a less secure method of performing the backup, but for practical purposes this should probably not deter you from using it if you are interested.

So, which am I using? I use Duplicator to create a local installation of my site on my computer but I don’t use it regularly because I like the ability to backup my files and database separately. So far, I really like UpdraftPlus but it doesn’t include an optimization feature so I recommend using it with WP-Optimize. At the moment, I am actually using MainWP—which I discuss in the next section—to do backups because I can do them for my various sites from one core Main WP administration panel. And, the Main WP backup program is actually quite good. You can backup the database alone or with the files, schedule backups, specify how many copies to leave on the server, and you even have the option of automatically excluding popular plugins, known cache locations and non-WordPress folders, all of which can unnecessarily bloat the size of your backup.

Administration – Miscellaneous

Some plugins help us improve the front-end—the “glamorous” side—of our sites but some can help on the backend—the administration. Here are a few I like:

  • CMS Tree Page View adds a tree view of all your pages and posts. Within this tree you can edit, view, add, search, and drag and drop pages to rearrange the order. A feature I also like is the ability to see your tree view directly from the WordPress dashboard.
  • Header and Footer lets you to add code to the head and footer sections of your blog. This can be helpful when you want to do something simply on your own rather than finding a plugin to do it for you (e.g., add Google Analytics tracking code). This is a better option than directly editing your theme files because—unless you use a child theme—your edits will be lost when your theme gets updated.
  • Revision Control allows finer control over the post revision system included with WordPress.

Finally, if you have more than one WordPress site you need to administer, MainWP is a great solution. Install it on a dedicated WordPress site (can be a sub-domain) and use that as your main admin panel for all your WordPress sites, which are enabled by installing the MainWP Child plugin. With MainWP you can manage virtually all aspects, including upgrades, scheduling backups, uptime monitoring, and managing content for posts/pages. MainWP is a free self-hosted solution that makes money by selling addons for additional features. A similar service is InfiniteWP, which is also highly rated and has even more users. I haven’t tried both, but one MainWP commenter claims to have and says while both are solid he prefers MainWP. I believe—but could be mistaken—that MainWP has more free basic features and that their addons are cheaper than InfiniteWP. There are also other popular services that are cloud-based instead, including ManageWP (free for up to 5 sites).

Finally, though not a plugin, WordPress has an app for your mobile phone or tablet. I haven’t used it myself, but apparently it is quite good, both for writing (especially to capture thoughts on the go) and also for handling comments and other administrative tasks.

Administration – Site Security

Chances are you know little to nothing about website security and that is fine because there are some great plugins that will hold your hand and do everything for you. If you are interested in knowing some of the details behind the work that is being done on your behalf, “Securing Your WordPress Website” by Daniel Pataki and “WordPress Security: The Ultimate Guide” by Kevin Muldoon are two good places to start.

When it comes to choosing security plugins, the great challenge is to find the magic solution which gives you optimal protection without conflicting with other plugins and without unacceptably slowing down your site (see the site performance section for help with this). If you choose more than one security plugin, you will also want to be concerned about overlapping functionality.

Useful Tips: Create a second administrator account with a strong password which you only use in case you are ever blocked from logging in by your security software. And, always make a backup before you install and use a new plugin, especially one of these that can significantly change your installation setup.

There are some highly regarded security plugins that do one thing very well. For example, Login Lockdown and Login Security Solution help you prevent unauthorized logins. Likewise, Block Bad Queries (BBQ) protects against malicious URL requests. Still, cobbling together a collection of plugins like this is a hassle, so wouldn’t it be great if there was one that does everything you need. Well, you are in luck, because such plugins exist. Unfortunately, deciding which one to use is not easy. Here is a quick look at six of the most popular:

  • Wordfence Security not only helps make your site more secure, but also improves its speed. Its features include real-time blocking of known attackers, scanning of core files, themes and plugins against WordPress.org repository versions to check their integrity, the ability to enforce password security, a firewall to block common security threats like fake Googlebots, malicious scans from hackers and botnets, a malware and backdoor scanner, login security to lock out brute force hacks and to stop WordPress from revealing info that will compromise security, IP blocking and abuse reporting, the ability to repair compromised files, a tool to keep you off Google’s SEO Black-List, and more. Wordfence also includes a useful tour of its features that is displayed when you first install it. Do note that you should either use Wordfence’s Falcon Engine caching option or a plugin like Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, but not both.
  • All In One WP Security & Firewall is, according to Matthew Mombrea,
    a great tool for guiding you through the common threat prevention techniques with WordPress. It has the ability to make most, if not all, of the necessary changes to your system for you through its administration pages. It will guide you through tasks like eliminating the admin user account, altering your database tables to prefix them with something other than the default wp_, limiting login attempts to prevent brute force attacks, preventing file modifications, setting file permissions, setting firewall rules and much more. Almost every task is a single click away making these vital security features accessible to folks without a computer science degree. It also rewards your security efforts with a points system to show you just how secure you’ve make your site when you perform the steps.

    I have used this plugin and also noticed that it can put your site into “maintenance mode” by locking down the front-end to all visitors except logged in users with super admin privileges, which can be useful if you are investigating some issues on your site.

  • Sucuri Security – Auditing, Malware Scanner and Security Hardening seems to be focused mostly on security integrity, blacklist monitoring and malware detection (with notifications), though it can also “harden” your site by enabling a variety of one-click features. Sucuri also includes a Post-Hack Security Actions feature to help walk you through the three key things you should do after a compromise. Note that if you use previously mentioned MainWP, there is a free Sucuri extension for it that can scan your various sites and fix vulnerabilities. For me, it caught several that weren’t addressed by All in One, though I am not sure the things flagged were too important.
  • Bulletproof Security seems to offer fewer free features than the other plugins listed here, but offers enough to be useful, including login security and monitoring, database backup, and security logging. BulletProof Security mostly works by customizing .htaccess files. It uses a one-click setup method vs breaking up options and settings (one-click is used figuratively and not literally, and refers to the concept of several tasks being performed with one-click of a button; setup actually takes four clicks). BulletProof Security further protects your website against thousands of different hacking attempts via security filters designed to match malicious and nuisance attack patterns. Finally, customization and whitelisting are both possible with BPS.
  • iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security) is another multi-feature plugin like Wordfence though I think some of features that are free in Wordfence are premium with iThemes and I also noticed a few warnings in the faq about compatibility issues (Apache only, some problems on shared hosting servers) that can cause it to either not work at all or to cause problems if it crashes while performing certain operations. iThemes Security also “makes significant changes to your database and other site files which can be problematic for existing WordPress sites” and if you decide to use and then remove iThemes, some traces of its changes are left behind. The reviews for iThemes are excellent, but these concerns have me looking elsewhere.
  • Acunetix WP Security and Acunetix Secure WordPress. Why there are two very similarly named plugins that claim to do the same thing by the same company is a mystery to me. Either (both?) are probably fine, but compared to the other plugins listed here the overall reviews are less favorable and the feature list seems lacking. Still, you do see this one (er, two?) recommended fairly often.

So, which is the right one for you? I have no idea. I think you could probably randomly choose and be satisfied as they all have rave reviews. Jesse Smith has a useful—albeit a bit outdated—comparison of four security plugins I have listed. After doing a fair amount of reading, my entirely subjective opinion is that Wordfence and All in One are the two best options. I like Wordfence’s file comparison and real-time traffic monitorin), and I was encouraged to see the developer actively participating in online discussion forums. I also read that their support is good, even addressing issues from non-premium users. I also like the ease of use and “hand holding” aspects of All In One. So, my current plan is to try using them both together and see if that causes any unacceptable server burden or conflict. Matthew Mombrea seems to advocate this very idea.

In addition to these useful plugins, you might consider using Cloudflare, which I discuss in the site performance section. Though it is a service mostly focused on speeding up your site, it does include excellent security features as well. The advantage of Cloudflare is that bad traffic is blocked at Cloudflare’s servers and never make it to your own site, so there should be not be a lot (maybe nothing) for your security plugin of choice to do.

Regardless of which security plugin(s) you choose, you will want to perform regular updates for WordPress and your installed plugins and theme. If you don’t login to your site admin very regularly, WP Updates Notifier will monitor your installation for updates and email you when they are available.

Finally, if you get to a point where you already have a problem, Anti-Malware and Brute-Force Security by ELI searches for malware and other virus-like threats and security vulnerabilities on your server and it helps you remove them. Sucuri’s plugin is also a good option, especially its Post-Hack Security Actions feature.

Analytics

If you are using Google Analytics (and you should be), a plugin will make adding the necessary tracking code to your site a snap and will offer extra functionality as well. My recommendations are Google Analytics, Google Analytics by Yoast and Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. I like the latter mostly because it includes a nice widget to view your GA reports directly from your WordPress dashboard. You can achieve something similar with Yoast’s plugin by using the Google Analytics Dashboard plugin. For more choices, read the article, “Best Options for Integrating Google Analytics with WordPress.”

Advertising on Your Site

If you want to make money from selling ads on your site, or by using an ad network like Google Adsense, a plugin can make your life much easier. Two worth considering are Ad Injection, which inserts ads into posts or a widget and lets you restrict who sees ads by post length, age, referrer or IP, and Advertising Manager, which will automatically recognize, manage and rotate ads from popular networks including Adsense, AdBrite, Adify, AdGridWork, Adpinion, Adroll, Chitika, Commission Junction, CrispAds, OpenX, ShoppingAds, Yahoo!PN, and WidgetBucks.

Comments (and Spam)

When it comes to handling comments on your site you can stick with the default WordPress system or you can use Disqus. You can also integrate Facebook commenting, but I don’t recommend that. Jetpack Comments is actually developed by the developers of WordPress and is a good option if you are already planning to use Jetpack (see below). Another interesting plugin I see used often (less so recently) is CommentLuv, which aims to reward your readers by automatically placing a link to their last blog post at the end of their comment.. For an interesting look at the topic, read Jeff Chandler’s article, “What Is The Future Of Comments In WordPress?

If you use the default WordPress comment system, one important missing feature is the ability for commenters to sign up for e-mail notification of subsequent entries (though it does exist if you use Jetpack comments). Subscribe To Comments Reloaded adds that feature quite nicely and is a great way to generate discussion and comments on your site since most people who leave a comment never return to check for replies. An alternative, which also offers the option to get an email notification only if someone replies to the user’s comment, is the aptly-named Send email only on Reply to My Comment.

Whatever commenting system you use, no site should be with the useful Akismet plugin. It comes pre-installed with WordPress but to activate it you must register a WordPress.com account to get an API key.

Cookies for Comments is a clever plugin that adds a stylesheet or image to your html source code. When a browser loads that stylesheet or image a cookie is created. If that user then leaves a comment the cookie is checked. If it doesn’t exist the comment is marked as spam. The plugin can also check how long it took a user to enter a comment. If it’s too fast it’s probably a spam bot. If you are having spam issues even with Akismet, this might be your solution.

Connecting With Your Audience

Facilitating and maintaining contact with your audience is essential for your site’s success. Fortunately, some useful plugins exist to help.

Perhaps the most basic tool we need is a contact form and there are a lot of good ones, but I rarely see a site that isn’t using Contact Form 7. It is even bundled by default with many of the themes I looked at when I recently updated my site. If you prefer an alternative, Fast Secure Contact Form is popular and well rated.

Because comments are so important, I already covered them separately, but one useful related plugin is Comment Redirect, which redirects commenters who just made their first comment to a page of your choice. This could be used to ask them to subscribe to a newsletter, follow you on social media, download a free e-Book, etc.

I often read about the incredible value of having an active newsletter because subscribers tend to be far more engaged than passive site visitors. I won’t discuss the various commercial newsletter management services available, though if you already use one, it probably has a useful WordPress plugin worth considering. Three popular do-it-yourself options I have come across (but not yet tested) are Newsletter, MailPoet Newsletters, and Knews Multilingual Newsletters (especially useful for multilingual needs).

You’ve probably seen sites that use a small popup box designed to get your attention with a call to action. Dreamgrow Scroll Triggered Box lets you offer such a box and have it triggered on certain events you specify, such as percentage of scroll or reaching the end of the post or comments. This verifies that visitors are engaged with the content before you present them with a call-to-action (e.g., requesting the visitor register for your email newsletter).

You’ve probably seen the popular Hello Bar, a bright (often red) bar fixed at the top of a site with an important message or a call to action. You will need two components to use the Hello Bar: the WordPress plugin and the configuration of the plugin at the Hello Bar homepage.

Depending on the nature of your site, you might want to offer a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. If so, Q and A Focus Plus FAQ has you covered. It’s loaded with features, including a searchable list of FAQs, jQuery animation to easily display/collapse each question (for those without JavaScript, a click will just take that user to a page with the single question and answer on it), and support for shortcodes, tags and comments. Visitors can even rate your FAQs and there is a recent FAQs widget. You can even add this to any widget on your site to attract more attention to your most recent questions and answers.

Finally, polls are a great way to engage with your audience and measure their opinions, interests, feedback, etc. YOP Polls is a plugin that offers plenty of options to do just that.

e-Commerce

I don’t run an e-commerce site so I haven’t had any firsthand experience in this area, but some popular plugins I have seen recommended include WP e-Commerce, WordPress Simple Paypal Shopping Cart, Easy Digital Downloads (a good choice to sell e-Books), Paid Memberships Pro (for membership services), and the reigning king of WordPress e-commerce, WooCommerce.

Whatever you use to do your selling, you might want to offer a stylish pricing table. If so, Responsive Pricing Table or PriceFish pricing tables can get you sorted quickly.

Another common feature found on commerce sites is the use of testimonials. Easy Testimonials is a simple-to-use plugin for adding them via a shortcode or a widget.

Finally, if you are a freelancer that needs to bill clients, WPInvoice lets you send invoices from directly within WP.

Images

Working with images is an important activity for most of us and, of course, many plugins exist to help.

To start, did you know that every time you upload an image to WordPress at least three new copies of it are created (unless its dimensions are small)? More copies still can be created if you change themes or change thumbnail size settings in your admin panel. In fact, two possibly useful image plugins that will increase the number of images in your media library are Get the Image (for adding things such as thumbnail, slider, gallery, and feature images), and Regenerate Thumbnails (if you change the thumbnail sizes setting).

As you can imagine, with time it is easy to end up with unused images in your media library. A few useful plugins to help you remove those are WP Media Cleaner, Image Cleanup, and Cleanup Images.

Tip: Make a full backup before cleaning up your media library and be sure to use one of the bad link checker plugins recommended here so that if you accidently delete images that were being used you will know about it and can restore them from your backup.

After getting a clean media library, you will want to optimize (i.e., reduce the size) the remaining images, which can help improve your site’s performance. Three contenders for this job are EWWW Image Optimizer (my current choice), Kraken Image Optimizer, and the formerly very popular but now often maligned WP Smush.it (limited to 1MB images on free version and with many negative comments recently about it not working, causing conflicts, and no longer being supported).

Optimized images are essential for maximizing your site’s speed, but another thing you can do to help is to host these images on Amazon’s S3 storage system. This probably sounds intimidating, but isn’t really that difficult. To learn more, check out Daniel Pataki’s article, “Moving WordPress Media To The Cloud With Amazon S3” which recommends using the Amazon Web Services and Amazon S3 and Cloudfront plugins to automate the process.

Since we often need to add images to our posts, it makes sense that there are good plugins to help us do so more easily. PhotoDropper automatically searches Flickr for Creative Commons photos and lets you insert the image—along with proper credit—with a click of a button, though it hasn’t been updated for quite a while and I read it has become a bit buggy. Similar alternative plugins worth considering include Compfight, Editorial Assistant by Zemanta, Flickr – Pick a Picture, and Pixabay Images (CC0 public domain pictures with no attribution required).

If you find especially large image sizes using the above plugins, install Imsanity to automatically resize them. The plugin is configurable with a max width, height and quality and is a good companion to the image optimization plugins already mentioned. Imsanity also provides a bulk-resize feature to selectively resize previously uploaded images to free up disk space.

Of course, being able to easily find images won’t do you any good if you forget to look for them. Require Featured Image is a simple plugin that requires content you specify to have a featured image set before it can be published.

Once you have your nice images formatted in your posts, Responsive Lightbox will let visitors view larger versions of images and galleries in a lightbox (overlay) effect (optimized for mobile devices).

On the administrative end, one tool I like is Quick Featured Images. It can do several things related to WordPress featured images, but I especially like it for adding an additional sortable image column in the list of posts.

Finally, a good way to improve you page loading speed is to “lazy load” images, which means that images are only loaded when necessary. For example, if you have images toward the bottom of your page and a visitor never bothers to scroll down, there is no point in loading those. Instead, load them when the visitor actually scrolls to where they should be visible. This should also improve your Google PageSpeed score. A good plugin for this is a3 Lazy Load.

Jetpack: Yes or No?

Jetpack is an interesting plugin from the developers of WordPress that includes a lot of features, some of which are quite cool, but should you use it? I personally do not, but for two contrasting opinions, read “Why I Don’t Use WordPress JetPack” by Jupiter Jim and “10 Reasons Why You Should Start Using The WordPress Jetpack Plugin Today” by Sourav Kundu.

Maps

There are so many reasons we (especially us digital nomads) might want to include maps in our articles and pages. Luckily several plugins can help, including MapPress Easy Google Maps, WP Google Maps, Pronamic Google Maps, Google Maps Builder, Google Maps Widget, and Google Maps All In One.

For something different but very useful, check out amCharts (free, main page) or Interactive World Maps ($20). They are kind of similar and make it easy to create maps of the entire world, a continent, a country (alone or divided by its regions or states), or a state in the United States (alone or divided by metropolitan areas). You can color regions or add markers. Interactive features include adding a tooltip that will be displayed by default on hover with the information you provide and the ability to set up different kinds of actions for when the user clicks in an active area.

Multi-language Support

qTranslate has long been a popular choice for working with multilingual content, though I read that it has been abandoned and doesn’t work with the latest version of WordPress. Other developer have come to its rescue with two examples being qTranslate X and qTranslate Plus. Recently, I have been reading a lot about WPML (WordPress Multilingual Plugin) so that is an alternative worth considering, albeit not a free one.

Multimedia

Hosting your own video or audio (including podcasts) is something I have never done so I am not in any position to offer suggested plugins for these things.

Photo Galleries and Image Sliders

I don’t personally use photo galleries or sliders so my suggestions are not based on firsthand knowledge, but popular gallery plugins I have seen recommended include NextGen Gallery (the most popular but far from the best rating; check out NextCellent Gallery – NextGEN Legacy if you are looking to move on from NextGen), Photo Gallery, Image Gallery, Portfolio Gallery, and Gallery Bank.

For a slider, check out Dynamic Content Gallery, Huge-IT Slider, Cyclone Slider 2, Meta Slider, Master Slider – Responsive Touch Slider, Slider WD, and Smart Slider 2.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

WordPress is already search-engine friendly, but you can make your particular site even more SEO friendly with a good plugin. There are many to choose from, but the two most popular are All in one SEO Pack and WordPress SEO by Yoast. I see Yoast recommended the most and it is said to be far more powerful, but does have a steeper learning curve (see plugin developer Joost de Valk’s “The Definitive Guide To Higher Rankings For WordPress Sites” for help with that learning curve).

You might think about using a sitemap generator like the popular Google XML Sitemaps, but both of the above plugins include this capability already.

Another common problem to deal with is RSS scraping, where another site steals your content by scraping your RSS feed. You can partially combat this by adding a link back to your blog in your RSS feed. Yoast already includes this feature but All in One does not. If you choose the latter, give RSS Footer a try. It is four years old but still seems to work.

Inbound and outbound links are an important factor in search engine optimization. Having bad links in either direction is not good but luckily two plugins can help. WordPress Broken Link Manager continuously detects broken backlinks to your website and archives them and lets you easily 301 redirect them while Broken Link Checker will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found.

Two other plugins that might be useful to consider are SEO Friendly Images, which automatically updates all images with proper ALT and TITLE attributes and Redirection, which can manage 301 redirections and keep track of 404 errors—something particularly useful if you are migrating pages from an old website.

Site Performance

Listing so many seemingly useful plugins should have you wondering if we should worry about too much of a good thing? Often times, WordPress sites load slowly because of poorly configured plugins or because there are so many of them. There is no fast and easy rule for deciding how many is too many but fortunately P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) (yes, another plugin) can help you see how your various plugins are impacting your site. P3 creates a performance report for your site, including a profile of your plugins’ performance by measuring their impact on your site’s load time. This is a tool you shouldn’t need to use often, but is a must-have when first setting up your site and whenever you install a new plugin.

Another useful tool for measuring your site’s performance is GTmetrix for WordPress, which can run scheduled analysis reports and send you alerts if your site falls below certain criteria. Reports also include recommended actions to optimize your site for speed and the report history feature is a nice way to monitor improvements.

One of the best ways to improve your site’s speed and performance is with caching, which uses static html files rather than the slower dynamic files normally used by WordPress (which must connect to the database before creating each page). The two most popular plugins for doing so are WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. Both are excellent so it is difficult to recommend one over the other. Having said that, WP Super Cache is often described as being more user friendly and easier to configure whereas W3 Total Cache is described as being more powerful but more complex to configure. If you opt for W3 Total Cache, check out my article, “Speeding Up Your WordPress Blog with W3 Total Cache (W3TC)” as well as “How to Install and Setup W3 Total Cache for Beginners.”

Use Google Libraries allows your site to use compressed, common JavaScript libraries from Google’s AJAX Libraries CDN, rather than from your own server, which will speed up your site speed. I would say that this is probably unnecessary if you are using WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, but give it a try if so inclined.

In the images section I mentioned the idea of using Amazon S3 and Cloudfront to serve your images rather than using your own server to do so. This concept is usually referred to as a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Amazon and similar CDNs are not free, though usually not expensive either. Still, a good free alternative is CloudFlare, which also offers great security features by screening and filtering your incoming traffic. Any CDN offered by Google deserves mentioning, and they are working on their PageSpeed Service, but it is currently in a limited field trial and is not accepting new signups.

Social Media

These days, I think many themes include the ability to add social media icons and links so there is probably no need to find a plugin to do so, but if you are using a theme that doesn’t Share Buttons by AddToAny is probably your best bet. I used to recommend Shareaholic (formerly Sexy Bookmarks) but that has transformed from simple share buttons to much more and the general opinion seems to be negative.

One action many of us want to take after writing a new post is to share it with our various social networks. Two useful plugins to help automate that task include Social Networks Auto-Poster and WP to Twitter. Additionally, Revive Old Post (formerly Tweet Old Post) lets you automatically share old posts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to get more hits for them and keep them alive.

If you are interested in showing your recent Tweets on your site, several plugins are available. Before my site re-design I was using Twitter Widget Pro, which I liked, but it hasn’t been updated for more than two years. I also tried Recent Tweets Widget but my current recommendation is Really Simple Twitter Feed Widget. You need to authorize any of these plugins but the instructions to do so are fairly easy to follow.

I do not personally use Pinterest, but if you do, or at least would like to help those that do pin your photos, check out jQuery Pin It Button For Images.

Working with Widgets

For many, widgets are the workhorse of WordPress customization and functionality extension. WordPress includes some in the default installation, your theme may include some, and many more are available as plugins. One of the most useful is the standard text widget, which lets you include HTML code. However, for more advanced needs, including the ability to use PHP, CSS, JavaScript, and Flash, try Enhanced Text Widget or Advanced Text Widget.

It is not hard to imagine a situation where you might like to include a widget on some posts or pages but not others. Several plugins can accomplish this, including Widget Logic (my current choice), Widget Context and Custom Sidebars Manager.

You’ve probably seen tabbed widgets on sites featuring Popular, Recent, Comments, and Tags tabs. Many themes come with their own custom version but if yours doesn’t and you would like one, WP Tab Widget is a good choice that uses AJAX to load content only when someone selects a tab, thus making it lightweight.

Writing, Editing and Formatting Pages and Posts

If you write long-form articles and would like to break them into multiple pages, WP-PageNavi is a good solution.

Long-form articles can also really benefit from including a table of contents. I personally love Table of Contents Plus for doing this. As long as you are using heading tags (e.g., h2, h3, h4) this will automatically scan them and create and insert a TOC for your articles. You can specify the minimum number of headings to have before creating one and you can also choose to either only include a TOC on pages you specify or, alternatively, only exclude a TOC on pages you specify. Right now the only serious missing feature is support for multiple page posts, but apparently the developer is planning to add that feature.

If you regularly (or even occasionally) use tables in your writing, TablePress lets you create and easily embed beautiful and feature-rich tables into your posts, pages or text widgets without having to write code. Tables can contain any type of data, even formulas that will be evaluated. An additional JavaScript library adds features like sorting, pagination, filtering, and more for site visitors. Tables can be imported and exported from/to Excel, CSV, HTML, and JSON files.

You probably don’t have a regular need to create forms, but if you ever do, Ninja Forms or Form Maker will do the job admirably.

If you want total control over the design of a page, one of my favorite plugins is Page Builder by SiteOrigin, a drag and drop, responsive page builder. It came pre-bundled with my theme and I used it to design the home page of this site. With it you can easily add blocks (rows with selectable number of columns) and add widgets to those blocks. You probably won’t need to use this one very often, but it’s simple and effective when you do need it.

Another great way to customize the look and feel of your pages or posts is to use shortcodes. Shortcodes Ultimate and similar plugins provide a number of useful, pre-built design elements like buttons, boxes, tabs, boxes, pull quotes and accordions. Basically, you can get really professional looking design elements with practically no effort or HTML skills.

For those of you (not me) that post quite regularly, the ability to schedule the publication of your posts becomes an important requirement. Editorial Calendar gives you an overview of your blog and when each post will be published. You can drag and drop to move posts, edit posts right in the calendar, and manage your entire blog.

Finally, if you ever need to remove or change certain sections from your posts (for example, to mass-correct a spelling mistake or change an affiliate link), give Search and Replace a try (you definitely will want to do a full backup before using this though!).

Other Useful Plugins

If you are more technically inclined, there may come a time when you will want to add a bit of PHP code to a page, post or widget. Insert PHP, Include Me, Code Snippets Extended, and Exec-PHP (not updated in years but still works) can do the job. PHP Code Widget and the previously mentioned Enhanced Text Widget are useful options for working with widgets. I think it appropriate to mention, however, that what may initially seem like a need to include PHP code may in fact be better handled by using a custom page template.

You may have come across sites that prevent you from copying text via a right-click. I personally dislike this but if you are interested in the same functionality for your site there are plugins. Likewise, if you wish to prevent sites from reproducing your site in a frame, there are plugins that can do that as well. Alternatively, the very useful All in One WP Security & Firewall includes both of these features.

If you have affiliate links you would prefer to hide or otherwise have long links you would like to shorten, or if you would like a more direct way to track your link activity than using Google Analytics, Pretty Link can help. Of course, you can use a service like bit.ly but Pretty Link lets shorten links using your own domain name. In addition to creating clean links, Pretty Link tracks each hit on your URL and provides a full, detailed report of where the hit came from, the browser, OS and host. This plugin tracks each Pretty Link separately, even if they point to the same location. This could be quite useful if, for example, you wanted to see which location on a page or which of multiple pages generated more activity.

If you have an upcoming event (e.g., a book release) that you want to highlight on your site, T(-) Countdown will display a highly customizable countdown timer as a sidebar widget or in a post or page using a shortcode.

You might want to add special text to the bottom of every post. This could be useful to explain your use of affiliate programs or sponsored posts or you might want to promote an upcoming event or content. Useful plugins to do so include Bottom of every post, Add Post Footer and Post Ender. None has been updated in years, though Bottom of every post is the most recent and also has the best reviews.

If you want to modify the design of your site and are looking for good font options, Easy Google Fonts adds Google fonts to any theme without coding and integrates with the WordPress Customizer automatically for a real-time live preview.

Print Friendly and PDF Button automatically creates printer friendly and PDF versions of your pages. It also gives your user the ability to remove images and paragraphs of text, so they can print exactly what they want.

Conclusion

There you have it, over 150 useful plugins for your consideration. Some cover the same functionality and some won’t be useful for your particular needs, but I am sure you can find some to improve the appearance, maintenance or performance of your blog. Enjoy!

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7 Comments

  1. I'm currently using Blogger, which I'm discovering is at the low end of the desireable blog formats totem pole. Why do so many people use WordPress? What makes it so great? I've tried to use it, but every time I log in it seems not to be so user friendly & I give up after just a couple of minutes. I must be doing it wrong. What's the scoop?

    1. I'm not familiar with anything but WordPress so I can't make any useful comparisons. And, I am fairly comfortable with web technologies so for me it isn't too difficult to use, but I suppose it might be for those less used to creating websites and the like. My guess about why so many people use it is because it is very powerful and flexible. You can *easily* change designs and add features with plugins. Also, there is a huge existing user base so there are many plugins and design templates to be found for free. I suppose with anything in software, the more powerful and flexible you make it the more you have to sacrifice usability. As for Blogger and your particular situation, I would say if it does what you want it to do and you are comfortable using it, stick with it. If you do need to switch to WordPress, a quick google search on user tutorials will yield some useful video and text how-to guides.

    2. Dear Nancy you have clearly misunderstood the WP because the features WP have blogger does not have at all. I am saying it on my personal behalf. If you need some assistance for handling the WordPress then contact me i will help you on it. Thanks

  2. I was going to mention BackUp Buddy too. You’re right it is premium and it’s well worth the investment. The WP DB Backup one just stopped working for me one day – I didn’t get the emails anymore. Not sure why though.

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