Essential WordPress Plugins

March 14, 2016

WordPress alone is a great CMS, but it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if it didn’t support plugins. There are a huge number of them available, some good, some bad and the beauty of them is you can pick and choose to use the ones you need. If you can’t find one that works for you, it can be just as quick to code your own.

As WordPress developers, we use them as tools to help quickly deploy new functionality for clients without charging the earth to build it in.

We’ve put together a list of eight essential plugins we recommend you consider when building a WordPress site.

ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) Pro

ACF is a brilliantly powerful plugin that allows you to add dynamic content to your theme that can be populated in the backend. Although you need a little PHP know-how to use what’s on offer, a simple bit of copy and paste will get you going in the right direction.

ACF offer a free version, which is good, but we recommend you go for the Pro version as it gives you a whole host of functionality for adding more powerful layouts and sections to your site.

Check out the documentation for more info on using it, or download the plugin and get started.

Duplicate Post

Duplicate post does exactly what it says on the tin; it gives you the ability to duplicate content on your site. We find it incredibly useful in the studio when setting up a new site we need to populate quickly.

Often, we create a common post or page template and duplicate it every time instead of copying and pasting everything over.

It doesn’t just allow you to copy posts, either. It works on all post types (pages etc.) and even plays nicely with the Advanced Custom Fields plugin.

Start duplicating and download the plugin.

Yoast SEO

Anyone who works with WordPress will have heard of Yoast SEO (formerly known as WordPress SEO). It’s the ultimate add-on when you need more control over how your site and its content appears in search engines.

From editing each post’s SEO title and description to adding social media information to give you more prominence in search results, Yoast SEO is definitely an essential plugin for any WordPress powered site.

Get the plugin here.

Google Analytics by Yoast

Analytics is a must-have for any site. Being able to gauge the number of visitors you get and your most popular pages is vital in monitoring your traffic.

Using this plugin versus pasting the tracking code into your theme has a couple of benefits. For example, it shows your recent stats for sessions and bounce rates from the last few days directly in the WordPress admin area.

A premium version of the plugin also gives you some extra functionality like tracking views per post type and by author.

Enhance your Analytics integration and download the plugin.

Gravity Forms (& Contact Form 7)

When it comes to forms on your WordPress site, there are several great plugins out there, but Gravity Forms is one we would highly recommend.

Why do we love it so much? Well, it’s easy to use, and it’s very quick to add new forms for clients. It’s also great when clients need to make a form themselves or edit the ones we’ve created for them.

Unlike most other plugins on this list, Gravity Forms is paid for and requires you to buy a licence.

If you’re looking for a free alternative, then Contact Form 7, which has many customisation options, is a great alternative.

To get Gravity Forms, you’ll need to visit the site, or if you’re looking to use Contact Form 7, you can download that from here.

Regenerate Thumbnails

Inside your WordPress theme, you can define the width and height of different image sizes. Coding this in is particularly handy, so people viewing your site don’t have to download 5000x5000px images. Instead, they’ll see a version that WordPress has automatically resized.

The only problem with this is changing those image sizes in your theme later down the line. Once you’ve changed the sizes, they’ll only be applied to new images you upload and not your existing ones.

The Regenerate Thumbnails plugin aims to fix exactly that. Once you’ve changed the image sizes in your theme, run the regeneration function, and all your images will be changed to the correct sizes.

Start resizing with this great plugin.

W3 Total Cache

It definitely pays to focus on performance. The average user will turn away if they’re waiting more than three seconds for your site to load.

We always try our best to strike a balance between a great design that also performs well. Performance can always make something faster, but it usually involves removing a part of the site or compromising on design to improve it.

A plugin like W3 Total Cache gives you a load of tools you can use to improve the speed of your sites, such as HTML, CSS and JS minification, Database caching, CDN integration and more.

Start optimising now.

Disqus Comment System

Commenting in WordPress has been around for years, but not everyone has been happy with its evolution and how it works today.

The team at Disqus thought the same, so they created their own commenting system, which isn’t tied to your single WordPress site, but the Disqus community as a whole, meaning your content has a better chance of attracting new customers, readers and conversations.

Getting set up with Disqus is very straightforward and only takes five minutes. We recommend setting it up on a test site first so that you know what you’re doing when it comes to your live site.

Get better commenting with Disqus.

What Next?

These plugins only scratch the surface on some of the extra functionality you can add to your site without even having to touch a line of code.

Remember, although plugins can be a big help, it’s very important not to become reliant on them whenever you need something to behave a certain way. If it’s easy enough to add to your theme, we advise doing that rather than using a plugin. It will help future proof everything and, unlike a plugin, isn’t at risk of becoming incompatible with your theme or site when an update comes out.