12 plugins every WordPress installation needs

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m working on streamlining a number of my processes. The most important, and I think accordingly the most complex, of these processes is that by which I develop websites, which is often something of a mishmash of various methodologies and techniques. Since I build so many WordPress websites (and I do believe it’s magic), I’ve been focusing on developing a sort of generic template for WordPress websites. This includes the theme itself (and its corresponding frameworks and dependencies), but also a collection of plugins that I use on every site. Akismet and All-in-one SEO Pack are so ubiquitous as to be obvious, but I’ve been working on a list of others that are almost universally useful. Most of them improve upon the core functionality of WordPress straight out of the box, and so demand very little from either user or designer.
Here’s my list (at least for today).

1. WP-Typography

This plugin does magical stuff that’s previously been kind of hard to do on the internet: hyphenation (now I can justify my text!), making true small caps, smarter punctuation, turning ampersands into prettier ampersands. It performs well straight out of the box to improve your typography, and is also full of fine-tuned controls. I haven’t had an opportunity to play around with them yet, but when I’ve got some time to spare (this will happen eventually, I’m certain), I’d like to go over this website’s design with a fine-tooth comb. This plugin (and quite probably Lettering.js) will be a big part of that.

2. WordPress.com Stats

This is the statistics engine used on wordpress.com sites, and I’m considering using it over Google Analytics, mostly because its stats are all readily available from your WP Dashboard. There’s sometimes just too much clicking involved for my liking in checking out my stats via Google. (Seriously, can someone just skip over that big blue “Access Analytics” button for me already?) There’s the Google Analytics Dashboard, but it’s just so unsightly I can’t quite bear to look at it.

What the widget looks like on my dashboard. See, this one is pretty! It doesn't tell me my bounce rate, but it doesn't make me feel like someone's offended my Poor Design Sensibilities, either.

3. eMob Email Obfuscator

This gem (in spite of its terrible name) of a plugin finds email addresses in your content and protects them from spambots. My previous solution was a plugin that made use of a shortcode to obfuscate email addresses, but I rather like this one for being automatic. This means that my clients don’t need to learn what a shortcode is, and I don’t need to search through their content to make sure they aren’t vulnerable to unnecessary spam. That’s important to me, and, though many of them may not realize it, to my clients as well.

4. Quotes Collection

While this one isn’t a must-have for every website, I’ve used it on a great variety of websites. It’s a highly flexible plugin that allows you to collect and display quotes of any kind on your site. I use it for testimonials, ideas, or random snippets of information, all of which can be tagged and displayed in different places and manners.

5. Contact Form 7

I think I tried out every contact form plugin available before settling on this one. I like that it’s super-simple to use but quite flexible, uses elegant Javascript, and will send an autoresponse to everyone who’s submitted a form. It will allow you to make everything from the simplest contact form to a complex series of form elements, including file uploads. You can then customize how the information is sent to you, and the whole thing generally works like a charm.

6. Disqus

Comments on steroids! They’re prettier straight out of the box, they integrate with social media in ways I’ve yet to fully understand. It’s starting to be used on quite a number of websites, which means that, since it makes use of a universal profile, users who’ve already registered with Disqus (or another site that uses Disqus) won’t need to re-register to comment on yours. Ideally, it should facilitate conversation among your users.

7. Back Up WordPress

Backs up your WP data on a regular basis and emails you a zip file of database contents. I’ve never had a WordPress site that suddenly lost all its data, but I suppose it’s not impossible, and there’s certainly no harm in keeping a backup!

8. After The Deadline

I just came across this plugin, and it seems like a super-smart little proofreader. Not only will it find your misspelled words (and allow you to perma-ignore the non-dictionary words of your favour) it will also catch double negatives, clichés, jargon, the passive voice, and all sorts of other stuff (if you want it to). I’m thinking I’ll even start using it myself, although I haven’t used a spellcheck in years.

9. Validated

My clients are unlikely to ever use this one, or care what it does, but I install it nevertheless. It runs through every page on your site and spits out a report about what validates and what doesn’t (and how many errors exist on each page). Way easier, and faster, than doing every page at once, and it allows you to be extremely detail-conscious in your adherence to standards.

10. WP-IE6Update

Remember how I hate IE6 and am officially rejecting the concept of developing for it? This helps by putting the IE6Update code on your site. If anyone dares visit using IE6, they see a friendly message prompting them to update their browser to one that’s been released in the last ten years and isn’t the spawn of Satan.

11. One-click Plugin Updater

When you have this many plugins, this is a godsend! What I’m doing is keeping a folder of all these plugins on my local computer, then uploading them to every fresh WordPress install. I’ll undoubtably have four or five at any given time that need updating. With this plugin, it’s just a matter of hitting one (very obvious) button at the top of the screen. Generally speaking, this makes it easier for my clients to keep their plugins updated too, since there’s a notice at the top of every screen to advise them.

Upgrade please!
Admittedly, not everyone will click the "Upgrade all" button, but it's STILL easier than clicking on each plugin individually, especially if you maintain lots of plugins. I find most WordPress sites that I built make use of at least twenty plugins, which can be an awful lot to maintain.

12. AWS Easy Page Link

It’s long bothered me that there’s no simple way of linking to an internal page from the add/edit link popup, other than actually entering the URL. This can be on the complicated side for less tech-savvy clients, and I’m always trying to find ways to make WordPress simpler still for them to use. I have searched for a plugin with this functionality for ages, and I still can’t believe it isn’t built into WordPress. Essentially, it adds an element to the add/edit link popup that allows you to select, from a simple drop-down, a page on your site to link to.

I’m working on three new WordPress websites these days, so I expect this list will be refined considerably as I find better plugins or drop ones I’m not using. There’s such a huge number of plugins out there, too, that I’m quite certain there are brilliant finds I just have yet to chance across.

What’s on your list?

I love you, WordPress! Thanks for (almost always) making my life a little bit easier.