These are life-saving WordPress plugins that I use on many of my clients’ and my own sites. Alright, maybe “life-saving” is a slight exaggeration, but these can definitely cure some of your worst WordPress headaches. I have tested each of these (except where noted) and vouch for their quality. I hope you find them as useful as I have. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Best Admin Plugins
- Admin Columns: Clean up the admin
I hate it when plugins add columns to the “All Pages” and “All Posts” admin area, cluttering them up with useless info. The worst offender is WordPress SEO. Admin Columns lets you purge useless columns. You can instead display custom fields in the columns – really useful for customizing!
- Adminimize: Stop your clients from $%^&*ing up their new site
Get rid of confusing and unnecessary menu items in your admin area so your clients don’t screw up the nice site you’ve just made for them.
- Confirm Publishing Actions: Prevent yourself from accidentally broadcasting a half-done article
Have you ever accidentally clicked “Publish” when trying save an unfinished post, inadvertently emailing hundreds (or thousands) of Jetpack subscribers your half-done article? This plugin adds a popup confirm box when you try to update or publish a page or post. It saved my ass while writing this very blog post in fact.
- Disable Visual Editor WYSIWYG: Protect a page or post from getting clobbered
- Plugin Notes: Add admin notes to your plugin list
This is something I could have used on many client sites where the client sometimes installs strange plugins. It allows you to add notes such as why a plugin was installed and who installed it.
- WP Help: Help your clients and yourself remember how your funky admin works
Create help notes in the admin area for your clients. Document custom post types, custom fields, weird plugins, whatever you want. I use this on almost every site now, both for my clients, and for myself, when I’ve forgotten how the site works six months from now.
Best Backup / Migration Plugins
- Backup and Restore Dropbox
I haven’t tried this yet, but it has been suggested by some of my readers and has great reviews. Backs up your WordPress site to Dropbox and will do restores.
- Duplicator: Back-up or move your site
This used to be my “go to” plugin for backing up and moving WordPress sites, but it started failing on GoDaddy hosts (probably not the plugin’s fault and more GoDaddy’s). It still works for me if I exclude the huge “uploads” directory from the backup, so sometimes I use it to back up the database and program files only.
- Updraft Backup and Restoration: What I use to back up my sites
This is my new standard backup plugin. You can schedule regular backups to services like Dropbox, which is great. Works on difficult hosts like GoDaddy, because it breaks up huge zip files into multiple files. And it’s free! (For Multisite support you have to use the paid version though.) You can also use this to migrate sites, although you’ll have to use a different tool to update your database URLs.
- VaultPress: Backup your site automatically
This is an automatic offsite backup service. It has a monthly fee, but is great for clients who don’t have time to manually to back up their sites themselves.
- WP Migrate DB Pro: Great for keeping two WP sites in sync
This just handles the database and media files only, but it does some great things. It will automatically do a search-and-replace in the database if you need to migrate from dev to live, or move to a new URL. The ability to migrate media is invaluable for keeping a dev site in sync with your live site.
Best Database Plugins
- Change DB Prefix: Change your MySQL table prefixes
If, for whatever reason, you need to change your MySQL database table prefixes in an existing site, this is the easiest way to do it! Just enter your new prefix and press a button.
- Delete All Comments: Delete all comments in one fell swoop
I once had to service a site that had over 100,000 spam comments. After trying to delete them within WordPress (very slowly, 200 at a time), I quickly gave up and found this plugin, which deletes all comments in about a second! The database size went down from 500MB to 50MB. Note this plugin deletes ALL comments, not just spam comments, for those times when you want to start with a clean slate.
- WP Optimize: Clean up your database
Remove old post revisions and spam comments to save space and speed up your site. Run on an old side whose database has become bloated, then uninstall.
Best Code Insertion Plugins
- Shortcoder: Add content using shortcodes
Add content to your pages and posts using shortcodes. This is good for regular Visual Editor content, but not so good for code.
- WP Simple Adsense Insertion: Insert ads
Gives you a shortcode to easily insert Google Adsense ads anywhere you want in your content. I prefer this to plugins that insert ads automatically, even though that is more convenient. Ads are too important to be left to chance. You should hand-insert them at the right places.
Best Commenting Plugins
- Comment Attachment: Let users add photos and video to their comments!
If you do use WordPress’ native commenting system, this plugin allows users to upload file types of your choosing, including images, videos, and PDFs, to their comments. File size limits are selectable. Not compatible with Jetpack comments though.
- Disqus Comment System: Interact with your readers
Disqus is the best commenting platform in my opinion (if you don’t mind your comments being hosted by someone else). Read my review of website comment systems. It will even import your existing WordPress comments.
Read my more detailed look at commenting systems here.
Best Contact Form Plugin
- Contact Form 7 : Keep in touch
Along with Really Simple CAPTCHA, this is a great and popular contact form solution with lots of add-on capabilities. And, it’s free!!
- Contact Form DB: Keep a log of contacts
Regardless of which contact form plugin you use, you should be recording entries on your site with a log, given how unreliable web email is. Contact Form DB works with Contact form 7, Jetpack contact forms, and many other contact form plugins. It keeps a spreadsheet-like log of everyone who fills out your contact form. You can export to Excel or other formats, of course. This is a must-have for any contact form!!! Another plugin that does this (which I have not tried yet, but has good reviews) is Save Contact Form 7.
Best Debugging / Development Plugins
- Advanced Code Editor: Be bad
It is not good practice to edit code from the Admin. But, if you must, use this. It features really nice color coding and line numbers. Uninstall when you’re done because being able to edit code from the Admin is not great for security.
- Database Browser
Let’s say you’re working on a client site with no access to PHPMyAdmin but you need to see the database. Voila! This plugin let’s you do that! Just uninstall after you’re done though! You can also export the database to CSV, possible providing a poor-man’s migrating feature.
- Debug This: See your WP query
See exactly what query WordPress is running. Great for debugging WordPress query problems in your code.
- Theme Check: See how messed up your theme is
Checks your theme for anomalies.
- P3 Plugin Profiler: See which plugins are bogging down your site
Is your site loading too slowly? Wondering how much each plugin contributes to the load time? This plugin will give you a nice pie chart of exactly how much time each plugin adds (cough, Jetpack!) You can uninstall it when you’re done.
- Query Monitor
Similar to Debug This, but this has more emphasis on the WP queries on your site. Very useful.
- Server IP & Memory Usage Display: Find out your memory usage
Displays how much RAM your site is using, along with PHP and WP limits. Very useful!
- What the File: Find out which template file is being used
Besides having the best name for a plugin ever, it’s a great diagnostic tool. Tells you which theme files are being used by any WordPress page so you can figure out which you want to tweak. Invaluable if you are doing template development or debugging!
Best E-Commerce Plugins
- WooCommerce: Sell stuff
The de-facto standard WordPress shopping cart plugin. Tons of features and options through plugins. Very configurable through the use of actions and filters. Kind of a steep learning curve though.
- WordPress Simple Paypal Shopping Cart: Sell stuff simply
If you don’t want to deal with the complexity of WooCommerce, and only have a few things to sell, this is a good choice. You can set up a store in minutes (unlike with WooCommerce). Can handle physical or digital products.
Best Events Management / Calendar Plugins
- Events Made Easy: Set up a complete events management website
A very powerful events management plugin with lots of customization possibilities. Takes some time to learn, but it’s worth it if you do events sites. Does not require user login for people to sign up for events – just name and email address. This is my favorite events management plugin. I’ve never had to use a different one.
- Google Calendar Widget: Display a Google calendar feed in your sidebar
Simply does what it says. You can adjust number of events and how much detail to show.
Best Feature Solutions
- Accordion Shortcodes
If you need accordions on your site, this lightweight plugin provides a simple shortcode solution with no CSS styling so you can make them look like whatever you want. Accordion sections can default open or closed.
- Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin: Create a classifieds section
Great solution if you want to set up a classified ad section on your site.
- Category Posts in Custom Menus – Automatic dropdowns for your category menu items
In your category menu items, this allows you to have a dropdown menu with a preset number of posts from that category, automatically updated when you add more posts! This is one of those features that I think should have been built into WordPress core.
- Jetpack: Add the kitchen sink
Most people either love or hate Jetpack. I am ambivalent. It offers a painless way for people to subscribe to your blog, some nice on-site analytics, a cool photo gallery, and useful Widgets. Just be sure to deactivate everything you’re not using, because Jetpack can really bloat your site (especially the cool CSS editor, unfortunately).
- WP Tiles
If you want tiled images in your posts without Jetpack, check out this plugin!
Best Forum / Question-and-Answer Plugins
- DW Question & Answer
OK, I have not used this personally, but it has good reviews and looks good. Enables you to set up your own version of Quora or Stack Overflow. Best of all, it’s FREE.
- CM Answers
Another Q/A plugin which I have used. It’s good but requires a good deal of setup and CSS to make it look good. There is a pro version which you might need to buy to get the features you need.
Best Custom Post Type / Custom Field Plugins
- Advanced Custom Fields: Add custom fields to Pages and Posts
One of the most commonly-used plugins to customize WordPress sites. Lets you add custom fields to pages and posts. Often used together with the next plugin, Custom Post Type UI. The free version is very usable but there’s a paid pro version that adds some cool features like repeater fields.
- Custom Post Type UI: Create custom Post types
Great for creating custom post types and taxonomies to use in your own theme or plugins. In the latest version, they revamped the UI which made it more cumbersome to use, but it’s still worthwhile. It even generates code that you can paste into your theme or plugin, allowing you to delete this plugin afterwards, which is awesome.
- Pods – Custom Content Types and Fields
This plugin combines the functionality of Advanced Custom Fields and Custom Post Type UI, allowing you to create custom post types and the fields that go with them (or with built-in post types).
Best Advanced Functionality Plugins
- WP Crontrol: Create your own scheduled tasks
I use this to run scripts at recurring intervals. You set up a WordPress action hook, and this executes it at your specified times. Works great!
- WP Mail SMTP: Set up reliable emailing
Web server email is usually not reliable. So, switch to this plugin, which utilizes the far more reliable SMTP service that many hosting providers give you for free. Requires a third-party SMTP email account. Note, I read that this doesn’t work with GoDaddy shared hosting unless you use their SMTP email (added note: GoDaddy’s SMTP email no longer works for me with this or any other email plugin). Here are the settings for Gmail, but I’ve heard this plugin works better for Gmail.
Best Modal Popup Plugin
- Popup Maker
Whether you need a popup that happens automatically after page load, or upon button press, this is simply the best modal popup plugin that I’ve found. You can create popup themes to customize padding, shadow, background opacity, and many other parameters. You can put any content in the popup that would normally go in a WordPress page or post. They just did this one right!
Best Post Plugins
- Fancier Author Box: Connect personally with your readers
Add an “author box” at the end of each post to tell your readers about yourself and give your blog a human touch. See end of this article for an example!
- Page Links To
Oh man, I wish I had known about this plugin before. Basically, in any listing (archive) view, it replaces a link to the Post or Page (or custom post type) with an alternate link that you can specify. This is great for portfolio pages where you want the project images to link to an external URL, not a page on your own site!
- Post Types Order
This plugin adds a cool drag-and-drop interface to the admin to order your Posts any way you want. It also works with custom post types, which can be very cool!
Best Pagination Plugins
Adds pagination navigation controls to your post archive pages. Very customizable and easy to use as long as you know how to modify your template files.
Also adds page navigation. Also requires template modification. A bit simpler appearance out of the box. (Note, for custom queries, your query variable must be named $wp_query).
Best Search Plugins
This enhances the WP search in many ways including fuzzy matching, weighting, boolean logic, searching custom fields, and others. Many say this is the best search plugin.
- Search Everything: Search custom fields
The default WordPress search feature does not search custom fields. Use this plugin to enable search of custom fields and more!
Best Security Plugins
- Advanced Automatic Updates: Stay ahead of hackers
Update your WP core and/or plugins automatically. Sends you an email when updates are done. Not suitable for all sites, because a plugin update could break your site, but I use this on all of my non-critical blogs to save me a ton of time and keep them secure.
- Disable XML-RPC: Protect your site from DDoS attacks
XML-RPC is a fairly useless feature for WordPress (remote publishing anyone?) The one thing it is good at is attracting DDoS attacks on your site. This plugin disables xmlrpc.php by adding code to your .htaccess file. One of my clients has a high-traffic site which was attacked about once a month. This stopped it. Note that disabling this will prevent the Jetpack Publicize module and probably other modules from working.
- Maintenance Mode: Hide your site until it’s ready
Puts put an “under construction” or other message as your front page while you’re working on your site. Log in to bypass it. Can also have a countdown timer – cool! Works with Multisite!
- Rename wp-login.php: Prevent brute-force login attacks
Doesn’t literally rename the file, but does some tricks to redirect. Great for preventing brute-force attacks trying to log into your site. Also lets you rename /wp-admin.
- WordFence: Protect your site from hackers
I use this on ALL of my sites to protect against hackers. Does regular scans for malware and blocks known evil IP addresses. Also has a caching function to speed up your site load time, which I use now instead of W3 Total Cache. Just be sure to disable “live traffic logging” because it bloats your database faster than a bean-and-cheese burrito from Taco Bell.
Best SEO Plugin
- Yoast SEO: Get the right meta tags for SEO and social
This is the most popular SEO plugin. A cool feature is that it shows you exactly how your site listing will look when it shows up in Google search results. You can customize the text that people see in those results. Also great for specifying social network meta tags, like what Facebook thumbnail that gets displayed when the site is shared. Seemingly unrelated, it’s great for implementing breadcrumbs in custom themes. Some have complained lately that Yoast SEO changes too often and is getting bloated with too many features that no one wants. There is some validity to that claim, but I still use it.
Best Google Analytics Plugins
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
This is a full-blown GA plugint with dashboard that shows your stats. I tend to shy away from these types of GA plugins due to the bloat, but some people love these, and this one is highly rated.
- Google Analytics for WordPress
This is a lightweight plugin that doesn’t track outgoing clicks, but it does simply add the Google Universal Analytics code and exclude admin visits.
Best SSL Plugin
- Really Simple SSL
After you get your SSL cert, install this plugin. It’s got great reviews and just works by modifying your .htaccess file.
Best User Access Plugins
Creates a new “Roles” admin menu item under “Users” that allows you to edit the capabilities of all WordPress roles, and to create new ones with custom capabilities.
- User Access Manager
This is a more advanced user access plugin for when you need the big guns. This allows you to put users and any post type or page in groups. Then, only people in those groups can edit that content. Can also limit visibility on the front-end as well. It’s kind of tricky to set up due to minimal documentation, but if you fiddle with the settings (a lot) it will do what it claims. I haven’t found a comparable free plugin that does this.
- User Role Editor
Pretty much required if you use Ultimate Member on Multisite and want local admins to be able to approve or edit users.
Best User / Membership Plugins
- Custom User Profile Photo
Your user photo comes from your Gravatar profile, which you may not want for all of your sites. This plugin lets you customize your user photo.
- Export Users to CSV
Exports your users to a CSV file. Note, you may have to adjust your php.ini settings to allow greater export file size.
- Import Users from CSV
This plugin works great for importing members in a CSV file. Works great with Ultimate Member.
- Ultimate Member
This is a very popular membership plugin that has tons of features. Pretty flexible with some learning curve. Good plugin, but updates tend to break things, so beware.
Best Social Media Plugins
- Easy Twitter Feed Widget: Show a Twitter feed
Simply shows a Twitter feed in a Widget iframe. Does not require a Twitter app or signin.
- Twitter Hashtag Feed Widget: Show a Twitter hashtag feed
Shows a Twitter feed for a hashtag in a Widget. This is a bit more involved to set up. People complain there’s no documentation on how to get the Twitter app credentials. Read how to do it in the WP Twitter Feeds documentation.
Best Widget Management Plugins
- Black Studio TinyMCE Widget: Make Widgets easier to edit
If your client doesn’t know HTML (or even if they do), it can be hard for them to edit content in Widgets. This great plugin gives you a Widget that has a full WYSIWYG editor, just like Pages and Posts, so your clients can easily edit them!
- JP Widget Visibility: Make widgets disappear on certain pages
This is the exact same functionality that is in Jetpack, but without Jetpack. It allows you to show or hide widgets according to what type of page you’re on. Seriously people, this should just come with WordPress natively!
Best WordPress Multisite Plugins
- BackWPUP Free: Back-up your WordPress multisite
This is one of the free backup plugins that works with multisite. I just started using it and I like it! I allows scheduling of backups to a folder or different storage services. If this works well, I might start using it on my regular WP sites!
- Multisite Plugin Manager: Show or hide plugins from local admins
If you go to your Network Admin -> Settings -> Network Settings and scroll to the bottom, you can turn on or off visibility of plugins to the child sites. But what if you some plugins visible to local admins and others not? Use Multisite Plugin Manager to do this.
- NS Cloner: Replicate a multisite child site on your network
This is a wonderful tool to copy a Multisite network sub-site. Great for replicating sites on your Multisite network.
- Unfiltered MU: Allow multisite Admins to add HTML tags to admin fields
I discovered that WordPress filters out HTML tags for Multisite regular Admins (but not Super Admins). This is annoying and prevents regular admins from adding Google Analytics code, for example, to a theme’s admin field. This plugin undo’s that “feature”. This is pretty much needed on every Multisite install.
Well, I hope this list was useful to you. For more lists of great plugins, check out WP Site Care’s list of best plugins and WP Review’s Top 30 Best Plugins. What are your favorite WordPress plugins? Please leave a comment below! – Brian