I gave a small talk on plugins at WordCamp LA recently and was inspired to start compiling a list of my most commonly recommended ones. I’ve also started collecting them as Favorites at my WordPress.org profile but there’s no way to organize them there according to topic or purpose. The list is by no means exhaustive so if you have any requests for recommended plugins of a certain kind, leave a comment and I’ll see about incorporating them into a future edition.
Here’s what’s on there as of now:
Formidable (free and premium)
Formidable has both a free and paid version. The free version is one of the better free form builders available. For me, the workflow and interface is easier to work with than other free plugins such as Ninja Forms or Contact Form 7.
http://webtrainingwheels.com/recommends/gravity-forms/ (aff. link)
Gravity Form is strictly a premium plugin – there is no free version. I have invested in the Developer license and use it on most sites because it’s so powerful. This is more than just a contact form plugin – it gives you advanced data collection and processing capabilities. There are add-ons to integrate with other services such as PayPal, MailChimp and many others. Developers will find it very customizable via the many hooks and filters provided.
Control which widgets show up on which pages/sections of your site.
Black Studio Tiny MCE Widget
Put the power of the WordPress Visual Editor in your widgets.
Flexible Posts Widget
Easily feature any selection of posts in a widget, based on taxonomy, category or custom post type.
Create backup schedules for both your database and files and back them up to Dropbox, Amazon S3 and other off-site locations. There’s also a Premium version but I have always found the free version to be adequate.
Similar to BackWPUp there’s a free version and a premium version with additional features including Restore. However the free version works well in most cases.
WordPress Backup To Dropbox
Just as the name suggests, this plugin allows you to back your site up to Dropbox. Whereas most backup plugins do a full backup every time, this one does an initial backup of the entire site but after that it then backs up only files that have changed. So it is more space efficient than other plugins.
VaultPress (paid service)
For larger sites or more ‘mission-critical’ sites, I like to recommend the paid service that VaultPress (an Automattic company) provides. Starting a $5/month VaultPress is a reliable backup service and has the benefit of support and automated restores.
Duplicator is a great plugin for when you need to create a snapshot of a site for download, or when you need to move a site from one server or location to another. When moving sites to a different domain (such as from a live server to a local server) it will also go through the database and update all references to the old url and replace them with the new url.
WP Clone is similar to Duplicator but whereas when deploying a site with Duplicator you start with an empty directory on your server, with WP Clone you start with a basic WordPress installation and install this plugin within it. I like both plugins. When it works, I think WP Clone is easier for the average user to get to grips with. I like to have both plugins in my toolkit since there are circumstances where if one doesn’t work, the other will.
Magic Action Box (free and premium)
Free version: http://wordpress.org/plugins/magic-action-box/
Pro version: http://webtrainingwheels.com/recommends/magic-action-box-pro/ (aff. link)
Place calls to action and email opt-ins in your sidebar and at the top or bottom of posts/pages
MailChimp for WordPress (free and premium)
One of the best plugins for integrating your site with MailChimp. It allows you to create opt-in forms, as well as offering opt-in integrations with plugins like WooCommerce, and allowing people to subscribe when commenting. The free version is adequate for bloggers and beginners, but the Pro version has some great features for power users.
This plugin allows you to feature related content at the bottom of your blog posts in order to keep users on your site. It’s server-friendly and will not slow down your site. You can choose from a selection of layout styles and while it can generate the related posts automatically for you, it does offer the ability to edit the related items.
Simple Share Buttons Adder
A lightweight and elegant way to add social sharing icons to your posts and pages.
EWWW Image Optimizer
Compress images in your media library to reduce the file size.
Full disclosure – I work with the parent company WP Media. But this plugin can basically replace EWWW and Imsanity – allowing you to resize and compress images (with a choice of compression levels) on upload.
If you or your clients have a tendency to want to upload giant images to your media library, this plugin will help keep things in check.
This is my favorite free image slider. It’s easy to use, has just enough options to make it flexible without being overwhelming, and generally speaking, it just works!
http://www.soliloquywp.com (aff. link)
There is a free version of Soliloquy but I think the free version of Meta Slider is better. However the paid version of Soliloquy is very powerful and customizable.
Foo Image Lightbox
Free version: http://wordpress.org/plugins/foobox-image-lightbox/
Premium version: http://webtrainingwheels.com/recommends/foobox/
Lightboxes are a great way to showcase images on your WordPress site. Foo Image Lightbox works well right out of the box and is responsive. They also have a Premium version with additional features.
A nifty plugin that will generated a featured image from your embedded videos, to save you having to grab a screenshot and create your own thumbnail image.
There is some overlap in the functionality provided by these plugins, so you should make sure not to duplicate options if you use both on your site, but I like various features of each of them for hardening a WordPress installation, file monitoring features, brute force protection etc.
P3 Plugin Profiler
A troubleshooting tool which will show you which plugins are having the biggest impact on the load time of your site.
A more advanced troubleshooting tool to monitor the efficiency of code on your site. A must-have for developers.
WP Rocket – Premium
Full disclosure – I provide customer support for this plugin! Typically benchmarked as the fastest caching plugin, it has the easiest set up of all of them (install and activate!), is actively developed and has awesome support :)
WP Fastest Cache
A free caching plugin that’s a bit easier to use than Super Cache or W3 Total Cache.
A great tool to clean up your database and help your site run more efficiently.
FUN FOR DEVELOPERS
Go Live URLS
Awesome plugin for when you move a site from one url to another. It does one simple thing – goes through your site and updates all urls, including those in sidebar widgets.
What The File
Find out what template file is being used on a particular page.