Recently, I made a presentation to the local WordPress meetup at Red River College on the top plugins that I use and have proven to be the most relevant to my website work. Most of the attendees of the Winnipeg WordPress Meetup are hardcore developers and we are lucky enough to have several members of the meetup who actually work for Auttomatic. So cool.
That is to say, the pressure was on. As I see myself as a power WordPress user, not a developer, I learn more at these meetups than I give back. Sad but true. I leech information from these people like a fresh water lake bloodsucker.
I do USE WordPress a lot. During the day I’ll have opened at least three or more sites in the WordPress environment and worked on these sites as content creator, theme creator, site developer, or some in some other way. And that does have an advantage over PHP developers who work WITH building code for WordPress functionality. I blog, I create, I adjust themes, I use plugins, for me it all has to work so I look for rock solid solutions. I don’t have the skills to create plugins from scratch so I rely on the community to build what I convince clients they need. Horrible, I know, but when I hit a wall or a client that wants something unique, I have a large source of WordPress developers (mainly from the meetup) to draw from, to work with,and to provide excellent customizations. Did I mention they are great people?
Over time, I’ve found many workarounds, added features, and just plain cool features in WordPress plugins so I wanted to share them with the meetup group and see if they had any thoughts about what I could do better. The presentation went great (despite lack of internet at the start) and despite being the presenter I was able to pluck out great knowledge from this group with this starting phrase to my presentation:
let me know if there’s a better way to do some of these things I’m about to show you.
So in no particular order here are my picks for the top WordPress plugins that I presented and the explanation why an admin should have it installed on their site. All of these precious plugins are available free, or nearly free, on the WordPress site plugin page.
Every WordPress Install Gets These Plugins
Simple History – This is the first plugin I install and the only one I suggested that I want to become part of the WordPress core. This plugin gives site admins a way to track the changes that users make in the back end of the WordPress install. Added a post? Yep, there it is and who did it. Deleted a plugin? Oh, so that’s who did that. Installed an untested plugin update that broke core functionality for the site? Maybe we should talk to that admin user about protocols.
It isn’t the end all be all of cover-your-ass documentation but it doesn’t bill itself that way. SIMPLE History, remember (also free so don’t expect the moon here)? Any user who can delete a plugin can also delete this plugin thus deleting the log, but hey, it’s better than what WordPress provides, which is nothing at this point in its evolution.
Advanced Code Editor – This adds a more advanced interface to the standard editor in WordPress. You can search, it provides colour coding and lots more. Most edits that I can pull off to files can now be done right within the back end. I’m pretty sure serious coders would scoff at this workflow but for me, it has saved me a lot of time, I no longer have to open up an FTP client, download the file (hopefully the right one), edit it, and then upload it. There are many problems with editing files on a live site but on simple sites, it’s a great option to have in there.
IQ Country Block – Very few sites that I’ve worked on require the entire world to view it. A local collision repair business doesn’t need hackers from Italy, Russia, and China poking at the site login pages (those are the top three countries I’ve logged who use brute force password attempts on my sites). This plugin simply denies access to whatever countries you select but watch out! One wrong click and your country is banned and you don’t have access to your site, front or back.
One Click Child Theme – Yeah, you could build all the files you need to set up a child theme to protect all the alterations you’re making to the theme but who has time for that? Install this plugin, click click click, bam, you’re done. Serious, it takes less than a minute, and that counts the time to install the plugin, and you have a child theme running. (you can delete the plugin, you don’t need it after it’s done it’s magic unless you change themes and want a repeat performance). Nice and neat. No fuss, no muss. Ok, occasionally I’ve hit some themes where this plugin doesn’t work, but that also warns me that the theme may have problems or complications of its own.
CKEditor for WordPress – I had a situation where the theme was causing problems with displaying the default editor in WordPress post edit window. Gah! And it only started doing this after the site was up and running. Rather than search through the code of the theme and figure out what the hell was going on (and TRY and fix it, did I mention I’m not a developer?) I simply installed a new editor plugin. Problem solved. Ok, it was a crummy workaround hack, I’ll admit it, but I discovered this plugin! It actually gives you more options in the editor than the standard WordPress install so I’ve used it for its merits on other sites too. To be truthful, I don’t install this on every WordPress installation.
Better WP Security (now IThemes Security) or Wordfence – Pick one. Both are good, but by god, you need at least one of these running on your site. Don’t ask, just go do it and run through all their suggestions. Better WP Security is really comprehensive but a little heady to configure (you should take the time to learn it) and sometimes you may find it blocks essential functions in plugins and you don’t know why. In that case, use Wordfence as it is still a really good security WordPress plugin but doesn’t have the “lock down everything!” approach as Better WP Security.
AntiVirus – Might as well add in a virus scanner while you’re at it. Make it a free one. Bam, done, installed first thing and then ran automatically and manually after every theme or odd plugin install before activation.
WordPress Plugins For the Content Creators Workflow
Color My Posts – This is a nice little visual addition to the workflow. It colour codes the posts in the “All Posts” window to the stage of development it’s at. Sure you could sort it by the status, but this is just there running all the time, and I love a visual solution to a problem versus a solution that requires user actions. I’ll even forgive the non-Canadian spelling of colour in this plugin’s name as it is very helpful if you have many posts going on and being developed from multiple people and editors. Bonus feature? Select your own colours for the different stages. Awesome plugin to have in the multi-author environment. I use this one on sites that have a lot of posts and authors.
Approval Workflow – And while we have the author-editor-reader workflow in mind I present this little gem. While the standard publishing states are usually fine in WordPress sometimes it is limiting in its scope. Again, I use this one on sites that have a lot of posts and authors. Its own description on the WordPress repository describes this plugin best:
Approval Workflow is meant to create a workflow process in WordPress. This plugin adds a box to the post edit screen when a user does not have publish permissions for that post type. It also allows you to set a WordPress role as the approvers. Note: this role must have publish permissions. The approvers get notified by email when someone has submitted something to the workflow. This works on WordPress Multisite too.
WP Multi Post – Do you have a lot of simple posts to create? You know, basic ones, maybe just simple portfolio items? Say 500 new posts that aren’t in a spreadsheet anywhere that can’t be imported en mass? This plugin will help. It just trims down all the features of the editor window and allows you to create many new posts lightning fast. Skip all the “Add New” nonsense. One click, new post, stays in the same window. Write, edit, publish, onto the next one, all in the same window. No more going to the posts menu, than the add new, than the publish button, back to the posts menu, etc. Under the right circumstance, this is a great plugin to have in your toolkit.
Duplicate Post – This one had the developers scratching their heads as to when you’d use it which revealed they hadn’t built the content for large sites before (functions for a large site, yes, actually adding content, um… no). “Why would you need to clone a post?” Well, you might have a post for a complex catalogue item and have many products just like it will slightly differing specs. Or you might want to build a custom landing page for a Google Adwords campaign to do some A/B split testing. Two examples right there where this plugin will save you a lot of time. Could you pull this off in the cPanel database backend? Sure, but who wants to go there when you have this nice pretty WordPress interface to work in. Duplicate post and pages should be a core function! There, I’ve said it. Lately, there isn’t a site I’ve developed that doesn’t require this feature.
Search Regex – Ok, I’ll admit the guys at the meetup knew more about the potential and power of this plugin than I did, but they knew what Regex stood for (regular expressions, live and learn). I was looking for a way to replace words and phrases sitewide (consistent typos, product name changes, etc) and plugin site gives you the power to do just that. It can also change URLs (but I like Velvet Blues for that, read below). So apparently if you know what you’re doing, Regex it’s really powerful, and this tool gives you the interface you need.
Great Plugin Tools to Have
Velvet Blues Update URLs – I’ve only had to use this plugin once but man was I happy to find it. This plugin is built for a very specific use, fixing a site’s URLs when the domain name has changed so you won’t use it often but it will help big time when you do. Here’s the official description of what it does:
If you move your WordPress website to a new domain name, you will find that internal links to pages and references to images are not updated. Instead, these links and references will point to your old domain name. This plugin fixes that problem by helping you change old urls and links in your website.
Compress PNG for WP – Another of my sites has a ton of PNG’s on it. Tons. And my only beef with PNG’s is that they are typically larger files but that’s a result of the alpha transparency so there’s not much you can do about it, right? Wrong. WordPress already compresses your JPG’s for you automatically and this plugin automatically compresses PNG’s for you on upload, sometimes dramatically cutting file size. You have to sign up for the service that works in conjunction with this plugin, but it’s free unless you are uploading a heck of a load of PNG’s. SMUSHIT is also a great image space saving plugin.
Contact Form DB – I had a client want to save the contact form information to a database within WordPress for later retrieval. The gall of this client. Wanting to save info in case he lost the auto email the form was sent to him. Mitigated gall, that’s what it was. Well, this plugin works with a few forms creating plugins capturing the inputted information (Contact Form 7, Secure Contact Form, and Jetpack Contact Form). I think it just looks really professional and puts your service to the client over the top that other WordPress shops aren’t providing. And hey, you can’t beat the price. BUT as I was presenting this little plugin Ian Stewart pointed out that Jetpack does that out of the box with the completed forms showing up in the Feedback menu item when enabled. Burst balloon. Here I thought I’d found plugin gold when it was really plugin bronze. However, still handy for sites that don’t use Jetpack contact form but I’ll probably start using Jetpack more in my sites, and every site I’ve used CF7 I’ve installed this plugin so hopefully it’ll just become part of CF7 one day.
Update: I’ve used Jetpack contact forms but it’s pretty lackluster. There are tons of form plugins out now, so CF7 is just one option.
That’s the selection of plugins that I presented, hope you picked up a treat or two in the bunch. Any “go to” plugins in your tool box I should know about? Any gems I’ve missed? Let me know.