WordPress plugins are like Firefox extensions: there are thousands—literally!—and there is one for everything. If you can think of a way to modify or extend Firefox or WordPress, most likely someone else has already thought about it and made it into an extension or a plugin.
This is great, but it can also be confusing, especially when you start: “I found 5 plugins for this or that. Good! Which one to use now?” Or: “What plugins to install to make my site better for me and my visitors?” This list of plugins is meant to answer questions like these, questions that beginners in WordPress usually have.
I put together a selection of plugins that improve and extend WordPress in basic ways and that I think every WordPress user should know about. That is, not “the best plugins” (although all are among the best) or “must-have plugins” (no plugin is a “must-have” in general), but plugins I consider just that: Basic!
Since a selection like this is bound to be subjective to a point, I also included the ratings from WordPress.org for a quick objectivity check.
Enjoy, and ask away if you have questions!
- All plugins are plug-and-play; no editing of templates needed
- All are free to use and licenced under the GNU GPL
- All are installed with a few clicks via the WordPress Dashboard (Plugins › Add new › Search for the plugin name and click Install)
- All work well with WordPress 2.7 and 2.8.
- Ratings from WordPress.org are as of 7 April 2009
QUICK LINKS to the homepages of all plugins:
- Bad Behavior
- Search Everything
- Shutter Reloaded (or WP-Slimbox2 or Lightbox 2)
- Similar Posts (or YARPP)
- Subscribe to Comments
- WordPress Database Backup
- XML Sitemap Generator
- Contact Form (Easy Contact or Contact Form 7)
- Mobile WordPress (MobilePress or WordPress Mobile Edition or Wordpress PDA & iPhone or WPtouch)
Bad Behavior is an antispam solution that takes a different approach. Instead of looking at the message, it examines the messenger and the delivery method: If they are not legitimate, they are simply blocked, before they even get to submit a message. Since most—almost all—comment spam is delivered by automated bots, this is a clever approach, and it seems to be effective too. Bad Behavior virtually eliminates comment spam. Optionally, it can also consult the blacklists of harversters and comment spammers maintained by the Project Honey Pot, and with this option it is even more effective.
One type of spam that Bad Behavior is not designed to catch is manual spam: spam messages submitted by hand by humans. For this reason, it is often used as a first line of defense in front of a plugin like Akismet. But if you don’t receive a lot of manual spam, you may be fine with Bad Behavior alone.
- Spam Prevention Strategy. The developer of Bad Behavior explains how to use the plugin as a part of an antispam strategy.
- Project Honey Pot. To activate the http Black List in Bad Behavior, you need to register to Project Honey Pot (it’s free) and get an http:BL Access Key (it’s free).
All in all, WordPress is well optimized for search engines. It does not need fixing and there are only a few things you can do here and here, like generating meta descriptions from post and page excerpts, or adding
noindex tags to Archives, Categories etc.
HeadSpace2 is perfect for this: By default it does nothing, while, at the same time, it is powerful and versatile, more than any other plugin for WordPress SEO. So, you can use it to apply as few or as many optimizations as you want.
It also offers an array of extra features not directly related to SEO but handy nevertheless, like an option to activate themes or plugins per page, or an option to display a different number of articles on the home page and on archive pages.
The built-in search mechanism of WordPress is limited: it only looks in the content of posts. Search Everything extends the WordPress search to pages, comments, excerpts, tags and more, and it’s very easy to configure. To use it in its default configuration, you just activate it. You can modify its default settings by ticking or unticking a few check boxes.
- WP-Slimbox2 by Greg Yingling, rated 89/100 by 9 people, brings Slimbox2 to WordPress and uses the jQuery framework. It is a relatively new plugin at this writing (April 2009) and it seems to work very well. (It is the one currently used in op111.net.)
- Lightbox 2 by Rupert Morris, rated 79/100 by 93 people, has a feature that I miss in both Shutter Reloaded and WP-Slimbox2: It takes the image titles and uses them as captions on the images. On the downside, it requires the sizeable Prototype framework.
This may be overstretching the concept of “basic plugins”, but it is a navigational aid I enjoy in websites, and I know other people do too: A list of pages similar or related to the page I am at.
Similar Posts calculates similarity on the basis of title, content and tags, and it can display a list of similar posts/pages under the content, on the sidebar, and in RSS feeds. Also, as can be seen on the two screenshots above, it is very customizable.
NOTE. Similar Posts has not been updated yet for WordPress 2.7 and 2.8, but it works well with both.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin by mitcho (Michael 芳貴 Erlewine), rated 77/100 by 60 people, is very much like Similar Posts in functionality and options. Also, its current version (v2) requires more resources than Similar Options. The coming version 3 (currently in beta) is a major rewrite that adds a caching system to deal with this and improve performance.
Subscribe to Comments
If you accept comments in your WordPress site, you must install Subcribe to Comments, at least as a courtesy to your commenters. It adds a check box that commenters can tick to get e-mail notifications of new comments.
The same can also be achieved by subscribing to the post feed. However:
- Not everyone uses feeds; and
- The convenience of Subscribe to Comments is appreciated even by those who do
If you allow comments in your site, install Subscribe to Comments!
WordPress Database Backup
Good webhosts backup automatically the sites they host. Even so, having copies of your database sent to your inbox at regular intervals is an extra layer of protection and a nice convenience. WP DB Backup does this without hassle. You set it and then forget about it.
NOTE. WP DB Backup only makes copies of the database: posts, pages, comments, metadata and also settings of themes, plugins and of WordPress itself. It does not back up the files (pictures, videos etc.) that you upload to your posts (and which are located in wp-content/uploads).
XML Sitemap Generator
An XML sitemap is a file in the home directory of a website, e.g.: http://example.com/sitemap.xml, that tells search engines where to find the pages that are available to crawl. It is an important part of any modern website that wants to be visible by search engines, but making and maintaining one is not simple. XML Sitemap Generator does this automatically. It makes an XML sitemap, it updates it every time a new post or page is added and it also notifies a few major search engines about the change.
NOTE. XML sitemaps and sitemap pages, like this, are different things. The former are unstyled XML documents meant for machines. The latter provide an index, an overview of the site’s content, for human visitors.
WordPress sites have comments, but often people need to contact you in private, by e-mail. The most convenient means you can offer for this is a contact form. There are many good contact forms for WordPress, but none I’m perfectly happy with. Here are the two I like most:
- Easy Contact by Scott Wallick, rated 98/100 by 18 people, is near perfect: It’s easy to set up and has all the basics plus two optional features that I consider essential in a contact form: a quiz (for antispam protection) and a check box that senders can tick to receive a carbon copy of their messages. — It also does something bad: By design, upon deactivation it deletes automatically all its settings from the database.
- Contact Form 7 by Takayuki Miyoshi, rated 82/100 by 199 people, is more advanced, supports more fields and also multiple instances, but it does not offer a CC option.
op111.net uses Easy Contact: op111.net/contact — You are welcome to try it if you want; just remember to put [TEST] somewhere in the subject.
As more and more people browse the web through mobile devices, it is becoming essential for websites to look good in mobile browsers. One way to do this in WordPress is a plugin that, when it detects a mobile browser, activates a theme tailored for mobile devices. Here are four that I’m looking at:
- MobilePress by Younique (rated 79/100 by 41 people).
- WordPress Mobile Edition by Crowd Favorite (rated 66/100 by 22 people).
- Wordpress PDA & iPhone by Imthiaz Rafiq (rated 75/100 by 34 people).
- WPtouch by BraveNewCode (rated 80/100 by 39 people).