If you run your website on WordPress, chances are you use at least a handful of plugins. That’s what’s so great about a CMS like WP: rather than some huge bloated system with every feature under the sun, the use of plugins lets you add just the functionality you need, without taxing your site’s resources more than necessary.
But you may be wondering which plugins are really ressential, and which aren’t. Part of that depends on what you want to do with your WP installation. Essential plugins for a personal blog are different than those for a corporate blog, just like must-have plugins for a podcaster are different than for someone using WordPress as a CMS.
Below are more than forty fantastic plugins. Most of them would be valuable on any WordPress site, though there are a few included that are more essential only for specific niche sites. In any case, check them out and decide for yourself if they’re essential or not.
One note: Akismet has been left off this list, despite the fact that it is almost certainly a must-have plugin for everyone. The main reason for this is that it’s included with a standard WordPress installation, so including it felt a little like cheating. But just because it’s not here doesn’t mean it isn’t essential.
Jetpack, from Akismet, offers up a number of features that were previously only available to WordPress.com users. This includes WordPress.com stats, sharing tools, spelling and grammar checker, comment features, subscriptions, a carousel, enhanced distribution, custom CSS, WP.me shortlinks, shortcode embeds, and much more. Jetpack is free, though there are also premium features available (mainly VaultPress for added security).
Jetpack Lite is an unofficial fork of the Jetpack plugin with limited functionality. It was created to be less resource-intensive than the official Jetpack plugin that only includes Stats and WP.me shortlinks. All other modules normally included with Jetpack are absent here, making it a much leaner plugin if those are the only two functions you want.
Sociable is a social sharing plugin that makes it easy to share your content on a ton of different social media sites. This includes the usual suspects: Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Google+, and Delicious, as well as Posterous, LinkedIn, Digg, MySpace, Reddit, HackerNews, Tumblr, and more. It’s been downloaded more than 1.7 million times, making it one of the most popular social sharing plugins out there.
Google Analytics for WordPress
Google Analytics for WordPress, from Yoast, makes it easy to integrate Google Analytics into your WP site. It uses the newer asynchronous tracking for faster page loads, and support for custom variables. Custom variables include tracking of logged-in users, page views per author, views per category (if your posts are only in one category), publication year (so you can see if your older posts are still being viewed), and post type, among others. It will even fully integrate with WP E-Commerce and Shopp for easier tracking of your sales.
Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps has been around for awhile, and it’s a great plugin for generating a sitemap for use with Google Webmaster Tools, and to make it easier for other search engines to index your site. It supports all kinds of WP generated pages, custom URLs, and more. And it notifies all the major search engines when you create new content, helping your site be more thoroughly indexed. There’s a new beta version that supports dynamic sitemap generation, full support for network activation, and more.
If you need to add polls to your site, WP-Polls is a great solution. Adding new polls is simple, with plenty of settings to choose from. Just add a question and possible answers, decide whether users should be able to select more than one answer, and the start and end date of your poll, and you’re done. You can also manage the look and feel of your polls easily, without diving into your site’s CSS.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is a complete WP performance framework used by tens of thousands of sites, including a lot of very high-traffic blogs, and recommended by a number of web hosts. It caches every aspect of your site, which reduces download times. When fully configured, it can improve your site’s performance more than ten-fold, and can help sustain high traffic loads on your site. Site performance even has an impact on Google search rankings.
Quick Cache (Speed Without Compromise)
Quick Cache (Speed Without Compromise) builds a cache of every post, page, category, and link on your site, and uses advanced techniques to decide whether to serve the cached version of your files. The best part is that the engine that makes these decisions can be completely controlled by you, via a back-end control panel. By default, Quick Cache excludes admin pages, login pages, and POST/PUT/GET requests, as well as certain other things (and you can define your own).
WordPress SEO by Yoast
WordPress SEO by Yoast is a complete SEO plugin from Yoast. It helps you optimize your page content, image titles, meta descriptions (and more) to XML sitemaps, along with tons of other optimization options. It also includes Robots Meta configuration, breadcrumbs, permalink cleanup, canonical link element support, and optimized post titles. There are even RSS enhancements added in.
All in One SEO Pack
All in One SEO Pack optimizes your site for search engines, and includes Google Analytics support, support for custom post types, integration for WP E-Commerce, support for CMS-style installations, automatically generated Meta tags, and support for canonical links. It will work right out of the box, or advanced users can fine-tune the functionality. It’s also backwards-compatible with a lot of other plugins, including Ultimate Tag Warrior and Auto Meta.
SEO Ultimate includes 20 modules and hundreds of features for free. It gives you control over noindex, meta tags, slugs, Open Graph, title tags, 404 errors, autolinks, and more. It includes the “Deeplink Juggernaut”, which searches your content for specific anchor text and automatically links them to a destination you choose (there are options to limit the number of autolinks and more). It also allows you to customize footer links on a page-by-page or site-wide basis, and more.
WordPress Backup to Dropbox
Backing up your site’s content is vital, and offsite backups are a good idea. But you probably don’t want to take the time to download a backup and then re-upload it to a cloud storage service. WordPress Backup to Dropbox takes care of that step for you. Instead of downloading a backup, it’ll just save it to your Dropbox account. It uses OAuth to keep your Dropbox account details safe, has a sleek and simple UI, customizable backup settings, and it’s cross-browser compatible.
Better WP Security
Securing your WP site is vital, regardless of what kind of content you provide. Better WP Security combines a number of WP security features and techniques and combines them in an easy-to-use plugin. It works by obscuring sensitive information, blocking unauthorized users, increasing security of passwords, and detecting bots and attempts at finding vulnerabilities. It also makes regular backups of your site so you can get back online quickly should an attack ever occur.
WordPress automatically saves a lot of versions (revisions) of your content, which makes it easy to retrieve a specific revision if necessary, but can also take up a lot of space and system resources. Revision Control makes it easier to control the revisions WordPress automatically saves for each post or page. Settings can be changed globally or on a per-post/per-page basis. Specific revisions can even be deleted via the Revisions post metabox.
Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 lets you manage multiple contact forms from a single dashboard, each with customizable form and mail contents. It supports Ajax-powered form submissions, CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering, and more. Creating forms is done with simple markup, and the plugin is fully documented. Translations for a number of languages are available.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin produces a list of posts or pages related to the current entry. It’s a great way to keep readers on your site for longer. It includes a templating system so you can control the way related posts are displayed, as well as support for specifying whether related content should include pages, posts, or custom post types.
nrelate Related Content
nrelate Related Content lets you not only display related content from your own site, but also related content from sites in your blogroll. It also allows you to integrate ads into your related posts section, which is a great way to increase revenue.
Broken Link Checker
Broken links are frustrating for visitors and can damage your ranking in search engines. Broken Link Checker makes it easy to get rid of broken links. It monitors the links in your posts, pages, comments, blogroll, and, optionally, custom fields, detects links that don’t work as well as missing images and redirects, and then notifies you by email or via the Dashboard. You can even set broken links to display differently in your posts, and optionally prevent search engines from following broken links.
Want to thank your visitors for reading a post? Or maybe add a reminder about something? Post Ender makes it easy to do just that. Add text at the end of every post, or via shortcode on selected posts.
Widget Context is an easy-to-use plugin for specifying widget visibility settings. That means you can have certain widgets only show up (or be hidden) on specific pages and post types, or by URL, rather than globally across your site. It even lets you specify that it show up or not show up on pages or posts with a certain word count!
Antispam Bee is an independent, anonymous anti-spam solution that detects both comment and trackback spam. It includes a spam counter on your dashboard, as well as notifications. No data is saved on remote servers, and it even cleans up after itself if you ever decide to remove it. You can set comments to only be allowed in a specific language, as well as specify whether spam comments should be deleted immediately or marked for review.
If you write a lot of content with parts that are repetitive, whether it’s a phrase, a paragraph, or even an entire section, then Text Replace is going to save you tons of time. You can even tell it to replace text with a link. It can also be used for frequently-changed text, since the shortcode is stored in your database rather than the expanded text, which is generated on-the-fly when the page loads.
Duplicate Post makes it easy to clone a page or post into a new draft that you can then edit. You can create new, cloned posts either from the post list or the post edit page. There’s even a template tag you can use for cloning a post from the front-end of your site. There’s an options panel for specifying exactly how the plugin behaves, too.
Categories to Tags Converter
So maybe you started out with a hundred categories on your blog, which worked fine with your old design. But now you want to streamline things, and convert some or all of those categories to tags. Categories to Tags Converter makes it easy to do just that, without a whole lot of manual work on your posts.
Editorial Calendar Plugin
Managing your content and getting a quick look at when posts are scheduled (or rescheduling them) can be a pain in WordPress. The Editorial Calendar Plugin makes it easy to see your posts in a calendar view, which makes checking out your schedule a lot easier. At a glance, you’ll see exactly which days need posts scheduled, or if certain days have more than one post scheduled. And rescheduling posts can be done by dragging and dropping them to a new date.
Ever wanted a writer to make changes to a post, but wish you could review them before they went live? With the WP core functions, your only option is to have the writer send you revisions to review, and then upload them yourself. Revisionary makes it possible to save revisions to an already-published post so that they can be reviewed and then published later.
Edit Flow revolutionizes the way multi-author blogs are managed. It adds a number of features to your standard WP installation that make it significantly easier to handle content coming from multiple authors that need to be reviewed and edited by others. Editors can add comments directly to posts (rather than having to send them via email), custom post statuses can be added (so you’re no longer just limited to draft, scheduled, pending review, or published), and much more.
ManageWP streamlines managing multiple blogs by giving you one single, centralized dashboard from which you can access each blog without having a separate login. It has built-in tools for managing and updating plugins and themes, as well as upgrading to the latest version of WP on each site globally. It’s free for personal and non-profit blogs.
WP Google Fonts
WP Google Fonts lets you easily add fonts from the Google Web Fonts service to your blog. You can add them to specific CSS elements without having to actually dive into your theme’s CSS files. The plugin adds the necessary code to your themes, giving you access to hundreds of awesome free fonts.
If you add code to your posts, then you need SyntaxHighlighter Evolved. It’s the same syntax highlighter used on WordPress.com. There’s no need to escape the code or anything, and supports a variety of languages.
Notification bars at the top of a site are a great way to call attention to important information. Hello Bar, specifically designed for developers, is a great way to add that kind of functionality to your WP site. You can give it a custom look and feel, conduct A/B tests to see which look and style works best on your site, integrate your Twitter or RSS feeds, and view statistics on click-throughs and more!
White Label CMS
If you use WordPress for client websites and you’d rather not have them know that’s what you’re using, or even if you just want to reinforce your own brand, White Label CMS might be just the right solution. It lets you add your logo to the WP Dashboard, configure more than one welcome dashboard, add custom CSS to the login page, and more.
If you’re interested in creating an ebook from your blog’s content, Anthologize makes it a lot easier to do so! Easily pull your content, drag and drop it into the organization and layout you want, and the publish it in print and digital formats.
Tweet Old Post
If you have a lot of older but still-useful content on your blog, Tweet Old Post can be a great way to get some more attention for it. It will automatically tweet about your older posts, driving more traffic from Twitter. It includes post priority, sleep time, the ability to add extra text based on category, and even support for posting to Facebook and Google+.
Blubrry PowerPress Podcasting
Blubrry PowerPress Podcasting is a great option for podcasting via WordPress. It includes full support for iTunes, web audio/media plays, and more. It makes it easy to switch from PodPress, too (just enable PowerPress and then disable PodPress and you’re done). It has support for HTML5 video, integrated HTML5 and Flash video players, migration tools, and support for more than one podcast channel.
WP Greet Box
Showing a greeting message to visitors from specific sources is a great way to improve user experience. WP Greet Box makes it easy to show different greeting messages to visitors from different sources, dependent upon their referral URL. For example, if a visitor comes from Twitter, they might get a reminder to retweet your post if they like it. It includes icons for a variety of referrers, as well as the ability to insert the greeting at the top or bottom of a post, among other features.
The Events Calendar
The Events Calendar plugin is a full event management system that includes an easy-to-use event interface, an upcoming events widget, extensive template tags for customization, a calendar month view, and much more. It works with Twenty Eleven and Twenty Ten themes (both month and list views), and includes Google Maps integration.
WPInvoice lets you send invoices from directly within WP. Just create the invoice from your WP admin area, email it with a description and a unique link is sent to your client. They they follow the link to see their unique invoice and can then pay by PayPal or credit card. It’s a great solution for those who spend a lot of time in WP anyway.
If you want to set up a social networking site, BuddyPress is a great place to start! BuddyPress is more than just a plugin, and has a number of features you can use alone or together. It can be used for everything from an internal communications tool for your company to a niche social network.
Benchmark Email Lite
Want to build your email list and better engage your readers? Benchmark Email Lite makes that easy. It will build an email list right from within WP, and then send your subscribers email versions of your posts and pages. You get subscriber stats, including who opens or clicks on links, as well as those who unsubscribe.
Don’t want to take the time to create a custom mobile version for your site? WPtouch creates a simple, elegant, application-like mobile theme for your website. It works on iOS, Android, and other mobile devices, and doesn’t require you to write any code! You can customize it entirely through the admin panel, and includes the ability for visitors to view the full site instead.
If you’re a vlogger or otherwise work with video on your blog, you should check out TubePress. It lets you populate your video galleries from one of nineteen different sources, including favorites of a YouTube user, a YouTube playlist, most-discussed YouTube videos, Videos “liked” by a Vimeo user, and many more. There are multiple ways to display videos, too.
Want your visitors to be able to “tip” you for the great content you provide to them? Or want to otherwise let your readers easily send you money via PayPal? The Tip Jar plugin makes it easy to add a PayPal widget to your site. Just give the widget a display title and description, and then use any PayPal button (including custom ones in your PayPal account button library) to make it easy for your visitors to send you a payment.
Did we miss any plugins you consider essential? Which plugins could you not live without? Let us know in the comments.