If you manage a lot of WordPress pages (in one capacity or another, I currently care for about 10 installations), you know the constant search for the best plugins to extend WordPress to fit your needs. The best WordPress plugins are defined by compatibility (are they up to date and maintained), functionality, stability and freedom (no restrictive pro versions, ransomware, etc). The following are a list of really great plugins that are more or less installed on every site I run with WordPress. If you have some to add, please do comment below and I will turn it into a 20 plugin list. I will go into the various caveats as well… some plugins got better over the years, others worse.
Contact Form 7
I am not sure if it is, but this one has been around for a long time and it could well be the market leader in contact form plugins for WordPress. In fact, there are plenty of other plugins out there that extend this form system. It works, it is dead simple, it is flexible and it is regularly maintained. It is also localized into tons of languages, and an ecosystem has sprung up, extending CF7 to accomplish other things, such as Newsletter signups, etc.
The main reason this is recommended is the ease of use. I was surprised how you can plaster your blog with ads in a mere matter of seconds. There is nothing to configure, you just go through your blog and tell the plugin where to put the ads, that is it. If more plugins were that simple…. on the other hand, I cannot even think of any kind of special setting I would require more. My main gripe with Adsense is that the ads aren’t relevant to the content, which sucks in a major way, but has nothing to do with the plugin itself.
Another candidate for quasi market leadership. The Yoast guys pretty much dominate the space, along with a handful of others, even though it is not so clear what they actually do in terms of the plugin. It gives you a plethora of SEO options, but it does not take much work away from you. Still, it is a comprehensive set of tools, and most other plugins need to be measured by how well this one works. I just wish it were a tad less bloated. Most useful is the page analyzer below your editor, that helps you improve your blog post for SEO as you write it. If that’s good or bad… is a matter of philosophy.
WP Total Cache
This is in fact an almost market leader. There are only two or three other capable caching plugins out there that are on that level of professionalism. True, if you are hosted at WPEngine or some other highly specialized host, you might not need this, or not be allowed to use it. For the rest of us, you need an easy caching solution, and this one brings pretty much all the functionality you need. You can go very deep in caching all kinds of things, even RSS feeds, you can minify JS and CSS, etc. Will not work on all hosts.
My personal favorite. If your server configuration allows it, this never tired plugin runs through your images and squeezes file size out of it. A must have if you want to decrease bandwidth and storage space. In fact I am waiting for a stand-alone version so I can use it to optimize the number of MediaWiki installations I have, with several gigabytes of images. Some images can be reduced by almost half, so this is really an amazing helper.
If you want to turn your installation into a social network (provided your theme supports it), BuddyPress will do the trick in a few minutes. It is very simple, feature rich and actively maintained. There are two big drawbacks though: I am not sure how well it behaves under load (I wonder if it really scales), and the main blocker is a well made theme that actually takes into account all the BuddyPress features. But do try it out, your community might love it. A great alternative to setting up all sorts of other tools around your blog.
Simple Share Buttons Adder
This is a difficult topic. For some time, this one got better and better, and I was inclined to call this one of the best and most worry free ones there is. But on the other hand, more and more browsers pack sharing functionality, so this is transitioning away from the webmaster’s responsibility. That is great, and it also means positive news in terms of page loading times and privacy. If however you want to add some buttons, this is still quite an attractive and simple solution.
I was gonna include either this one or Theme Test Drive. I decided Antispam Bee has a broader use case. It is a fairly efficient way to keep spam out, but only after it already reached your site. It is easy to configure and gives you light, moderate or heavy options to combat spam. It helps if you have a slight idea where spam is coming from, or which methods you can easily employ for compliance reasons.
I was looking for a decent Online Shop or catalog solution for quite a while. Woocommerce isn’t it, but aside from Magento and some other commercial solutions, this is by far the most dominant plugin out there. You can set up a shop in a few minutes, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, if there weren’t one major drawback. Even though Automattic bought them recently, their business model still seems to be based on taking simple settings and obvious features out just to sell them back to you as commercial plugins. That is a major annoyance and I hope they stop doing that. They will be able to move about a dozen features back into the core of the plugin and earn much love from the community for it. There has got to be a better way for them to earn money.
Creative Commons Configurator
Most bloggers aren’t that much aware of copyright and licensing issues, but it is time you read up on Creative Commons. It is a simple system, and with this plugin, you can easily designate your content licenses the way you require, per blog or per individual text.