Ric’s List of Incredibly Useful WordPress Plugins

This post is one of my favorite kinds of articles: That is, those that arise from real world experiences. A good friend of mine recently moved his personal site over to WordPress. At about the same time I had reason to build a couple of promotional microsites on WordPress. As a result of these two projects I had time to refresh my knowledge of WordPress plugins – and in the process I found some really useful items I’d like to share with you all.

In addition to must-have classics like Akismet or the All in One SEO Pack, I discovered a number of newer extensions that address common real world problems. I took the best of the bunch, added it into the list of plugins that make up our standard WordPress deployment, and put together this short article.

If you have incredibly useful favorites that are not on this list, please use the comment form at the bottom of this post to share your experiences.
Without further adieu, I present to you, my dear readers, a list of incredibly useful WordPress plugins:

Canning SPAM
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: WordPress API key

The Akismet plugin provides protection against comment spam. If your site has comments enabled, you should seriously consider adding Akismet. The plugin works by checking comments submitted to your site against the Akismet web service. The plugin then marks those comments that resemble known spam. The administrator can review the spam determination under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen.

reCAPTCHA for WordPress
user rating (at wordpress.org): n/a
requirements: reCAPTCHA Public & Private API keys

reCAPTCHA is an anti-spam technology from Carnegie Mellon. The system serves two purposes: Helping prevent spam comments on your site while at the same time using the CAPTCHA process to help validate and clean up scanned words from digitized print works (that’s the source of the reCAPTCHA text). This WordPress plugin is supplied by the people over at reCAPTCHA. It helps prevent comment spam and it also uses Mail Hide to prevent email spam.

Optimizing for Search
All in One SEO Pack
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

The plugin author claims this is the “#1 Most Downloaded WordPress plugin.” While that statement may or may not be correct, there is no doubt that this plugin is incredibly useful. The All in One SEO Pack includes a suite of features all designed to optimize your WordPress site for search engines. The basic version is free (ad supported), while the Pro version is commercial and removes the donation and ad sections.

Key features include:

Advanced Canonical URLs
Fine tune Page Navigational Links
Built-in API so other plugins/themes can access and extend functionality
SEO Integration for WP e-Commerce sites
Nonce Security
Automatically optimizes your titles for search engines
Generates META tags automatically
Avoids duplicate content
Google XML Sitemaps
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4.5 stars
requirements: none

This plugin, despite the name, generates an XML sitemap that can be indexed by a variety of search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com. XML sitemaps improve crawler efficiency and can increase the depth and accuracy of the indexing of your site. The plugin supports all kinds of WordPress generated pages as well as custom URLs and will notify all the major search engines every time you create a post, if you so desire.

Building better forms
Contact Form 7
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

Create simple or custom forms using the simple syntax of this plugin. Allows you to create and manage multiple forms and supports Ajax-powered submitting, CAPTCHA and Akismet. The Contact Form 7 syntax can even be used in text widgets.

Register Plus
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: WordPress API key

Incredibly useful plugin with an extensive set of options for improving your site’s user login and registration form. Want to get rid of that WordPress logo on the login page? No problem with this plugin. How about adding fields to user registration form? You can do that, too. Lots of choices here, including enhanced registration security and moderation.

Improving Usability & Utility
WP Search Extracts
user rating (at wordpress.org): 5 stars
requirements: none

Improve the usefulness of search results on your WordPress site with WP Search Extracts. This plugin adds a filter to process search results and display the content on either side of the result.

Subscribe to Comments
user rating (at wordpress.org): 3.75 stars
requirements: none

Subscribe to Comments enables commenters to sign up for e-mail notification of subsequent entries. The plugin includes a full-featured subscription manager that your commenters can use to unsubscribe to certain posts, block all notifications, or even change their notification e-mail address. In short, incredibly useful (assuming your site permits comments!).

WP Ajax Edit Comments
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

A fast, simple tool for administering comments. Enables the administrator to quickly edit or deletecomments without having to go to the WordPress dashboard. Also enables users to edit / manage their own comments and has a variety of configurable options. Note that the developers seem to be moving this plugin to a commercial footing and a recent notice says upgrades will no longer be free of charge.

user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

This plugin adds the ever-popular “Send to a Friend” functionality to your site (enabling users to quickly send a link to your article to someone else via email).

user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: WordPress API key

WP-PageNavi adds pagination controls to the pages of your site. Displays page count as well as links for Previous, Next and Last, to help users navigate through your pages. The plugin’s functionality is a step up from the WordPress default installation and can be configured (somewhat) to suit your site’s needs.

Tools for Admins
Broken Link Checker
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

This plugin will monitor your WordPress installation for broken links and will let you know if any are found. Key features include:

Monitors links in posts, pages, the blogroll, and custom fields.
Detects links that don’t work and missing images.
Notifies you on the Dashboard if any are found and allows you to edit / unlink without having to edit the post.
Detects redirected links.
Link checking intervals can be configured.
Theme Tester
user rating (at wordpress.org): 5 stars
requirements: none

This WordPress plugin allows the site administrator to change and test new WordPress themes without worrying about changing the theme visible to site visitors. Once activated a new page called “Theme Tester” is linked from the Design page where you can activate the test. While activated you, as an administrator, can change themes as many times as you want without affecting what themes the site visitors see.

WordPress Automatic upgrade
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

The secret to absolutely painless upgrades. The plugin backs up the site, downloads the new files, disables the plugins, installs the upgrade and then re- enables your plugins. It even makes a great cup of coffee. OK, that last part isn’t strictly true.

user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

WP-DB-Backup allows you to easily backup not only your core WordPress database tables but also any other tables in the same database. The plugin allows you to schedule the backups and determine where they are kept and in the process delivers incredibly useful peace of mind.

WP Super Cache
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

WP Super Cache speeds your site by generating static html files from your dynamic WordPress content items. After an html file is generated, your web server will serve that file instead of processing the heavier WordPress PHP scripts. Site performance may not be an issue for most sites, but if you have heavy traffic or experience traffic spikes, this plugin is incredibly useful.

Twitter Integration
Tweetmeme ReTweet Button
user rating (at wordpress.org): 4 stars
requirements: none

The Tweetmeme button provides the ReTweet functionality you see on a lot of articles online these days. The plugin of the same name for WordPress includes hashtag support extracted from your post tags and the ability to control the length of the tweets. It displays the count of tweets and let’s you change the retweet source displayed.

user rating (at wordpress.org): 5 stars
requirements: a Twitter username

I tried a lot of Twitter plugins recently and at the end of the day I chose Tweet Blender. The author claims that it is “better than Twitter’s own widgets” and I think he may very well be right. Tweet Blender is tag-aware and has support for multiple authors, lists, hashtags, and keywords. Not only can the plugin show tweets from just one user or a list of users, but also it can show tweets for multiple authors AND multiple lists AND multiple keywords AND multiple hashtags all blended together into a single stream.

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