How to select the best WordPress plugins?
“Our company just set up a WordPress-based website. We heard great things about the WordPress platform but it doesn’t quite do what we need right “out of the box” though. We went to the WordPress plugin repository to find some good plugins to enhance our website but there are almost 20,000 plugins to choose from! We need help picking out the right ones. We hear that installing too many plugins can clog your websites’ arteries”
Cyri: Every once in a while a tech medication comes out that really transforms the landscape. WordPress definitely fits into this category. WordPress began as a blogging tool but has since evolved into a popular content management system that can be used to develop all kinds of websites. According to Pingdom (www.pingdom.com), almost half of the top 100 websites are using WordPress. Automattic, the company behind the hosted version of WordPress.com (wordpress.com), reports there are 70 million websites using WordPress – double that from only a year ago. Usage stats by W3Techs (www.w3techs.com) indicate that 54% of all websites whose content management system can be identified are using WordPress representing 16% of all websites.
Ivan: There are two main options for using WordPress, sign-up for a free site on WordPress.com (www.wordpress.com) or download the latest, open source and free WordPress software (www.wordpress.org) and install on your own web host. To get the most customization, this latter self-hosted approach is best.
Cyri: You can customize your WordPress site by changing themes that impact the design of your site and by installing plugins – programs that allow custom functionality without impacting the core WordPress code. The amazing thing about WordPress is that almost no two installs are the same – almost everyone has a unique mixture of installed plugins. Here are our top ten recommendations – they may not be the right medication for all symptoms, but they really have helped a lot of our patients.
Top 10 recommendations:
- WP Super Cache (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-super-cache/) – As you start adding more plugins and content on your website and as you get more visitors you will usually notice a drop in performance. This plugin generates “static” HTML files from your dynamic (database driven) WordPress site and serves these faster-to-load files to visitors.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/jetpack/) – this one is actually a bundle of features that in the past you would have to get as individual plugins. It “supercharges your self-hosted” WordPress site to give you the “awesome cloud power of WordPress.com”. Translation: you can use on your self-hosted WordPress site, popular WordPress.com features like WordPress.com Stats, WP.me URL shortener, Gravatar, tweet display, embed YouTube and other videos, email subscriptions, After the Deadline grammar and spell check.
- All in One SEO Pack (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/) – With more than ten million downloads, this is one of the top ten most download WordPress plugins – it helps you automatically optimize your WordPress site for search engines.
- BuddyPress (buddypress.org/) – Want to create your own “Facebook” for your organization? This sophisticated plugin features blogs, extended profiles, discussion forums, private messaging, friend connections and activity streams. You can even add in more than 400 BuddyPress plugins to the main framework extending things even further (buddypress.org/extend/plugins/). You can see this in action at eraccommons.ca/, a site K-12 teachers across British Columbia use to connect and collaborate.
- GD Star Ratings (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gd-star-rating/) – this is great for websites where you want to rate postings or other content. This one was recently used for a provincial K-12 website reviewing and rating mobile apps for education (eraccommons.ca/mobileapps/). The plugin is free although support costs $169 for the base license and $109 per year annual fee.
- Akismet (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/akismet/) – This plugin helps you fight spam comments so you don’t spend all your time deleting comments that tell you “great blog post” with a link back to “buymyjunk.com”. Akismet is free for personal use, $5 for single, non-personal sites. Enterprise licenses can get pricey for sites with a lot of traffic.
- WP-Touch (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wptouch/) – This is the most popular mobile plugin for WordPress. It improves the browsing of your site for mobile users using devices like iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, and Blackberry. It’s developed by local WordPress gurus, Dale Mugford and Duane Storey of Brave New Code (bravenewcode.com/). It has a free, light version. Pro versions range from $49 to $199.
- Gravity Forms (www.gravityforms.com) – This is an amazing plugin that simplifies the creation of all types of Web forms, from simple contact forms to advanced surveys, registration and even payment forms. Gravity forms ranges from $39 per year for Personal edition and $99 US for Business. One year of updates and support is included.
- WP-Manage (www.managewp.com) – this last one is great for organizations that have multiple WordPress websites. It’s really the “Cadillac” for managing multiple WordPress sites – it can save you a lot of time automating repeated tasks like keeping your plugins up-to-date on multiple sites. Manage WP ranges from $6.30 per month to manage 10 websites all the way up to $297 per month to manage up to 250 websites.
Note: All prices listed are in $US, the typical currency listed for WordPress plugins. You can see almost 20,000 free plugins on the WordPress Plugin Repository (wordpress.org/extend/plugins/)
Future Management of Condition
Cyri: Make sure you keep your plugins updated. Also, don’t go “plugin-in crazy” and try to install every “cool” plugin you find. Before you know it you will have a slow site or worse, a “white-screen of death” broken website (when plugins “conflict”).
Ivan: Another important consideration is support. Plugins in the WordPress plugin repository have online forum support to varying degrees. Popular plugins often have dedicated support forums on the plugin authors’ websites.
Cyri: Don’t forget the local WordPress Meetup Group (www.meetup.com/Vancouver-WordPress-Meetup-Group) led by local WordPress gurus and enthusiasts Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Vanessa Chu and Gwyn Pritchett. This group offers high quality, usually free, sessions on all kinds of WordPress topics.
Ivan: Also, make sure you only use “reputable” plugins. You want a plugin that you know is written by an excellent developer and that will be maintained over time.
Cyri: Another way to customize your WordPress site is through themes but that will be covered in a future column! There are also other content management systems like Drupal (drupal.org/) and Joomla (www.joomla.org/) that offer similar functionality to WordPress.
Ivan: The pricing of our recommended WordPress medication is affordable, especially when compared to the cost of developing your own WordPress custom plugins. The first five on our “top 10” list are completely free. The next five are fee-based.
Precautions / Warnings
Cyri: Watch out! The WordPress “5-minute install” can soon become a “5-month” install if you try to add too much customization. Sometimes the plugins don’t “play well” with each other and can slow down your website’s performance. Quality is better than quantity when it comes to getting the right plugin medication!
Cyri & Ivan’s Medication Rating:
Cyri Jones teaches at BCIT and Capilano University and is the founder of ZENPortfolios.ca. He blogs at 24posts.com. Ivan Surjanovic is a marketing faculty at Capilano University and CEO of iPower Lab. He blogs at whereispuck.com, www.twitter.com/whereispuck, and at bizpharmacy.com.