American in Spain

Top Ten Wordpress Plugins I Can't Live Without

October 27, 2009

Recently I've been recommending some wordpress plugins to people, and I find myself repeating the same reasons and explanations, so I thought I would write them down here so I can just point people to one place. Ironically, I can totally live without all of the plugins that I took the time to write: Flickr Flash Badge Widget, Revver Wordpress Plugin, Widgetize Anything, and YT-Audio: Audio Hosting From YouTube.

I've ordered them from least important to most impressive and important, just like top ten lists are supposed to be.

10) WP Security Scan

[plugin dir link] This is just the equivalent of installing a virus checker on a Windows machine. It's just something you should do. It runs some checks on your Wordpress installation and suggests that you change some settings from the defaults, because leaving some values like your database name and administrator login name as the factory default makes your Wordpress installation that much more hackable. Another thing it does is hide the particular version you are using (also important information for hackers) if you're using one of the many Wordpress themes that display it in the footer.

9) WP Widget Cache

[plugin dir link] I can't remember how I found this one, but I love it. Most of the widgets, the individual sections on a Wordpress blog's sidebar that are present on every page, don't need to be executed for every single page hit. The Blogroll for instance, only needs to be run if a link has been added, edited, or removed in the database. Unless that has happened, there's no reason to be querying the database for that information every time a page that is visited on your blog. This plugin caches the output of your widgets to static html files and allows you to set triggers (i.e. new comment submitted, new post submitted, etc.) or time limits to cause them to be uncached and re-executed. It's a brilliant idea and works wonderfully.

8) All in One SEO Pack

[plugin dir link] I read an article recently that claimed that many Search Engine Optimization (making it easier for search engines to index your site and send you traffic) experts are snake oil salesmen. In reality, the article was really saying that most SEO work is simple stuff like putting proper meta tags, titling your pages, and formatting of your urls. While not difficult, that can be a lot of tedious work. And that is where this plugin comes in. You simply install it and boom, 90% of what is tedious about Search Engine Optimization is done for you.

7) Google XML Sitemaps

[plugin dir link] XML sitemaps (here's mine) are another piece of the important Search Engine Optimization puzzle. This plugin generates a file on your server that search engine web crawlers look at to determine when your content has been updated and should be re-indexed. Without this plugin your site will be indexed on whatever default monthly schedule that search engines spiders use, but once you have an XML sitemap, you can tell them to come more often for recent posts that are likely to change and be commented on, and less often for ancient posts that are probably static for a long time.

6) iMax Width

This particular plugin performs an impressive little trick and is very, very handy. It does two things, really. If you are naughty enough to embed an image in your post without specifying the width and height information in the img tag, when you save your post, this plugin will go fetch the image you are embedding and set the width and height for you. However! If the width of the image is wider than a threshold you have set (mine is 500 pixels, because of the current design of my blog), it will change the width and height tags on your img tag to proportionally (no distortion) size down the image so that it fits inside your blog design. This plugin might not be useful for everyone, but my blogging style is often very photo-heavy, and this plugin saves me several hours each week.

5) Subscribe to Comments

[plugin dir link] I only installed this plugin just recently, but I've been wanting this functionality for a long time, and I love how well it works. As the post author, I get an email any time someone comments on my blog. But sometimes it's nice for my readers to receive emails when comments are submitted to posts that they have commented on, so they know to come back and defend their point of view without having to remember to check back for new comments. That's what this plugin does. When you submit a comment, you may check a box that says, "Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail" and you will be notified via email of each subsequent comment on that post. And unsubscribing is easy, so you don't have to worry about spamming your readers. This plugin is a must for running a good reader-friendly blog.

4) Stats

[plugin dir link] I use Google Analytics, but there's something nice about how well the Stats analytics package nestles right into my blog admin. As a result, I check the stats provided by this plugin much more often than Google Analytics. To be honest, I even like the presentation of the data better than that of the Big G. If you want an easy way to know about the traffic to your website, mainly which pages are most popular, how many hits per day you're getting, and where traffic is coming from, this plugin is for you.

3) Get Recent Comments

[plugin dir link] Wordpress comes with a built-in "Recent Comments" widget, but it's not very customizable. I found and adore this plugin because it lets me format and filter the recent comments widget at the top right of my blog just the way I want it. Highly recommended.

2) WP Super Cache

[plugin dir link] This plugin is an absolute must if you expect any level of traffic to your blog. It caches entire pages and saves them to static html files on your web server for super fast page loading on your high traffic pages. Their motto is that it makes your blog "Digg-proof". While I have not been dugg since installing it, I have to say that I am very impressed with the performance improvement.

And the #1 plugin I can't live without is...

1) WP Captcha Free

[plugin dir link] When I found this plugin, as a professional web developer, I was seriously impressed by the ingenuity behind its method of avoiding automated comment spam. It works by sending a behind-the-scenes AJAX request to the server to request a special hash code (like an autogenerated password based on information about the requesting browser, time and date) which is then included when the comment is submitted. Comment submissions, like those generated by an automated spam bot, that do not have this secret hash code attached to them will be rejected. Since installing this plugin, my comment spam has plummeted, and I'm pretty sure that the two spam messages per month that I get are actually submitted by a person rather than an automated bot. The work that an automated spammer would have to do to get around this mechanism is tremendous, so as long as those of us using this plugin are in the minority, they won't do that extra work and we can live relatively free of comment spam and those horrible, horrible CAPTCHAs. I love this plugin!

Honorable Mentions

WP Ajax Edit Comments

[plugin dir link] This plugin is very handy for the admin for quick edits to comments, but it also allows commenters to correct mistakes that they find shortly after publishing their comment. I much prefer the submission-and-correction paradigm to the preview-and-submit paradigm. It feels cleaner.

[plugin dir link] This is by far the most customizable "related posts" plugin I've seen. It's a great way to direct interested new readers to your other content to hold their interest. Wonderful.


[plugin dir link] If you go out to my homepage, you'll see a nice page navigation user interface at the bottom of the page. In the business, we call this pagination. It's a nice way to let visitors quickly navigate through a long list of posts in a certain category or in your archives or whatever. It's one of those plugins that is so simple and useful that you wonder why isn't core Wordpress functionality.