There are ten plugins that I put on all the WordPress sites I build. Not only do they speed up development, but they also enrich my clients’ experience.
Advanced Custom Fields (ACF)
From a development standpoint, this WordPress plugin is a MUST HAVE. It makes it easy to create custom fields within posts, pages, or custom post types.
Sure, you can enter values into custom fields or program post meta data. However, this plugin makes customization much, much easier. Plus, there are several different field options (if you have a PRO): repeater field, photo gallery, options panel, flexible content.
NOTE:A developer license for Advanced Custom Fields is $100 AUD (~$74 USD). It’s a one time fee for lifetime access and unlimited sites. Which, honestly, is a steal.
Of course, you can always go with the free version. It just doesn’t have all the features.
I can’t tell you how many clients have told me how intuitive I’ve made the backend, simply because I use this plugin.
This plugin allows you to create all kinds of forms for your site. You could argue that Contact 7 accomplishes the same purpose, however Gravity Forms is much more extendable.
- You can create forms with multiple pages.
- By default, all submissions are also saved within the backend and can be exported as a CSV file.
- You can write in form logic (if there user answers this way, display these questions).
- I can write conditions to determine who receives email notifications, based on the type of content entered.
- With the Developer edition, you can connect your forms to a variety of services, including MailChimp so that users are automatically added to a mailing list.
- With the Developer Edition, you can also connect your PayPal or Stripe account to accept payment and / or donations.
The price tag on Gravity Forms is a little steeper than ACF, but still worth every cent. I just build these into my business costs each year:
- $39 – Personal license (1 Site)
- $99 – Business (3 Sites)
- $199 – Developer (Unlimited Sites), advanced form add ons
This is a FREE plugin that has practically become the standard for Search Engine Optimization within WordPress. As you enter content, it will make recommendations on how to optimize your post for Google. People pay big money for SEO consultants, when this plugin tells you practically everything you need to know.
WP DB Migrate Pro
Anytime I’m working on a site, I want to streamline my workflow. Migrating a site by hand is multi step process:
- Copy the database
- Change the Site URL and the Homepage URL
- Replace the dev URLs with the production URLs
- Update the permalinks
Once this plugin is set up, it reduces that process to 1 step:
- Click the button.
Seriously. That’s it.
It costs a little bit of cash, but well worth the cost:
- $90 – Personal (12 Installs)
- $199 – Developer (100 Installs)
- $550 – Studio (500 Installs)
- $1,000 – Agency (unlimited installs)
NOTE:If you’re concerned about site speed and conscientious about the number of plugins you install, once you’re done developing a site, this plugin can be disabled.
My Backup Buddy
This plugin is peace of mind. It does exactly as the name suggests = Backs up WordPress.
When you’re backing up your site, there are 2 things to consider: backing up the database and backing up your files. This plugin handles both.
One of the nice things about this plugin is it will tell you on the dashboard how many edits have been made to the site since you last updated.
This is not the only option out there. Backup WordPress and VaultPress both offer similar services. The important thing, here, is that you are actually backing up your site. You’ll sleep better at night, especially, if you’re managing someone else’s site!
I’d also encourage you to backup your site to another server. If you’re storing backups on the same server as your site and it gets hacked, there’s a good chance your backups will get deleted or corrupted in the process! Then, you really are in trouble.
Intuitive Custom Post Order
Almost every time I create a custom post type for a client, they’ll need the ability to customize the order that the content appears in (team member listings, FAQs, slider images, portfolio pieces, you get the idea). This plugin allows them to go to the post listing and drag and drop posts into the order that they want. It lives up to the name = intuitive.
I wrote a post about how I create screencasts for all my clients, training them on how to use WordPress. This plugin creates a panel on the backend, where I can easily post all the screencasts I create. It’s nice because it places everything in one central location.
User Admin Simplifier
Sometimes, I want to limit what the client has access to, making it as easy as possible for them to update their site. This plugin allows me to quickly and easily control menus and navigation panels they have access to within the WordPress backend. I can even make modifications on a per user basis.
I’ve been increasing my WordPress security, recently, and this plugin has proved invaluable in locking everything down. You can pay for extended services, but so far, I’ve been able to get away with the free plan.
NOTE:I mentioned My Backup Buddy earlier, this plugin is made by the same company.
I mentioned security above, this is another plugin along those same lines. In fact, you have to be a little careful if you’re running the two simultaneously, that they don’t interfere with each other — or do double duty.
Sometimes, hackers will hide unnecessary files within your WordPress core files. One way to circumvent that is to scan your files, comparing them to the files within the official WordPress install. If something is different, it will flag that file, notifying you.
I’ve been able to clean up several sites, with this plugin.
This plugin has a free version and a paid version. So far, I’ve been able to get away with the free version.
There’s a detailed article over on CSS-Tricks explaining how to get set everything up.
Once you get to the point where you’re managing several WordPress sites at once for all your clients, it can turn into a big job.
- Making sure they’re up and running all the time.
- Ensuring backups are running
- Keeping your plugin files up to date
- Keeping your theme files up to date
- Keeping WordPress core up to date
- minimal styling on my part
- handles spam
- provides an easy way for users to login and comment.
- From the speaker page, I needed to list all the breakouts for that particular speaker.
- Then, on the breakout page, I needed to be able to list all the speakers for that breakout, as well as any other breakouts, that speaker was leading.
- A course can have multiple lessons.
- I needed to be able to control the order manually.
- On the lesson page, I needed to be able to list all the lessons within that course (siblings).
- On the course page, I needed to list all the lessons associated. (children)
- Search Highlighting
- Search Every Page
- Search Every Tag
- Search Custom Taxonomies ( new )
- Search Every Category
- Search non-password protected pages only
- Search Every Comment
- Search only approved comments
- Search Every Draft
- Search Every Excerpt
- Search Every Attachment (post type, not the content itself – check FAQ)
- Search Every Custom Field (metadata)
- Exclude Posts from search
- Exclude Categories from search
Manage WP provides a dashboard that allows you to do all those in one central location. It has turned an all day job of updating WordPress sites into a single click of the button.
To connect the service to your site, you simply install (and activate) this plugin.
This is paid service, minimal cost for the service it provides, and very effective.
W3 Total Cache
Caching can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s terrible during site production. You’re trying to make changes to the site and old files are hanging on, preventing you from seeing any new changes. But, it’s a beautiful thing when you’re trying to address site performance and make things load as fast and efficiently as possible.
The following plugins are not on every single site that I build. But, they are plugins that I turn to frequently:
I’ve been using CoSchedule to handle my editorial calendar and schedule social media posts for the content that I write. It is a paid service, but I love that it integrates with WordPress, providing information directly within my posts and a quick calendar view accessible from the sidebar.
Disqus (pronounced “Discuss”) is an alternative to WordPress’s commenting system. Things I like:
When you’re trying to manage relationships within WordPress, Posts 2 Posts is the place to go! A couple of examples of where I’ve used this plugin:
on a conference website
We needed to list speakers and breakouts. You could have multiple speakers per breakout and multiple breakouts for a speaker.
on this site
Instead of relying on a plugin to handle all the content relationships for the lessons and courses, I programmed it by hand. Dumb, maybe. But as a result, I have complete control and I know how everything is working in the backend. #win. Requirements:
This plugin handled both scenarios and all those requirements flawlessly.
The name gives this one away. This plugin forces the user to upload a featured image before publishing a post.
This plugin allows you to add buttons to the WordPress editor. This has been helpful for me when I need help remembering the syntax for various code snippets and short codes I’ve written for a particular theme.
I’ve also used Add QuickTag for the exact same purpose. Both are great.
NOTE:For the record, this image freaks me out.
This plugin will automatically resize large images, compressing and reducing file size.
I’ve built a couple of client sites where they have large background images. The client will upload crazy large files that inevitably slow their site down. This plugin solves that problem.
Anytime I have an SSL certificate installed on a site, I install this plugin. It forces your site (or specific pages of your site) to load https://
OK. This plugin is really geeky. It enables the REST API for your site.
What does that mean practically?
Well, you could actually set up a WordPress site, forget the front end, and use the API to deliver all the content through a Rails app. Crazy!
This plugin is practically the standard for controlling comment spam. This isn’t necessary if you’re using Disqus.
NOTE:This plugin is made by the same people behind WordPress!
On the sidebar, you may have noticed, there’s a widget there displaying the most popular posts. This plugin is handling that functionality for me. It’s pretty robust in how you can configure which posts it looks like and how it determines which posts are the most popular. I’ve also found it really easy to control the styling and display.
I used this plugin on my personal site. When I updated the theme, I had a few one off pages that were custom and needed to use the previous design in order to display correctly. This plugin allowed me to set a different WordPress theme for those specific pages. Handy!
This plugin makes it easy to set up 301 Redirects and keep track of which pages are returning 401 errors.
This is a fairly new plugin for me, but it looks like it has tremendous potential. It’s developed by the same fine folks (Delicious Brains) that created WP DB Migrate Pro (mentioned earlier). It will upload all your site assets to Amazon S3.
There’s a paid version and a lite (free) version. Pricing tiers are determined by the number of uploads. I’m running the lite version now, but a I have a feeling that the paid version is in my future.
This plugin increases WordPress’s search functionality. Straight from the plugin site:
I’m all about workflow and systems and making the development process simple. It’s not about being lazy, it’s about being efficient. If installing a plugin, accomplishes that purpose, I say, “Go for it! Do it!”
What are some plugins that are must haves for you?