Extending the functionality of your website is incredibly easy thanks to WordPress plugins. With almost twenty thousand of them available from the official WordPress Plugin Directory, you can practically guarantee that if there’s a function you want to add, there’s a plugin that will have it covered. Unfortunately, with so many options, there’s no way you can try them all out. The sheer amount available is absolutely staggering. So which plugins should you use?
Ultimate TinyMCE - If HTML and CSS has you quaking in your boots, this plugin is for you. Adding a number of features to the posts visual editor, Ultimate TinyMCE allows you to include complex post functions with just the click of a button. It allows you to manipulate fonts, styles and CSS via an easy-to-use user interface and even add more advanced elements to your posts (such as posting a delivery timetable for your site’s merchandise or including a YouTube video).
Gravity Forms – This is an extremely handy plugin that allows you to create advanced forms using a visual editor. While this is a premium plugin (meaning you have to pay for it), it’s simply the absolute best plugin for creating contact forms, order forms, registration forms and any other kind of form you could ever need. On top of this, Gravity Forms allows advanced functionality that can automate many of your form-related tasks (such as integrating MailChimp, collecting PayPal payments, etc.)
NextGen Gallery – This is a fully integrated gallery and slideshow plugin which makes displaying your images a total breeze. Add images, sort them into albums and display them however you like – this plugin handles everything from displaying your images to handling the backend administration.
TubePress – Another premium plugin, TubePress allows easy, hassle-free integration of YouTube channels into your WordPress site. This works in a similar way to NextGen gallery, but using videos instead of images – Create a YouTube or Vimeo gallery from your channels, or display playlists in your sidebar. If you want to add video functionality to your website, TubePress is the way to go.
Site Backup Plugins
WP-DB-Backup – If you’ve ever lost important files on your home PC, you’ll understand that you can never have too many backups. WP-DB-Backup makes a copy of your WordPress database and sends it to you via e-mail or stores it on your server. This is incredibly useful for restoring lost posts but do remember – this plugin will only backup your database. Uploaded files, plugins and themes are not included.
BackupBuddy – An all-in-one backup solution, this plugin does everything WP-DB-Backup does and more. Automated backups on your schedule, full install backups (which include all your custom files, templates, etc), it really does the lot. While this is a premium plugin, it really is worth the investment, especially as your site grows. Note: This plugin can also be used to migrate your WordPress install to another server – it’s as easy as saving a backup and uploading it elsewhere.
Akismet – This plugin comes pre-installed with WordPress but it’s surprising how many people forget it’s there. This plugin checks your comments against the Akismet web service to determine whether or not they are spam comments. It requires an Akismet API key (which is freely available) so you will have to register.
Social Networking Plugins
Sociable – Want to link to your social networking sites on your website? Simply install this plugin and point it towards your accounts. Once setup, you can add social network bookmarks to all of your posts and pages – linking to your twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts as well as many others.
While these plugins are all absolutely fantastic, they represent only a tiny portion of what is available to you. If there’s a function you need that isn’t covered by these, try searching the official WordPress Plugin Directory – you never know what you might find. But do remember that just like WordPress, plugins are always changing. That means that what works right now, might not be so useful a few months down the road. So before you use any plugin, research its current state. Check the official forums for updates and make sure you take notice of each plugin’s compatibility information (made available on their corresponding pages in the official directory). If you have plugins installed already, remember to keep up to date, using the latest version that’s currently available.
And most of all… enjoy your new plugins!