We’ve been using WordPress as a blogging platform and content management system since prehistoric times, and have worked on hundreds and hundreds of installs. This experience of creating and configuring many different websites has led us to rely on a series of time-saving and management-enhancing plugins.
So we thought we’d share some of our favourite WordPress plugins with you!
We don’t use all of these plugins on each and every site we create, but hopefully you’ll like them as much as we do and greatly improve your WordPress experience. Whether you’re creating a single website for yourself, or are another web design company like us, there should be a plugin below to aid & improve your efficiency.
We’ve included download links for each, as well as noting whether they’re free or paid (most are free).
Enjoy, oh and don’t forget to leave a comment at the bottom if you found them useful. They’re in alphabetical and categorical order.
Efficiency & Time-saving Plugins
1. Admin Menu Editor – Free
The default WordPress left-hand menu is great on a standard install, but add a few plugins and create a few custom post types and it can soon become convoluted and cluttered. We prefer to hand over a simplified CMS to our clients with only the important menus available. Too many menus can be confusing – it’s best to keep things simple.
So this plugin lets you organise your menus as you wish. Re-arrange them and hide certain ones via a simple drag-and-drop interface.
2. Advanced Image Styles – Free
The latest versions of WordPress are great, but certain things have annoyingly been removed. Ever wondered how to change the margin and borders or an image in the default page & post editor? Strangely enough you can’t. Odd, huh? Well install this plugin and you can again.
3. Ajax Thumbnail Rebuild – Free
Ever uploaded a bunch of images to the media library, and then changed the default media dimensions after, or added new image sizes via functions.php? Well the existing images don’t get resized, and you’re left with an initial set of images in different sizes and cropping ratios. It’s not a problem if you’ve only uploaded a few images, but hundreds if not thousands soon poses a serious problem.
This plugin lets you rebuild all existing image uploads for every size, choose individual sizes or featured images only. A great time-saver, and one that keeps your image sizes clean and consistent.
4. Automatic Domain Changer – Free
If you build lots of websites like we do, then you probably stage them on a local development server first of all. We use a temporary URL for each new client site, before changing this to the live domain once the site is completed. WordPress stores the full path for file uploads (annoyingly), and plugins often also use the full path too. So when you upload a site to the live domain you often find you have paths with the wrong domain.
This plugin detects if the site URL has changed and automatically prompts you to update stored paths to the new domain. You can also update all paths manually. We’ve used this plugin many times and it’s proved a godsend. The developers are also very helpful, having modified the plugin due to a couple of incompatibilities we found with other plugins.
5. Black Studio TinyMCE Widget – Free
If you use WordPress then you probably use a few widget areas too. Want to add a text widget? Well you’ll find you’re limited to raw HTML. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could add a visual block, just like the stand post & page editor? With Black Studio TinyMCE Widget you can. It’s simple, quick and highly effective. We think something like this should be built into core – and reckon it’s only a matter of time before it is.
6. Bulk Page Creator – Free
Got a new WordPress install ready for content? Great! You’ve chosen the most popular CMS in the world. Now you’ll no doubt want to create a few pages.
So you go to Pages and click Add New. Give your page a title, and add some content to it. Give it a category or tag too. Simple huh? Yup, it’s not the most taxing task around. What if you wanted to add say 20 or 30 pages with sample text so you can organise your sitemap or navigation? This can quickly become slow and cumbersome doing it one-by-one.
Enter Bulk Page Creator, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Lets you create a bunch of pages automatically, even giving you the option to add some default body text or assign a certain category. Works a treat, and can quickly give you a nice page framework from which to add final copy.
7. Enable Media Replace – Free
We like this plugin, and we use it a lot. Picture this – you’ve uploaded an image, but then you resave that image and you want to re-upload it again. What do you do? Well you have to upload a brand new image and delete the first one. Bit annoying if you’ve already added that image to pages.
This plugin lets you simply re-upload a new image (or other file such as PDF), overwriting the old one. You can upload something with a different filename too. It’s like, well useful, and it works flawlessly. Again, something else we think should be built into WordPress core.
8. Featured Image Admin Thumb – Free
This is a simple but effective plugin that shows small thumbnails next to each item in the All Pages and All Posts sections. Very handy to quickly see the featured image for each post, and you can also change the image via a single click. Core addition? Can’t see why not.
9. Imsanity – Free
Do you or your client upload images direct from digital cameras? It’s a very common occurence, and one that can often lead to 5MB/10MB+ images being uploaded. We’ve seen many sites with a lot of images over 5000 pixels in width uploaded. This not only leads to slow loading pages, but also takes up a lot of disk space.
Conserve bandwidth and improve page loading times by setting restrictions on image dimensions at time of upload. The plugin defaults to 1024 by 1024, but we reckon 1600 or 1920 might be a better option if you want hi-res photos on your site. You can also choose different sizes for different sections (standard upload to a post, media library, or theme background uploads).
Reduce the strain on your server now by installing and activating Imsanity!
10. Pods – Free
Pods, oh how we love Pods.
Want to extend WordPress by creating custom post types and custom fields? You can do this by adding code to your theme function files, and though this is the cleanest way to do things, it’s not always ideal or quick if you have a lot to create.
Enter Pods. Via a simple and well organised user interface you can create new custom post types and custom fields, as well as extend existing post types and taxonomies. There’s a brilliant API, a super helpful and friendly support team, and a set of further plugins to extend the default functionality even more.
Some may prefer Advanced Custom Fields, but we love the Pods framework, it’s tight integration and it’s clean interface. It also has Automattic as a development partner and sponsor, which is definitely a good sign.
11. Quick Edit Page Popup Menu – Free
This is one of the simplest plugins listed here, but one that can save a very common click when navigating between different WordPress pages. When you’ve just updated a page and saved the changes, how do you then go and edit another one? Well you have to click into All Pages, and then click into the next page you want to edit.
With this plugin you can just hover on the Pages menu and you get a handy dropdown menu titled “Quick Edit” that lets you go directly to another page. Can save between 2-10 seconds, which quickly adds up when you’re editing a lot of different pages.
12. Use Google Libraries – Free
Any typical WordPress theme will use a selection of core JS and CSS files. Like jQuery. Any plugins you use will often add a few more. These will be loaded from the WordPress files hosted on your server.
This plugin changes the code so that these includes are instead loaded from Google’s servers, acting like a CDN. Because a user will have often requested these files from browsing other websites, they may already have them cached. You’ll benefit from a faster loading website, with less file requests on your webserver. Win-win.
13. WP Editor – Free
There will be certain occassions when you need to edit a WordPress theme or plugin file via the in-built editor under the Appearance menu. The problem with this is that it’s just so basic. Editing anything more complex than a simple CSS amend or pasting a block of text quickly gets awkward.
That’s where WP Editor comes in.
When you activate this plugin you’ll get a complete replacement for the default editor that uses CodeMirror and FancyBox to create a magnificent coding environment. Colour coding, line numbers, searching, ajax saving and much more. Plus as an added bonus you can choose to activate this on the standard post & page editors, giving the Text view a neat interface upgrade.
14. WP Super Cache – Free
We toyed with adding W3 Total Cache here instead of WP Super Cache, before opting for the latter. What both plugins do is cache every page on your WordPress website, creating a static HTML file that gets loaded without any calls to the database or demands on the PHP engine.
This can often improve the loading speed of your website by a factor of 5 or 10. Seriously the benefits can often be huge. WordPress is great, but add a few plugins and a bunch of extra code and your pages might start to slow down. Plus if your webserver isn’t the speediest or has memory restrictions, serving static pages to the user can help improve performance massively.
As well as caching each page, WP Super Cache also has a few other neat tricks up its sleeve such as compression and CDN support. You can quite literally “supercharge” your website.
W3 Total Cache might be considered a more popular or equal plugin, and it certainly has lots more options and benefits, but it can be quite taxing or problematic for certain webservers. We use both ourselves, but WP Super Cache has a lighter load and great effiency, with most of the speed benefits. It’s directly supported by Automattic too.
Gallery & Slider Plugins
15. Advanced Post Slider – Free
Sliders. Everyone loves a slider. But which plugin do you use? Recently we’ve grown fond of this one, as it allows you to configure pretty much anything you need. Responsive? Tick. Easy styling? Tick. Choose slides by post category or individually? Tick.
There’s gazillions more slide plugins out there, but this one works well for us.
16. Envira Gallery – Free & Paid
Used a WordPress gallery plugin before? You’ve probably used NextGen, right? Well we hate NextGen, and happen to think it’s a bloated piece of software and user-interface hell. Bit harsh? Possibly, but we’re not fans.
Envira is what NextGen should be, simple and effective. It’s got a great user-interface, and just feels right. You might want to upgrade to the Pro version, but if you do you won’t be disappointed.
17. Photo Gallery – Free & Paid
Here’s another plugin that attempts to do what NextGen doesn’t. Granted the user interface could be prettier and better organised, but this plugin feels faster, and more fluid to use. Lots and lots of styling options and settings to configure, admittedly sometimes tricky to find the right place, but you shouldn’t find any limitations here when it comes to creating a gallery exactly as you need.
18. Revolution Slider – Paid
This is the daddy of slider plugins. It’s not without it’s critics, most notably for it’s previous security concerns, but for pure visual impact it’s unbeatable. You can create almost anything, in fact it’s like a mini animation studio in it’s own right.
The user interface is tricky and certainly not for the faint-hearted, but the only restriction will be your imagination. It’s a paid plugin only, but worth it.
The next two plugins are full-on security work-horses, turning your WordPress installation from bog-standard and potentially hackable to a veritable Fort Knox of a website.
Change the default admin username, apply firewall and brute force protection, change the default login address, perform core file checking, and oodles more. They both make it easy for you to change individual settings as well as making larger site-wide changes. You’ll see an overall site security score letting you know just how well protected you are.
Which one do we prefer? We’re not sure to be honest, in fact we use them both fairly equally. Running a WordPress website with the default installation options can often be dangerous, so play safe boys and girls.
19. All In One WP Security & Firewall – Free
20. iThemes Security – Free & Paid
Visual Editor Plugins
Ok, the standard WordPress editor is great for writing blogs, or creating simple pages by combining images & text. However when it comes to designing something a little more complex you have to resort to a mixture of shortcodes, widgets, tables and code editing. Not particularly friendly for clients, and not the tidiest way of doing things.
In the last couple of years, a few visual editors have really come to the fore, allowing you a great deal more control over exactly how you want to lay your page out. We’ve listed two of our favourites below, though there are a few more impressive plugins also out there.
You can create layout templates, add a selection of pre-built widgets and ultimately create good looking and complex layouts that still remain easy to edit.
You’ll also be able to edit the content on the front-end of the website, rather than strictly in the WordPress admin area. Both these plugins are continually being updated, and quickly making themselves invaluable. Let us know if you have any other favourites too.
21. Page Builder by SiteOrigin – Free
22. WPBakery Visual Composer – Paid
That’s it, we hope you liked our list!
How to identify a toxic domain and fix SEO problems arising from it
7th December 2023
How do I know when I should be considering a website redesign?
7th November 2023
Top 10 tips for building an email marketing strategy
3rd October 2023
Key considerations when building an eCommerce website
29th September 2023