There are hundreds of posts that will tell you about the “Must have WordPress plugins!” that will reel off the same few; JetPack, probably W3 Total Cache, maybe an automatic backup plugin and then fifteen different social bars. What we’re going to look at here are plugins that will make development easier and save developers time. This doesn’t just mean making the actual process of development easier, but also taking certain plugins into account when planning and building a site. Using plugins to improve the overall site from day 1, instead of just tacking a bunch of bloat-ware on at the end is a much better way to go about fully utilising the wealth of great plugins available. We’ll also look at some popular plugins and give a verdict on if and where they are actually necessary.
Advanced Custom Fields
A good starting point to any WordPress site is using Advanced Custom Fields. ACF allows for the addition of extra input fields into the WordPress admin, and the simple retrieval of these fields in template files. ACF opens up a range of input fields from simple text and textarea inputs to date and colour pickers, repeating elements or custom, modular content blocks. This is a plugin that needs to be planned for and considered early on in a project so that extra admin input fields are not created manually. This is not the sort of plugin that can be added in at the end, as the fields created within it will be integral to inputting information in admin pages and outputting it onto templates.
There is also an abundance of ACF add-on plugins that install as indipendent plugins like any other, but exclusively work with and rely on Advanced Custom Fields being installed. The ACF site lists some official and public add-ons here, and I explore some useful that I’ve found useful here.
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Regenerate Thumbnails / AJAX Thumbnail Rebuild
During developement you may be uploading images regularly to test posts or pages while also defining new image sizes for different templates. Banners, blog post headers, in-content aligned images etc will all often require different sized images to be pulled through onto templates. Even new work on existing sites that have been running for months or years can mean defining additional image sizes. The problem here is obviously that all the already uploaded images will not have these newly defined image sizes. So your old image ‘homepage-banner.jpg’, won’t have an image the size of your new banner-template size of 1024px by 300px. homepage-banner-1024×300.jpg will not exist, as only when an image is uploded are the varying size versions of it created.
What plugins like Regenerate Thumbnails and AJAX Thumbnail Rebuild do is re-generate the images based on all defined image sizes. This goes back to all images uploaded in the uploads folder and re-generates all defined image sizes as if all of the images were being uploaded right now. This makes previously uploaded images available at newly defined image sizes.
Yoast is among the most popular and arguably most important WordPress plugins. This plugin covers all aspects of SEO for a WordPress site, from adding all meta fields as input options on all posts and pages to defining social sharing URL’s & images. Not only does Yoast add these input options on each page, but it also gives feedback in real time as these values are being filled in. Feedback includes suggestions about the length of some fields, tone of voice and keyword use. There are also a huge list of SEO based options available for fine tuning within the Yoast general settings page.
This plugin can be added at any stage of the development process, as the input required is mostly content / SEO related.
Theme check is a simple way to QA and check some of the basics when you have been building a new theme up from scratch. It will point out things like short PHP tags, suggestions about code within the theme that would be best placed in a plugin and functions / bits of code that are missing. These are graded in severity as WARNING, RECOMMENDED or INFO.
There are a number of plugins that add additional dropdown menus to the black admin bar that appears on WordPress site pages when logged in as an admin user. Helpful information gives a few snippets of information that sometimes can be key for debugging weird or unexpected issues. The small dropdown will confirm the current theme, the template that the current page is using, the post types on the page as well as the scripts and styles that are being loaded onto the current page. This can be useful when debugging strange issues on the page, or figuring out when an unexpected template is being used.
Word Count & Limit
This plugin adds a simple character and word count at the bottom of every content WYSIWYG field. It is a very simple and easy way of limiting how much content a user can add in or at least keeping them informed about how many words they are adding.
Table of Contents Plus
This plugin simplifies adding what would otherwise be a difficult and time consuming piece of functionality to build. By adding a simple [ toc ] shortcode into the content field or template file, a template table is automatically built up based on the h1, h2 etc headings on the page. The specifics of how the table is built can be defined from the plugins settings page.
Pretty links allows the admin of a site to create shorter, alternate links to pages and posts without having to use a third party like tinyurl, bit.ly or Google. This doesn’t overwrite or break existing pages with existing URLs and slugs, but createst alternative links to the same pages.
W3 Total Cache
Everyone will eventually benefit from using a cacheing plugin. The options are basically between W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache. There is not a great deal between them but the admin controls and settings pages of Total Cache are often a bit easier to use.