Given you’re here, you probably love plugins just as much as me (which is a lot).
They’re a little bit like cocaine though: Addictive and harmful in large doses.
So you have to be careful with what kinds of plugins you install. Especially on client sites, as when poo hits the fan because a bad plugin crashes a site, you’ll probably get the blame.
Over the years, we’ve used a lot of different plugins on a lot of different sites. We’ve seen what worked, what didn’t, and what was downright awful. This list are the ones that have made it through that selection process and we regularly use on client sites.
Visual page builder – Beaver Builder
Finally, we are at a time where “page builder” is not a dirty word. We’re at a time when you can have a fast site that continues to work even though it is built on a drag and drop builder. Basically, the complete opposite of a website built with Visual Composer (mentioning that name may have broken the WordPress developer code).
This is awesome for clients, and awesome for you as it will speed up your development process like nothing else.
Right now, the king of the page builder realm is Beaver Builder. For a few reasons:
- It’s fast
- Easy to use
- Developer friendly (you can build your own modules)
- Works amazingly with GeneratePress and other starter themes
- Has amazing support
- Can be used to build highly custom websites in record time
Beaver Builder gets even better because it allows developers to build their own modules into “expansion packs”. This opens up a whole lot of extra components that you can use in client sites. Here are our favourites:
- Beaver Builder PowerPack -> Lots of modules, built by guys very active in the Beaver Builder community
- Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder -> Same as above with some different tools. Nothing stopping you using both
- WPD BB Addons -> Free addons, only a few modules but focused on speed & performance
Custom post types – Advanced Custom Fields
If you aren’t familiar with custom post types, these are the extra menu items that appear in the left hand menu in WordPress admin. A very common example is “Portfolio” or “Projects”.
A website might have 20 projects, all which have the exact same look and feel, but have different content. You can achieve this easily with ACF.
First, you create a custom post type, either in code or with a plugin like Custom Post Type UI. Then with ACF, you can add some of the project fields like:
- Project summary
- Client info
- Featured image
From here, you create a page template where all of these fields have fixed locations and style (developer required). When your client wants to add a new project, it is as simple as filling out a form with the above fields. It’s a very smart way to build sites.
Going a step further, Beaver Builder released Beaver Themer, which allows you to create those page templates with no code. EPIC! This is one of the coolest developments I’ve ever seen to make web agencies life easier.
Forms – Gravity Forms
The battle of the forms builder is a rough one. There are a lot of options out there, and each one has their tribe, and haters.
For basic contact forms, any of them will do the job. Some of the others even make a much prettier form by default (unless you use Beaver Builder Powerpack which has a Gravity Forms module)
I continually keep coming back to Gravity Forms for one reason: integrations.
You can do just about anything with Gravity due to the number of integrations, third party tools and developer friendly hooks. Some of the things we’ve done in the past include:
- Opt in forms for Active Campaign (our favourite marketing automation system)
- Sending data to Zapier to add to a custom web app
- Filling out PDF’s and emailing them to people
- A submission system for paying users to create their own offers, displayed on the site with GravityView
- Website brief forms
- Feedback forms which fire off automations in Active Campaign
- Testimonial gathering
- Way, way more
It’s a solid system that is incredibly capable and has worked so well for us for a long time.
Backups – UpdraftPlus
Like forms, over the years we’ve been through a ton of different backup plugins. Updraft is an killer in this field. One of the main reasons is it just. freaking. works.
You wouldn’t believe how many of the most well known backup plugins have just refused to work on lots of sites. Backups failing regularly (or 100% of the time), extremely slow performance, or other random failures. When we tried to get support, we were told that it was a problem with the site (standard BS support).
Yet, when we installed Updraft, there was not a single issue. To this day, Updraft has never failed us, so we continue to use it on every site that we manage.
I love the feature where it backs up themes, plugins, uploads and database separately. This makes it simple to roll back only the parts that you need.
We manage all of our Updraft backups from a central control panel called MainWP and store backups on Amazon S3.
SEO – Yoast SEO
Another plugin that just always does what it says it will do, does it well and never causes problems provided the theme is built properly.
An SEO plugin doesn’t need to be complex. This is what I look for, and all of this is done by Yoast:
- Easily set title & meta description for pages
- Ability to exclude pages, post and entire post types* from Google’s index (noindex)
- Create XML sitemaps ready for Search Console/Webmaster Tools
- Ability to exclude post types from that sitemap
- Add opengraph tags so things display nicely when shared on social media
*This is useful to exclude things like “testimonials” from being individually indexed in Google, which thins out your search engine footprint
There’s also a premium version that includes internal linking suggestions and a redirect system. We’re yet to use it though.
Social Sharing – Monarch
For adding social sharing to any post, page or image, Monarch is a great plugin. It looks great and just works (common theme here). It allows you to:
- Add sharing in the sidebar, slide in, post footer or popup (plus more options)
- Exclude certain pages/posts so sharing is not shown
- Add image sharing when you hover over an image (e.g. To Pinterest)
- Display share count
Monarch is part of the Elegant Theme’s subscription, which gives you access to a lot of other tools as well.
Opt Ins & Lead Capture – Thrive Leads
Thrive Leads was one of the key players that allowed me to build the first version of the Content Snare website including lead capture popups in 90 minutes.
If you’re using ActiveCampaign, Thrive Leads plays very nicely with it. In record time, you can:
- Create static opt-ins
- Create opt ins with multiple states (e.g. click a next button)
- Create 2-step opt ins (click a button or link that shows a popup)
- Show popups, slide ins after % scrolled
- Add opt ins in the middle of each post automatically, or at the end of each post (of a certain category, if you like)
- Create shortcodes to manually place opt ins
- Quickly link it to a load of different CRMs
Basically, anything you could want from a lead capture system.
Site Speed – WP Rocket
We made the switch from W3 Total Cache to WP Rocket for one main reason: ease of setup. It’s as simple as installing and ticking a couple of boxes to get a setup that is good enough for most client sites.
Sure, you can tweak it a bit more if it is important enough but it’s hard to beat a 20 second setup time.
Like any caching plugin, you have to thoroughly test any sites that you set up caching on. We’ve broken a few sites with WP Rocket (including this one) by going too far with the settings, or due to a plugin clash. Caching can be a tricky art, and no plugin is bulletproof in this regard.
That said, WP Rocket is an awesome choice.
Security – Shield Security & WPS Hide Login
Shield Security (also known as WP Simple Firewall) is a recent addition to our arsenal. We’ve previously been big fans of WordFence. However it’s become harder to set up and consistently locks our clients out (not password related) and causes problems various problems. We switched to Shield and haven’t looked back.
While hiding the login page does not make a site secure all by itself, every little bit helps. With this plugin you can change the login URL to something other than the default wp-login, which stops some bot attacks.
Spam Protection – WP Spamshield
CAPTCHAs are a pain in the butt for website visitors to fill out, and spam comments are a pain for your clients. On many sites, clients don’t need comments even enabled, but some of them will.
In those cases, WP Spamshield is a seemingly magic plugin that somehow stops all spam without intruding on the user experience at all.
By default, it works on most forms and blog comments, including Gravity Forms. We just install it and leave it be – super simple spam protection.
I am a little hesitant to recommend WP Spamshield because there was one time that an update broke a lot of our sites in one hit. To their credit, they fixed it very quickly. There have been a few incompatibilities with other plugins as well. Just make sure you test your sites after installing.
Image compression – Imagify & Imsanity
It’s generally a good idea to have image compression enabled on sites to help them run a bit faster.
Of course, you should be using jpg where you can, and reducing the pixel size as much as possible before uploading images. This just takes it one step further.
Imagify is a paid service, but you can set each client up on a free tier on their own account.
Imsanity is an amazing tool when you have clients that insist on uploading 10mb images. It will enforce a max size on all uploads and automatically squash them down.
Analytics – Monsterinsights
I should start this by saying we try to avoid using a plugin for Google Analytics most of the time. We’ll just add the code for analytics or Google Tag Manager (recommended) directly into the template, and filter out admin users with is_admin.
If you want to use a plugin though, Monsterinsights is solid.
Lesser Used But Great Plugins
These might not be used on every site, but when they are needed they are great additions to your toolbox.
There are two main reasons you might need to redirect pages:
- Changing page URLs
- Rebuilding a website and need to maintain existing SEO links
Redirection is the most solid plugin we’ve found for redirecting URLs. With import/export and regex options, it should be able to handle everything you throw at it.
WP All Import/Export
WP ALL Import has saved us on many occasions. It’ll enable you to import data into just about anything in WordPress: custom post types, WooCommerce products, ACF data and images.
You can even schedule imports if you need to regularly sync with an XML feed or Google Spreadhseet CSV. Neat!
The Export / Import combo is also handy when you need to migrate only some content from one site to another. It’s a lifesaver in this situation.
Managing downloads – Download Monitor
If you client’s web visitors will be downloading files, Download Monitor might come in handy. You can do things like:
- Add new versions of a file and list the multiple versions in a template
- Tracking number of downloads
- Restrict to logged in users
- Require email signup through Gravity Forms to download (with an extension)
- Track off-site downloads on a CDN or another website
Offsite email – WP Mail SMTP
Sending email directly from your webhost can be a recipe for getting thrown into spam. It is important that emails from contact forms or signups get through to the recipient, so it makes sense to put in a more reliable email system
We use SendGrid. A free account is more than enough for most websites, and it can be setup to work with WP Mail SMTP easily. That way, all outgoing email goes through SendGrid and ha a higher chance of getting through filters.
Finally, here are a few plugins to either make you look awesome to your clients, or make life easier on yourself.
Admin Columns – Modify the columns shown when viewing posts or any Custom Post Type
White Label CMS – Customize the admin dashboard clients see, and the login screen itself
Stream – Get a list of all the changes on a site, so you can see if the client broke something
VersionPress – Rollback changes on sites, merge databases and create staging sites easily