Earlier today, Tim Ireland (@bloggerheads) asked over Twitter:
Hello, hive-mind. What are your top 5 must-have WordPress plugins?
I’ve tried out several plugins since moving this blog to WordPress, so coming up with possible suggestions wasn’t difficult. Keeping it to five was, as was deciding on an order for them. I’m not sure the order I eventually went with was the correct one, though, so here are my top 5 plugins, presented in alphabetical order.
NB: Not all the plugins mentioned below are, at time of writing, attested by their authors to work with WordPress 3.0, the most recent version. As with any software, use is at your own risk: all I can say is that they work with my WordPress install.
I first blogged about this plugin almost exactly a year ago, but it deserves another outing. The plugin allows you to fine tune any page where WordPress would normally show multiple blog posts, be it the main index page, monthly archives, lists of posts tagged with a certain phrase, etc.
With the default WordPress installation, all such pages must show the same number of posts, which isn’t always helpful. I’m no longer using the template that initially made me start using this plugin, but it remains in use because it offers setting that should, quite frankly, be a standard WordPress feature.
One of the best ways of ensuring that search engines including (but not limited to) Google can find all of your pages, and not just the ones linked from your home page, is the use of an XML Sitemap. This is a file that effectively lists all the unique URLs that exist on your blog, and can also give hints as to which ones you consider the most important, and which ones the search engine spider can poll for changes less frequently.
While most modern WordPress themes are designed well enough to include some best practice methods of search engine optimization (SEO), having an automatically-updated sitemap can really help ensure your posts get the best chance of being indexed accurately.
As its name implies, the Redirection plugin can help you implement page redirects. This can be especially useful if you’ve previously run your blog with different software that used different URL building schemes, for example.
If anybody follows a link from a third party website to an out-of-date URL on your blog, normally they would see an error page (in the parlance of the HTTP specification used by web browsers, the status code of the error is number 404). This plugin allows you to intercept that error before it’s shown to the user, and instead ask their browser to redirect to the new, more appropriate location.
As a result, your readers are happier, search engines (which include the number of successful links coming into your site as part of their ranking algorithms) are happier. It’s a win-win.
The user interface of this plugin isn’t the greatest, to be honest, but once it’s set up correctly you will rarely need to access it too often. It’s worth keeping an eye on the logs it creates to check that you haven’t missed any pages, though.
Everybody wants a little bit of individuality for their blog. Finding the right visual theme can sometimes be the most daunting part of setting up a WordPress blog. While WordPress 3 makes it easy to switch between radically different themes, the last thing you want to do is to have your audience on the web watch you try out theme after theme until you find the one that fits.
Theme Test Drive allows you to apply your new theme so that only you can see it. Regular visitors to your set will continue to see the old theme until you’re ready to switch.
It’s the WordPress equivalent of having a fitting room to try on new clothes, rather than having to strip down and parade about in your undies in front of the other shoppers. Which is just as unpleasant for them as it is for you. (Don’t ask me how I know.)
Back in August 2009, I recommended a plugin that allowed you to automatically build a list of related blog posts. This one’s better. The algorithm takes more of the blog’s content into account, it allows for extra customisation and caching if you need it, and can include the related links in your blog’s RSS feed if you want it to.
If you’re logged in as an administrator and view your blog posts while this plugin is switched on, each of the recommended links also displays a relevance score. In theory, this can help you identify if you need to use a cut-off value to eliminate links to posts which aren’t quite as relevant as you’d like. In practice, I’ve found that YARPP is reliable enough not to need any tweaking at all.