At Tiny Ships, our favorite WordPress plugin is usually no plugin. With such an incredibly large library of community-built options at their disposal, developers can easily bog down a sleek, performant site with unoptimized, bloated, under-supported WordPress plugins. So when we consider plugins, we are looking for specialized, highly efficient improvements to a website that couldn’t be accomplished by a development team without extensive effort or technical debt.
What we look for in a WordPress plugin
- Built with WordPress best practices in mind: a cursory review of a plugin’s code should show that the developer understands WordPress in and out.
- Well supported and updated often: if a plugin isn’t kept up to date with security patches, WordPress core releases, and PHP updates, it has to go.
- Has no – or a positive – impact on website performance: a WordPress plugin might offer a solution to a complicated problem, but if it bogs down your website it won’t be long before you’re looking for a replacement.
- Improves the administrator or end-user experience in a marked way: if a plugin is really just a tiny tweak to something someone doesn’t like, delete it and fix the problem with code. Plugins should be a meaningful, sustainable addition to a business site.
WordPress plugins for admins
Let’s start with the underbelly. Managing a large website can be labor intensive, and require at least one site historian who knows where everything is and how it works. Here are a few that can make the work just a little bit easier.
There are a ton of WordPress plugins focused on SEO, but Yoast is full-featured, under very active development, and extremely well documented. On top of that, Yoast does a good job of gamifying on-page SEO. The team behind Yoast understands that checking sentence readability and keyword density are not exactly fun tasks, so it uses subtle cues, colors, and emojis to let you quickly know the state of a page or post, and where to improve it.
And even if you don’t want (or need) the plugin, their website is still a great resource for SEO best practices.
Yoast is free but offers a premium version for $89.
Yoast Duplicate Post
That’s right, Yoast is in here twice. Yoast’s Duplicate Post plugin is a must have to busy, intricate sites. Especially with the introduction of Gutenberg, editors can now really control the content experience like never before. But that comes with a certain level of complexity. So when you’ve gotten that one page just right and you need another one very similar to it, Duplicate Post makes it easy to clone and go.
Yoast Duplicate Post is free.
Admin Columns Pro
Admin Columns Pro is all about improving the admin experience by helping editors find, filter, and export content. For every post type you can setup custom columns and filters that let you drill down into content and find what you need. By default, the post search in the admin is pretty basic, and it can’t take into consideration custom fields, taxonomies, etc. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for in the admin or find yourself having to make spreadsheets by hand for internal reporting, ACP can help.
Admin Columns Pro costs $89 for a single license.
Relevanssi lets you control search for your end users, and offers a wide array of options to control search output on your site. For example, if you have a lot of legacy content that might be out of date, Relevanssi lets you prioritize newer posts (and even provide a number of days to define “newer”) in end-user search results. In addition, Relevanssi creates a full (and customizable) index of all the searchable content on your site – such as PDFs and custom fields. This greatly extends what WordPress is capable of searching out of the box.
Relevanssi is free but offers a premium version for $99.
WordPress plugins for developers
I’ll admit it: sometimes we developers use plugins to make our lives easier. It’s important for developers to avoid re-inventing the wheel, but just like admins, developers are faced with dozens of plugin options for solving any particular problem. Over the years we’ve encountered a ton of them, and these have consistently been the most useful.
Carbon Fields competes with a plugin that developers are probably more familiar with: Advanced Custom Fields. Like ACF, Carbon Fields allows the creation of highly customized field groups used on posts, terms, and option pages throughout WordPress. For those unaware, handling custom fields without a feature-rich plugin is extremely complicated and time consuming. Unlike ACF, where fields are configured in the database, Carbon Fields is configured entirely in code. This makes configurations easier to share between developers and environments, and far less likely to be improperly configured by an administrator. Carbon Fields is also much easier to extend since, you guessed it, it’s in code.
Carbon Fields is free and is available as a plugin or as a Composer package.
I’ve forgotten more image optimization plugins than most people have used. There are so many and it can be really hard to pick one from the other. Imagify is a favorite because it is easy to use, supports lossless and lossy compression, supports WebP images (and the fallback necessary to serve them to older browsers), and is inexpensive.
Imagify is free but includes monthly plans for heavier usage.
For more ideas on how to speed up WordPress sites, read Website Performance Solutions for WordPress.
Autoptimize is free.
Search and Filter
Search and Filter makes it easy to create search and filter options and output, removing the need for complicated and technical-debt-ridden WP Queries. It’s especially useful if you need to create custom searches for particular post types, and want to dig into advanced options like taxonomies, custom fields, etc. It’s also pretty extensible, though you may need to go hunting for the right hook or filter to get the job done.
Search and Filter is free but offers a pro version for $20. You’re going to need the pro version.
Action Scheduler, built by Automattic (they also built this thing called WordPress) is probably my favorite plugin for websites that include any level of integration development or queued processes. In short, it’s a queue manager for WordPress that utilizes cron jobs to created timed and asynchronous jobs. These jobs get added to a queue that is processed automatically. That queue can also be viewed and updated manually. You can batch concurrent jobs, or just let each job run one at a time. And with a little tweaking in code, you can also setup automatic retries of jobs that fail.
Action Scheduler is free.