Colorful WordPress LogoWe’ve spent the past week doing a lot of design and development work for clients powering their sites with WordPress. It’s kept us busy and will surely leave us cross-eyed and sore-bummed from all the sitting in front of computer screens coding, but it’s still something we love to do! All this time devoted to WordPress has reminded us how much we rely on certain plugins, so we decided to devote a series of posts to recognizing our favorites.

However, before we get underway, if you’re interested in hiring us for a WordPress (or even BuddyPress–we can work with that, too!) project, just drop us a line through contact page anytime. And now without futher ado, Part I of our favorite WordPress plugins…

1. Contextual Related Posts

The related posts plugin by Ajay D’Souza is a basic-yet-very-effective plugin that allows you to insert a simple list of posts that, according to the CRP algorithm, are in some way related to a certain post. We’re sure you’ve seen such lists all over the blogosphere, and if you’re anything like us, you honor the day someone thought to add them to their blog posts. Not only do they encourage further reading within your blog, but if you’re looking for specific content and discover the current post isn’t what you were looking for, chances are the Related Posts might contain the actual post you were seeking.

This particular iteration of the concept (and believe us, there are many plugins that serve the same purpose) is wonderfully simple while still being flexible and powerful. With options to configure every major aspect of the lists you can think of–from wrapper HTML tags (i.e <ul>​<li>​</li>​</ul>) to displaying or hiding post thumbnails, you’ll find very little along the lines of features you wish were included. We especially love the fact that you can include CRP on any page of your blog – the drop-in function tag works on your main blog page, single posts pages, WordPress pages, and archives. Not all related-posts plugins can do this!

2. Search Everything

Along the lines of working everywhere in your blog, we have the Search Everything plugin by Dan Cameron which allows you to perform a thorough search of everything in your WordPress site: posts, pages, tags, categories, comments, media, EVERYTHING. What is the point of including a search feature somewhere on your site, if it’s only going to sift through post content? Especially for sites with a lot of pages and not just a blog, users will only be able to find material within a small portion of the site’s total content.

The configuration for Search Everything is very straightforward, allowing you to select exactly what content will be searched and whether or not to automatically highlight search terms in the results with a specified color, without having to explicitly code highlighting functionality into your template files. For increasing usability in your WordPress searches, this is the way to go!

3. Advanced Random Posts

Including a list of some form of featured posts in your sidebar is an excellent way to encourage visitors to further explore the content of your blog. It’s possible to write your own WordPress query tag to pull a few random posts to display in your sidebar, but the Advanced Random Posts plugin by Yakup Gövler is a heck of a lot more friendly to use. If your template supports sidebar widgets, then you’re only tasked to drop in a widget and fill in a simple configuration form. Otherwise, a simple line of PHP with an array of the configuration options placed in your template is all it takes.

4. StatPress Reloaded

Even the smallest blogs and sites can benefit from visitor analytics. Tracking your traffic, your visitors’ statistics like browsers and resolutions, what keywords drive people to your site, and so on is an excellent tool for developing your site to offer optimal usability and an overall better experience. While Google Analytics are the current gold standard for tracking, the StatPress Reloaded plugin by Manuel Grabowski serves as a useful partner-in-crime. It allows you to easily view traffic statistics within WordPress itself and is incredibly easy to navigate through a simple submenu in the WordPress sidebar.

StatPress Reloaded may not have all of the bells-and-whistles in presentation that Google Analytics features, but it’s incredibly useful, especially for smaller sites that simply don’t need the elaborate analysis Google can offer. If you’re looking to supplement Google Analytics with something accessed within WordPress or you need a basic, all-around traffic tracker for a small site, this plugin is has you covered.

5. W3 Total Cache

Of all the plugins we mention in this post, this is the one we consider the most crucial to any WordPress-powered site that receives even only a moderate level of traffic. W3 Total Cache by W3Edge automates site-optimization. If you’ve ever looked into minification of your JavaScript, CSS, and mark-up, this is the plug-in you need. It condenses all of your code along with caching files and data to dramatically improve the speed of your site, reduce the number of HTTP requests, and overall therefore minimize the amount of bandwidth your traffic uses and improve the experience of your visitors.

We’ll go into what minification is and how important it is to consider when developing a site in a future post, but suffices to say it’s incredibly useful, and this plugin is a dream. With an easy-to-understand configuration interface, previewing options, and reminder notices embedded in WordPress (for example, activating a new plugin triggers a notice to reset the cache), W3 Total Cache is extremely powerful while remaining user-friendly.

This is only the beginning of our discussion on useful WordPress plug-ins and specifically our personal favorites. We’ll continue this list with Part II another day–in the meantime, please enjoy our recommendations above, and also please suggest your own favorite plugins below! We’d love to hear about what you’re using and possibly expand our list of favorites to include your suggestions.

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