Must Have WordPress Plugins

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article listing some great WordPress Themes for Genealogists and today, as a companion article, I’m going to look at my favourite WordPress plugins. If you are not familiar with plugins, these can be installed on your hosted WordPress blog for additional functionality or features. There are thousands of free plugins available from the plugin directory at WordPress.org (38,289 at the time of writing to be exact) so sometimes finding the best ones can be a little daunting. Since plugins can slow down your website, I do try to keep only those I’m actively using and uninstall any I’ve abandoned or that I’ve replace by another, newer one.

How to Choose a Plugin

Plugin StatsWhen you are looking for a new plugin, there are a few things that you should watch for when looking at the plugin page. When was the last time the plugin was updated? If the plugin has not been updated in several years, you probably shouldn’t install it. How many active installs are there? If the plugin has only been installed a few dozen times, you might want to reconsider unless there are no other similar plugins that can do the same job. Does the author support the plugin? Under the support heading, you will see how many support threads have been resolved in the last two months. Plugins with lots of unresolved issues are probably not a great choice. Is the plugin compatible with your version of WordPress? If there is only a small difference between the last version that the plugin was compatible with and your version (hopefully the latest release), then it is probably fine. If the plugin shows compatible with a WordPress version from several years ago, you probably want to stay clear.

Must Have Plugins

Asking a WordPress junkie for a list of their favourite plugins is like asking an audiophile which five songs they would take to a dessert island if they had to choose, but I’m going to try to list only the ones I couldn’t live without.

Akismet

This plugin is made by Automattic and is my go-to tool to keep the spammers from littering my website with crazy comments linking back to their questionable websites. While I LOVE comments, I don’t want these ones.

Jetpack

This is really not just one plugin but a whole set of 36 plugins from the WordPress.com cloud. Some WordPress users complain that Jetpack is bloated but I just go and deactivate any of the features that I’m not using after installing it. It offers everything from ‘Beautiful Math’ a markup language for writing mathematical formulas, to letting you create posts by email. I only use nine of the thirty-six features in Jetpack, including:

  • Enhanced distribution (sends new posts to search engines, etc.)
  • Extra sidebar widgets (some handy extra widgets)
  • Likes (lets people like your posts)
  • Monitoring (emails me when my site is down)
  • Protect (prevents brute force attacks on your website)
  • Publicize (automatically shares your new posts on social networks like Twitter and Facebook)
  • Spelling and grammar (kind of obvious, and very helpful)
  • Subscriptions (lets readers subscribe to your blog)
  • WordPress.com Stats (a basic set of stats for your blog when you don’t feel like visiting your Google Analytics)

WP Super Cache

This just really speeds up your website. It is a little tricky to configure but certainly makes a speed difference.

WordPress SEO

This plugin by Yoast makes SEO easy. If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization and doing it right helps Google list your website high in the results, a bonus if you are looking for long lost cousins.

Other Plugins

Advanced Image Styles

This isn’t a really complicated plugin. In fact it is pretty simple. It just lets you put some white space between your inline images and your post text, something that used to be a part of WordPress but that was removed in a relatively recent release. Until they put this functionality back, I will be using this plugin!

Better Image Credits

I like giving credit where credit is due and this plugin gives me easy to fill in credit and link fields for my images.

Broken Link Checker

This plugin does just what you think it would. It scans my website regularly and sends me an email if a site I’ve linked to in the past suddenly isn’t there anymore, giving me the option of fixing it or removing the link entirely.

Contextly

This is a very new plugin for me. I installed it a couple of weeks ago. It shows the related posts at the bottom of each post. Jury is still out on whether it is useful but I like it when I find a similar feature on someone else’s blog so I thought I’d try it.

Pre-Publish Post Checklist

I’ve been known to forget a feature image, or even to click ‘Publish’ when I’m only half way through a post. This check list just makes me tick the boxes before it will let me publish my post, making sure that is exactly what I want to do first.

Shortcodes Ultimate

I love some of the new visual tricks that WordPress can do. This plugin gives you access to all the basic features such as lists, lightbox, quotes, and so on to use in your posts.

WP-Footnotes

I probably should have listed this in the must-have section. What genealogist doesn’t NEED footnotes?!

WordPress Editorial Calendar

Again, this is just what you would think it was. A calendar view of your upcoming posts. I don’t always know what date it is and sometimes not even what the month is! Very handy visual reference for me.

Honourable Mention

I’m not using it on this website (although I have been considering trying to integrate it here) but my new favourite content plugin that I’m working with on my new website (more later) is called the Aesop Story Engine. As per the developers, it is a suite of components that empower interactive storytelling.

That’s my list of plugins. If you’re a WordPress nerd too, and feel I’ve missed any important plugins, please tell me about them in the comments.

Barbara J Starmans is a social historian, freelance writer and obsessed genealogist living in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada and has been doing genealogical research for the past 35 years. She is a graduate of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Canada with professional learning certificates in General Methodology and in English Records and recently become an instructor for them with an intermediate course on Social History.

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