10 essential WordPress plugins

WordPress has developed into a full-fledged content management system -- and these plugins make it even better.

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Revision Control

WordPress stores wiki-like revisions of your posts, tracking every edit and storing each version as a separate entry in the database. This feature can cause database bloat and offers little in return if you don't refer to your revisions (or are doing your editing in a different tool entirely). You can edit the wp-config.php file to limit or disable revisions globally -- but sometimes you need more control than that.

Revision Control

Revision Control

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Revision Control provides that granularity, allowing you to decide how revisions work on a per-post basis. Each post can have revisions disabled or be set to store only a specified number of the latest revisions. Specific revisions can be deleted, or pairs can be compared more easily than WordPress's default behavior allows. The plugin is free.

I run a blog where half the content is my own and the other half contributed. I use Revision Control to disable the history of posts I write and retain them on posts I edit -- a handy CYA policy.

Social Media Widget

It's hard to tell your audience about all your social media presences without sending them somewhere like about.me -- and that's yet another site to point your readers to. If they're already on your WordPress site, why not display your network connections right there?

Social Media Widget

Social Media Widget

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Social Media Widget does this task for you. Just input your username for the social networks it knows -- it directly supports about 50 services, including such sites as Facebook, Twitter, Etsy and Pandora -- and it'll add the icon to a widget you can place in your navbar. You can use one of five different icon themes in three sizes each; there's also support for up to six custom links (such as to Goodreads or Clippings.me, neither of which is included with the default icons).

Social Media Widget is free; donations are requested if you like the plugin.

W3 Total Cache

Sites have a tendency to grow more complex as they offer more features and content. Over time, this can slow the site down with repeated database queries and JavaScript code execution. This can drive away impatient users -- according to the developers of W3 Total Cache, an additional half-second increase in page load time can result in a 20% loss of traffic.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache

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To minimize your site's consumption of those resources, use the free W3 Total Cache plugin. WordPress dynamically generates the pages that users see by querying its MySQL database. W3 takes the most common queries and stores them as static HTML files.

It can also minify CSS and JavaScript files, compress HTML files and interface with CloudFlare's free content delivery network (CDN).

W3 offers dozens of complex settings, some of which can conflict with other plugins. It takes time to read the FAQ and experiment with the options. Once you have a working configuration, you can easily export your settings and deploy them to other W3-enabled sites.

Even if you think your site doesn't gets enough traffic to warrant the trouble of caching, a small improvement can be worth it -- if not for users, then at least for the admins who are constantly on the site.

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