Top 10 WordPress Plugins for 2012

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With over 22,000 WordPress plugins in their Plugin Directory, writing a top 10 list is dangerous. After all, what standards should we use? Most downloads? Highest ratings?

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Plugins all add different features so it’s hard to compare them objectively. For some projects one feature may be more important than another. Sometimes a specific feature may not even be wanted or needed on a project.

Therefore this list is simply the plugins that I like personally and found to be the most useful in my client projects over the last year. That leaves tons of room for debate. So if your favorite plugin isn’t in this list, leave a comment. Make your case why I should have included it.

Some of these plugins are pretty popular and you’ll be familiar with them. There may be one or two that are new to you. Most are freely available in the Plugin Directory. But I’m including a couple premium only plugins too.

WordPress SEO

Since we’re at Search Engine journal it makes sense to talk SEO first. When it comes to that, Yoast’s WordPress SEO is my go-to plugin. And I mean no disrespect to the more popular All In On SEO Pack. Michael Torbert and his team are great folks.

But WordPess SEO does more and makes it easier to manage all SEO related stuff with one plugin. This plugin has the usual settings for title tags, meta information and robots.txt commands, etc. Over and above that, the plugin has

  • Keyword Research
  • Google Snippet Preview
  • On Page SEO Analysis
  • Webmaster Tools Verification
  • XML Sitemaps
  • RSS Optimization
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Social Integration
  • Checkbox Removal ofLinks
  • Some .htaccess Settings

It’s an incredibly powerful plugin. Used properly it will maximize the potential search engine exposure of your content.

W3 Total Cache

Speaking of incredibly powerful, W3 Total Cache is a great plugin for increasing the performance of your WordPress site. When we talk about performance in this case we’re talking about making your website load more quickly for your site visitors. Please know that this is a case of “with great power comes great complexity.” With all of the things this plugin can do, and the wide array of possible server configurations, W3 Total Cache can be a bear to configure.

For example, here are some of the things this plugin can be configured to do.

  • Seamless content delivery network (CDN) integration with WordPress for media and theme files
  • Post and Page caching
  • CSS and Javascript caching
  • RSS Feed caching
  • Caching of search results pages
  • Database caching
  • Minification of HTML, Javascript, & CSS for posts, pages and RSS Feeds
  • Browser cache control
  • Import media files to your CDN

A faster loading website has SEO considerations because page speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm. Higher website performance has also been linked to increased revenue for eCommerce sites as well.

The plus side can be well worth the effort to configure the plugin for your site.


Spam is the scourge of the internet. Everybody knows about Akismet for dealing with spam. But if you’re just starting out with your business the low $5 a month Akismet charges is noticeable. Fortunately there’s a fantastic alternative in Defensio.

I was a beta tester for the plugin back in 2007 when their service was first coming online and it’s a solid choice for protecting your site from spam. They have a profanity filter. You can choose to block URL’s based on their category. And there it can protect your Facebook profile or page as well.

Their pricing has a free entry level for small businesses under 5 employees or up to 25,000 posts per month. So if you’re still getting your business bearings then Defensio is a good option to consider.

Cookies for Comments

Speaking of spam protection, Cookies for Comments is an amazing little plugin that can stop machine generated spam comments even before they hit your server.

When I installed this plugin and added the two recommended lines to the .htaccess file  on one of my higher traffic sites my spam comments went from a couple thousand a day down to about 5 a month. Seriously. It made that much of a difference.

Normally I shy away from plugins that don’t list compatibility with the current version of WordPress. But I’ll make an exception for this one. Hopefully the plugin developer will update the compatibility as WordPress 3.5 comes online.

Bonus: If you’re getting hit with tons of trackback spam check out Simple Trackback Validation with Topsy Blocker. It deals with the other side of the autogenerated spam issue.

The Events Calendar

I work with a lot of businesses, nonprofits and churches that need to have a way to let visitors know when they are holding events. I’ve found The Events Calendar to be one of the best solutions.

The plugin creates a custom post type for your events and gives you a ton of ways to manage and display your events. The plugin integrates with Google Maps so people can find your location. You can display your events in either a month or list view and there’s even a widget you can use to display your events.

If you do a lot of recurring events or your events need custom attributes it might be worth getting the Pro version from the good folks at Modern Tribe.

Digg Digg

There are so many social sharing plugins out there that it can be overwhelming for some one new to choose a good option. Digg Digg was the top of the heap for a at one point, and then went through a season where it was all but abandoned.

The folks at Buffer took over development of the plugin a year or so ago. After watching them for a while I decided they looked to be around for a while so I started using the plugin again.

Digg Digg has a couple dozen of the most popular social media buttons to choose from. You can configure the buttons to display either above your content or below it. Or it can do a floating bar beside your content.

Unfortunately it looks like Digg Digg may be in danger of being abandoned once again. Hopefully not, but if it is I don’t see it making next year’s top 10 list.

Gravity Forms

There are some solid plugins for creating web forms out there. There’s even a basic contact form bundled into Jetpack. So it may seem strange to choose this type of plugin for the first premium plugin in this list. But I find Gravity Forms that good.

I admit I held off buying Gravity Forms for a long time. When I finally did it was a breath of fresh air. All the compromises that I had to make with other plugins disappeared when I started using Gravity Forms.

You can build very complex multi-page forms, forms that show fields based on specific responses. You can create order forms and take payments directly from your website with one of the many addons available. And there are many addons to integrate the plugin with various email autoresponders.

Tip: If you use Gravity Forms be sure to search the WordPress Plugin Directory for free addons as well. There are a bunch in there.

NextGen Gallery

When it comes to managing lots of images on your WordPress site, NextGen Gallery is the gold standard. I’ve worked with big sites that have tens of thousands of images and this plugin doesn’t miss a beat.

You can upload your gallery images via the WordPress dashboard, or via FTP. If you choose FTP NextGen will import them in so that you can easily manage them from the dashboard. If you are a photographer, NextGen will allow you to watermark your images to protect them from copyright infringement.

NextGen is another one of those plugins that has many add on extension plugins available. If you are looking for a complex image gallery solution then NextGen is what you’ll want to use.

nRelate Related Content

A great way to keep people on your website is to show them other content they might be interested in when they get to the bottom of a post. Images are often best to entice visitors to click through to another post. There are several plugins that can do this for you. The one I like best is nRelate. Here are some of the reasons why.

  • It is Multisite compatible
  • It can be used without creating a user account – if folks want to advertise they can create their own accounts
  • Their servers do the heavy lifting for determining related posts
  • You can designate featured images – but if you don’t the plugin will pull the first image from the post
  • You can opt for text only links
  • You have several different style options for the thumbnail display


Another plugin type where we have lots of choices is image rotators or sliders. And yes, I’m going with a premium only plugin here too. Soliloquy is a cut above all the other slider plugins I’ve used over the years. Here are some of the reasons this plugin is worth the investment.

Mobile Responsive – Mobile is where the web is going. You want your image rotators to scale down with the rest of your website.

SEO Friendly – Each image can have it’s own alt and title tags.

It’s Light Weight – It only loads the required javascript files on pages with sliders. Many plugins load the scripts on all pages of your site.

Multiple Sliders – Soliloquy supports multiple sliders on the same page.

Videos – You can mix and match videos with still images in your sliders.

It’s been a bit over 6 months since Thomas Griffin first released Soliloquy. He’s working hard to advance it quickly. As a result I think it’s the best slider plugin available right now.

Your Turn

Now that you’ve seen my top 10 choices, which plugin(s) do you think I should have included in this list?

Chris Cree
Chris Cree started tinkering with WordPress in 2005 to relieve the stress of his maritime industry job. His hobby grew into a business in 2007... Read Full Bio
Chris Cree

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  • Steve Fitzpatrick

    You missed out on a comments plugin – the 2 most popular being Disqus and Livefyre.

    • Etienne – Conception Web

      Disqus should be on the list , I agree. It fixes the spam problem and people are already logged in, it saves time.

      • Damian

        Thanks for that. I will have to check that one out too. 🙂

  • Oleg

    WordPressBackup –
    Make backing up your wordpress site (db AND files) a breeze. Can schedule it to auto run and store several copies of your site.

    Disqus –
    I like this as an alternative to the default comments form. It fixes the spam issue and I find it more organized.

    Wp- –
    Auto image compression. Not the best compression but better than nothing.

    Wp-pagenavi –
    Paginated navigation (instead of next/previous)

    I’ll have to check out Digg Digg. Been bouncing around between different social sharing plugins and none have been quite right.


  • David Wallace

    Probablly wouldn’t be considered a “top” plugin but if you are displaying infographics on your site, the Embed Code Generator plugin is a handy item to have ( Also, I think any WordPress site should make sure they have the WordPress Firewall plugin installed (

  • Simon McCarthy

    Hi Chris,

    Good post and very interesting to see your thoughts on this subject. I personally think you would be best to draw up a top 10 list of Free WordPress plugins and a top 10 of paid for plugins. This would then meet the needs of both a newbie and a more experienced blogger/website manager.

    I would add in to the list the Leaflet Maps Marker® v2.8.2 plugin. Great for creating locations and maps for events or office locations. Plus the fact its free with only a donation required if you can afford it.

    • Lauren Waters

      Excellent idea Simon! I’d love to see that post come to light! I haven’t had a chance to check out everything you suggested, but as most have noted WordPress SEO goes a long way when used to full effect.

  • Olos

    I would recommend Seo Ultimate, because is really impressive!

  • IMPromocoder

    Nice basic list.
    I would add ‘Better WP Security’ plugin , because security today is more than just spamming – you have to protect yourself form attackers as well.

  • Patrik Johnson

    A very good list, just surprised to see JetPack left out. Also, with today’s news of WP 3.5 and the improved galleries, will we still be relying on NextGen for galleries?

  • Yuvin Ghotra

    All in One SEO Pack – is also a great plugin to automate the process of meta tags and it is pretty easy to use

    • Shivbhadra Gohil

      I think WordPress SEO mentioned here is better than All in One SEO. I’ve used both but nowadays i only stick WordPress SEO.

      • UNICA Web Agency

        Yes, WordPress SEO by Yoast is better than All in One SEO!

  • Debarshi

    I used WordPress SEO earlier, but now migrated to All in one SEO, but after reading your post, I think I should again get back to WordPress SEO.
    Thanks for the article

  • kostas

    I use all in one seo pack but the plugin you mentioned in your article looks very promising. I ll definitely give it a try but i am afraid not fo lose previous settings during the migration process.

    • Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena

      I just switched over and lost all of my old SEO data, but this WordPress SEO is so much more detailed! Unfortunately I am going to have to type all of my information back in again 🙁

  • Robert Nelson

    Comment Luv(free & paid), Basckup Buddy(paid only) and Word Fence(free & paid) all should be in any top 10. Honorable mention should go to DB Optimize

    • Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena

      CommentLuv is a great one 😀

  • Mihaela Lica Butler

    I got brilliant results with MobilePress, Chris. I would love to hear your thoughts on this one. Shall I change in 2013?

  • Jon Gerrard

    I have only just found it, but I love Comprehensive Google Map.

    I totally agree with WordPress SEO, it is a must for any site .

    Although not a plugin, the Genesis Framework from Studiopress is fantastic.

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      All the way yes for Genesis – and it comes with its own nifty plugins too . I love “simple hooks.” 🙂

  • Adam Troy

    Hi Chris,

    Great post, thanks! I agree with you on all of the plugins. This is a really useful list. I also use – digg digg, w3 total cache, and nextgen photo gallery on some of my WordPress sites.

    I didn’t see a good SEO plugin listed so figured I would share this page with your readers – which discusses 7 different WP plugins for SEO purposes.

    Also for some other great WordPress plugins you can read some reviews here –

    Anyways thanks and keep up the great work!


  • Chanel @ LaViajeraMorena

    just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for this post 😀 cheers!

  • Roman Iakoubtchik

    List certainly lacks some good security plugin recommendations. I’ve found WP Firewall 2 & Securi’s plugin to work very well.

  • Francesco Biacca

    hi guys,
    i’ve published a post on my blog ( where I chose 12 plugin, following your idea …

    what about P3 Plugin ?

  • Alex Rascanu

    Great post, Chris. If I was to add a couple more plugins to your list I’d include Disqus and WordPressBackup.

  • Anthony

    I really dig the all in one About The Author/ Signature box you’ve got at the end there. Is that a plugin also? That’s what ya missed! =)

  • UNICA Web Agency

    5sec Google Maps
    Advanced Post Types Order
    ALO Easymail
    Black Studio TinyMCE Widget
    Related Posts Thumbnails
    Social Metrics
    WP Category Posts List

  • Luke Hutchinson


    Thanks for the list I actually installed most of these as I’m in the process of creating a new blog. The cookie comment plugin seems pretty good as does digg digg and the spam plugin.

    A couple of plugins that I would recommend are:

    Wordfence (security, ip block, live traffic and other general security) free
    Autoptimize (optimizes page code etc)

    Other then that your list is fairly comprehensive.

    One question I do have though is what is a good plugin for showing author information? I’m guessing you guys are using a plugin or custom code? if you can recommend anything that would be awesome.

    Luke Hutchinson.

  • David Fox

    Great article and good tips. For any new users I would strongly recommend the newest Jetpack plugin as that is the easiest way to plugin several essential applications in one. I have also been having success using Wordfence, which is a free security plugin. Good tool to catch any prior hacks to your site.

  • Sudarshan

    This is a great list of plugins, thanks for sharing. Surprising that you’ve missed out on live chat plugins. Do check out our plugin ClickDesk – it is the most preferred live chat plugin for WP with over 50,000 installations and has also been widely written about in the WP community.

    Thanks again for the list, cheers!

  • mike

    Stopped reading this when I looked at Defensio.
    A top ten listing for a plugin that hasn’t neen updated in over a year, isn’t listed as compatible with WordPress 3.4.x let alone 3.5, and has a faq that consists of a that returns page not found?

  • Collin

    Thank you for the great list. Will check all of them for my future use.

  • johnandroid

    I think a wp affiliate link plugin is useful for blogs whit rich content,like this WP Auto Affiliate Links

  • Magazin Auto

    Thanks Chris,

    These are really great plugins, I use most of them.

    I also checked the new plugin Seo Plugin by Squirrly and its also a great one too. Helps me with keyword research and seo live assistant.

    I see that they work together just fine.


  • Damian

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this article, I really enjoyed the read.
    Especially found the mention about Defensio, which I hadn’t heard of until now. I will definitely have to check that one out before I go and setup anti-spam on my website.

    All the best.

  • Carlos Ricaño

    Great tip! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • gaurav

    i like ur above post and install all the above pugins in my website

  • keyword removed

    These are really killer plugins for wordpress. I have used them. Thanks for share.

  • devrawat

    Article is really good.
    Got to know a lot about different various plugin not only in post but in comments as well.:) some time comments help more than article.

  • Abhi

    I Like All In One Seo Pack Very well. Is is great plugin for me to increase site traffic.
    Thank u

  • Μανώλης Κυπριανίδης

    I have used the most of them, thx anyway! perfect!