Most of our clients run WordPress. Big surprise. WordPress is the most design-friendly open-source publishing platform available. But WordPress isn’t always the most developer friendly framework out there. And if you are trying to use WordPress as a full featured CMS, you’ll probably end up relying on more than a few plugins. Out-of-the box WordPress just won’t do everything you’ll need it to do.

While this is not a definitive list, here’s a list of plugins I recommend you try.

Members

Used for: Member Management
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My favorite plugins are plugins that don’t try to do too much. As a developer, every site I work on has unique challenges and I’m looking for plugins that, instead of solving one specific problem, provide me with tools to solve a whole range of problems.

Justin Tadlock’s Members plugin doesn’t try to be a full-scale member management suite. What it does do is give you the tools you need to accomplish any member-related task you need. You can create new user roles and capabilities, restrict posts and pages, make certain that parts of any page or post ‘restricted’, or even lock down a whole dang blog by making it private.

Member Management with Justin Tadlocks "Member's" Plugin

Adminize

Used for: Site Administration
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Now this plugin is super handy if you’re working on a highly customized client site where the end-user will not need access to many of WordPress’s default functionality. Adminize let’s you control basically every aspect of the administration pages and which options are available to which user roles. Want to hide theme administration from even other Admins? This plugin will do it.

More Fields

Used for: Custom Field Administration
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These days there are lots of plugins that will help you create input forms for custom fields. Flutter, Magic Fields, Supple Forms, Custom Post Templates, etc, etc. More Fields has always been my favorite. It went through a brief period in which it lost support, but since being revived by Henrik Melin and Kal Strom has regained its rightful place at the top of the list.

Why? For one thing, it’s very simple to deploy. The UI is intuitive and clean, with plenty of options, including additional WordPress TinyMCE instances. But the primary reason it’s the best is that it has a very small database footprint. All the data for the plugin is stored in the options table which means it scales well. WordPress is a performance hog and so we always want to avoid plugins that further degrade database performance. Flutter is especially notable for having a large footprint.

W3 Total Cache

Used for: Performance
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Man, if you’re running a large site with lots of traffic, you probably already know that you need a good caching plugin. But if you haven’t used this plugin yet, you’re really missing out. This plugin combines all the object and file caching techniques that made WP Super Cache so popular with more advanced caching methods like code minification. Really cool stuff. Will save your life if you ever go viral.  Here’s a Yoast Video on the plugin that will help explain why you should use it.

PodsCMS

Used for: Content Management
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Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to this project so I’m clearly a little biased. Pods is not for every site or every developer.  Pods is a development framework for advanced content management.

Imagine a course catalog where you have teachers, classes, curriculum, semesters, documents and prerequisites. As a developer you’re faced with keeping all these straight, building a valid input interface for each, and performing complex queries all across the site. Building this site without Pods would be a nightmare, with Pods it’s a breeze.

Pods can also be a great performance booster. It has a bit of a database footprint because it actually creates additional tables for each of your content types. But for large datasets it will significantly reduce the strain on your database server.

Your Plugins?

The only problem with a top five list is that good plugins get left off of it. What did I leave off and which ones are on your list?