Essential Plugins: Front-End

This is the first part of a series of posts on essential WordPress plugins, where I’ll discuss some of the best plugins available for getting a new WordPress website ready to be shaped into something beautiful.

This post covers the plugins you’ll probably want to install when you first start building a commercial website, either for a client or for yourself.

As the title of this post suggest, this first set of plugins are for the front-end of the site – i.e., the user-facing, public face of your website.

Handling Images

Meta Slider / Master Slider

Meta Slider lets you drop in a large number of images into a slider, to create separate slides very quickly. It’s responsive and has a few good customisation options. It’s also very user-friendly, so it’s great for clients who will be changing slides.

For more control, and for a greater selection of default styles, Master Slider is the best choice. Slides need to be added individually, but the huge range of options make it worthwhile – although the abundance of customisation options mean it’s harder for clients to use it, and even developers may need to take some time to learn how to use it.

If your project needs something really fancy though, you could be better off trying a premium plugin. The two most popular plugins I’ve come across are Layer Slider and Revolution Slider. Unfortunately, while they are both good, they’re very hard to pick up and use right away. This means they are definitely not suited for a website you’re building for a client, if they will need to customise their slider frequently.

MaxGalleria

A vast improvement on the long-standing king of WordPress galleries, NextGen Gallery, MaxGalleria is easy to use and easy to customise. It’s responsive by default, can create video galleries, shows captions nicely and is very customisable. It can also import image data from NextGen, so upgrading to MaxGalleria is very easy.

User Interaction

Contact Form 7

The essential contact form plugin, WPCF7 lets you create simple and complex forms using a set of plugin-specific shortcodes. The settings may not be easily customised by a non-technical person, but it’s flexibility and range of third-party add-ons certainly make it the best form plugin currently available.

Don’t forget to install Really Simple CAPTCHA too, to prevent the usual tide of spam messages!

If you need to do more with your contact form, consider installing Dynamic Text Extension. This plugin lets you show useful information in your form and the message it sends out, such as the name of the post, and can add in hidden fields too.

Content Presentation

Tabby Responsive Tabs

With Tabby Responsive Tabs, you can code tabs into your content using a very user-friendly set of shortcodes. After a certain width (767px, one pixel after iPad portrait mode) your tabs become an accordion. The default styles look pretty good too, and the plugin is in active development, with new features being introduced frequently.

One great feature, added after the initial build, lets you create links to open certain tabs! That’s ideal for linking to information from one page to another, where the information is contained within certain tabs.

Also, seriously, the shortcodes are awesome. You simply say “this is a tab, this is a tab, and now my tabs are done”. There’s no need to close each tab or include bulky setting attributes, making this a very user/client-friendly plugin.

Squelch Tabs and Accordions Shortcodes

Tabby Tabs is awesome, but if you want to show accordions or tabs all the time – rather than before or after a certain breakpoint – then Squelch is the ideal plugin for you.

Originally intended as a replacement for the dying TheThe Tabs and Accordions, Squelch allows you to create accordions, tabs and toggles quickly with the shortcodes provided – all of which follow the same structure as the original TheThe shortcodes. The plugin creates standard jQuery UI elements and has clear documentation with lots of examples.

Easy FancyBox

Makes any image link open in a lightbox, an essential feature of any modern website. This plugin is included under the heading of Content Presentation because as well as making image links open in a lightbox, you can also change a few options to make it work with inline content (modal lightboxes), iframes (lightboxes for external website), and video services like YouTube and Vimeo.

Essentially, this plugin just enables FancyBox and adds some Javascript to configure the settings, but it’s still much faster than doing this yourself! Plus, if you would like to use a more recent version of FancyBox, you can just copy the settings from your displayed page source and use them with your own version of FancyBox.

Categories: Essential Series, WordPress