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WordPress in Higher Ed

One of the bigger problems in the WordPress community is tracking down quality plugins that fulfill your needs without creating more problems (or glaring security issues). You tend to find what you need either by recommendation (other people's experience) or the google and hope method. To that end here's a list of my recommendations that you might find useful[1]. Some of these are free, or offer a free option, but most require money.

Content Blocks

There are a notable amount of situations where you are legally required to ensure your website is accessible, in most places this includes institutions of learning (higher or otherwise). The following plugins, at the time of this post, provide an accessible front-end experience[2].

Genesis Blocks

Getwid

CoBlocks

Kadence Blocks

Not Accessible

wpDataTables
On it's own wpDataTables is not particularly accessible, but it's likely your best option for dealing with tabular data and with some work you can make an accessible experience.

The Events Calendar
Similarly, The Events Calendar requires some work to offer an acessible experience. However, the plugin is probably the definitive event experience.

Google's Web Stories for WordPress
Let's you build "Instagram-style stories" in WordPress.

MakeStories
Also let's you build "Instagram-style stories", but you build them in the MakeStories platform and connect to Wordpress via the plugin.

Mailgo
Even if you don't use this plugin, I think this is an interesting concept to borrow from. It creates a modal for contact info and presents multiple options for how you want to open a telephone number or an email address.

Images

Safe SVG
WordPress disables SVG uploads by default. It does this because SVGs can be dangerous, as a valid SVG file can contain arbitrary JavaScript (so potentially a malicious actor could craft an SVG that could hijack your credentials, for example). Safe SVG allows you to upload SVG files and tries to run some security heuristics to try to make sure they're safe. Upgrading to pro gets you additional SVG-based features. (SVGs are ideal for things like logos.)

ShortPixel Image Optimizer
ShortPixel's is my current prefferd image optimization service. Optimization happens on their servers, which frees your server up from a lot of potential security problems and performance draining operations. (It also works well with their other plugins.)

ShortPixel's Enable Media Replace
I'm not entirely sure how common this usecase is, but I've had some notable requests for this functionality so here it is. (Not explicitly for images, works with any media file.)

ShortPixel's Resize Image After Upload
Sometimes users refuse to resize images to sane dimensions. Sometimes you have to force them.

ShortPixel's reGenerate Thumbnails Advanced
Pretty standard feature for most power users. WordPress image sizes are hardcoded, then applied at image upload. If you add a plugin or a theme with a new image size, then you have to regenerate your image sizes for your existing images.

Regenerate Thumbnails
I believe this is the original plugin that offered this feature.

EWWW Image Optimizer Cloud
EWWW is the other image optimization plugin of note. This version also offloads the work to EWWW's servers. While they do offer a version that optimizes images locally, generally I wouldn't recommend doing something like that.

Enhanced Media Library
Adds additional options for image managment. Useful if you have a large image library that you have to keep organized.

Search

So here's a big secret: WordPress' native search is not good. Specifically problematic is the fact that it can't search custom meta data, which is essentially the mechanism Gutenberg uses to store most of it's block data. (Which means block content may not appear in your in-site search.) Here's another secret: traditional search operations in general are a resource intensive operation. If you're not careful with any kind of custom search solution and your website scales beyond your expectation then you might find your search engine is locking your site up. In any case, if you must have a comprehensive in-site WordPress search engine then you may want the following plugins.

SearchWP
Allows you to replace the native WordPress search engine with one or more custom search engines. Also has a collection of very useful add-on plugins.

Relevanssi
Replaces WordPress native search engine with it's own. Not quite as comprehensive as it's competitors but is still very useful and does have a free version.

FacetWP
Augments existing search with facets, which can often be very useful. Works with both SearchWP and Relevanssi.

Forms

Avoid forms if you can. If you can't try not to store the form data directly in your site. If you can't do either than these plugins are what you might use.

WPForms
I believe this is the preferred option for working with Genesis.

Gravity Forms
The original.

Admin

Stream
Stream is basically a log of user activity. It's pretty useful for helping people perform specific operations (by verifying they did something right/wrong) or identifying a change a user made.

Lever Technology's Google Apps Login
If your users are constantly resetting their passwords, and/or if you use some form of Google's cloud infrastructure, you may want to just use Google logins instead.

Distributor
Distributor currently doesn't work correctly. It's a work in progress (and progress has been a little slow). However I'm excited for what I've seen so far. Distributor lets you setup connections between WordPress websites and import/export content from one to the other.

WP All Import
A very useful, very developer friendly, plugin if you're doing a lot of bulk import operations. (Potential for automation here.)

WP RSS Aggregator
Another useful plugin for ingesting content, via RSS. Addons will get you RSS to post functionality.

Find My Blocks
Keep track of how blocks are being used. Useful to know if your expectations about block use are being met (and whether or not you should unistall some block suite plugins).

Public Post Preview
If you need to allow users to share preview links with people who aren't users (without publishing a fake hidden version of the content) then this plugin is what you want.

WP Crontrol
See (and debug) your scheduled cron tasks.

Unagi
Moves all the admin notices to their own admin page. Your mileage may vary, but if you've got a handful of annoying plugins spamming your dashboard with notifications you may find this useful.

Gutenberg Block Manager
Gives you the ability to enable or disable blocks globally (including hidden blocks, so be careful about that).

Hide SEO Bloat
If you're using Yoast you may find this plugin useful to clean up it's unwanted marketing.

Spam

Disable Comments
If you're not using comments then disable them.

WordPress Zero Spam
Supposedly superior to Akismet, but requires JavaScript to work (so users without JavaScript can't post comments).

Performance

Disable Emojis
If you're not using emojis then disable them.

Instant.page
Improves latecy and preloads content via the instant.page JavaScript library. Use this on a project by project basis, not all cases will benefit from this particular technology.

Flying Pages
Also preloads content, though I believe via a slightly different mechanism and heuristic.

Autoptimize
Provides a lot of value for free, via aggregating and minifying your scripts and styles (among other things). I believe it also allows you to disable emoji support, so you could skip the first plugin in this section. Include on a project by project basis, and be careful what you combine it with.

Async JavaScript
Similar to the previous plugin, this plugin also provides a lot of value by letting you make your JavaScript asyncronous. Include on a project by project basis, and be careful what you combine it with.

WP Rocket
Does a lot of the above, just not for free.

Page Optimize
From Automattic, concatenates and changes execution of scripts.

WP YouTube Lyte
Makes YouTube embeds much much more performant.

Jetpack Boost
Incoming from Automattic and WXP, specifically to address Core Web Vitals.

Analytics

Generally speaking, try to find the offical plugin for your chosen platform.

Site Kit
Offers Google Analytics, Tag Manager, and Search Console support (complete with dashboards in WordPress). If you have the option, I'd recommend installing Site Kit and then using Tag Manager to include any and all third-party scripts (including Google Analytics). Which means you don't have to worry about altering themes, etc.

Facebook for WordPress
If you care about Facebook's tracking pixel you may want to use their official plugin. At the very least you won't have to alter any themes.

Bitly's WordPress Plugin
If you're using Bitly, it looks like they're revisitng their long dormant WordPress plugin.

Security

WP Lookout
Notifies you on plugin/theme updates.


  1. Of course these aren't the only options, just the ones I'm familiar with. ↩︎

  2. I feel the need to note here, you can't just rely on technical methods to ensure accessibility. They are just a small part in a larger strategy. ↩︎