Matrix is a field type that lets you make… wait for it, matrix's for your content. Administrators can use Matrix to add multiple rows of the same type of content easily, without duplicate fields or complex templates.
A common use of Matrix would be a rotating hero section on a homepage, you can easily built a custom field that asks for:-
And allow the admin to make multiple hero messages as they require. Web designers can limit the number of tables (with both a minimum and a maximum figure).
It's no wonder it's the most popular add-on - it's almost a necessity for every content managed website that doesn't have day-to-day involvement from a talented designer.
Despite being the only plugin in its class, it is reasonably priced at around £30 per site. There's no option for a developer license. Download at Devot-ee.
Playa allows for advanced relationships between entries. Until recently, ExpressionEngine's relationship fields only allowed you to add one relationship per custom field. That is to say, if you wanted 5 related products, you would have to have 5 fields.
Playa changed all this, and allows for multiple relationships per field. It also provided advanced filtering, so for example you could only filter "open" entries by author "Joe Bloggs".
The bulk of the functionality has recently (since 2.6) been integrated into ExpressionEngine directly, meaning that for most websites the £45 add-on is now largely unnecessary. There is an argument to be made that Pixel & Tonic's interface is neater and more intuitive - Ryan Irelan makes in his video, "Native Relationship Field and Playa Side-by-Side".
Interestingly, much of Playa has been expanded upon and integrated directly into Craft as part of the base cost of the CMS.
Playa can be downloaded on Devot-ee and is sold on a per-site basis with no developer license provided.
Another one from Brandon and the team at Pixel & Tonic. This time it's a WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) field type.
Wygwam was born in the days when ExpressionEngine's core text editor was text only, with buttons for Bold and Italics rendering (often shoddy) HTML. Not a great user experience.
Built on CK Editor, Wygwam is an Office '97 inspired text editor that most administrators get to grips with within minutes. Web designers can change the toolbar layout and even write XML and CSS files to dictate how it will appear and what code it will produce.
Multiple editor layouts can be made for any one site; some fields may have a cut down toolbar while some may have the whole shebang. As with most WYSIWYG editors sometimes the code is a little ropey, with rogue span tags and bits of code that really shouldn't be there. It's also not so great for touch screen users.
Despite this, its integration with other add ons such as Assets and its ability to scratch the itch of a good WYSIWYG on ExpressionEngine propels this into third place. On a per-site basis it costs just £19 and can be downloaded directly from Devot-ee.
Want to save a few quid? ExpressionEngine now has a reasonably good (but still not as good as Wygwam) text editor built in.
CE Image by Causing Effect allows you to manipulate any image in useful and creative ways. Perhaps the most common usage of CE Image is to allow an administrator to upload a photo and then dynamically on the template resize and crop it automatically.
But it provides more than just that basic feature. It allows web designers to bulk resize all images in a block of text, to add watermarks over images, add effects such as adjusting saturation and blur effects as well as uploading the transformed images to Amazon S3.
It's a pretty amazing feature for just £15 and can be bought directly on a per-site basis from Devot-ee.
Don't launch a site without it.
A bit disingenuous to list this one as until the most recent version Freeform was, you guessed it - completely free. Now there is a "Pro" version which uses the same listing as the previously free version. So bare in mind that some of these favourites may be from before the ol' bait and switch.
With a design from Eric Miller Design it is an intuitive and really flexible email form building and management system. There's not all that much to say about Freeform other than if you want to send emails through the front-end of the website (contact forms, data capture, etc.) Freeform is the go-to add-on to achieve it.
Administrators can easily build and manage forms through the main ExpressionEngine control panel, and the forms can be integrated into standard ExpressionEngine templates.
Frustratingly you can't buy Freeform Pro on Devot-ee directly. But you can do so at Solspace for the relatively dear price of roughly £65. Unless your forms are really complex, go with the free version which can also be downloaded directly from Solspace.
Four out of the five top add-ons are designed to be replacements for built-in functionality of ExpressionEngine. Whether this is a testament to ExpressionEngine's flexibility, or a poor evaluation of their base features is a subject to debate separately. But it does lead to an important point that the top 3 plugins alone are built by Pixel & Tonic, who have gone on to produce their own CMS competing directly with ExpressionEngine, Craft (which powers this website, actually).
As a reaction, over the past year or two, EllisLab have been negating the need for many of Pixel & Tonic's plugins by releasing their own Rich Text Editor / WYSIWYG and integrating advanced relationships a-la Playa directly into ExpressionEngine 2.6.
Interestingly, their "Assets" add-on that improves the file manager capabilities of ExpressionEngine was far from the top list - but arguably is the plugin that now has the most impact on the CMS.
When we compile an updated list in a few months, it'll be interesting to see if other add ons take over the top spots.
We looked at Devot-ee's top favourited add-ons. All the data is available and the most up to date version can be found on the Devot-ee website. Our added value is to provide commentary and analysis on 'league table'.