Plugins that Every WordPress Website Needs
Every WordPress user knows that there are tons of plugins available to extend the functionality of their website or blog. There’s a plugin for pretty much anything you can think of. Whether it’s security, e-commerce, image galleries, or even fancy design features, there’s a plugin. As a WordPress developer and consultant (I hate referring to myself as a consultant but I couldn’t think of another word), I’ve had at least a brief experience with hundreds of different plugins. I have seen inexperienced users with over 50 plugins installed, many of them for simple tasks that can be coded very easily. I’ve seen a lot of shitty plugins and I’ve found ones that are worthy of being installed on any WordPress website. This list is of my go-to plugins that I install on any WordPress website, whether it’s a client site or one of my own. All of the plugins on this list are developed and maintained by WordPress experts so there’s no need to worry about quality.
Akismet, Disqus, or WordPress Zero Spam
These plugins both serve to prevent spam on your WordPress blog. Akismet is developed by Automattic, the guys who created WordPress. It does a good job at sending spam comments directly to your spam queue. However, I would argue that it’s not the best solution by itself. Once your blog becomes bigger, the number of spam comments will drastically increase and soon your spam queue will be flooded with thousands of comments. I like to use Akismet with a plugin called Conditional Captcha, which is a plugin that requires commenters to enter a Captcha key if they have not commented on your blog before or if Akismet thinks the comment is spam. This doesn’t completely block spam from entering the queue but it greatly reduces it.
UPDATE: Back in August (2014), I started using a plugin called WordPress Zero Spam, which is an alternative to Akismet. It lets you use the standard WordPress comment form (unlike with Disqus) and there are no API keys required. There are very few settings to configure so this is a plugin that you simply install and basically leave alone. Best of all, there is no spam queue to clear out every so often, unlike with Akismet. I love this plugin and it has become my favorite spam-fighting solution.
Disqus is a complete comment system that replaces the default WordPress comment system. You will need to create a free Disqus account to use the plugin but it’s pretty easy. If you are open to replacing the WordPress comments, Disqus is a great solution and one I use frequently because, in my own experience, I’ve never had to delete a spam comment. It also supports, by default, social commenting for users to comment via popular social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
If you care about SEO, WordPress SEO by Joost de Valk is an amazing yet simple way to drastically improve your site’s search engine performance. It lets you rewrite page titles, create meta descriptions, tells you how well your post is written, and much more. Not only are the features incredible, it’s also frequently updated and the man behind it, Joost (pronounced “Yoast”), is a WordPress and SEO guru. Currently, WordPress SEO is the third most downloaded plugin on WordPress (excluding Akismet, which is included in every installation). I can’t create a website without this plugin.
By far, the most useful plugin for WordPress is Gravity Forms. If you need to accept any type of user input, Gravity Forms lets you do it (and even charge for it!). If you’re new to building websites, you won’t realize the power of user submitted data until you have a need for it. Gravity Forms has mastered user submitted forms and this is what makes it the most versatile plugin available for WordPress. With Gravity Forms, you can create pretty much any type of form you can imagine, including contact forms, polls, quizzes, order forms, guest post submissions, appointment forms, and more. Having used it extensively for quite some time (and even releasing a plugin to disable select form fields), I cannot use any other forms plugin and I wouldn’t feel right using anything other than Gravity Forms for client work. Although the rest of the plugins covered in this post are free and found in the WordPress plugin repository, Gravity Forms is a premium plugin and costs from $39-199. That said, it is worth every last cent!
WP-Optimize is a free plugin that helps keep your WordPress database as clean as possible. Some of the features of WP-Optimize include optimizing your database, removing spam and unapproved comments, clearing trashed comments and posts, removing all trackbacks and pingbacks, removing transient options, and running automatic cleanups. Over time, not performing these actions can add some serious unneeded bloat to your database, which can ultimately slow your site and decrease its search performance. WP-Optimize is a terrific plugin and setting it to run automatically is a great housekeeping task for maintaining a WordPress website.
The WP Smush.it plugin, maintained by WPMUDEV, reduces the file size of your uploaded images to increase your website’s performance. Images are typically much larger files and, therefore, put a larger strain on the server to display them. WP Smush.it compresses your images and decreases load time. This plugin pairs well with a lazy load plugin to even further increase your loading performance.
See my post on Essential Plugins and Tips for Securing WordPress. I do not create a WordPress website without solid security measures and neither should you. These plugins may be the most important of your installation.
Other Notable Plugins
The plugins I mentioned above are the plugins I install on EVERY WordPress site I develop. There are a few other plugins I use frequently but they are not as essential. I find that most site owners will have a use for these plugins:
Another plugin from Automattic, JetPack is a plugin that gives self-hosted WordPress users the same cloud-based features of WordPress.com. What’s nice about JetPack is that it bundles a ton of individual modules (33 as of this post’s publish date) into one plugin. Some of my favorite JetPack features are the Custom CSS module, Stats (traffic data), Carousel (a very nice image slider), Extra Sidebar Widgets, Omnisearch (search your entire database from your admin), and Publicize (automatically post content to social media accounts).
Simple URLs is a “complete URL management system that allows you create, manage, and track outbound links from your site by using custom post types and 301 redirects.” This plugins is great if you promote affiliate products and don’t want to make it obvious that a link is an affiliate link.
Custom Post Types UI & Advanced Custom Fields
The only reason I did not include these with the required plugins is because not every site needs custom content. However, if your site does need any type of custom content or data, these two plugins make life so much easier. Read my comparison of Custom Post Types UI and WP Types, the two most popular plugins for creating WordPress Custom Post Types and Custom Fields.
Those are my essential WordPress plugins for any WordPress development project. Please comment and share your own below. I would love to know what plugins you believe are most essential.