There are a handful of plugins I use on a regular basis and I consider my “Essential WordPress Plugins” though there are some that are specific to certain types of WordPress builds that are recommended in certain cases.
The purpose of this guide is to cover the best WordPress plugins for blogs, eCommerce stores, and informational style business websites based on my 15 years of trial and error to save you from the trial and error process of going through the thousands of options out there.
If you run a WordPress blog, website or eCommerce store, this list of plugins will be well worth reviewing.
Here are my recommended WordPress plugins.
Essential WordPress Plugins
To manage the on-page SEO health of your site it helps to have a tool for applying 301 redirects. This is useful when you delete a page or post or change the permalink and want to maintain the link juice from any backlinks the page previously had.
404 errors are frustrating for your visitors and they can negatively impact your SEO if those old permalinks still have some page authority, so the best way to deal with them is to 301 redirect them to the new URL, if you deleted it then try and point it to the closest related page or if there isn’t one then just redirect to your homepage to tidy things up.
This plugin makes it very easy to add and maintain your redirects and is a lot easier than having to add them to the .htaccess file on your server.
Redirection is also great for managing your affiliate link redirects so you can avoid displaying ugly long URLs and put them in a shared directly so you can easily noindex them.
Some people use the Pretty Link plugin for masking their affiliate links but I don’t see the point if you already have the Redirection plugin, they essentially do the same thing but the Redirection plugin is better in my opinion.
Since the GDPR game into play in the UK these regulations have been heightened and since a lot of websites receive global traffic it’s important to take the regional laws of the whole world into consideration.
Cookie Notice is a simple tool that allows you to add a sitewide cookie notification bar at the bottom of your site to notify users and collect consent.
UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore
A simple backup utility you can use if your hosting provider doesn’t include one by default or without charging extra $. You can have it backup to your server or connect it to a third party like Dropbox or Google Drive (G-Suites).
If you are using WPEngine, Kinsta or another host that offers backups by default then you won’t need this plugin but otherwise, it can be handy. I recommend running a backup before you do maintenance in your sites like updating plugins, themes, and WordPress.
Try UpdraftPlus and use it every time you are about to make a change that might nuke your site so you can always restore to your backup point.
Contact Form 7 or WP Forms
I am currently a little conflicted here. Firstly I will say both are great WordPress contact form plugins. Contact Form 7, on the one hand, I have been using for over a decade on pretty much every website I ran or built for anyone else.
WP Forms is a newer kid on the block but in testing it I have found it to be very easy to use.
Both forms offer similar features though WP Forms uses a drag and drop approach and a more user-friendly UI.
You can also use Google ReCaptcha with both to prevent automated spam emails.
I’m going to continue to use both and see how I get on with a view to deciding on whether I will be switching completely to WP Forms.
If you don’t have a contact form at the moment and you want to add one, simply install of these two plugins, create or edit your contact page and paste the shortcode the contact form plugin provides you and paste it on your contact page and update.
WP GDPR Compliance
WP GDPR Compliance is a plugin that turns on a few settings and checkboxes to help your website to comply with the GDPR regulations for any visitors from the EU.
It turns on a consent checkbox on your default WordPress comments form, adds a consent management system, and adds consent checkboxes for some third party plugins like Contact Form 7.
One of the biggest drawbacks about WordPress is also one of it’s biggest selling points and that’s it’s popularity. Due to how prevalent WordPress is online hackers and spammers find it easier than ever to infect websites with their malicious code and malware.
This is because WordPress is updated on a regular basis to fix bugs, backdoors, and other issues yet a lot of WordPress users don’t keep their websites up to date or take care when trusting plugins and other code.
WordFence allows you to harden your security by adding a firewall and the ability to scan your site for any problematic code or files and by default the plugin emails the site owner whenever a plugin, theme or WordPress itself needs updating.
There is a premium version that offers even more features but you want to at least have the free version and basic firewall setup.
I have had to fix a number of hacked WordPress websites over the years because they haven’t been maintained and trust me, it’s a messy job to remove every trace of whatever was injected.
Yoast SEO is the best WordPress plugin for SEO by far and makes it easy to optimize your meta titles and descriptions while also adding lots of other tools like global and granular control over the indexing of pages, what’s included in your XML sitemap and a keyword analyzer tool for your content.
The content analyzer scans your page or post live while you are editing and checks your focus keyword against every piece of your content, the text, the image alt tags, the permalink and a host of other variables to help you determine if your on-page SEO is well crafted to what you want to rank for.
If you want to get control over your technical search engine optimization with your WordPress website, you need Yoast SEO.
Site Speed and Performance
While WordPress is the best and most flexible content management system you can use for your website or blog it can in some cases become a little bloated and when site speed is such an important factor in conversion rates and SEO rankings these days it’s one of the most important aspects to focus on.
A faster loading website will retain your visitors for longer, increasing dwell time and hopefully reducing the bounce rate, it will lead to more sales and it will also improve your chance of ranking on Google as a result of these positive signals.
Remember, functionality should always be prioritized over design.
I strongly recommend the majority of these plugins for all WordPress websites.
Smush which was previously known as SmushIt is a plugin that allows you to losslessly compress images while they are being uploaded to the WordPress media library.
Simple to use, the free version does have a limit on the number of “smushes” you can do each month but it’s probably sufficient for most sites and blogs.
I must admit, I have had the best results when first manually compressing them via tinypng.com first and then uploading them to WordPress but Smush is a handy tool built in.
TinyPNG also has a plugin but I found it wasn’t working very well compared with using their website manually but will review again soon.
Resize Image After Upload
Now, this is a plugin I often install on other peoples websites because I know that people forget to resize the physical pixel size of their images before uploading.
You can set a maximum width and height for images and during upload, it will scale down the full-size image to these dimensions.
I see a lot of websites where the owner has uploaded images that are 10,000 pixels wide when in most cases somewhere between 1400 and 1600 are the largest you really need and when it comes to images you want to just use in your narrower content area like in post images then you seldom need anything above 900-1000 pixels wide.
Modern-day phones can take extremely high-resolution photos and as a result, it’s wise to not upload them straight from your phone to your website without treating them first but if you don’t have the time this plugin can at least help you out.
Personally, I always resize everything in bulk on my computer before uploading using a free Windows program called Resize Images. I can then highlight a folder of images and resize them to my maximum widths in seconds.
Then I will compress then with either the TinyPNG website or using the Smush plugin for WordPress.
Install Resize Images After Upload plugin.
WP Super Cache
Caching is an important aspect of maintaining good website performance and essentially is a way of temporarily storing your most commonly accessed files in a cache that reduces the load on your server when people revisit the website.
This can cache your images, web pages, and other content to provide a smoother browsing experience for your visitors.
There are a handful of good caching solutions out there for WordPress but you might find you get different results testing them with your theme. For most of my builds, I have found WP Super Cache to be the best tool for caching.
That is of course unless you are hosting on a service like WPEngine where they don’t allow caching plugins because they have their own caching system in place by default.
W3 Total Cache and Fastest Cache are two other great caching tools that I have had good results with too but I have found WP Super Cache to be the most efficient for my needs when using a shared hosting solution and it’s free.
In your case you may have to test several caching plugins to find what works best with your WordPress theme and the plugins you are using. Caching and minifying certain files might prevent certain features of your theme or plugins from working properly, in which case you need to exclude them from your cache.
GTMetrix for WordPress
Now this isn’t essential because you can always run your site through the GTMetrix to find out your site speed and score but if you are working on a website or making lots of changes it can be handy to install the WordPress plugin and then you will see the site speed reduce as you add more plugins and bloat.
This can help you start to detect which plugins and changes are causing the biggest increase in your loading time and then investigate further to see if it can be improved or if it’s a plugin you might want to avoid or replace with a more lightweight alternative.
Ultimately if your WordPress website or blog is generating a good income and needs to be running extremely quickly to benefit from increases in conversions and better search engine rankings I would 100% invest in a premium WordPress host like WPEngine, where their own server-side caching system will take care of your speed and then consider a CDN service like MaxCDN or CloudFlare.
WP-Optimize is a plugin that can go in and clear out the junk from your database. If you have ever managed a WordPress website for several years and have seen it go through different evolutions using different themes you might be familiar with the number of junk tables that are left behind even after themes and plugins have been completely deleted.
This plugin can remove all of the unnecessary data like trashed items, spam comments, pingbacks and other expired transients that are still lurking in your database.
You can check these out if you take a look at your database via CPanel > PHPMyAdmin but unless you know what you’re doing avoid making any changes here as it can quickly break your website if you do something wrong.
You can set this tool to perform its tasks on a weekly or monthly basis so you don’t have to remember to come back and run it and you can choose from a series of different options to help you decide what to optimize and what to leave alone.
It’s developed by the same people who make Updraft backup plugin and can connect to Updraft to autorun a backup before it runs it’s optimization changes, very handy if you aren’t sure what you are doing.
As with anything major you should always make sure a backup is taken first.
Cloudflare also has a free and premium version so you can try before you buy.
For Specific Requirements
Here is a list of other plugins I use when a specific type of WordPress site is required.
I use WooCommerce if the site requires eCommerce functionality. WooCommerce is the most comprehensive eCommerce facility for WordPress, it’s open source (free) and with a few extension plugins, the possibilities are endless. You can create membership sites, subscription products, bookings, take deposits and all with a profession back end to manage your reports, orders, and customers.
WooCommerce allows you to easily sell physical products and digital products like virtual products and downloads.
I love WooCommerce because of how low the running costs are compared with other eCom options with less flexibility like Shopify, Magneto etc.
Shopify is a great tool for what it is, but the best strategy for me is to build out a WordPress website with content and integrate eCommerce using the WooCommerce plugin.
If the site requires a forum then I will usually use bbpress which is also created by the makers of WordPress, Automatic.
I have added forums to numerous websites over the years and this tool is a clean and efficient way of doing it. You might need a few add-ons to add additional functionality but these will differ depending on how you want your forum to look and function.
Easy Table of Contents
If the site is likely to include long-form articles then this is my favorite plugin to use as a table of contents to display above the post. It looks tidy and makes it easier for people to scan the contents of your article and jump to the part they are most interested in reading.
A table of contents plugin can also help in terms of SEO as it can lead to your article being shown as a rich snippet and rank in position 0 on Google.
If the site requires learning management system features for an online course, for example, I use LearnDash an LMS plugin for WordPress that I have been using for several years.
LearnDash includes courses, lessons, topics, quizzes and a journal feature for your students, it can be connected to WooCommerce for taking payments when people purchase access and works beautifully.
It’s easy to manage your students and there are lots of extensions to add gamification and other different features to your courses.
I have set up many WordPress websites for clients who sell courses and adopted LearnDash as the LMS and everyone has been very happy with how it works, how flexible it is and the fact it’s more affordable than using some of the popular platforms like Teachable, Udemy, and Kajabi.
WordPress comes with posts and pages as the default post types, but certain websites need more than these two or just need them to be named better. An example could be a record label website, a custom post type they might want could be “Artists” so they can go into WordPress and instead of going to add a new post, they go to add a new artist.
In addition an artist custom post type likely needs it’s own taxonomies like “Genres”. By default, WordPress includes two taxonomies both of which are assigned to posts. These are called Categories and Tags and using Pods you can create and assign new taxonomies to all of the available post types.
Advanced Custom Fields
Sometimes WordPress’ content management system needs to be expanded to include custom data fields for the site owner to fill in. These are called “Custom Fields” in WordPress and ACF allows you to create all sorts of different input fields that can be added to pages, posts, taxonomies like categories and tags or custom post types as mentioned above in the Pods description.
SocialWarfare is my favorite social sharing plugin for WordPress as it includes attractive buttons which can intelligently float when scrolling, plenty of options to customize how they display including shortcodes and the pro version has lots of great extras.
The free version is perfectly usable on it’s own but the pro premium upgraded version has some nice extras for Pinterest users with the Pin it button, Twitter cards and more.
All-in-One WP Migration
When I’m migrating a small WordPress website I typically use All-in-One WP Migration as it makes the process fast and painless. It’s a lot easier than exporting the database from PHPMyAdmin and taking a dump of the files from Cpanel and then setting it all up manually on the other side.
This is a handy tool if you often need to duplicate posts when you are developing your site and creating filler content or if you want to duplicate a specific template or theme layout in BeaverBuilder.
Not required by all sites but it sure comes in handy when you build a lot of WordPress websites for clients.
Plugins I use on some but not all websites but highly recommend if you require the solution they provide for your situation.
WP Last Modified Info
When you update your content you want visitors to know that it has been regularly updated and you also want Google to pay attention to. One option is just to change the published date of your post but that’s often less than ideal. Sometimes you want people to see both the published date and the modified date and with this plugin you can do just that.
Easy to use and not too many settings to configure and your posts will display the last updated date at the top or bottom of your post.
Better Search and Replace
Better Search and Replace plugin is the best way to search the entire database and change a query string. This can be a very handy tool after a website migration so you can easily search for all instances of the old website URL and replace with the new URL.
You can also use the plugin to adjust the URLs of links in your pages when you want to change it in bulk.
This plugin saves a lot of time and avoids you needing to dig into the actual database in PHPMyAdmin.
If you ever need to change the thumbnail sizes of your website either using the built-in settings, custom code or because your theme creates new sizes, you might find they don’t look right. That’s because they need to be regenerated and Regenerate Thumbnails is a very simple utility that does just that.
Very handy when you are working on an existing site and doing a redesign.
A handy WordPress tool that in my opinion, the best in its class. TablePress allows you to easily create tables and add them to your posts with a shortcode.
If you are doing product strip downs, comparison tables or just want to present some data you will definitely find TablePress to be a handy tool for presenting your content.
Really Simple SSL
An easy utility to help you in switching from http to https after activating an SSL certificate for your WordPress blog or website.
It goes through your site and changes all of the necessary settings to configure your website to only serve content over a secure connection.
In the EU with the GDPR regulations you now have to ensure any websites that allow users to submit personal details are served over secured connections only. So no http.
SSL Insecure Content Fixer
This tool fixes any mixed content issues you might have after turning on an SSL certificate and switching your site over to https. This happens when you have links in your content both to your own pages and external websites that use the http version of the URL and corrects them on the fly so your certificate works properly.
If you are setting up a new website or blog then you likely don’t need this but if you have an existing WordPress install that you are switching over that contains a lot of content, this might help you avoid lots of mixed content errors preventing your SSL from working properly.
Ideally, you want to keep your costs lean when building your website but there are times where you might want to invest in a few tools. If you have the budget then I would also consider the below plugins.
If you want beautiful popups for your WordPress blog or site then Thrive Leads is definitely one of the best options out there.
Thrive Leads allows you to create attractive well-designed popups with an easy designer tool in a matter of 10 minutes, provides a wide range of triggers like time delayed, when someone goes to close the tab and when an element is clicked and multi-step popups.
You can also create lead magnets and insert them within your posts and pages using shortcodes.
Thrive also tracks your impressions and opt-ins which is handy, you can easily create A/B split tests and see what is performing best.
Adding Schema to your WordPress websites can help you to appear in Google’s featured snippets and helps Google understand the content on a semantic level. Many plugins and themes add some sort of Schema to your web pages, Yoast is one example but Schema Pro allows you to utilize a much wider range of different Schema types like Questions and Answers, courses, recipes, job postings, and products.
Useful for working on aspects of SEO where Schema might give you an edge and allow you to rank in position 0 as they call it. Unless you are utilizing one of the custom schema options it provides in your website you probably have sufficient schema in your theme or from Yoast SEO on your pages and posts.
Check out Schema Pro
Toolset is a tool for creating custom post types and categories like the Pods plugin. Toolset is a premium plugin that used to have a free version and premium add-ons that has since switched to premium only.
It is probably the most comprehensive tool of it’s kind for this purpose but in most cases, Pods is a sufficient and free alternative.
Toolset are continually adding new tools, features and sister products that enhance the CMS potential of WordPress including post relationships but I haven’t been keeping up to date with it lately.
I will still say that if you need to create a really complex CMS with WordPress then Toolset is likely the best tool for the job.
There are some great WooCommerce plugins and other integration tools that are very useful if your store or website has unique requirements.
WooCommerce Deposits is an extension that simply allows you to allow optional or required deposits on purchases of products in your WooCommerce store. You can turn it on for specific products or categories and set the deposit to a fixed or percentage amount.
This add-on is popular for websites that want to take bookings or split payments into payment plans.
You can also use it to pre-sell a new product if it’s not quite ready to go live or you are selling access to the beta at a discounted rate before the final launch.
If you are running a business that takes appointments you can use the WooCommerce Bookings plugin to turn any product page into a booking style form with calendars and time selection options. It also provides a full booking back end system so you can manage your bookings and using allowed slots you can prevent too many bookings at the same time or on the same day.
I have used this tool for tour guides in Japan, hotels, and consultants.
The system is intuitive and flexible to most businesses requirements.
There are lots of options you can configure for bookings and it also works with WooCommerce Deposits.
Read more about WooCommerce Bookings
Want to sell subscription products? This plugin lets you do that with lots of flexibility and works with many third-party tools to provide your subscribers with membership features or access to course material with LearnDash.
If you need to create subscriptions WooCommerce and the Subscriptions add-on is the best way to do it.
This plugin is great if you want to create a course or have free to access members-only content to encourage sign-ups.
Learn more about WooCommerce Subscriptions
Theme Specific Plugins
Depending on the theme setup of the site there are some other plugins I recommend. I often build my websites using Genesis and often with a page builder like BeaverBuilder or Elementor.
Related: Read my article on the best WordPress page builder plugins.
In these cases, I also use one or several of the below.
If I am using Genesis as the core theme of the site with a child theme I will install Genesis Extender plugin so I have an easy to manage interface for adding CSS and PHP customizations.
Genesis Extender is basically a developers tool for Genesis, that allows a better way of adding custom code to your site without having to edit any files that might get overwritten all from within the WordPress dashboard.
I don’t make a secret of the fact BeaverBuilder is my favorite page builder plugin and I will often install this and a couple of companion plugins.
Beaver Builder is a slick and easy to use page builder for building WordPress websites from the ground up in a drag and drop front-end style editor.
Nothing else I have used compares in terms of ease of use and that list includes:
- Divi – Possibly the worst of the bunch.
- VisualComposer by WPBakery – A pioneer in the space but their approach has been improved on by BB.
- Elementor – The newest of the big page builders, with a massive user base but still lacking a few features and the flexibility I have with BB.
If you are using Beaver Builder with a custom theme framework like Genesis, adding Beaver Themer will give you control over various templates you can auto apply to all post types, taxonomy archives, and pages.
This is great when you need a simple fall back design for the pages that don’t need to be custom designed.
I build most of my websites by using Genesis (Theme) + Beaver Builder (Plugin) + Beaver Themer (Plugin) The last of which helps me bridge the gap and create flexible templates that can be overridden on a page by page basis as and when needed.
Beaver Themer is an essential tool when I build BB sites.
Beaver Builder Powerpack
An add-on for Beaver Builder that gives you access to lots of additional modules and templates.
Powerpack for Beaver Builder has some completely new modules you can use in your web pages and some that are modified and extended versions of default Beaver Builder modules.
Powerpack also includes some features and settings that aren’t available without it like expanding rows and animations.
On some websites I have been experimenting with Elementor, while it’s a fantastic page builder tool for designing WordPress websites, I still prefer the workflow of BeaverBuilder and think it’s a slightly more mature tool having had a couple of years headstart.
Elementor does excel however in the visual options they provide with their animations and layering settings and do seem to be adding some great features on a consistent basis like the pop-ups designer and in-line editing.
I definitely plan to continue experimenting with Elementor Plugin and seeing which features they add as the year goes on.
WordPress Plugin Precautions
Whichever plugins you are using, try and avoid overdoing it and having too many plugins installed because this can slow your website down if they are all active and it also poses a larger security risk as it increases the attack surface area, especially if they aren’t kept updated.
The more plugins you have installed, the larger the surface area is for attackers to try and penetrate.
It’s also worth noting that when considering a new WordPress plugin it’s sensible to check when it was last updated as there are a lot of abandoned plugins no longer being updated.
So just because there aren’t any updates to do, you might still have a plugin installed that is a vulnerability and unsafe.
If you want a fast loading WordPress site then it’s wise to go for a less is more approach with plugins.
Of course, not all plugins slow your site down, back end only plugins which add features to the dashboard but perhaps don’t need to output any code on the front of your website seldom have an impact but it’s still wise to reduce your website or blogs dependancy on lots of plugins.
Some WordPress sites I evaluate are littered with plugins and usually many of them aren’t needed as they are either two plugins that do the same thing or just plugins that don’t offer value for what they consume in server resources.
Keeping your site tidy and organized is the way to go and using Wordfence you can get warnings to notify you when you have old plugins out of date or that haven’t been updated in a long time. I know, I had to add a plugin there to solve a problem but it’s a back end plugin, very well maintained and so it’s one of the good guys, and something I now recommend for everyone that uses WordPress!
Consider creating an evaluation process each time you go to add a new plugin and consider the above factors and whether it’s going to bring value whilst not burdening you at the same time.
This list is what I consider the best WordPress plugins for their purpose, to save you having to test several plugins for each solution you need. The above list is constantly evolving as it has done during the decade and a half nearly that I have been working with WordPress.
Expect the above to continue to change and I will update it on a regular basis when something new comes along and something else inevitably dies and stops being updated therefore leaving me with no choice but to stop recommending it.
So if you are interested in starting a blog or a new WordPress website you know which plugins to use.
If you think I have missed something off and you want to tell me your best WordPress plugins then feel free to get in touch.
Next up, why not take a look at my recommended list of the best WordPress themes to use for blogging and building websites.
and remember you want your WordPress site to be fast so don’t over do it with the plugins.
Ciao for now.