One of the exciting things about WordPress is the unlimited potential to create a website that does every single thing you want it to.
Before loading up on plugins, it’s a good idea to create a plan for choosing the most essential WordPress plugins that are necessary for keeping the running and the site visitors happy.
Essential WordPress Plugins
Many non-essential WordPress plugins add functionality or style in a way that slows a website down. Often, there are better ways of accomplishing the same without a plugin.
But there are essential plugins that (arguably) no site should be without.
Creating a list of 11 essential plugins is a subjective exercise that is limited by one’s own experience and knowledge.
For every plugin I have chosen as essential, there are no doubt many others worthy of consideration that do something better suited for different needs that might be more complex (or simpler).
So, it’s probably best to consider this a shortlist to add to other shortlists.
The best place to begin is with a subjective opinion on what kinds of plugins are essential.
Arguably, there are four necessary kinds of plugins that are essential to virtually every WordPress website.
WordPress Plugins For Security
There are many excellent choices for security plugins. Among the choices, three stand out to me as worthy of consideration.
Wordfence hardens a website against external threats by locking down areas of the site that are commonly exploited – and has a malware scan to check for intrusions.
It does things like blocking malicious files from executing in WordPress folders where they commonly hide, sending alerts when plugins and themes need updating, and providing an option to force strong passwords.
It even provides the option for instituting two-factor authentication – previously a Premium feature, now available in the free version.
However, the main feature is its firewall.
Wordfence has built-in firewall rules that automatically detect malicious activities or user agent profiles and immediately block them.
External threats generally don’t have a chance against the firewall, but adding your own custom firewall rules can really bring down the hammer against malicious bots.
For example, several of my sites experienced an increase in hacking bots using a Chrome 90 user agent, which is a 2-year-old version of Chrome. That browser version currently has a market share of less than 0.08%.
That means blocking all user agents with that user agent has a low probability of blocking an actual user.
Adding a custom rule blocking all instances of bots using Chrome 90 instantly blocked thousands of hackers every month.
It is important to note that excessive use of manual firewall settings (like blocking many IP addresses) could result in a performance hit.
That’s why the Wordfence automatic lockout is useful because it expires after a set time, which will prevent bloating the database.
Wordfence is also authorized by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures Program as a CVE Numbering Authority.
This gives it the authority to contribute vulnerability information that its researchers discover and add it to the CVE® Program, a database of vulnerabilities. I mention this only to show how Wordfence is an authoritative and expert organization.
Over 4 million users trust Wordfence, and for good reason – because it is easy to configure and it works.
The Premium version of Wordfence offers a more advanced firewall that receives up-to-the-minute threat signatures.
Sucuri, which is currently owned by GoDaddy, is a security auditing, malware scanning, and website hardening solution.
It doesn’t duplicate the features in Wordfence, so it can work together with Wordfence as a two-part security solution.
Sucuri features a file integrity scanner that alerts users to changed files, hardens the website against intrusions, and offers security notices like when someone logs in.
The paid version of Sucuri offers a firewall that actively blocks threats.
Using the free versions of Sucuri together with Wordfence offers an outstanding level of WordPress security.
3. Akismet Spam Protection
Akismet Spam Protection is used by over 5 million users. It was created by Automattic, which is a for-profit company founded by Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress.
You can count on seamless integration between Akismet and the WordPress CMS.
Akismet is easy to implement for protecting contact forms and comment sections. It’s a useful plugin to install on any site that has comments turned on and/or a contact form.
Backup And Restore WordPress Plugins
4. UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup
UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup plugin is trusted by over 3 million users. It’s an easy-to-use backup solution that makes it simple to roll the site back to a previous version.
I’ve used it successfully to migrate a site from one server to another server, as well as to recover after pushing the wrong button and deleting my template.
Migrating from one server to another is as simple as backing up with UpdraftPlus, setting up WordPress on the new server, adding the UpdraftPlus plugin to the new installation, and then using UpdraftPlus to recover the site from a backup.
That’s it. Moving a site with UpdraftPlus is so easy, it feels like magic.
SEO WordPress Plugins
Publishing a website requires optimizations.
WordPress SEO plugins don’t do SEO in the sense that one pushes a button, and the site is magically search optimized.
They are tools that make it easy to accomplish the technical chores required of a well-optimized website.
There are many SEO plugins to choose from, and out of all of them, two are highly regarded in the SEO community.
Also read 13 Best WordPress SEO Plugins
5. Rank Math SEO
Rank Math SEO is a relatively new SEO plugin that quickly gained over 1 million users.
It has an easy-to-use interface and offers many features that require a paid version in other plugins, such as the IndexNow and local SEO optimizations.
All of the important technical SEO chores are handled by Rank Math. It also has additional features for optimizing content.
Some of the important features that come in the free version of Rank Math:
- Structured Data.
- Instant indexing integration with the Microsoft Bing IndexNow.
- Google Instant Indexing integration (alerts Google when a page has been added, updated, or removed).
- XML Sitemap.
- Local SEO.
- Internal linking.
- Keyword rank tracking.
Rank Math is easy to configure and offers extensive features for technical SEO – along with other features, like an AI assistant for content.
6. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is the most popular SEO plugin in the world, with over 5 million installations.
Many developers who work on Yoast also contribute to the WordPress core itself, which provides an idea of the quality of the coding that goes into making this plugin.
The recently updated user interface makes it easier for users of all technical levels to accomplish advanced technical SEO tasks quickly.
Yoast SEO is a good choice for beginners who don’t know anything about SEO, but it is also useful for advanced users.
This plugin is known for its seamless integration into the WordPress workflow.
Knowing that Yoast SEO is created by expert developers who also contribute to the WordPress core itself inspires confidence.
Contact Form WordPress Plugins
There are many choices for contact forms, matching the needs of countless types of websites.
If it’s not particularly mission-critical, using a theme’s built-in contact form is a perfectly fine solution.
But adding a third-party contact form plugin extends the possibilities of what you can do with a contact form.
7. Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 is an easy-to-use contact form trusted by over 5 million users. The wild popularity of this contact form should mean that it’s a no-brainer to use it, but there are some considerations to be aware of.
Contact Form 7 is said to add supporting files and scripts to all pages throughout a site, including on pages where there is no contact form.
That’s an old-school coding practice that has, in recent years, fallen out of favor because it adds unnecessary scripts to webpages, slowing them down.
One script from one plugin isn’t going to make a huge difference. But it’s the cumulative effect of all the other unnecessary scripts that weigh down a site to the point that, in some cases, it becomes non-responsive for some people.
I have clients that use Contact Form 7 on some sites and appreciate how easy it is to configure, the simplicity of adding Akismet, and the overall no-fuss deployment.
It’s not a bad choice for non-critical scenarios.
If all you need is a basic contact form for a basic site, Contact Form 7 is a decent choice.
There are other choices for more complex needs, but this one does the job for basic situations and is super easy to use.
8. WPForms (WP Forms Lite)
WP Forms is a step up from Contact Form 7.
There are different levels of the paid versions, each level providing increasingly sophisticated features and abilities.
The free version is a fine solution, though, when all you need is a contact form.
9. Ninja Forms
Ninja Forms is another easy-to-use contact form builder – but this one has increasingly complex functionalities.
What’s attractive about Ninja Forms is that it uses a modular approach that allows one to purchase add-ons that extend its functionality. Paid add-ons include functionality like multi-step forms and conditional logic.
That said, the free version of Ninja Forms has options that are premium features on other contact forms.
For example, it is Akismet and Google ReCaptcha friendly and can accommodate uploads, accept payments via PayPal and other gateways, integrate with MailChimp, Constant Contact, multiple CRMs, and more.
It’s a good choice to start with and expand on available features as the site grows.
10. Formidable Forms
Formidable Forms is perfectly named because it is impressive, has a large number of features and capabilities, and is capable of accomplishing far more than many other contact forms.
It’s more than a contact form because it also functions as a lead generation form builder capable of creating quizzes and surveys.
An especially attractive feature is that it creates WCAG/A11Y compliant forms, which means that it is accessible.
The free Lite version is a highly capable form builder.
But the paid Premium version of Formidable has an extensive feature set that is useful for lead generation and business while also capable of creating so much more.
11. Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is a paid contact form that offers an extensive amount of advanced features that are useful for sites with complex needs and integrations.
Gravity Forms markets itself as a form manager useful for data capture. It’s strongly suited for marketing campaigns and monetization.
Even the Basic version has strong integrations with services like SendGrid, HubSpot, Emma, and MailChimp.
The paid Pro version adds CRM integrations and payment checkout options.
At the Elite level, it features coupons, geolocation, and more.
Essential WordPress Plugins
Creating a list of WordPress plugins is a subjective exercise; The goal of this list is to help create a shortlist of plugins to help you narrow your search.
Many other plugins might be more suitable for a specific situation.
And that’s okay.
Because the freedom to create a website that does exactly what you want – no more and no less – is one of the reasons why WordPress is the No. 1 CMS choice in the world.
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