The essential set of WordPress plugins needed by most sites. These plugins are in use on JournalXtra and other sites built by the JournalXtra team.
We update this list every 6 months or so. Plugins are added and removed from the list after careful review and testing of their usefulness and performance.
Essential WordPress Plugins
- Akismet (pre-installed with WP)
- Wordfence Security (free)
- WordPress SEO by Yoast (free)
- Jetpack (free)
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (free)
- WP Fastest Cache or LightSpeed Cache (free with Pro versions available)
- Social Pug (free. Pro addon is 29/yr)
- 404 Solution (free)
- Happy Forms (free and pro)
- Post SMTP (free)
Jetpack has evolved well since its first release. Modules include WordPress stats, comments, social sharing, extra sidebar widgets, widget visibility and Photon (image) CDN, Lazy Load and a CDN for core WordPress files.
Caching will usually speed up a website’s page loads. Not all sites need a cache plugin and occasionally a cache plugin can be counterproductive. Test and measure performance with and without a cache plugin enabled before deciding whether to use one permanently.
The Lazy Load module in Jetpack reduces server resource usage and improves page load times. It does this by making images load only when they are in the visible viewport of a visitor’s web browser. This improves visitor perception of a site’s page load times.
Some ad networks serve ads in ways that are incompatible with lazy loading. Check compatibility with your ad network before you enable any form of lazy loading.
Social Pug is new to this list. We are near the end of the beginning of 2019. Social Pug knocked the previous social plugin, Social Warfare, off this list as soon as Social Pug introduced a migration tool to copy social counts and Open Graph data from other social plugins to Social Pug. This is the current best social sharing plugin available. It has a nice set of button display features, is extensible, evades adblockers and has good Pinterest features. We fell in love with social pug after looking into its puppy eyes.
The free version of Social Pug is available in the WordPress repository. The Pro version costs $29 per year for 1 site, $59 for 5 sites and $129 (plus tax) for unlimited sites. We have the unlimited developer license through WP Service Masters so we can install it for you when you contact us to have us optimize your website.
404 Solution is the most convenient way to handle and manage 404 errors. When a visitor hits a missing page, 404 Solution automatically redirects the visitor to the most likely intended destination. Requests for missing pages are logged as either Page Redirects or Captured 404s. All page redirects are logged so you can decide whether to add a manual redirect or create a new page to receive traffic.
Happy Forms is the easiest contact form to set up and configure in WordPress. Submissions are logged in the WordPress database, which means no more lost messages. Each form can be styled its own unique way. The form builder is drag and drop and input field rich.
Post SMTP is necessary when WordPress is not able to send emails properly. When you set up your WordPress sites always add email addresses to the server for admin@, contact@ form and wordpress@ whatever the site domain is and use Post SMTP if problems persist. This plugin logs both messages and success/error notices issued by the server.
These next plugins are not vital to any website but they will improve the editor and user experience.
- TinyMCE Advanced (free) improves the Gutenberg editor.
- Table of Contents Plus (free) adds a table of contents to each page.
- Elementor (free and pro) is a feature rich page builder.
- wpDiscuz (free) is the lightweight commenting system. We use this in JournalXtra.
- Simple History (free) is a lightweight way to record site activity. This logs page edits, menu edits, widget changes, user logins, page errors etc… It records more than enough site activity to allow site admins to pinpoint faults and backtrack site changes. There is a free Developer Loggers addon for those who need to monitor more event types than logged by the basic plugin.
- WP HTML Mail lets us reconfigure the default email template used by WordPress. This means all messages sent by WordPress sites can contain logos and footers, and be styled to use brand colours.
Gone from previous year lists are
The following plugins were removed from the list. They are either no longer important or their functionality have been replaced by other plugins.
- Autoptimize. Most cache plugins have similar features.
- Better WordPress Security. Replaced by Wordfence.
- Bulletproof Security. Replaced by Wordfence.
- BWP Google XML Sitemaps. Not required. WordPress SEO provides a sitemap. Jetpack provides a sitemap.
- cbnet Ping Optimizer. Not maintained and not required.
- Disqus. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- Essential Grid. Replaced by Visual Composer’s Grid module.
- FD Feedburner. RSS feeds are abused by content thieves. Disable RSS and use MailChimp instead.
- Firewall 2. Replaced by Wordfence.
- Google Analyticator. Superseded by Google Analytics Dashboard for WP.
- Livefyre. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- SEO Ultimate. No longer properly maintained. Has seen some minor activity since Feb. 2015.
- Sociable. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- Social Warfare. Replaced by Social Pug.
- Speed Booster Pack. Replaced by Comet Cache Pro and Lazy Load.
- WordPress File Monitor Plus. Replaced by Wordfence.
- WP jQuery CDN. Was replaced by Speed Booster Pack. Not really required any more.
- Lazy Load. No longer actively maintained. Replaced by A3 Lazy Load.
- Visual Composer. Soon to be entirely replaced by Gutenberg. Currently replaced by Elementor combined with Gutenberg.
What are your favorite WordPress plugins?
Tell us your favorite plugins and plugin experiences in the comments below.