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)
- Comet Cache Pro (free. Pro version is $39)
- A3 Lazy Load (free)
- Social Warfare (free. Pro addon is 29/yr)
- 404 Solutions (free)
Jetpack has evolved well since its first release. Modules include WordPress stats, comments, social sharing, extra sidebar widgets, widget visibility and Photon CDN.
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.
I’ve tested WP Super Cache and Comet Cache Pro in different environments:
- WP Super Cache is hit-and-miss performance wise. Works well with many WordPress configurations but not well with others.
- Zen Cache Pro is easy to configure and is consistently good at delivering fast page load times without screwing up website styles and functionality. Comet Cache has a built in Opcache manager.
A3 Lazy Load saves bandwidth, server resources and improves page load times. It does this by making images, videos and iframes load only when they are in the visible viewport of a visitor’s web browser. Enhances visitor perception of fast page load times.
Social Warfare is new to this list. We are near the middle of 2017. Social Warfare 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 have fallen in love with this one. The limited free version is available at wordpress.org. The Pro version is well worth $29 per year.
404 Solution is the most convenient way to handle and manage 404 errors for missing pages. 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. Page Redirects logs requests that are automatically redirected. Captured 404s logs requests for pages that could not be automatically redirected.
These next plugins are not vital to any website but they will improve the editor and user experience.
- TinyMCE Advanced (free) opens up the visual editor.
- Table of Contents Plus (free) adds a table of contents to each page.
- Visual Composer ($34) is a mature page builder.
- wpDiscuz (free) is the lightweight commenting system used in JournalXtra that adds likes and social shares.
- Simple History (free) is the lightweight way to record site activity. This logs page edits, menu edits, widget changes, user logins, page errors.. it logs more than enough to allow site admins to pinpoint faults and backtrace site changes. There is a free Developer Loggers addon for those who need to monitor more event types than logged by the basic plugin.
Visual Composer is a drag-n-drop page builder that can be used to add content structure, section design options and content blocks like slide shows, post grids and thumbnail carousels. More page builder plugins are reviewed here.
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.
- Better WordPress Security. Replaced by Wordfence.
- Bulletproof Security. Replaced by Wordfence.
- WordPress File Monitor Plus. Replaced by Wordfence.
- Firewall 2. Replaced by Wordfence.
- SEO Ultimate. No longer properly maintained. Has seen some minor activity since Feb. 2015.
- BWP Google XML Sitemaps. Not required. WordPress SEO provides a sitemap. Jetpack provides a sitemap.
- cbnet Ping Optimizer. Not maintained and not required.
- Google Analyticator. Superseded by Google Analytics Dashboard for WP.
- Disqus. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- Livefyre. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- Sociable. Replaced by Jetpack Comments. Replaced by wpDiscuz.
- Speed Booster Pack. Replaced by Comet Cache Pro and Lazy Load.
- WP jQuery CDN. Was replaced by Speed Booster Pack. Not really required any more.
- FD Feedburner. RSS feeds are abused by content thieves. Disable RSS and use MailChimp instead.
- Essential Grid. Replaced by Visual Composer’s Grid module.
- Autoptimize. Comet Cache has the same features.
- Lazy Load. No longer actively maintained. Replaced by A3 Lazy Load.
What are your favorite WordPress plugins?
Tell us your favorite plugins and plugin experiences in the comments below.