WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world, yet being open-source, is implemented, coded, and developed for websites in a very wide-ranging manner.
The number of themes, page builders, plugins, and hosting plans makes it easy for a novice to spin up a site pretty quickly.
It also allows for custom theme development, integration and use of custom code, and some pretty sophisticated applications.
Despite the wide range in how it is implemented and deployed, there are some common plugins that serve the novice and experienced WordPress admin or developer well.
Trust is a key factor in an open-source environment when it comes to plugins and codebases that have been developed by others.
I highly recommend trying to limit the number of plugins you use.
The more plugins you have, the more you’ll need to keep them up to date to reduce security risks and to reduce the amount of time testing with each update to make sure things didn’t break.
Plus, you can avoid some unintended consequences of plugins conflicting with each other.
While this list isn’t comprehensive and opinions and approaches will vary, I have pulled together my list of crucial plugins that I recommend for WordPress websites ranging from blogs to business focuses.
1. Advanced Custom Fields
There are varying opinions on the best way to build WordPress websites and the use of themes and page builders.
I’m not going to get into that here as my focus is on sharing about specific plugins that my team has had a lot of success with and trusts.
The one thing I will mention though is that if you’re going the custom theme route, we strongly recommend Advanced Custom Fields.
It is a foundational plugin for us as it complements our custom page builder and provides a great balance between being robust with options, but not being overkill or information overload for users.
ACF is well supported and intended for maximum flexibility in terms of being able to add fields and customize taxonomies essentially anywhere in WordPress. It makes editing content really easy.
Advanced Custom Fields has both free and pro paid versions for developers.
2. WP Rocket
WP Rocket is a plugin that primarily provides caching services. Through caching content your site can load faster enhancing both user experience and SEO performance.
It goes beyond WordPress defaults and provides more control to get to the right balance of caching versus content loading to meet your goals and needs.
This plugin does have a nominal annual subscription that ranges for the number of sites you want to use it on and the number or nature of updates you’d like to receive during the year.
3. Gravity Forms
There are multiple popular form builders plugins available for WordPress. Probably the most popular and definitely very powerful and easy to use is Gravity Forms.
The ability for a user to be able to quickly and easily spin up forms to embed into any page is key.
On top of that, the reliability of the plugin, the ways that you can integrate it with a wide range of email marketing platforms and CRMs, as well as the ability to receive notifications make it my go-to form builder plugin.
Gravity Forms – like many form builders – does have pricing with licensing tiers based on the feature set desired or needed.
It offers a free trial for paid features which helps in the evaluation process.
4. Better Search Replace
If you’re ever faced with a project or update that requires migration, this plugin is a must. It fills gaps and automates the type of work that would be tedious and time-consuming.
Whether you’re trying to quickly find all links that broke during a migration, trying to do a find and replace, or moving a database, it can cover you on all fronts.
This plugin does require some human logic as it is powerful but needs your input and understanding to apply to what needs to be migrated, updated, and fixed. It does save a lot of time and manual effort though.
Better Search Replace has basic and pro options at a range of price points based on features needed.
Caching is important as noted in the WP Rocket section above. Beyond that, one of the biggest offenders for page load speed is images.
Imagify is an image compression tool.
It helps you automate the process of optimizing images for size without sacrificing the quality.
This time-saving plugin can help when you can’t keep users from uploading large images and don’t have the ability to modify WordPress’ default upload settings.
Imagify has a very nominal monthly subscription price and is tiered based on the number of images your site has.
There’s not a lot I can say about Yoast here without unpacking all the power it has for SEOs.
Yoast gives you control over a wide range of things that matter for SEO ranging from indexing files to specific on-page factors.
It sometimes comes with a learning curve and due to the robust nature of Yoast, can cause some conflicts with other apps.
Some SEOs have been turned off due to security issues or bugs that have taken time to be disclosed and have gone with alternatives.
Despite that, it is still the industry standard SEO plugin for WordPress.
Yoast offers both free and premium versions.
Even if you’re not in the process of migrating or moving to a new website, you probably occasionally have a need for 301 redirects.
When a page goes away, is moved, or when content is refreshed and republished, you’ll want to be able to quickly and easily redirect the old URL to the new one.
Redirection is a simple tool that allows a user through WordPress to specify an old and new URL for content and hit save.
The redirect goes live instantly and doesn’t require a developer, IT, or any confusion or issues over 301s vs 302s, etc. You can go beyond basic 301s and do conditional redirects as well.
The Redirection plugin by John Godley is donation supported.
As noted, the disclaimer here is that this isn’t the end-all-be-all list of plugins. There are likely many quality alternatives to those I have noted.
However, I did want to share what’s in my team’s toolbox based on years of experience in developing custom WordPress sites and working with pre-built themes.
We have trust in these plugins, the developers, and the track record they have with stability, security, and updates.
Exceptions do happen, but we continue to utilize these in our standard set of critical plugins for WordPress sites we build and manage.