WordPress and plugins go hand in hand. However, because there are literally thousands available, it’s incredibly tough to whittle them down to the most essential. Once you have that list, you’ll need to skim off the cream of the crop in order to run a site that’s stable, secure, and ultimately functional.
It’s a good idea to think of the different ‘categories’ you’ll need, and work from there. For example, you’ll likely want to carry out some Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which may also include reducing the loading time of your site using caching or image optimization. As such, you’ll eventually have a framework in order to pick the very best plugins currently supported by the latest version of WordPress.
In this post, we’ll look at a number of stellar plugins, and discuss what makes them so great. Before that, though, let’s give you some advice on how to choose a top-drawer plugin!
What to Look for in a Quality WordPress Plugin
As we’ve intimated, choosing a plugin isn’t all about picking the first one you come across. In fact, there are a few key criteria that you’ll need to consider. For example:
- Does the plugin achieve your aims straight out of the box?
- Can you tweak the plugin to your exact requirements if possible?
- Is the plugin regularly updated?
- Does the community also think the plugin is valuable?
Of course, the first two can be ascertained directly from the product description for the most part. However, you’ll need to do some detective work for the last two. If you’re looking for something from the WordPress.org Plugin Directory, you’ll often see a date relating to the last update made we’d recommend steering clear of those not updated within the last six months:
Also, making sure the plugin in questions is well reviewed is obviously important. Our advice is to look especially at any one-star or otherwise poor reviews in order to ascertain whether there’s something lurking under the hood you need to know about.
The Most Popular WordPress Plugins
Let’s break down the list of popular plugins. Note that these aren’t in any particular order, so feel free to jump around and read about those that excite you the most!
1. Yoast SEO
First up, we have a plugin that can single-handedly help you reach the very top of Google search results. Yoast SEO has been a go-to essential for a number of years now, and with good reason. It’s been developed to provide a comprehensive tool to make sure your Search Optimization (SEO) is on point.
For example, you can see how your SEO efforts shape up at a glance through a novel traffic light system, and also check on the readability of your content in the same way. While the base plugin is free, there’s also a premium version to help with aspects such as local SEO, and multiple focus keywords.
Wordfence has become an incredibly popular plugin for protecting your site. Even if you don’t have the plugin installed (yet), the Wordfence blog is a great read for discovering just how malicious attacks occur and develop globally.
However, the plugin looks to stop those malicious attacks at source. There’s a comprehensive application-based Web Application Firewall (WAF), and a number of standout features. For example, you can block certain IPs from accessing your site, and by purchasing the premium upgrade, you can add other protective elements such as Two-Factor Authentication to your site.
Jetpack is an old stalwart, although its modular-based approach does have critics in some areas. However, we still think it’s one of the very best plugins to install, mainly because it could be the only plugin you need for most of the essential functionality on your site.
For example, the free version comes with a slew of features, such as brute force protection and site monitoring, a functional contact form and comments form module, and much more. The premium version even includes backup functionality via VaultPress, and myriad themes to help get your site up and running quickly.
4. Ninja Forms
Most site owners will usually opt for Contact Form 7 on their sites, but there are plenty of other alternatives. For our money, Ninja Forms is arguably the best solution available. The free version of the plugin is full-featured, and looks great out of the box. It’s easy to manipulate too, especially if you’re a developer using included ‘hooks’.
For those needing more out of the plugin, there are a selection of add-ons covering tasks such as email marketing integration, payment gateways, and much more. It’s worth test driving, just for its drag-and-drop interface alone!
For a plugin that started out as another ‘me too’ page builder, Elementor has now positioned itself as the standout site creation tool currently on the market. It’s still a drag-and-drop page builder at heart, but also includes a number of other features depending on whether you’ve upgraded to the premium version.
For example, you can build headers and footers from scratch regardless of the theme you use, although you’ll likely want to use the blank child theme as a base framework. There’s also a stellar form builder, along with so many other features, we couldn’t possible cover them all in one article!
Backup plugins are a popular niche when it comes to WordPress. Choice is a good thing, because that creates competition. However, UpdraftPlus is far and away the best in our opinion. It’s very easy to use simply click the relevant button, and away you go. Of course, you can also backup automatically, and set up a regular schedule.
You can also store those backups to various storage mediums, including Dropbox and Google Drive. Upgrading to the premium version provides you with a migration tool, and all of the other extensions on offer. You’ll also get free upgrades, a year’s worth of support, and 1GB of remote storage for your backups.
Much like backup plugins, image optimization is also a popular niche. Again, this means there’s plenty of choice, so digging through to the good plugins is important. ShortPixel is our pick here, simply for how well it compresses image file sizes.
The plugin is simple to use, and can be set to automatically compress any image upon uploading it to WordPress. Upgrading to the premium version simply increases how many images you can run through the plugin each month, and is very reasonably priced across the tiers.
8. WP Rocket
Caching is one of those optimizations that can drastically improve your site’s performance, so choosing a good plugin here is crucial. WP Rocket is a perennial frontrunner because it offers consistent speed benefits across a number of different sites and hosts.
However, while there’s no free version, the plugin does offer value for money. It includes features such as GZIP compression, font and database optimization, a Content Delivery Network (CDN), and much more besides.
In the WordPress world, e-commerce usually equals WooCommerce. We make no excuses for supporting that assertion, because it’s such a stellar plugin for creating an online storefront.
Out of the box, WooCommerce lets you add, delete, and otherwise edit products, adjust shipping to your exact requirements, and more. There are also a wealth of both free and premium extensions to choose from, meaning you can tailor your store to your exact requirements. In our opinion, every other solution pales in comparison!
10. Plugin Detective
Next up is a great plugin for non-technical users who suffer from (and need to ultimately fix) WordPress errors. Plugin Detective offers a fun presentation, that essentially revolves around ‘interrogating’ your plugins to get to the bottom of an error you specify.
There’s no premium version for this one, which is astounding given the functionality. It enables you to quickly sort out errors, and begin fixing the problem. If you’re worrying about your site being offline for prolonged periods, and need to take action quickly, Plugin Detective could be ideal.
Analytics are often a necessary component of running a website, so being able to view them at a glance is always a boon. Google Analytics Dashboard is now owned by the WPBeginner team, and it’s a much better alternative to their MonsterInsights plugin.
We like how you can dig into the number of sessions and users you receive, and some of the other metrics are a step up from other competitors. We have a feeling that this plugin will usurp its sibling sooner rather than later, and it’s arguably going to be just as vital over the long-term.
Finally, we have a plugin to help you comply with both the Cookie Law and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Cookie Notice for GDPR is a deceptively simple solution that sits as a floating bar on your website, informing users about your cookie and privacy policies.
Choosing plugins can be fun, but you should never lose sight of the real goal. Bolstering the functionality of WordPress should be your primary concern, which means choosing only those that meet your strict requirements. That way, your site will remain stable, and you can go about your business of running your website day-to-day.
This post has looked at 12 different plugins all of which we think are essential for running a WordPress website. Not only that, we’ve hunted down the very best examples. Of course, your opinion may differ (that’s the beauty of WordPress), but choosing solutions such as Yoast SEO, UpdraftPlus, and Jetpack is a solid path to follow.