Essential WordPress Plugins For Your Website

A guide of WordPress Plugins I install on websites that I create for myself and clients, and why I use them.

WordPress plugins have the power to add important features to your website and make it into a platform. Unfortunately though, most WordPress plugin guides fill you with more plugins than you’ll be able to count, which will bog down your website and make it run slower than AOL dial-up *cringe*. Let’s change that and make sure your website is running efficiently with only the tools you need.

WordPress plugins can help your website drive more income or save you time

WordPress plugins come in clutch when you have a special need or are trying to add features that just aren’t feasible to build out from scratch. You just need to be cautious of what you install – a bad plugin can easily mess up your website or slow it down.

Personally, I’m not one for plugins with a lot of fluff or that’ll give you 100 features you don’t need – which is why you won’t see me recommending Jetpack anymore. Plugins with multiple features aren’t necessarily bad, but the heavier the plugin, the more it’ll slow down your website – and that can cost you customers.

Below you’ll find WordPress plugins I recommend and use for myself and clients, broken down into categories of demand. While yes, there are definitely more plugins that I may use on some websites and there are plenty of alternatives to most of them, these are the essentials I recommend.

WordPress Plugins I Always Install

These plugins are the ones I add to every website that I create after I’m done securing a new WordPress install. I consider these the most essential WordPress plugins that will be of use to almost everyone.

Classic Editor

Classic Editor is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Getting this out the way first – I’m not a fan of Gutenberg. It’s a cumbersome attempt to replace a text editor with a page builder and, frankly, it just doesn’t make sense for most content creation workflows. Unfortunately, when you install WordPress these days, Gutenberg is your only option. However, this plugin gives you the TinyMCE Editor we all know and love – which should be default to begin with.

This is the first thing I always install because this is how WordPress is meant to be for most people.


Breeze is an Essential WordPress Plugin
I’m a huge fan of Cloudways for premium hosting because of their blazing fast speeds and security. Breeze, their free caching plugin, is just as excellent! Like most caching plugins, Breeze utilizes different methods to package up and deliver your website to visitors in the fastest way possible. What makes Breeze different is that it works perfectly with Varnish and CDNs right out of the box.

You can’t really beat an efficient solution in a one-click-setup, especially when it’s free!

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is an Essential WordPress Plugin
I’ve tried other SEO plugins and while they’re all pretty great, I always kept coming back to the originators. Yoast SEO not only helps you get better results in Google with keywords, descriptions, and sitemaps, but it helps you write better by focusing on your keywords.

Social Warfare Pro

Social Warfare Pro is an Essential WordPress Plugin
This is my absolute favorite social media plugin for WordPress. It’s got a beautiful design, is mobile-friendly, functional, and customizable to your website’s look and preferred social media integrations – all while being lightweight on my server. Not only does it add share buttons, but allows you to customize social media cards and adds a click-to-tweet block functionality to ensure your website can be easily shared.

I use the premium version, which supercharges with more customization, lots of Pinterest features, Facebook author attribution, analytics, link shortening, along with other paid features.


MalCare is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Malcare is a lightweight security plugin that helps keep your website safe from hackers and malware. The free version has login protection and scans for malware.

I personally use the paid plan for extra security and if you’re in need to remove said malware infections.

WP Mail SMTP by WPForms

WP Mail SMTP by WPForms is an Essential WordPress Plugin
99% of the emails sent through your web server from WordPress are going straight to the spam inbox. This simple plugin allows you to hook up a Gmail (although I don’t recommend that) or a branded email through Sendgrid, Mailgun, Zoho, or Amazon Web Services.

The free version of WP Mail SMTP by WPForms paired with a free Sendgrid account should work for most people to get deliverable emails.

Header Footer Code Manager

Header Footer Code Manager is an Essential WordPress Plugin
I’ve recently come across this one which has quickly become a go-to plugin. As someone who has been coding since age 13, I don’t mind jumping into theme files to add scripts for custom features or things like Google Analytics and Facebook Pixels. However, this free plugin makes it effortless to do and keep track of everything so there’s no duplicates.

If you don’t want to mess with your theme files, like to change your theme a lot, or manage a lot of websites and lose track of what codes are where, this is for you.

WordPress Plugins I Usually Install

While not needed in every situation, these plugins are other essential plugins that will be useful to most businesses.


ConvertPro is an Essential WordPress Plugin
This is my go-to plugin for client website lead capture; modals, inside blog opt-ins, hello bars, welcome mats, etc. ConvertPro does pretty much everything you would want as far as converting visitors into email subscribers.

What makes it perfect for my clients is that it doesn’t bog their websites down, it integrates with most email services, and the drop & drop editor is pretty intuitive to make good looking opt-ins.


Analytify is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Monitoring your traffic and seeing what pages are working for you is important. If you don’t have a custom dashboard or get personalized reports, then this will give you a glimpse of your analytics right inside of WordPress.

I use this one for most of my clients that wish to see their numbers within WordPress.

Contact Form 7

Contact Form 7 is an Essential WordPress Plugin
There are so many WordPress contact plugins that are genuinely great, but this is the classic one that really started it all. If all you need is a basic, lightweight way to be contacted, this is the one to get.

Yoast Duplicate Post

Yoast Duplicate Post is an Essential WordPress Plugin
This is one of those “wait that exists?” type of plugins. If you have landing pages with tons of copy you want to tweak, pages with lots of Custom Fields you don’t want to re-enter into a new page, or want to pull the format from an old blog post, this is going to be super helpful. Made by the people who make Yoast SEO, this plugin basically duplicates your posts and pages in a safe way.

Safe Redirect Manager

Safe Redirect Manager is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Broken pages can hurt your website and ranking on Google. Whether you change the URL to an old blog, delete a page, or people are clicking links from social media with a typo, you’re going to want to make sure they get redirected to the correct page. Safe Redirect Manager does exactly this. For example, you can redirect to


ShortPixel is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Large image files can heavily slow down your website and even affect your ranking on Google – yikes! Optimizing your images – in other words, making them smaller in file size – will help prevent this. Sure you can manually do this with tools, but it’s far easier and less time-consuming to just use a plugin. There’s a lot to choose from, but I like to use ShortPixel since it works great and comes with extra features. I use the paid version for higher limits amongst my clients.


UpdraftPlus is an Essential WordPress Plugin
You’ve made a huge investment of money, time, and love into your website – don’t let malware or server failure cause you to lose it all. UpDraft is my go-to backup plugin because it’s easy and can not only make copies that you can download, but also send them to Google Drive or Dropbox. If you haven’t done so lately, back up today!

WordPress Plugins for Memberships, Learning, & Marketing

These plugins are perfect for expanding your online platform with capabilities for courses, memberships, communication, sales and engagement.


LearnDash is an Essential WordPress Plugin
As far as WordPress learning management systems go, LearnDash is my choice. It’s pretty robust, but also allows you to easily create courses that you can sell. What I like most is that the integrations are endless and you can hook up almost anything to LearnDash.


MemberPress is an Essential WordPress Plugin
This is my favorite membership plugin for WordPress. MemberPress will allow you to gate posts, pages, community forms (with BBPress), and courses (with an LMS system) while being able to manage paid subscriptions and access all within the WordPress dashboard. I love how easy it is to use and set up compared to other options.

Paid Membership Pro

Paid Memberships Pro is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Unfortunately LearnDash isn’t enough if you’re trying to make your courses part of a membership platform. If MemberPress isn’t attainable after just paying for LearnDash, then Paid Membership Pro is decent enough with their free version. It takes a bit of configuration, but it’ll do the job if you’re on a budget.

Elementor Pro

Elementor Pro is an Essential WordPress Plugin
It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of page builders. I think they’re slow, limited, output generic looking websites, and give a false sense of a solution. However, what I like about Elementor Pro is that it can be used as a tool for a landing page, rather than your whole website’s system. I sometimes integrate Elementor Pro into the themes I build my clients so that they can easily mess with landing pages or product pages. Be weary though, this will add some bulk to your website’s load times depending on how it’s used.


If-So is an Essential WordPress Plugin
If you’ve ever wanted to change your website’s content based on location, time, or cookies, then meet If-So. With If-So you’ll be able to shape content based on visitor profiles or interactions so that you can get them to subscribe or buy from you easier.


WooCommerce is an Essential WordPress Plugin
The most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress is the go-to solution because it’s versatile and has a plugin to do almost anything you need. Setting it up isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s the most reliable option for people selling physical products through WordPress.

Restrict Content

Restrict Content is an Essential WordPress Plugin
If you’re looking for a simple and minimal way to gate pages and posts behind a membership, then Restrict Contents free plugin might just do the trick. The paid version is also great.

Easy Digital Downloads

Easy Digital Downloads is an Essential WordPress Plugin
If you’re only selling digital products and you need to do it within WordPress, skip the setup-intensive WooCommerce and go for Easy Digital Downloads. It’s far simpler and more straightforward to use in this case.


Gist is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Gist is an all-in-one marketing solution that has a lot of different tools. However, I use Gist mostly for their live chat and support features. They make it dead easy to add a chat option to your site and manage it through their mobile app.

WordPress Plugins That Make Life Easier

Sometimes going just above the essentials to save yourself some time and make your website’s backend more straightforward is the right thing to do. These are some more plugins I love to use sometimes.

HappyFiles Pro

HappyFiles is an Essential WordPress Plugin
This is a neat little plugin that brings organization to your images with categories folders that are non-destructive to your links. If you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes looking for an image you mislabeled, this one’s for you! I use the pro version which also adds SVG image support, post / page organization, and unlimited folders.

Insert PHP Code Snippet

Insert PHP Code Snippet is an Essential WordPress Plugin
You could add shortcodes via functions.php, but that won’t help with organizing and having them easily accessible for clients within the editor. This little plugin lets you turn PHP snippets into shortcodes and then puts them in the TinyMCE editor via a dropdown.

One Click Accessibility

One Click Accessibility is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Websites should be built to be accessible to everyone, but there’s a certain set of tools and principles that determine if your website is ADA compliant. One Click Accessibility adds a bunch of these tools for people with disabilities like the ability to change font sizes, color profiles, and put lines underneath links without any effort.

ADA compliance is necessary for certain industries such as health, financial, and real estate so this is a no-brainer for these websites.


WP Optimize is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Without getting too technical, WordPress runs on a database and after time it can get bogged down with old revisions, deleted pages, spam comments, etc. WP Optimize gets rid of all that old database content that’s no longer needed while including other tools to keep your website clean and speedy.

Alternatives WordPress Plugins

Between integrations, web hosting compatibility, and personal preferences, not everything works for everyone. Here are some alternatives to the plugins I mostly use above, which I have experience with that also work great.

WP Rocket

WP Rocket is an Essential WordPress Plugin
When WP Rocket first came out it was revolutionary because the alternatives at the time were clunky free plugins. While times have changed and Breeze is my free go-to, WP Rocket is still a great plugin and it has the bonus for e-commerce features.

Ninja Forms

Ninja Forms is an Essential WordPress Plugin
For when I need more integrations than ContactForm7 offers, I use Ninja Forms. The free option is great, but the paid add-ons are extra helpful depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.


BackWPup is an Essential WordPress Plugin
BackWPup is another great free backup solution because it’s easy to use and works great. Some people prefer not to use Updraft because they don’t want their paid plan and don’t want to see their self-promotion in the dashboard.

Duplicate Page

Duplicate Page is an Essential WordPress Plugin
It does the same thing as Yoast Duplicate, but some people prefer not to use Yoast plugins because they use a different SEO plugin (doesn’t really make a difference here).


ConvertKit is an Essential WordPress Plugin
If I don’t need the robust capabilities of ConvertPro, then the basic plugins from ConvertKit or whichever provider my clients use themselves does the job to add simple email signup forms to websites. If you use another service, they probably also have a basic plugin.

Wordfence Security

Wordfence is an Essential WordPress Plugin
Wordfence Security is another highly recommended security plugin for WordPress. It has a lot of monitoring and security hardening features with a nice looking interface. If your WordPress wasn’t installed and secured by a professional, you’ll benefit from this one.

Use what the WordPress plugins you need, deactivate the ones you don’t

How many WordPress plugins is too many to install? It’s hard to really say a definitive number because it’s based on your web host, the efficiency of your website / theme, what the plugins do, and the load size of them.

If your site is slow, consider deactivating a few and see if that does the trick. The next step would be to look at your theme and web host. If you’re unsure how to determine this or need help, be sure to contact someone that’s an expert in web development.

My rule of thumb is to deactivate any WordPress plugin that isn’t either making your life significantly easier, bringing you value, or necessary to run your business.

Some of the links in this guide contain affiliate links, which means it might give you a discount (or normal price, but never a price increase) and probably gives me either a commission or account benefit – but that never influences my recommendation on a product, they just enable me to be able to spend more time making free guides for you.

About The Author

Garett Southerton

Garett Southerton (Garett®) is an Intentional Brand Strategist & Designer that has been a professional creative for over 18 years. He helps passionate changemakers impacting the world with their abilities through intentionality in visuals and strategy as a means to not only scale their brands, but to also cultivate a community where they can truly make a meaningful change while maintaining sustainability - making an impact without sacrificing an income.

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