This is my list of what I think are the most useful and very best WordPress plugins. I’ve been using WordPress for over a decade, and I’ve seen many plugins come and go in that time. This list is the core selection of plugins that I use regularly in my own freelance work. They are all well maintained, up-to-date, have great support, and are generally a pleasure to use.
I am an affiliate for a couple of these as I love them so much. Affiliate links are denoted with a +, which means should you make a purchase after clicking on my link, I earn a tiny bit of commission for the referral. Thank you 🙂
It is THE best security plugin for WordPress, hands down, and arguably the first thing you should install after WordPress itself. The free version is unbelievably good and has stopped annoying bots and hackers in their tracks for several of the sites that I manage. You can customise notifications, block specific IP addresses and usernames, and you get a constant count of how many attacks have been thwarted. This will surprise you because even the teensiest website is a target for hackers. You cannot be too small or too insignificant. If you are on the web, someone wants what you’ve got, even if it’s just to plant links to dubious websites or send spam about HMRC tax rebates.
I do prefer to set everything up manually when it comes to SSL, but if you are working with a legacy site that has a lot of content that’s not always feasible. This is when Really Simple SSL comes to the rescue. Install it, activate it and off you go. It gives you an instant green padlock, almost every time. I love it’s simplicity – the only reason I don’t use it more is because I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to security 🙂
3. Yoast SEO
SEO is a much misunderstood area of the web and a veritable boiling pot of dodgy companies performing all sorts of dubious tricks in order to “get your website ranked #1 in google” [don’t fall for this]. You can do a pretty good job of optimising your own content using this plugin, and they produce tutorials and training for everyone. Like Wordfence above, they are a huge player in the plugin market, and rightly so.
At the time of writing, Monster Insights has 1.9 million users. It is a brilliant plugin for adding the Google Analytics tracking code to your whole site and pulling in a stats report. It’s super easy to verify via permission from your Google account and makes set up a doddle.
This is a little plugin from Thomas Usborne, the creator of Generate Press (see Themes below). It creates a widget that you can drag to any of the usual locations, and within the widget you just add the social media profiles that you want to use. You can customise the colour, size, border, and hover colour of your social icons (easily), so it’s great for matching to a specific design. There is a huge list of social sites supported.
6. +Generate Press
Generate Press is the only theme I have used for the last two years. It’s a basic, vanilla theme that has every single customisation option you can imagine. And if it doesn’t have what you can imagine, you can easily add it with some custom css – although this is rarely necessary other than the odd tweak. This means no child themes required, hurrah!
I honestly can’t rave about Generate Press enough. It’s slightly more than a bare bones framework, but out of the box it’s still a very basic black and white layout. You set up the site to look exactly how you want using the Customizer in WordPress. It’s well thought out, 100% mobile responsive, well coded, lightweight, comes with built-in support for Woo Commerce (great for e-commerce lovers), and again the support is second to none. They are astonishingly good at sorting out whatever problems you may run into. In fact, I think they go over and above what’s required and are truly committed to customer satisfaction.
They provide regular updates and additional functionality. It does what I wished every other theme I’ve used before Generate Press would do. Need I say more?
I LOVE this plugin. It’s a really simple and easy way to customise WordPress without having to create a child theme or modify core files (which you should never do). If you just want to change something really small about your install with a bit of php, this is the way to do it.
I have been using this for years and years. It’s reliable and does exactly what it’s supposed to. Add a contact form (or even a few different forms) and wait for all the message to come right into your inbox. It supports the addition of a Google recaptcha to reduce spam and bots (you have to sign up for recaptcha in your own Google account and link it to the form). It looks good and takes care of all the form verification and subsequent messages for you.
9. Slick Slider
A super lightweight and easy to use slider. I have used this several times to create beautiful dynamic home pages. As with a lot of my favourites, the support is absolutely excellent. So many slider plugins are overcomplicated and don’t work as they should. This one does the job and does it well.
Photos and Galleries
10. +Envira Gallery
When I first started developing websites commercially, I spent hours looking at photo gallery plugins. There is gallery functionality built into WordPress, which is okay, but it is fairly limiting in what it can do. After trying out lots of plugins, testing them with photo collections and finally checking the prices of all those available, I settled on Envira. And I’m so glad I did. There is a huge collection of features for paid licences, you can create albums, galleries, add light boxes, and configure everything to the exact specification you want. But best of all – and here is where it comes above all others for me – is the support. Their support team really do go the extra mile for you and they are absolutely brilliant at helping. They have solved bugs I have reported in double quick time. Brilliant plugin for all your photo display needs.
11. W3 Total Cache
I hesitated to include this. It is a great plugin, but it’s not just a case of activate it and off you go. It requires a little bit more knowledge about what you’re trying to achieve and there are a lot of configuration options, even on the free version (which is what I use). For the average web user, the default settings are probably okay. However I have run into a few issues with W3 Total Cache on different hosts, so it does very much depend on your environment. As a developer, I really think it’s very good. If you’re not that clued up about performance enhancement, you could do worse than to read this article about configuring the plugin. It’s getting a little old now, but it still stands. So I put W3 Total Cache on the list too, because it just wouldn’t be a complete list without it.
I hope this helps you find your way through the huge number of plugins that are available for WordPress. I don’t often use much more than those listed above, so I hope that you find these plugins as useful as I do.