I have made a selection of great WordPress plugins, that developers as well as admins, should always have at the ready, while developing or managing a WordPress website.
Some of these plugins are intended for experienced users only, but it’s never too late to expand your knowledge!
The beauty of WordPress, besides its developer & web designer -friendly architecture, is its huge community, which relentlessly contributes to its huge plugin repository.
Some (most) of these plugins are free, some only Pro and others come with a Free (and limited) version.
I always recommend to first try the Free version of a plugin, when available, since not every site needs certain Pro features, but always consider investing a few $ in a plugin, if a certain feature you need is only available in the Pro version: it will save you a great deal of time and money in the long term, trust me.
If you are feeling adventurous and know your code, you can also check my other post about customizing the WordPress backend in a way you didn’t know was possible!
MainWP Dashboard + MainWP Child + BackWPup // Free or Pro Plugins, add-ons available
If you manage several WordPress websites, you definitely need a single dashboard from where to update them or back them up. This is your best free solution!
Just install the Main plugin on your own site, then the Child plugin on the client site… apply all the custom update/backup settings across all the sites you manage, or customize them.
Saves a ton of time in maintance! There is also a free client report plugin with a pro add-on email notification. BackWPup integrates beautifully and let’s you backup database and files in a few clicks or schedule them to happen automatically.
Postman SMTP // Free Plugin
This plugin let’s you setup a different mail server, in case your hosting decided emails are not a thing anymore (yes, still happens in 2018) or if you need setup eg. Sendgrid rather than the default server php mailer. It also adds a handy email log, so you can check if emails where sent, when, how and if there were any errors.
WP-Sweep // Free Plugin
Little clean-up tool, very underestimated but very important. Every time you add or delete content, WordPress doesn’t cope very well with the trail of useless data that gets stuck in the database, causing it to enflate to ridiculous proportions for absolutely no reason, making your site super slow. Keep an eye on the plugin’s dashboard and keep your site clean and fast!
Advanced Database Cleaner // Free or Pro Plugin
This comes in a free or pro version, but I definitely advise for the Pro one, which has the most relevant and unique features: search for orphan options!!!
Every time you install a plugin, there is data added to your database, which most of the time does not get deleted once you uninstall and remove the plugin. This results in your database being full of trash, literally. It just sits there making your site slower and never gets deleted. Keep in mind that finding orphan options isn’t an exact science unfortunately (it’s up to developer to write better code for their plugins), so it might miss some options or even delete a few to many, but it does an incredible job honestly. Not for the faint of heart, backup your db before you delete anything!
ARI Adminer // Free Plugin
In case you don’t have access to phpmyadmin, this is the easiest way to access the site’s db. I would advise you to enable it only when you need it and then remove it completely each time, for security reasons.
WP-DBManager (DB only) // Free Plugin
Small but handy plugin to make db backups quickly.
User Switching + Admin Bar User Switching // Free Plugins
In case you have several users that have access to the backend, or user groups, you might want to check what they can see. With this plugin you can easily switch to another user, without ever logging in & out!
Awesome tool that shows you everything there is to know about your WordPress installation and the current page (works both for the backend and frontend): queries, constants, php notices or warnings, options that get called… literally everything. Great to debug! Switch it off when not needed.
Jetpack // Free or Pro Plugin
This is some sort of base plugin for any WordPress site: it has a stats/analytics internal system, it allows you to use a photo CDN which can speed up your site by loading images elsewhere, it protects you from brute force attacks, adds a social media auto-post feature and much much more, mostly all for free. All you have to do it sign up with WordPress.com and connect the site to that account. It also comes with paid plans that add live backups, SPAM protection and security audits (see below).
VaultPress // Pro Plugin
This comes with Jetpack’s Pro Plans and it’s a great solution if you want to add continuous live backups to your site.
It has a rollback feature, it checks for security issues in your site’s files (plugins and themes) and alerts you in case it finds anything.
You can also ask for an expert’s opinion / support! Saves you the pain of backing up manually or adding yet another security plugin.
Update June 2018: VaultPress is now included in the Jetpack plans!
There is probably not a single good reason why you should keep comments within your WordPress installation/db. Comments create huge db tables, rarely drive traffic and are a pain to manage, considering the huge amounts of SPAM and bots on the Internet. Unless you have more than one good reason to keep your comments inside your own site… don’t! Just to use Disqus and let users manage their comments and accounts elsewhere, as well as letting Disqus store all of them. You can always export the ones you already have and even import them back in, shall you decide to disable Disqus.
WP Super Cache // Free Plugin
Your most basic, but great, caching plugin. Easy to setup and effective, most WordPress websites will be totally ok with just this.
Fast Velocity Minify // Free Plugin
As an extra boost, if you’re already using WP Super Cache (or even if you are not), this will minify and concatenate all your html, css and js. It really helps when you have too many scripts loading in a page (usually because of many active plugins or bulky themes). Strongly advised, just make sure you set it up right and check that it doesn’t create js conflicts.
WP Rocket // Pro Plugin
A more advanced caching plugin, works out of the box and boosts performance even more. Probably a better pick for websites with daily users in the thousands and lots of content.
WPML // Pro Plugin
Anyone who manages a multilanguage website cannot survive withou this amazing plugin. Not only it has everything you can possibly think of, when it comes to multilang sites, but support and updates are always on point. Widely supported by themes and plugins (free and pro), including WooCommerce. A 100% MUST HAVE!
WooCommerce // Free Plugin, add-ons available
The best e-commerce solution for WordPress, hands down. The huge add-on ecosystem around it makes it a powerful self-hosted online store solution. It’s easy to use and setup for a basic store, doesn’t ask you to share your revenue (like erm, Shopify…) and you can tweak it and customize it endlessly. Its vast community makes it the most used and mantained e-commerce platform in the world, since 2015. And it’s free!!!
Adminimize // Free Plugin
This allows you to hide certain parts of the backend to certain user roles. Useful if you have several users that have backend access and you don’t want them to mess with certain areas or features.
You can use it with the User Switching plugin enabled and check in a few seconds the changes across different users!
Contact Form 7 // Free Plugin
It lacks a GUI (graphic user interface) so you will need to know some html and css if you want to customize its layout, not beginner-friendly, but widely supported and used by Pro themes.
Ninja Forms // Pro Plugin
Easy to customize, no code knowledge required. The UI is probably the best out there, you can drag & drop any type of field and create custom layouts in a matter of seconds. There are also plenty of add-ons to choose from, making probably the best option out there to create custom forms for WordPress.
WP Forms // Pro Plugin
A very intuitive and complete solution for form-building, you can get payments as well as newsletter subscriptions through various integrations and even use it a registration form for users, besides everything you might need in a standard contact form.
Gravity Forms // Pro Plugin
I would use this only for complex forms (not your usual contact form). Through its add-ons you can add a payment request before the form is sent, save content to posts and much more. The interface is not the best, but you can customize it without knowing any code at all.
EWWW Image Optimizer // Free Plugin
Easy to setup, does a great job in compressing your images and making sure they don’t go above a reasonable size limit (that you can set). Useful when you have authors that don’t understand the basic concept of “the bigger the image, the worst the performance”.
ACF // Free or Pro Plugin
Great solution to add custom fields to any content, requires php knowledge in order to display the content on the frontend. You will be able to add single images or galleries, text or textarea fields, conditional rules and more. A must have for sites that have a lot of information to display and want it to be organized, searchable and displayable like a pro (and not all in the main content).
Admin Menu Editor // Free or Pro Plugin
Useful if you want to hide/rename/move backend menu items around or add separators.
EU Cookie Law // Free Plugin
The EU requires websites to clearly display their cookie policies and acceptance, this will take you 2 minutes to setup.
Instant Articles for WP // Free Plugin
This plugins allows you to post your content to Facebook in a standardized way, which is faster to load for users. Think of Instant Articles as the AMP for Facebook.
Definitely still shaky, but actively improved, while it doesn’t really have many options for you to setup, it will require some deeper knowledge of what Facebook requires in terms of layout and some code integrations might be requires. It doesn’t support the Visual Composer / Page builders well still. It might work out of the box, but keep an eye on your Facebook page’s post section for errors.
AMP for WP // Free or Pro Plugin, add-ons available
Google makes no secret in preferring AMP content, versus standard one, hence if you want visitors to keep coming, you need your site to be AMP conmpatible. This plugin is currently the most complete one, give it a try and do not hesitate in getting the Pro version or add-ons, if your site needs it… you don’t compromise on visitors when your site or business depends on them (especially if you run a news site or ecommerce!).
AMP // Free Plugin
This is a very basic plugin that gives you minimal AMP compliance. If you don’t need to customize your content and this just works, then go ahead, it’s free!
Yoast SEO // Free or Pro Plugin
A must have plugin: you need your content to be, not only well indexed, but also to have well written titles and descriptions, for search engines.
Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP // Free Plugin
If you use Yoast SEO AND the free AMP plugin, then you definitely needs this too.
Update June 2018: With the latest AMP (developed by Automattic), this plugin is currently obsolete, if you know how to code.
You can customize the AMP appearence following this guide.
Custom Sidebars // Free or Pro Plugin
Nifty plugin that allows you to create content-specific sidebars without any code knowledge. Great for sites with several categories / pages and specific widgets to display in each one.
Toolset Types // Free or Pro Plugin
Types is a complete tool that allows you to create custom post types, custom taxonomies and custom fields (or let ACF manage custom fields). You can manage every aspect of your custom post types and even create relationships between them, many-to-many or one-to-many. A little bulky, but well done and allows you to import/export what you create (not the content itself, just the structure of your custom posts/taxonomies/fields) to/from other sites.
Custom Post Type UI // Free Plugin
This is a great free alternative to Types, but it doesn’t do custom fields (which you can use ACF for anyway) and you can’t import/export.
Post Type Switcher // Free Plugin
If you have decided to create a custom post type and want to move certain pages or posts, this is a handy tool that lets you move a content to another post type easily.
Widget CSS Classes // Free Plugin
You would think this should be a core feature… the title is self-explanatory: assign a class to a widget, so you can easily customize it through css.
Duplicate Post // Free Plugin
A must have when you need to quickly clone a demo page or a similar content, before you edit it. Doesn’t require setup, but you can customize the way it works and what it clones.
Great plugin when you need to immediately see certain contents (eg. the feat image, the slug, certain custom fields..) in the post/custom post type backend list.
XML Sitemap & Google News feeds
If you need more control over Google News indexing, then you should check this out. Keep in mind that if you are already using Yoast SEO, you might need to tweak the options accordingly, as to not create conflicts between the sitemaps that are generated through both plugins.