27 Must Have WordPress Plugins to Kickstart Any New Website
27 Must Have WordPress Plugins to Kickstart Any New Website
Don’t get me wrong, a fresh installation of WordPress is great and all, but if you really want to kick your site into gear, you’re going to need some top-notch plugins to get the job done.
There are certain plugins that are exceptional because they can help you create a stunning site that performs at its best.
Here’s a list of plugins you just can’t live without – so to speak – when you create a new self-hosted WordPress installation (or Multisite!). All have been tested and are regularly used by the team at WPMU DEV.
If you arrived here from Google, you’ve probably seen lists of up to 50 plugins. Woah! Seriously, that’s a lot of plugins. This list is concise for a reason – it only includes the best plugins available for everything from security and performance to SEO and ecommerce.
You may not need every single one of them, but all of them are well-crafted, updated often and help take your site to a whole ‘nother level.
Above all, the first thing you should install on your fresh WordPress site is a security plugin. The only exception being the WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin which lets you install over a hundred plugins and themes combined in a couple clicks each, like Defender.
When it comes to site security, Defender has you covered. It protects your site in all the ways suggested for security hardening in the WordPress Codex.
Plus, it has a clean interface which makes it super easy to understand and use. You won’t have to worry about scratching your head and having steam shooting out from your ears in an attempt to understand all the settings.
One click here, a few clicks there and you’re all set up. It’s seriously that easy, but don’t let that fool you into thinking nothing much is going on. You’ll get top-notch protection and notifications to help you stay on top of your site’s security.
You can also install another security plugin and run them side-by-side to enable other features that you want, as long as they’re different. It’s really not necessary, but if you think it’s going to help you sleep better at night, then you have that option.
The very next plugin you should install should take backups of your site. If something goes wrong on your site and you make a mistake, you can restore your site to its original glory. Don’t say it won’t happen because it happens to the best.
Unless you’re okay with losing everything you have worked for even once your site has grown consistently, you should really install a backup plugin. For details, check out How to Backup Your WordPress Website (and Multisite) Using Snapshot and Backup Plugins Aren’t About Backing up, They’re About Restoring.
Snapshot Pro backs up your site for single installs of WordPress and your main site along with your sub-sites for Multisite networks. Plus, restoring is quick and can be done in a couple clicks.
Once you install it, you can store your backup in multiple locations:
- Locally on your server
- Amazon S3
- Google Drive
- Your computer (FTP/SFTP)
- 10 GB of free managed cloud backups
You can also backup your site to as many of these locations as you want to ensure you have a copy of your site no matter what.
The next plugin you should consider installing is one that helps boost your site’s speed. Install Hummingbird, and you can see your site speed fly.
You can scan your site and get a detailed report of where you need to make improvements to speed up your site, but it doesn’t stop there. In a couple clicks, you can actually fix the issue that popped up in the report.
You can also make many more improvements from there such as enable blacklist monitoring so you can quickly get your site back in Google’s good graces in case it’s indexed as spam there or on other blacklists.
You can also minify your scripts, enable browser caching and GZIP compression, and it’s also compatible with CloudFlare. There are a ton more improvements in the pipeline as well to help further Hummingbird’s status as a one-stop-shop for speeding up your WordPress site.
An image compression plugin is a natural choice for a new WordPress site, especially if you plan on uploading a lot of images.
Image compression reduces the file size of your images so that there’s less of a strain on browsers and your server when your page is loaded. This translates into saving you bandwidth, storage space and money.
WP Smush Pro is an image compression plugin that goes even further to optimize your images including resizing them to perfectly fit your needs.
Doing this means your server doesn’t need to spend time loading huge images when all you need to display is a medium-sized or thumbnail image. This further saves you on bandwidth and storage space and for more details on how this works, check out 6 Little-Known Image Compression Tips for Making the Most of Smush Pro for WordPress.
WP Smush Pro is an image compression plugin on steroids and the proof is in the pudding: the free version has collected over 600,000 active installs and over 2,000 five-star reviews.
WP Smush Pro includes everything the free version does including image optimization, compression and resizing, plus a whole lot more:
- Two to 10 times more compression power without quality loss
- Bulk compress all your images in one click
- More lossless compression power
- Intelligent multi-pass lossy compression without a huge loss in image quality
- Automatically switch PNG files to JPG if savings are found
- Keep an optional backup of your original image
- Premium, expert support is included
After setting up Hummingbird, install WP Smush Pro to really get your site speed flying.
Having great content on your site is definitely the key to ranking high in search results, but if search engines have a hard time finding your content, then what’s the point? That’s where Smartcrawl comes in. It’s an SEO plugin that optimizes your site so your content and site are easy to find.
Smartcrawl also has an easy-to-use installation wizard to help get you set up in a short amount of time and it creates:
- Title and meta customization
- Auto-link keywords
- Moz integration
- Direct interaction with Google and Bing
- Over three dozen more features
You’re going to be spending a lot of time making your site awesome so you may as well make sure as many people as possible see your site and that’s why installing Smartcrawl is the way to go.
Another plugin you can install to ensure your site and content reaches more people is Hustle. It’s the last plugin you’ll need to install to get loyal subscribers, capture leads and customers.
With Hustle, you can create stunning inline pop-ups, slide-ins and in-content opt-ins to grab your visitors’ attention and get them on board. It integrates with your favorite email provider as well as the most popular email list management services such as AWeber, CampaignMonitor, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Infusionsoft and more. There are also more integrations in the works.
If you’re scared that ad-blockers are going to get in the way of your opt-in goals, don’t be – that’s not a problem with Hustle since it sneaks by them effectively.
On top of that, you also get access to detailed metrics so you can easily keep track of your progress and manage your opt-ins and marketing campaigns all the more.
Your site can be a power-house of page speed, lead capturing and security, but if it doesn’t look great, too, then your visitors won’t be all that interested. Enter Builder. It lets you create completely custom, stunning themes with a drag and drop interface where coding is optional.
The best part is that you can create a new theme from scratch once you also install its companion, Upfront, which is a theme framework. You can achieve the theme design you want and with all the page parts and features you want including (but not limited to):
- Google maps
- YouTube videos
- Facebook “like” box
- Contact forms
- Accordion tabs
- Login forms
- Custom code
If you want to get the details on all the Upfront basics so you can get started quickly, check out the Introduction to Upfront course in The Academy that’s included for free in a WPMU DEV membership. You can also take the first two weeks of the course for free with a free trial.
I honestly can’t set up a Multisite network without installing Cloner anymore. To go without it would be a serious feat of engineering. Why? Once I found out I could use it to copy an entire site in my network, (including the main site) I realized I could use it for quick and efficient bug testing and as a live testing environment.
Cloner not only lets you copy a site, but it also lets you merge any changes you make in a copy to any other site in the network. That means you can copy a site, make improvements, test them out, then when you’re happy with your changes, you can copy them back to the original site to update it.
Plus, it’s all done without any downtime for your visitors. It’s too good a deal and it’s made me abandon local test environments and staging sites altogether. I know, that’s an incredibly bold statement, but once you try Cloner (for free!), I think you can see what I mean.
For more details on using Cloner for bug testing and creating a staging site, check out the posts Quick and Reliable Bug Testing with Cloner for WordPress Multisite and How to Set Up a Staging Environment for WordPress with Cloner.
The Google Analytics + plugin, as you may have guessed, brings Google Analytics to your WordPress dashboard. It’s easy to set up and you can see your stats without having to leave your site.
With this plugin you can:
- See top posts, pages and referral links
- Have one tracking code for an entire network
- See your stats down to individual posts
- Track visits, page views and bounce rate
- Track mapped domains
- Have statistics and graphs galore
- Integrate it with Pro Sites to sell it as a service
If you’re like me and want to work in as little windows and programs as possible to increase productivity and efficiency without sacrificing on the stats that are available, then you should consider installing Google Analytics +.
Gravity Forms is a powerful plugin that goes beyond creating simple contact forms. You can do so much with it including creating a form that dynamically displays fields as you click and fill them out with conditional logic. To see what this looks like in action, check out our contact form.
Beyond that, there are a ton of basic and advanced applications that range from letting users create posts to selling products.
For a free alternative that still includes a lot of features, check out Contact Form 7.
Akismet is a natural choice for preventing comment spam from reaching your site and it’s trusted by over a million users, including us here at WPMU DEV since we use it for our blog. It does a great job of filtering genuine comments from spam.
If you think spam isn’t such a big deal besides being mildly annoying, then you should check out The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Spam since it can bring your site down in one fellow swoop.
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WP Bruiser is great because it not only protects forms on your site from spam, but it does it without resorting to using CAPTCHA which adds an extra step for your users. This plugin can prevent spam submissions altogether without inconveniencing visitors one bit.
Antispam Bee is an excellent alternative or companion to Akismet to prevent comment spam. Its best feature is that it doesn’t use CAPTCHA to reject comment spam so your visitors won’t be inconvenienced with an extra field to fill out.
Clef offers two-step account verification to ensure your site’s login form and user account are secure. That way, even if a hacker managed to collect usernames and passwords through phishing, they still wouldn’t be able to log in and the user’s account would remain otherwise secure.
WPOptimize is a plugin that cleans and optimizes your database to keep it running fast and smoothly. It works exceptionally well and that’s reflected in its over half a million active user base.
W3 Total Cache is an SEO and performance optimization plugin that handles caching, minifying and integrates with CDNs. It’s a robust tool that’s also an excellent companion to Hummingbird.
You can use them both to such a powerful result. Just be sure not to enable the same or similar features in both plugins. For example, if you turn on minifying in Hummingbird, don’t turn it on in W3 Total Cache.
If you’re planning on uploading and using a lot of images on your site, this is an excellent plugin to consider installing.
Redirection manages your 301 (permanent) redirections and keeps track of 404 errors. It’s easy to use and doesn’t require technical skills which makes it a great option for beginners, but also advanced users who want a quick way to manage 301s and 404 error tracking.
Need a fast way to do some spring cleaning and optimizing of your database? Well, put away your feather duster because this plugin can do it in one click. It does a great job and it saves you a ton of time since doesn’t require you to query your database manually at all. Score!
To further speed up your site and save you on bandwidth, offloading your images and media is a great option and that’s exactly the feature that’s included in this plugin.
There are also other features of the WP Offload S3 site that make it an excellent option and the plugin’s site describes them best:
WP Offload™ S3 copies files from your WordPress Media Library to Amazon S3 and rewrites URLs to serve the files from S3, CloudFront, or another CDN.
You can also install the free version of WP Offload S3 if you don’t want to upgrade to premium.
Unfortunately, the inherent WordPress search is slow and bloated so one of the best ways to help speed up your site while offering a much better search experience to your visitors is to install the ElasticPress plugin on your site.
If you find that it’s not a perfect fit for your site, you can check out the Solr Search for WordPress plugin.
The Gitium plugin offers automatic version control and deployment for your plugins and themes on your site. It also integrates with Github, Bitbucket or Travis-CI.
It’s a handy plugin for developers and WordPress power users alike.
For those of you who want to make writing your posts and pages easier in WordPress, install the TinyMCE Advanced plugin. It adds options to the inherent WordPress post and page editor that makes your (writing) life so much easier.
It includes features such as creating and editing tables, more options for ordered lists, set font family and size and more.
Upgrading to PHP version seven comes with massive page speed improvements and since WordPress could soon make it the minimum requirement to run your installation, it’s a good idea to upgrade your PHP version as soon as you can.
But what of your content? Is it going to be compatible with a PHP update? Install this plugin and it checks that out for you. That way, you can make any necessary changes to your site to run smoothly with newer versions of PHP.
Smartcrawl already includes the ability to create sitemaps, but in case you want to keep things minimal and only enable the sitemap option, you can try the Google XML Sitemaps plugin. It’s a solid plugin and it’s already used by over a million users so you know its good.
WooCommerce is one of the best plugins available for turning your WordPress site into an online store. It’s free and comes with all the basics and includes premium upgrades if you need a little more.
If you prefer to have all the premium features you want at your fingertips without having to upgrade à la carte, you can check out MarketPress.
Alright, you caught me! So WP-CLI isn’t a plugin exactly like the other ones on this list, but it’s an amazing command line tool that lets you manage your WordPress site in the flashes of flashes.
If you’re set on being as efficient as possible with installing, activating and managing plugins, themes and your WordPress site in general, you need to check out WP-CLI.
WP Tavern has also announced official WordPress support and according to the Make WordPress section of WordPress.org, WP-CLI’s site is on track to be migrated so you can check that page for the new link once the migration is complete.
If you want your site to be awesome in every sense of the word, you need to install these WordPress plugins.
Sure, you don’t need to install every single one, but once you grab the ones you need, your site can go from drab to fab. These plugins are designed to make your site a performance powerhouse while making sure its design is fetching.