The following list contains the essential WordPress plugins that I install on almost every site I build. I find them nearly essential to a fast, secure, high-performing, user-friendly WordPress site.
All of these WordPress plugins are created & maintained by experienced developers, updated frequently, and highly rated by their users. And of course, best of all, they’re free.
No matter what type of site you run, consider installing these essential WordPress plugins.
The 10 Essential WordPress Plugins for 2018
- iThemes Security
- WP Rocket
- Yoast SEO
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
- Code Snippets
- SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle
- Duplicate Post
There are also a few honorable mentions at the end… because it was hard to stop at just 10.
01 iThemes Security
This free WordPress security plugin provides 30+ ways to secure your site and protect it from hackers.
When it comes to managing your WordPress site, security should be one of your top priorities. No site, no matter how big or small, is 100% safe from attacks. Therefore, it’s important to have a reliable security solution in place.
iThemes Security includes over 30 different ways to control your site’s security. They even offer a one-click, “set it up for me” option.
iThemes Security Features
- Brute force attack protection
- Enforce strong passwords
- Automatically ban malicious login attempts
- Monitor your filesystem
- Scan for malware
- Email notifications
- Keeps a detailed log of login activity
Another solid security option is Wordfence Security.
UpdraftPlus is an essential WordPress backup plugin that creates an automatic backup of your files & database, and stores it on Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, or a number of other cloud-based solutions.
Right alongside security, maintaining up-to-date backups of your site is imperative.
Should your site get hacked, or someone on your team just makes an innocent mistake, you need the ability to restore your site to its previous state.
- Automatic, scheduled backups
- One-click restore
- Includes both files & database
- Backup to Google Drive
- Backup to Dropbox
- Backup to Amazon S3
- and even more off-site options
03 WP Rocket
I’m making an exception for this one. WP Rocket is not free. As of January 2018, it costs $39/yr. However, I believe it’s far superior to every free caching plugin on the market, and at that price, it’s well worth the money.
Caching refers to a common method used to speed up your website. The faster your site loads, the better your results on Google, and the happier your visitors.
All sites should utilize a caching plugin to optimize their site for the fastest load times possible.
WP Rocket Features
- Lazy-load images
- Gzip compression
- Database optimization
- Minification & concatenation
- Cloudflare & CDN compatible
- DNS prefetching
If you must go with a free caching plugin, I recommend WP Super Cache.
04 Yoast SEO
The most comprehensive, free SEO plugin for WordPress.
While there are a few upgrade nags that I find a bit annoying, this WordPress plugin provides an incredible amount of value for free.
Aside from SEO, it builds sitemaps, improves social sharing, and can even help you write better content.
And SEO should always be managed with a plugin, never a theme.
Yoast SEO Features
- Create .xml sitemap file
- Set focus keywords
- Custom social media share images, titles & descriptions
- Page analysis & suggestions
- and so much more
Another excellent, free WordPress plugin for SEO is All in One SEO Pack.
05 Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
This essential WordPress plugin helps you easily install Google Analytics and view reports right in your WordPress admin area.
Google Analytics has become ubiquitous in the world of web analytics. It’s essentially enterprise-level analytics available to everyone, for free.
This free plugin offers the most features of any free Google Analytics plugin, while still being easy to setup.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP Features
- One-click authorization w/ Google
- Track external link clicks
- Track page scrolling depth
- View reports on your Dashboard
- Enable custom definitions
- Exclude tracking for user groups
- Enable ecommerce tracking
- Enable AMP tracking
Google Analytics by MonsterInsights is another free plugin that does a great job.
06 Code Snippets
This free plugin lets you edit your theme’s functions without modifying the
If you’ve ever read “place this code in your theme’s functions.php file,” this plugin is for you.
Code Snippets provides a much easier & safer way to add functionality to your WordPress site.
Code Snippets Features
- Easy-to-use interface
- Manage snippets individually
- Export snippets in .xml or .php
- Import snippets from other sites
- Easy to remember name & description for each snippet
Jetpack is a free WordPress plugin, but comes with a bunch of upgrades to make it even more powerful. The free version offers social sharing, basic site stats, related posts, security, site monitoring and much more.
Powered by WordPress.com, the Jetpack plugin is like 20 plugins bundled into one. It allows self-hosted WordPress sites to use some of the features that WordPress.com provides.
You can activate & deactivate individual modules as needed, or upgrade to a premium plan for even more features.
- Free website analytics
- Better image galleries & slideshows
- Uptime monitoring
- Related posts
- Automatic social sharing
- Sidebar widgets & visibility
- Simple contact forms
- and so much more
ShortPixel is an essential WordPress plugin that optimizes your images without any loss in quality.
Proper image optimization is a huge factor in speeding up your website. ShortPixel reduces the file size of your images without jeopardizing quality.
You can even run a free test to see how much faster your site could be after optimizing images with ShortPixel.
- Optimizes ALL image sizes
- 3 levels of compression
- Supports .jpg, .png, .gif, .webp AND .pdf files
- Resize images on upload
- Option to keep EXIF data
- Backup/Restore original images
- Bulk image optimization
- Compatible with WooCommerce
For another quality image optimization plugin, you could try Imagify.
09 SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle
This free, essential plugin basically gives you 16 additional, premium-quality widgets to use in your WordPress sidebar.
You might be surprised at all the custom widgets that this plugin provides. And they’re all easy to add, configure and design to your liking.
These widgets can be combined with any number of different page builders to create a powerful, customized WordPress site. Or simply used on their own to beef up your sidebar areas.
SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle Features
- Posts carousel
- Image grid
- Masonry layout
- Pricing table
- Video player
- Call-to-Action box
- Google Maps widget
- Buttons, icons & more
10 Duplicate Post
This is hands-down the easiest way to duplicate any of your WordPress content, including pages, posts & custom post types.
A simple but powerful settings page allows you to customize which elements are copied, and who has access to the plugin’s features.
Duplicate Post Features
- Clone or start a new draft
- Duplicate pages, posts & custom post types
- Enable/Disable post types
- Choose which elements to copy
- Add a prefix or suffix
- Limit by user role
- Bulk actions to close multiple posts at once
Free WordPress Plugins to Also Consider
It was hard to stop at just 10, especially since everyone’s plugin needs are a little different, depending on what type of WordPress site you manage. Not all of our top 10 would be considered essential WordPress plugins for everyone.
Here are a few honorable mentions that might be considered essential for your site.
This plugin adds a simple button to the TinyMCE toolbar that lets you create and edit the HTML
If your WordPress site accepts user-submitted comments, I highly recommend using Akismet to help block spam. It’s free for personal sites, but there is a small fee to use it commercially.
This is another free plugin only for comment-enabled sites. It adds bold, italic, link and quote buttons to the WordPress comment form, and provides users with a little more flexibility when submitting comments.
Pair this with the SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle for ultimate widget control. This plugin helps you style, show/hide, and customize all the widgets in your WordPress sidebars.
Simply put, ACF is one of the most powerful free WordPress plugins out there. Anyone looking to add additional metadata to their posts, pages or custom post types should consider downloading ACF.
How I Created This List
First off, let me say that the word “essential” is going to be interpreted in many ways. I do not expect, nor am I advising, you to install all 10 of these plugins on every single WordPress site you build.
This list is intended to be a reference for most sites, in most situations.
What is “essential” to all WordPress sites?
I asked myself this question before deciding on these 10 plugins. And the answer I came up with included:
- Site Traffic (otherwise why even build a site, right?!)
- Web Analytics
Those 5 categories cover 6 of the 10 WordPress plugins on the list.
- Security → iThemes Security
- Backups → UpdraftPlus
- Performance → WP Rocket & ShortPixel
- Site Traffic → Yoast SEO
- Web Analytics → GADWP
That left 4 spots to round off to an even 10.
What other plugins have I used on a majority of sites I’ve built?
The answer to this question is how I arrived at the remaining 4 plugins on the list.
- Jetpack: It’s an excellent backup solution for web analytics, and provides a handful of other options that I find useful in most cases.
- Code Snippets: Too often I see tutorial sites telling people to add code to their
functions.phpfile. Unless you’re a WordPress developer, you really should never open that file. Code Snippets provides an excellent way to get around this issue. And you can use it for creating mini plugins, as well.
- Duplicate Post: Any site with more than a few pages could benefit from starting with a template. Also, combined with some of the popular page builder plugins out there, this makes creating pages for a new site a breeze.
- SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle: This one is probably the least “essential” on this list. However, many clients have asked about doing xyz on their site, and this plugin solves a lot of those requests.
What about the honorable mentions?
These free plugins are not necessarily essential for a majority of WordPress sites. However, if your site does require certain functionality, these plugins are the leaders in their respective area. And for the cost of, well, nothing, they pack a ton of functionality.
I’m sure there are other highly-valuable, “essential” WordPress plugins that I left off this list. If you think you’ve got one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll evaluate it and consider adding it to the list.