The ManageWP Guide to Essential WordPress Plugins

The ManageWP Guide to Essential WordPress Plugins

This post is part of a series on building better WordPress blogs. You can find links to all posts in the series at the bottom of this page.

I have been known to moan that the WordPress core doesn’t feature certain functionality by default, but for the most part, the WordPress development team are right not to overload it with anything other than the absolute essentials.

Of course, one could argue that there are plenty of features within the WordPress core that aren’t essential, but that is an argument for another day. My point is this — with the occasional exception, the WordPress core’s beauty is in its simplicity. With literally tens of thousands of free plugins to choose from, we are given the freedom to decide what we need for our unique corner of the web. Rather than having functionality forced upon us, we are given the freedom to choose what works for us.

However, this choice can be a slight disadvantage if you are not too familiar with WordPress. After all, you have to know about a plugin in order to use it. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of what I consider to be the essential elements of functionality that completely free plugins can bring to your WordPress site. Think of this as your plugin “cheat sheet”, to refer to whenever you create a new WordPress blog.

Antispam: Akismet

AkismetUnfortunately, you will need an antispam plugin for your WordPress blog — it’s unavoidable. Spam is a huge issue, but thankfully, there are some great plugins out there that can turn it into a few minor one.

Having tried quite a few options, my personal choice is definitely Akismet. Whilst there are alternatives (which we have explored), Akismet has always performed well for me. It also happens to come pre-installed with WordPress, which is rather handy.

Backups: BackWPup

BackWPupI cannot stress how important it is for you to back up your WordPress site. There are so many potential pitfalls awaiting your blog out there, and the last thing you want to do is lose your precious content — there are few things more heartbreaking.

There are an enormous number of backup plugins available (both paid and free), but BackWPup is very popular and well rated. Other (premium) options include BackupBuddy, VaultPress, and of course ManageWP’s backup feature.

Security: Better WP Security

Better WP SecurityFor all too many WordPress users, security measures are an afterthought. That thought is usually after a security breach, and which point, the damage has been done.

So do yourself a favor when launching a new site and take just a few moments to install and activate a plugin such as Better WP Security. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider additional options such as WP Security Scan and Login Security Solution (featured in this month’s plugins of the month post).

SEO: WordPress SEO by Yoast

WordPress SEO by YoastWe’re all well aware of how important SEO is, and by default, WordPress performs adequately. However, if you want to give your site a cutting edge, you will need to install a good SEO plugin.

In my humble opinion, WordPress SEO by Yoast is by far the best option. It gives you complete control over all of the relevant onsite SEO factors in one neat package. You only need to read my recent post on how to utilize categories and tags to see how easy it is to optimize your site.

There is a possibility that your theme comes with SEO features, but I would advise that you ignore them and still use this plugin. You may change your theme in the future, whereas you can stick with SEO by Yoast for the long term.

Optimization: W3 Total Cache

Although site speed is extremely important, I was reticent to include a caching plugin in this post. Although they are excellent at what they do, they’re not something you really want to have activated whilst you’re still working on the nuts and bolts of your site.

Having said that, I would recommend at a minimum that you install W3 Total Cache when creating a new site, even if you do not activate it immediately. And when you do get around to activating the plugin, you can follow Yoast’s simple setup recommendations:

If you’re looking for additional options for optimizing your site, I would recommend WP for lossless image optimization, and Lazy Load for (you guessed it) lazy loading images.

Contact Forms: Contact Form 7

When it comes to offering ways in which a visitor to your site can contact you, the key is to major on breaking down any potential barriers. Therefore, the vast majority of sites should have a contact form.

Whilst there are an abundance of plugins for you to choose from, Contact Form 7 is my favorite. If you’re looking for a simple solution, it will do the job just fine.

Analytics: Google Analytics for WordPress / Clicky by Yoast

Google Analytics for WordPressWhilst there are a few different ways in which you can place analytics tracking code on your site, I recommend that you use a plugin. If you insert the code directly into one of your PHP files you run the risk of it being deleted in an update, and if you insert the code via your theme, it will disappear when you switch themes in the future.

So get your hands on Google Analytics for WordPress and/or Clicky by Yoast, depending upon which analytics services you use. Not only does it make setting up your site for analytics easy, but there are various custom settings that you can fiddle with that are otherwise more complicated to deal with.

Social Sharing: Digg Digg

Digg DiggSocial sharing isn’t appropriate for all sites, but for the vast majority, it is a must-have. And just like means of contact, the key is in making it as easy for the user as possible to carry out the desired action.

In my opinion, Digg Digg does this in the best way. With both fixed layouts and a floating bar option (which always stays on screen), your visitors are always just a couple of clicks away from sharing your content.

Search: Relevanssi

RelevanssiIf you’re a regular reader of the blog, you will know that I can’t get enough of Relevanssi. WordPress’ core search functionality is truly woeful, but it is massively improved, as if by magic, just by installing this plugin.

If you want to go a step further and improve WordPress’ internal link search feature (which I consider a must for any blogger with more than a handful of posts), you will also want to check out Better Internal Link Search, which we covered previously in this post.

What Plugins Do You Use?

This is not intended to be a complete list — I wanted to keep it relatively short and sweet so it would work well as a reference for only the must-have plugins.

However, if you feel that I have missed out a key plugin, please do make your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll happily consider any that you think are worthy of inclusion!

The Building Better WordPress Blogs Series

Creative Commons image courtesy of RIUM+

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!


  1. Mark Henry

    Hi Tom! Great sharing. Thanks for sharing.
    I want to suggest you Trash Duplicate And 301 Redirect WP plugin. This plugin helps to find and delete duplicate contents in your website. Also make you safe from being penalized by Google for duplicate content.

  2. DJ Frozen

    Akismet is very good but our blogs need a captcha plugin : not only to control spam (Akismet is very good on that, anyway) but for security reasons as well. I think that our blog’s security is above all, doesn’t it? I am currently using blue captcha and you can’t imagine how many brute force attacks blue captcha stops daily.

  3. Andy

    Hey Tom, good listing
    I’m just missing as a Backup tool is essential if you don’t have managewp 😉

    1. Ben Niehues IV

      You can actually have scheduled back ups with WP Better Security. It is possible to email the back up to an admin email or save it to the server.

    2. Tom Ewer


      That’s a very good point Andy — backup is most certainly a glaring omission. I’ll add that!

  4. Weberz Hosting

    One plugin that I think is a must have is “Yet Another Related Posts Plugin”. If not nothing else it will help your readers find other related posts on your site for a topic they’re interested in.

    For us it’s an absolute must have.

    1. Tom Ewer



      No doubting that it’s a fantastic plugin — we’ve specifically covered it here on the blog before:

      However, I personally wouldn’t put it in the “must-have” category. For instance, I don’t currently use it in any of my blogs.



  5. Ben Niehues IV

    I couldn’t have selected a better list myself! These are must install’s on every WordPress site I create. I will have to check out Relevanssi. I haven’t built a site yet that greatly utilizes the basic search tool let alone needing a upgrade, but now I know where to go when I need one. Thanks!

    1. Tom Ewer


      Hi Ben,

      The default WordPress search functionality upsets me greatly, but Relevanssi makes everything good in the world 🙂



  6. Heikki H.

    You have “essential” in the post title, which often suggest that the author hasn’t got a faintest clue on WordPress plugins. However, this is a solid list! I might add some premium ones, such as Gravity Forms.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Tom Ewer


      Hello Heikki,

      I read the first sentence of your comment and was unsure whether or not I wanted to read on 😉 Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised 🙂

      Although it isn’t specifically stated, this really is a list for free plugins — it’s intended as a lightweight (i.e. not filled with tens of semi-useful plugins) reference point for anyone starting a new blog. Having said that, Gravity Forms is a great plugin.



  7. Anna L.

    Hello Tom,

    As for me – I never use plugins for analytics and social sharing – always setup and tune them manualy and provide a quick way to access the service provider dashboard (like GA) instead trying display something in WP dashboard (which is always quite unusable and buggy).

    But for example I very often use Posts 2 Posts to manage relationships between different posts types – excellent plugin nearly all my WP projects rely on. But it’s more developer-oriented than addressed end-users’ needs.

    I also use very actively WP Maintenance Mode – it’s probably not ‘essentian’ but helpful and again nearly all my WP install rely on it.

    Thanks for sharing your list

    1. Tom Ewer


      Hey Anna,

      I’m no fan of analytics in the dashboard, but that’s not the main reason I use analytics plugins. The main reason is so I know that the tracking code is kept clear of theme files or theme settings, so that it won’t be affected by upgrades/new themes.

      As for manually placing social sharing buttons, that just seems like too much work 😉

      Your two suggestions both good plugins, but I think you’re right in saying that they don’t quite belong in the “essential” category.



  8. enigmaweb

    Hey Tom ManageWP allows users to store ‘favourite’ plugins from the repository for easy install/activate – it would be interesting to see which plugin are most popular amongst ManageWP users.

    My favs are Contact Form 7, Yoast SEO, Google Analytics, NextGEN Gallery, User Role Editor, Lock Out, and WP-Cycle (for slideshows). All of these are pretty much standard install for all the client’s websites we develop.

    1. Tom Ewer


      Hi there,

      That is an interesting thought…all of the plugins you have suggested are great, and obviously a few of them are already in the list. But I would say that gallery and slideshow plugins aren’t an absolute must, so probably don’t belong on this list.



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Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!

Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!