We’ve been building WordPress websites for almost 10 years now, and over that time we’ve built literally hundreds of websites and installed literally thousands of plugins.
So let me save you some time and give you our top list of both Free and Paid plugins to install on every WordPress site.*
This post might get a little long, so here are some shortcuts for you:
Free Plugins to Install on Every WordPress Site
These are all free plugins that can be found on the WordPress plugin repository. This list of plugins are in alphabetical order, not preferential order. Some of them are more favorites than others.
- Advanced Custom Fields
- Better Search Replace
- Disable Comments
- Google Analytics Plugin for WordPress
- Google Tag Manager for WordPress
- Gravity Forms CLI Add-On
- iThemes Security
- Kraken.io Image Optimizer
- Mailgun for WordPress
- MainWP Child
- Media File Renamer
- Pixel Caffeine
- Post Duplicator
- Post Type Switcher
- Query Monitor
- Regenerate Thumbnails
- Relevanssi – A Better Search
- Simple Page Ordering
- Simple Sitemap
- W3 Total Cache
- What Template File Am I Viewing
- WP Term Order
- WP Time Capsule
- WP User Avatars
- WP User Profiles
- Yoast SEO
Advanced Custom Fields (aka ACF)
This plugin is an absolute must if you’re a developer building websites. It allows you to add really slick meta fields to your posts or pages (or CPTs) for easy data entry. This plugin is widely used throughout the WP community. And the Pro Version is even better.
One small caveat is that with Blocks and Gutenberg, I fear ACF may not work long term. It definitely works as of this writing, and they even have a slick way to build Gutenberg blocks using ACF.
Better Search Replace
I love shortcuts. This plugin allows me to make a lot of shortcuts in a relatively small amount of time. Just like “Find Replace” on Microsoft Word, this plugin allows you to search-replace anything you want in your WordPress database.
WARNING: This plugin can also destroy your site if used incorrectly. Be sure to use a solid backup plugin before using this plugin.
This plugin simply does what it says. Disables comments. It allows you to disable them based on post type too, so you have ultimate control over what people can or cannot comment on.
Google Analytics Dashboard Plugin for WordPress by MonsterInsights
This is my go-to Google Analytics plugin. It used to be owned by Yoast before he decided it was a little too outside of his wheelhouse and sold it to the MonsterInsights folks. The free plugin works great, but if you want to really amp up your Google Analytics, you’ll want the premium analytics plugin for sure.
Google Tag Manager for WordPress
I have a love/hate relationship with Google Tag Manager. If you read this far, you already saw that I recommend installing the Google Analytics plugin. Google Tag Manager is great, but it’s complicated. And to get it to do all the slick things that a plugin like Google Analytics Dashboard can do for you out of the box, you practically need a PHD in tags.
The thing that Google Tag Manager is great for is adding all the random little pixels that so many software require. And I don’t have to give access to let them install yet another plugin for something simple like a pixel.
Gravity Forms CLI Add-On
We do a ton of work from the command line, and this plugin really ups our command line game. If you’re not using WP CLI tool yet, I strongly recommend it.
This free plugin obviously only works with the premium Gravity Forms plugin.
Back in my day… we used Better WP Security to handle all our WordPress security needs. Then the folks at iThemes purchased it from the devs and of course monetized it by offering a premium version of their free plugin. We are actually fans of the premium plugin, but the free plugin still does a lot of great things for security.
Kraken.io Image Optimizer
Image optimization is an ongoing discussion all around WordPresslandia. There was even a native function recently released to cap the size of images by default when uploading to a WordPress site.
I’ve tried a number of alternatives to optimizing images and none of them are as easy or straightforward as Kraken.
Quick “gotcha”… although the plugin is free, the service is not. They offer a small amount of monthly optimization but for most people it’s not enough. Their paid plans are relatively cheap though, and most sites would easily get by on their $5/mo plan.
Mailgun for WordPress
Mail handling in WordPress by default is left to the small PHP function to process all the hundreds of notification emails you can receive from your site (can someone say, new notification system please 🙏🏼).
Mailgun takes all my worries away and also provides a ton of extra data on their website. I can see when mail was sent, when it was opened. If it arrived or didn’t. Gone are the days where I wasn’t sure if mail is working or not.
I’ve also created a YouTube video to help ease the setup process, check that out here:
A long long time ago, I can still remember when… MainWP was practically free. I bought a license and we’ve been using it ever since. If you’re managing a lot of websites for clients, MainWP is an awesome way to keep tabs on them all. This is the plugin that connects the child site to the main dashboard hosted elsewhere.
Media File Renamer
Being search engine optimizers, we’re always trying to make sure our sites rank as well as possible. One easy way to up your SEO game is by having better named images. Almost everyone downloads an image from somewhere like unsplash, then they upload it to their site leaving the gibberish filename in tact. Even we do it!
Media File Renamer lets you go in after the fact and update those nasty file names so that they’re more search engine friendly. They have a premium version of the Media File Renamer plugin that we love which does a few more things too.
The Facebook pixel takes exception to my above rule about Google Tag Manager and pixels. There are a lot of ways to really put your Facebook pixel on steroids, especially if you’re running a WooCommerce store. This plugin handles most of those optimizations for you.
However much I hate this plugin, I love it for the same number of reasons. It’s simple and straightforward and most clients love it.
Post Type Switcher
I’m a huge fan of using Post Types to differentiate content types. For example, a lot of people nest their service pages right into the “Pages” section of WordPress. I prefer moving those to a custom post type of “Services” and storing them there. In order to facilitate these movements more easily than changing fields in the database, this plugin does it really easily.
We use this plugin solely on our local and staging environments and not on production sites. This helps keep an eye on what might be slowing down your website to help improve speed.
When you are in development mode especially, sometimes your image sizes may change and you need a quick way to fix them. This is your goto.
This plugin is hugely popular in the WP community and was built by an awesome guy named Alex Mills who built this plugin and other awesome plugins, all for free. He recently passed away and the WordPress core team decided to take up maintenance on his behalf.
Relevanssi – A Better Search
Out of the box the WordPress search function is majorly lacking. The Relevanssi plugin really fixes the search issues and improves your local site search results.
The premium version of Relevanssi is even more betters.
Simple Page Ordering
If you’ve been around WordPress for any amount of time, you’ve probably wondered how to change the order that pages show up. There is a little option called “Menu Order” that is hidden amongst the settings that few people ever find…
This plugin brings menu order to the forefront in a nice little drag and drop interface right on the main list of pages/posts/cpts/etc.
If you’re trying to optimize your site for search engines, an HTML sitemap is a quick and easy addition to your website. For many many years, I was a fan of the Kwayy HTML Sitemap plugin.
I recently switched to Simple Sitemap as Kwayy hasn’t been updated in forever and doesn’t work as well with the new Gutenberg editor. The downside to this free plugin is that it only generates the sitemap for Posts and Pages, no custom post types at all.
The premium version of Simple Sitemap provides even more options.
W3 Total Cache
When it comes to optimizing websites, you have to use a caching solution. Some of your hosts like WP Engine will provide caching for you. But if not, the W3 Total Cache plugin is the best around.
The plugin is 100% free, but it has almost a million settings. My recent find is that for a fee, the plugin devs who built W3 Total cache will personally configure your site so that it’s as fast as possible. Worth every penny, IMO.
What Template File Am I Viewing
I was introduced to this plugin at a WordPress meetup here in Las Vegas about 5 years ago at least. One of the contributors to the plugin, who just so happens to be one of the organizers of the Las Vegas WP Meetup, recommended it and I’ve used it ever since. If you’re a developer and you’re building themes, this plugin is a must.
WP Term Order
Similar to the Page Order plugin, this does the exact same thing for any terms, whether it’s post categories or tags, or a custom taxonomy you built. Slick, I say.
WP Time Capsule
Backing up your website should probably be on the top 3 things you do today, list. There are a LOT of options out there. When we used to host with WP Engine, I loved their incremental backups that happened every night. When we left WP Engine for our own hosting solution, I immediately missed that feature.
Enter WP Time Capsule! This is the dream backup plugin I had been waiting for. Incremental backups that happen every night, stored off-site on another service (we use Dropbox). This is definitely my favorite backup plugin for WordPress.
Caveat… the plugin is free but the service is not. You can learn more about what plans they offer on their website.
WP User Avatars
Have you ever not wanted to update your picture on Gravatar, just to have your website image look the way you want it? Well, without a plugin like this… you’d be hard-pressed to find a solution. Super easy avatar image uploads.
WP User Profiles
This is my next vote for getting brought into WordPress core. The user profile page by default is long and confusing. This adds a nice tabulated layout to the page, much more user friendly.
The no-brainer solution to optimizing your WordPress site for search engines. Don’t fall trap to the other options that swear they’re better. Yoast is dedicated to making optimization as stellar as possible, and everyone else is just trying to scrape by.
I’m also a huge fan of the Premium Yoast SEO plugin.
Paid Plugins to Install on Every WordPress Site
The below list of premium plugins are our go-to list that we think are worth the money to really run your website at it’s fullest potential.
- Advanced Custom Fields Pro
- Google Analytics Premium by Monster Insights
- Gravity Forms
- iThemes Security Pro
- Media File Renamer Pro
- Relevanssi Premium
- Simple Sitemap Pro
- Yoast SEO Premium
- Yoast Local
Advanced Custom Fields Pro
The free ACF plugin is great and will work for 99% of people out there, BUT… once you get a taste of its greatness, you may want to upgrade to get 4 premium add-ons (repeater field, flexible content field, gallery field, and options page). Both the free and premium plugins do not have to be installed.
Google Analytics Premium by Monster Insights
While the free version of this plugin is great, the premium plugin is superior. Adds additional event tracking and other wizbang features that make your analytics start to become valuable and actionable. Definitely recommend the premium plugin along with the following premium add-ons.
Helps you dig deeper by showing you useful stats like most popular authors, best publication times, popular categories, tags, Yoast focus keywords, SEO score, etc.
Forms tracking addon automatically tracks all your WordPress lead forms, contact forms, and registration forms to show you important conversion data. Works great with Gravity Forms.
Monsterinsights Page Insights
Quickly view analytics for each individual page and post from the Insights menu in the WordPress admin bar while browsing your website.
The ever great debate as to which contact form plugin is greatest has long been solved in my mind, and it’s Gravity Forms for a number of reasons. Ease of use and understandable UI at the top, along with ability to customize as a developer.
Gravity Forms Mailchimp Add-on
This is just one of many add-ons the fine people of Gravity Forms have released for their main plugin. We tend to use or recommend Mailchimp for most of our websites, hence this getting a default installation every time.
iThemes Security Pro
As stated earlier, the free version of the iThemes plugin is a great option. This just adds a few more security features we happen to love. Both the free and premium plugins do not have to be installed.
Media File Renamer Pro
Again with the premium upgrade, you get what you pay for: even more awesomeness. I really like the ability to manually rename images and number files that have the same name.
The premium version of Relevanssi is interesting, bascially you get access to more features that the free plugin eventually gets. This one is almost just a donation so that he can keep developing the plugin. But it’s so great, I didn’t mind paying for it!
Simple Sitemap Pro
If you have custom post types or an e-commerce store, you’ll need the pro version to output those on your HTML sitemap!
Yoast SEO Premium
I’ve been using Yoast premium for so long it’s hard to remember life without it. As you can see on their website, the feature list is quite the upgrade for going with the premium plugin. We use those features regularly.
If you’re a brick and mortar business, Yoast Local is a MUST-have plugin. It takes care of all the complicated Schema data that comes along with having a physical address so that you don’t have to.
Special WordPress Plugins to Install Every Time
There are just a few plugins we install on most WordPress sites that are not found in the WordPress Plugin repository, nor are they sold as a premium plugin. Here are those favorites:
WP Plugin Activation Manifest
It’s no secret that we’re huge Roots fans over here at NeONBRAND. We use them on every build we do. With that comes some special plugins that only work if you’re using a setup similar to Roots Bedrock.
This plugin allows us to set up our different environments to have certain plugins active or inactive depending on the environment. That way your google analytics code doesn’t always load on your local site when you’re doing testing.
Built by Roots, Soil is awesome and can actually be used with any theme, you just have to add a few lines to your functions.php file in order for it to work. Provides about ten ways to improve your site’s structure.
Neon Core Functionality
Originally built by Bill Erickson, the Core Functionality plugin was built because a WordPress theme should only contain that which relates to the look and feel of the site. Bill says that “Any core functionality belongs in a plugin.” We actually believe a plugin isn’t even the appropriate place for that because the plugin folder should be maintained like a vendor folder, and only pulled code should exist there.
We actually store our core functionality code right in the “wp-content” (or “app” folder for Bedrock fans). But then how do you load the code you ask? See the next plugin.
Core Functionality Loader
This VERY simple plugin looks for the core functionality plugin located in the wp-content or app folder and activates it if it’s there. Simple stuff. Literally 5 lines of code.
Composer Plugin List for Free Plugins
We’ve now gotten to the point where we have an awesome script that builds our default WordPress configuration automatically (shoutout to Tyler Wiegand).
If you’re using composer like us to install all these plugins, you’re probably already aware of wpackagist.org. Here’s our one-liner to install all of the free plugins recommended above, just copy and paste into your terminal:
composer require wpackagist-plugin/advanced-custom-fields wpackagist-plugin/better-search-replace wpackagist-plugin/disable-comments wpackagist-plugin/google-analtyics-for-wordpress wpackagist-plugin/duracelltomi-google-tag-manager wpackagist-plugin/gravityformscli wpackagist-plugin/better-wp-security wpackagist-plugin/kraken-image-optimizer wpackagist-plugin/mailgun wpackagist-plugin/mainwp-child wpackagist-plugin/media-file-renamer wpackagist-plugin/pixel-caffeine wpackagist-plugin/post-duplicator wpackagist-plugin/post-type-switcher wpackagist-plugin/query-monitor wpackagist-plugin/regenerate-thumbnails wpackagist-plugin/relevanssi wpackagist-plugin/simple-page-ordering wpackagist-plugin/simple-sitemap wpackagist-plugin/w3-total-cache wpackagist-plugin/what-template-file-am-i-viewing wpackagist-plugin/wp-term-order wpackagist-plugin/wp-time-capsule wpackagist-plugin/wp-user-avatars wpackagist-plugin/wp-user-profiles wpackagist-plugin/goodbye-captcha wpackagist-plugin/wordpress-seo
* We take no liability as to the security of these plugins, you will need to evaluate that on a case by case basis.