Every time I install a fresh copy of WordPress I start with a clean slate. The installation is fast, clean, and so much less cluttered before you install a bunch of plugins.
Unfortunately it’s not possible to leave WordPress raw. Most necessary functionality comes from the amazing plugin ecosystem that WordPress offers over other website platforms, and they’re a must. The power of WordPress and the weakness of WordPress is entirely in its plugin ecosystem.
Some plugins are more important than others, though.
A few plugin types that you pretty much need for any WordPress installation are
- Formatting (in addition to the theme)
- Speed optimization
- Spam Protection
The list could go on of necessities that don’t come with WordPress but are a must. The more you build out your website the more you find plugins you need to accomplish necessary functionality. Speed optimization, for instance, isn’t super necessary on the base WordPress installation. Core WordPress is FAST! As you start setting things up it becomes more necessary especially as you add images and content.
When I start every installation there are a few free plugins that I start with and stick with without a doubt.
I’ll cover the plugins and why I have to install them.
Keep in mind that I won’t cover the configuration of each of these plugins, that will be for another time.
This is my list of 9 must have free WordPress plugins.
Match Plugins to Purpose
This list is my starting point for most of my sites but in no way is it a complete list. There may be some plugins on this list that aren’t even needed for your configuration.
I will describe why I use some of these plugins but there are a few that you may not want to use. Some may not fit the purpose of your website.
It’s always important to match the plugin to the purpose of your website. If you’re creating an eCommerce WordPress website, you’re going to have very different plugins than a personal blog. Just the same, if you’re working with an agency on creating a complex WordPress website and course platform then you’ll end up with a lot more plugins than a small business website. Always keep that in mind when choosing your plugins.
As you’re installing plugins be sure to always ask “what is the purpose of this plugin?” and “can I do without this plugin?”
If you find yourself installing a plugin because it looks cool, shiny, or you just want to play with it. Don’t. Keep a separate WordPress installation for that and don’t muck up good sites just to play around. Every plugin you install will also likely put a lot of data to your database. Some don’t remove that data, either.
Every plugin should be installed only with a strict purpose.
The Must-Have Free WordPress Plugins
Start from the top and work your way down. Not all will be the perfect fit for your needs, but you’ll still find some useful.
This is one of those must-have plugins from the start of your WordPress installation. As you start installing more plugins into WordPress, this security plugin will become even more necessary.
Immediately Wordfence makes some basic changes to your WordPress installation to make it more secure. Not only that but the dual factor authentication is a must have for every important login of yours.
This used to be the only optimization plugin I used and it’s still a good plugin if your budget is free. If your budget is a bit more than free (it should be if you make any money) then I recommend WP Rocket. More on that below.
Autoptimize will make several changes to optimize your WordPress installation and make it load faster. It’s a good idea to play with different settings to find the one that makes your website load the fastest.
The best part? It’s under regular active development so you’re always going to be getting improvements.
Now for my recommended upgrade if you want to go beyond free. WP Rocket is a premium optimization plugin but it does a lot more than any others. It’s simple to use, has caching built right in (so you can skip those below) and works great.
This one isn’t an absolute necessity but it’ll make your life so much easier. The free version is pretty basic but you can do a lot with it. I use it on all my websites.
The best part about Beaver Builder is that it won’t add much overhead to your WordPress installation at all. It’s one of the most streamlined page builder plugins on the market if not the single best one.
This may be one of the plugins you don’t need, but if you want more freedom designing in WordPress then get it. If you want to take it to the next level then the premium version is well worth the investment.
There are three different versions you can get and they start out at only $99 which is really a steal for what it can do. You can learn more about it and get the premium version of Beaver Builder (affiliate link).
You can install Google Analytics manually in many themes but this plugin does so much more. It even shows detailed states from Google Analytics and Search Console right in your WordPress dashboard. You can even connnect other Google services (ads, etc.) really easily with this plugin.
Most of the time I don’t just need to install Google Analytics, though. Google Tag manager has become my go-to method for analytics, pixels, and all that other stuff a website needs for good marketing. This plugin also makes that easy.
Optimized images for your website are a must. Sometimes it can be a pain editing every image before uploading it, though. This plugin will send your images off to a powerful server to be optimized and then ship them back in optimal format.
This is a freemium plugin which means you only get 100 images per month optimized but it’s such a good plugin, it’s worth it.
If you opted for the WP Rocket (mentioned above) then you don’t even need this plugin. If you are going the 100% free route then this is a good alternative.
Because WordPress is far from perfect, some management and cleanup is necessary. As you install plugins, themes, and modify your installation and database is bound to get a bit messy. This plugin helps you clean the database up to keep your website running fast.
An SEO Plugin
This one used to be a sure suggestion of Yoast SEO but that has evolved over time. There are a lot of great alternatives these days.
Yoast is still a good SEO plugin but there are many that are just as good if not better. My favorite alternative that I’m using on all my websites is SEOPress which is free. Even the premium version is much more affordable.
Search the WordPress repository for SEO and you’ll find several highly rated SEO plugins. Download a few of them one by one and test which one works best for you.
With Gutenberg pretty much the norm these days, this plugin is a must have. It’s from a trustworthy plugin developer that creates many great plugins and extends the abilities of Gutenberg.
You’ll get some great additional Gutenberg blocks to enhance the look of any Gutenberg page.
Again, if you opted for WP Rocket then you don’t need this, it’s already built in.
If you want something free, WP Super Cache is a decent option. The best part is that it’s created by Automattic which is the same company behind the commercial version of WordPress and also a big contributor to the open-source version.
In any case, you’ll want to install your cache plugin last.
Why install the cache plugin last? It makes the rest of your plugin installations go much smoother and quicker. Many cache plugins interfere with many parts of editing a website. They’re great for speeding it up but not for editing it.
There are so many plugins out there. I’d love to hear from you what your must-have plugins are for WordPress.
There are tons of amazing premium plugins also and many are affordable too. I mentioned a few of the best premium plugins but if you aren’t making any money from your website, this is a good place to start.