Every time I install a fresh copy of WordPress I’m starting with a clean slate. The install 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 plugins and they’re a must.
Some plugins are more important than others, though.
A few things that you pretty much need for any WordPress installation is
- 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. Some of theme are needed the more you build out your website too. Speed optimization, for instance, isn’t super necessary on the base WordPress installation. As you start setting things up it becomes more necessary.
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, 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 10 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. 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 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 another plugin to replace this one.
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 streamlines page builder plugins on the market.
This may be one of the plugins you don’t need, but if you want more freedom in WordPress then get it. If you want to take it to the next level then the premium version if 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 comes with a lot of other useful features. If I need to use just Google Analytics then this is my go-to plugin for easily installing it.
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.
For an easy way to set up Google Tag Manager in WordPress, DuracellTomi’s Google Tag Manager for WordPress plugin is what you need.
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 I only use it one website anymore, this website. Another good alternative that I’m using elsewhere 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 everyone slowly moving towards Gutenberg, this plugin is a must have. It’s from a trustworthy plugin developer that creates many great plugins and will extend 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 good 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. Please share in the comments below.
There are tons of amazing premium plugins too 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.
This post was originally posted in 2015 and updated in 2016 and majorly overhauled with a new date in May 2019.