WordPress plugins are bits of software developed by people from all over the world that can be uploaded to your WordPress website to extend and expand its functionality.
The goal of this guide will be to review & recommend the very best WordPress plugins to use on your website, across the areas of forms, performance, membership, surveys, e-commerce, SEO, development, security & usability enhancements.
There are a lot of plugins for WordPress. At last count there was over 42,000 plugins on the official WordPress repository. Not to mention the countless other third-party sites that sell WordPress plugins.
The trouble with plugins is that they are all built by different people around the world which can result in varying levels of quality. As WordPress grows and evolves future compatibility issues may arise if the plugin is not built to WordPress standards as well as being properly maintained.
Having poor quality plugins can result in broken websites. Broken websites results in profits lost and headaches gained. That is why it is important to choose the right plugins for your website.
Over the years working with WordPress every single day, we have tried and tested thousands of different plugins for all different needs so that our clients don’t have to.
Here is a list of all the plugins we use regularly at Web3. The reason for creating this list is to help website owners choose the right plugin for their website making the web a better place. I have personally tested all these plugins thoroughly myself along with my team and know they work well and are regularly maintained.
We use most of these plugins on a regular basis through our own website and the hundreds of other clients websites we work with and manage every day. If there is a plugin that you think should be added to the list, please let me know in the comments and we will run it through its paces.
A contact form when filled out on your webpage by your visitor gets automatically sent to your email as a message. Contact forms are essential for customer communications.
Forms can be very basic with just one field or can be extremely complex with multiple different fields such as name, email, telephone etc. The following form plugins have a number of addons that can add additional features when activated as separate plugins.
Gravity forms Is a plugin that allows you to create both simple and really advanced forms easily. It is however a premium plugin. If you need to create forms on your website, Gravity forms is great.
Using their addons is also really great and allows you to add a lot of additional functionality to your website. I will mention them a lot throughout this post as they cover a lot of areas that will really make your site powerful and work for you.
Contact form 7 Is another form creator plugin for your website. It is a lot more basic than gravity forms but allows you to create all the basic forms you will need and is free. I have used this plugin in the past but since using Gravity forms, haven’t looked back.
Another great alternative is Ninja Forms. It is built by a number of great plugin developers.
Integrating newsletter sign-ups into your site is a great way to market to your customers. There are a number of email newsletter providers which all have similar ways to sign up users.
I have found the easiest way to integrate sign-up forms into your site is through the Gravity forms newsletter addons. When someone submits the form, it will send the signed up user to the newsletter subscription and take care of all the heavy lifting for you.
AWeber (Gravity Forms Add-On) Gives you an easy way to integrate all of your forms with the AWeber email marketing provider. It allows you to collect and add subscribers to your email marketing lists automatically when a form is submitted
MailChimp (Gravity Forms Add-On) – Gives you an easy way to integrate all of your forms with the MailChimp email marketing provider. It allows you to collect and add subscribers to your email marketing lists automatically when a form is submitted. An alternate option is the mailchimp for WP plugin
Campaign Monitor (Gravity Forms Add-On) – Gives you an easy way to integrate all of your forms with the Campaign Monitor email marketing provider. It allows you to collect and add subscribers to your email marketing lists automatically when a form is submitted. Install these three Gravity forms plugins from the Gravity forms Add-Ons area from your websites backend.
Membership / Community
When people are in a group or are members of a community, they can feel like they belong. WordPress has a number of plugins that allow you to build membership portals and online communities right from within your website.
User Registration (Gravity Forms Add-On) Create advanced user registration forms that replace the simple WordPress registration form. Perfect for when you need to sign-up users to your site but you want to make it visual and on a page of your site rather than the default WordPress register page. – (install from Gravity forms Add-Ons area from website backend)
Members A user, role, and content management plugin. This plugin allows you to modify and add/remove all the user permissions to certain aspects around your site. Once you have created or modified the role, you can use shortcodes to display content to only these users.
I absolutely love this plugin as it is light weight and does one job well. The author is also well known in the WordPress community too.
Groups Group-based user membership management, group-based capabilities and content access control. Allows you to assign users to certain groups that you create where you can allow them access to specific content you create.
bbPress bbPress is forum software made by the same people who make WordPress. It integrates into your existing site so you can create an online forum or message board where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
bbPress is focused on ease of integration, ease of use, web standards, and speed.
BuddyPress BuddyPress helps you run any kind of social network on your WordPress website. It has a number of features that turn your site social including member profiles, activity streams, user groups, messaging, and more.
Surveys, quizzes and polls are a great way to add both interactivity to your website and a solid method of gathering information from individuals. These plugins are embedded into your page to capture data and you can then view the results in the back-end.
Survey (Gravity Forms Add-On) The Survey Add-On allows you to easily interact with your users to both collect and analyze data from your target audience. This plugin allows you to do all things survey e.g. create market research, customer satisfaction, employee surveys or job satisfaction surveys.
Quiz (Gravity Forms Add-On) The Gravity Forms Quiz Add-On allows you to quickly create Quizzes that are automatically graded or scored when the form is submitted
Polls (Gravity Forms Add-On) The Gravity Forms Polls Add-On allows you to quickly and easily deploy Polls on your web site. Easily add poll questions to any form! You can display the poll results publicly or privately. An alternative to this would be Polldaddy by Automatic. Install these three Gravity forms plugins from the Gravity forms Add-Ons area from your websites backend.
WP Pro Quiz Is an alternative to the gravity forms plugins mentioned above. It has a lot of features that will help making quizzes easier. We tend to always use the gravity forms plugins over this as we are nine times out of ten already using gravity forms so they integrate nicely.
If you need to sell something on your website then you have a great array of options from you dedicated shopping cart functionality, to your simple single buy it now button.
Either one of these plugins are what we always use when creating a shop online.
Woocommerce Undoubtedly the best E-commerce platform for WordPress that allows you to sell anything. Woo-commerce was recently sold to Automattic (the company that runs WordPress.com).
The plugin is a fully featured online shop with shopping cart functionality as well as hundreds of add-ons to fully customise to your exact requirements.
Easy Digital Downloads An easy and very simple way to sell digital or virtual goods through WordPress. We use Easy digital Downloads to manage and sell our products and services.
I personally really like the work that the author, Pippin and his team, does. He makes really good well thought out plugins that just work. It is a lot more simpler than Woocommerce and lacks the ability to ship physical products but can be added on from its range of add-ons available.
Gravity Forms Although gravity forms is a form creation plugin, it has a number of great add-ons which allow you to accept payment from your form. This sort of setup is for when you have only a couple of things you want to sell on your website and is the most custom way to sell.
It is not recommended if you do not have a lot of technical skill to setup and is not the most scale-able solution. It does however work very well and if you are like us and have built a custom selling solution then it will work great for you.
We have it hooked up to Easy Digital Downloads to track payments and the form is used to process credit card payments for our services e.g. on our WordPress support solution page.
Coming Soon Page
Web3’s maintenance mode plugin We have made a simple coming soon plugin that integrates very nicely into our trisense theme. We will be publishing it for others to use in the near future (i guess you could say its “coming soon :P). Stay tuned.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
It is not good enough just having your website exist on the web, you need to then promote it and ensure it is fitted with the latest SEO requirements. Your businesses website will benefit from SEO services but the core foundations are produced with the following plugins.
These plugins will help you optimise your WordPress website for search engines.
WordPress SEO by Yoast The first place to begin with Improving your search rankings in WordPress. This plugin allows you to write better content and have a fully SEO optimized WordPress site. It is maintained by people who are continually improving it to keep up with search engine trends.
Google Analytics by Yoast This is a simple plugin that allows you to integrate your Google Analytics tracking code into your website. It is built by Yoast who also manages the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. This plugin is not as actively developed but still does what is needed to be done simply and easily.
Security and Anti-SPAM
WordPress security is a very important thing to take into account once your site goes live. Often it is too late before you realise that your website should have been more secured.
These plugins help you secure your website and can also scan for vulnerabilities that you can fix to prevent hackers or malware affecting your website. You would hate to have your website brought down because you have not made sure it is secured from hackers.
iThemes Security (formerly Better WP Security) An extremely comprehensive plugin that ensures your website is secure against hackers. It has a large number of features and boast over 30 ways to prevent your site from being attacked.
An alternative to iThemes Security is Sucuri Scanner but functions a little differently and does not have as many features. Its a good idea to run Sucuri to see if there are any additional areas that you can help improve your websites security on.
Akismet Automatically checks comments on your website against Akismet’s web spam servers to see if the comment is a spam comment or not. It can automatically remove the worst spam comments for you so you don’t have to.
Akismet comes pre-installed with WordPress but to activate and run it you need to add an API key to it which is simple to do if you follow the steps.
Limit Login Attempts This plugin is super simple and does exactly what it says it does – limit the amount of times the user can login before they are locked out. The plugin comes preinstalled on some website hosting providers to help prevent hackers from continually trying to guess your website logins. It doesn’t require much work to setup but helps prevent bots and hackers from continually accessing your sites login page by blocking them if they guess your password wrong too many times.
Speed is a definite issue that we are now facing as more and more websites are loading larger and larger images files, videos and other media assets.
This topic has been raised a number of times in the WordPress community and we have even written a book about speeding up your WordPress website. Here are a couple of ways that you can speed up your WordPress website using plugins.
W3 Total Cache Is a plugin that generates static versions of you dynamic WordPress site. It has a lot of options that helps to serve pages to your customer faster. It is more complex than WP Super Cache and has a lot of advanced functionality.
WP Super Cache Is another plugin that generates static versions of you dynamic WordPress site. Put simply, it allows your site to serve pages to your customer faster. WP Super Cache is often considered a lighter and easier to use version of W3 Total Cache.
Automattic (the company who runs WordPress.com) contributes to this plugin.
WP Smush.it This plugin helps to reduce the file size of your images by compressing the images when you upload them to your website. By reducing file sizes of your images, you will improve your websites loading performance.
Because images are usually always the largest thing that gets loaded on your website, it is important to ensure your images are well compressed. Ideally you want to compress your images in a program such as photoshop before uploading them to your website but if you are time poor, this is a good solution for you.
WP Optimize Is a simple yet effective plugin that allows you to extensively clean up your WordPress database and optimize it without touching the code or doing manual queries.
As time goes by and you are doing a lot with your WordPress website, its database will fill up with unneeded content that will slow it down. This plugins aim is to remove the old junk from your database so that your website loads as fast as it can.
Misc Posts / Page Enhancements
Often there are times when you want some additional power from your website. These plugins add miscellaneous super powers to your pages and posts.
Disqus Comment System The commenting system we use for our very own blog. It is a blog comment hosting service that has a couple of benefits over the default WordPress comments. These include social networking integration, user profiles, spam and moderation tools as well as commenting analytics. You can see it in use at the bottom of this post.
Confirm Publishing Action This plugin is for people that like to hit the publish button on their post before they proof read over it. It can also prevent you from pushing the publish button when you meant to push the save draft button.
It is a very simple solution creates a prompt asking if you are sure you want to publish so that you are reminded to check your work before publishing. I will admit to it saving me a couple of times just as I notice a tweak can be made after clicking the publish button.
Advanced Custom Fields Easily add custom data through custom fields on your website. Custom fields makes it easier to work with additional “metadata” which is extra information about your post and pages such as mood: happy, weather: overcast etc.
This plugin makes it super easy to integrate and manage these fields that you create. You may have to add some custom code to your website to output this data.
Events Calendar Create, manage and promote your business events with ease with this superb events calendar. It integrates with your website out of the box which means you don’t have to spend a lot of time setting it up and will work nicely with your site.
There are a number of features with the events calendar and they also offer a premium version with some nice additional features such as purchasable tickets to your events.
Jetpack Is a plugin built by Automattic that integrates a whole lot (over 30) of additional features into your website.
Some of the features include Related Posts, Infinite Page Scrolling and Image Carousels. We often prefer to custom code some of the required features as our needs fit into the site to avoid the number of unused files that get loaded on the side. We do however like a number of features it offers such as the related posts and enhanced site stats.
WordPress Multilingual Is an advanced plugin that makes it easier to build multilingual pages on your website. If your site targets customers over multiple languages then this plugin has the necessary tools for you to translate the pages to hundreds of different languages.
The plugin costs (USD) $29+ but is well worth the price if it means you can open your site up to the whole world. Don’t get confused with this plugin automatically translating your website, you will still have to translate your websites content yourself. This plugin just provides the tools to make multilingual easier.
WooSidebars Adds greater flexibility to your websites sidebars. It allows you to display different widgets in a sidebar according to the options that you set it. It also allows you to create an infinite number of sidebars allowing you to add a different one to each page.
Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards people called “affiliates” for each new customer brought in by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts. It is a powerful way to grow your service or product selling base because other people are doing the marketing for you.
Affiliate WP Is an all in one solution for your affiliate marketing efforts. It integrates into a number of other leading plugins on your site and has a number of nice features that allow you to track and reward your users for sending you customers. The plugin will ultimately lead to more sales and increased traffic to your website because of the affiliates marketing for you.
It is built by the same team that build Easy Digital Downloads and the pair work phenomenally together.
Plugins for Developers
This section is for all of the people that actually build for WordPress. Whether that be themes or plugins, these plugins will surely help you.
If you are reading this and are just a user then I suggest you skim over this section as its likely you wont need most of them for everyday website use.
WordPress Beta Tester You can get involved in beta testing WordPress through this plugin. Upgrade your blog to the latest beta or release candidate using the built-in upgrader in a single click! This is good for testing future proofing of your plugins and themes before the official version of WordPress is released.
WordPress Reset You can easily reset the WordPress database back to its defaults before you made any changes. This deletes all customisations and content but keeps all themes, plugins, uploads and any other modified files. It will just reset the database only which can be useful for plugin/theme developers.
Theme Check This is an easy way to check whether your theme is up to spec with the latest theme review standards. It allows you to run all the same automated tests on your theme that WordPress.org uses for theme submissions to ensure your website is up to standard.
Regenerate Thumbnails Changed the default dimensions of your thumbnails but still have all your old thumbnails at the original size? With Regenerate Thumbnails you can force recreate all your image uploads, individual image uploads, or specific multiple image uploads – all in a single click.
P3 Profiler Plugins usually have a way of slowing down WordPress when there’s too many of them installed in your site. Using P3 Profiler allows you to identify which one causes this slowdown through a performance report generated by this plugin.
Developer Developer helps you optimize your development by checking if all the needed tools and plugins are installed. Not entirely essential but can help if youre just getting setup with WordPress development.
Backing up WordPress is extremely important. If you are not backing up your site then you risk losing it if/when your site gets hacked or when your websites hosting server crashes on itself. Just like WordPress security, WordPress backups are often overlooked until it is too late.
There is no shortage of backup solutions for you to choose. Here is a handful of our favorite plugins that help with managing the backup process.
Duplicator Duplicate, clone, backup, move and transfer an entire site from one location to another. Whether its migration or a simple backup task, this WordPress plugin helps simplify the process.
BackWPup Saves your complete installation including all your plugins, themes and uploads into a single .zip file, and pushes it to an external backup service like Dropbox, Amazon S3, FTP, etc. with ease.
Backup Buddy BackupBuddy is another backup utility that allows you to backup your files, convenient to use, and has a reliable support community from the well known developers of iThemes.
Vaultpress Another backup utility but this one is created by Matt Mullenweg (WordPress co-founder) and his team (Automattic). VaultPress archives one file at a time directly to an offsite server which is slower compared to other backup plugins that creates a single .zip backup file, but avoids server timeout and file size problems.
It has an advantage in that it can take the stress out of your own website server as it is all done from an external server and doesn’t leave backup files on your server.
WordPress Backup to Dropbox Creates a backup of your site on Dropbox. If you’re a heavy Dropbox user this plugin would be useful. Its handy that Dropbox syncs its files to your computer so you can rest easy that you can see the backups are working.
WP Migrate DB Pro Handling your database during migrations can get pretty complicated. This plugin allows you to copy your database from one WordPress install to another with one click in your dashboard. It takes the hard out of hard work if you are ever in the situation of transferring website servers.
InfiniteWp Have multiple WordPress sites and managing them has become quite a task? Although this is installed on a separate server and is not technically a plugin, it does have an accompanying WordPress plugin where you install it onto each website you want to manage. From the InfiniteWP admin panel, you can update your plugins, backup and upgrade your WordPress sites, and do even more – all in a single click on a powerful dashboard.
Although search is already built into WordPress and works completely fine, it is always good to get a little bit of data about what people are actually searching for. Sometimes you want to change the search results that are returned to your exact needs. This is where search plugins come in handy.
Relevanssi It replaces the default search form with its own search form that provides a little more robustness to search results. It allows results to be sorted by relevance and also searches through your visitors comments and content generated through shortcodes.
It gives a lot more flexibility for what gets searched and the results that get shown. Another great feature is the ability to log recent search results so that you can better optimise your content and tailor new blog posts to the content that your users are searching for.
So there it is. Our top 40+ plugins that we like to use. Most are built by highly notable people and companies in the WordPress industry and I have no problems recommending them to other people who run WordPress websites.
Is there one important one that you think we missed? let us know in the comments and we will run it through its paces to see if it is worthy of this list.