Do you love to use plugins on your WordPress website or blog? Are most of your site’s features and elements powered by these plugins? Before you go adding anymore plugins to your WordPress site you might just want to keep reading as your plugin-happy habits could be hurting your website.

In this article we are going to give you a list (and a short one at that) of the only WordPress plugins you need. Limiting the type and number of plugins you use is a great first step to improving your website so let’s jump right in…

WordPress Plugins

What Exactly is a WordPress Plugin?

If you’re managing a WordPress website, then chances are that you’re already somewhat familiar with plugins. At the very least, you’ve seen some of the basic plugins that come with your site like Hello Dolly (no, you don’t need this plugin). And if you’ve been managing a WordPress site or blog for a few years now, then you’ve probably become fairly accustomed to finding and installing even more plugins.

Before you go adding anymore to your site though let’s make sure that you know what you are installing. Here is WordPress’ simple definition of a plugin:
WordPress Plugin Definition
These tools make WordPress more than just a blogging platform, or even a content management system in many cases. There’s actually a strong possibility that if you’ve thought of or wanted a feature or piece of functionality on your WordPress site, then someone has already developed a plugin for it.

WordPress Plugin Stats

Don’t believe us? Just check the WordPress Plugin Directory or do a Google search (e.g. Image slider WordPress plugin). If you’re not able to find a plugin for what you need, then we’d love to hear what you’re looking for in the comments below.

When to Use, and Not Use, Plugins

Just because there is a plugin for nearly every type of function or feature you can think of does not mean that you should rely on them. As a matter of fact, we recommend using plugins very sparingly (more details on how and why below). First, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using plugins so you can keep your WordPress website running at peak performance.

Pros of Using WordPress Plugins

Plugins can be great, simple solutions for getting the functionality you need into your WordPress site. Here are some of the main advantages of using WordPress plugins:

  • Quick and easy to install
  • Little to no development experience needed (for most plugins)
  • Simple way to add functionality to a site
  • Easy to enable and disable

Cons of Using WordPress Plugins

Using too many plugins, or the wrong plugins, can hurt your WordPress site. In addition to these reasons, the other main disadvantages of using WordPress plugins are:

  • When not managed / updated properly, they can open your site up to being hacked
  • Too many can eat up disk space on your site’s server
  • Too many can make plugin management cumbersome
  • Poorly written plugins can slow down the performance of your site

Let’s be clear about something here, our intention is not to scare you away from using plugins….far from it. What we are trying to communicate is that before you go adding plugins to your WordPress site, make sure you do your due diligence first. To help you with that we have provided a simple flow chart below.

How to Determine When to Use a Plugin or Not

WordPress Plugin Flow Chart
Grab the embed code below to share this helpful chart on your website.

Don’t agree with something in the flow chart? If you’re a WordPress developer and feel like we missed something, then please let us know in the comments below.

Our 7 Must-Have WordPress Plugins

The following website components are needed for a WordPress site to run optimally, provide the best experience and to produce results (leads, sales, signups, etc):

  • Security
  • Optimization
  • SEO
  • Forms
  • Comments
  • Commerce
  • Backups

We have hand-picked our recommended plugins for each of the categories above. Each have been built by extremely reputable WordPress developers and have helped many websites perform much better with them. So, if you’re going to rely on plugins, then we highly recommend that you stick with the 7 plugins listed here.

Security

Akismet

Akismet, one of the only two plugins included with each WordPress.org install, is the pre-eminent spam fighting tool that every WordPress site should use. Going without Akismet usually means having to sift through hundreds of spam comments that keep you from focusing on engaging with the commenters that leave legitimate feedback or opinions.

COST:
FREE (unless you’re feeling generous and want to donate to Akismet)
Needed: Akismet API key (requires Akismet account or WordPress.org account through JetPack)
Where to Get it: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/akismet/

Optimization

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache might just be the most under-appreciated plugin out there. This web performance optimization (WPO) plugin leverages caching, code minification and content delivery network support to drastically improve a website’s user experience. If your analytics are telling you that your visitors are rushing off your website on a consistent basis, then using this plugin to improve your site’s performance is a great place to start.

COST:
FREE
Needed: Familiarity with your server setup
Where to Get it: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/w3-total-cache/

SEO

WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO by Yoast is THE plugin for search engine optimization. If you want your site to be indexed properly and to even have a chance of competing organically, then your WordPress site needs this plugin. Don’t even bother with other SEO plugins or even themes that claim to have all of these features built-in. You will not find a better solution for SEO.

COST:
FREE (although this thing could be $100 and most would still use it)
Needed: Basic understanding of SEO fundamentals
Where to Get it: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-seo/

Forms

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is easily the best form management plugin available for WordPress. This fantastic plugin not only does the very basic things extremely well (create and manage web forms), but it also has extensions that allow you to tie your web forms to some of the most widely used CRMs like Salesforce. With its ease of use and array of features you will be able to create, manage, test and optimize any type of form your website needs.

COST:
$39 (for use on 1 site only)
Needed: Some traffic to send to the awesome forms that this will create

Comments

Disqus

Disqus Comment System is our favorite comment management plugin for WordPress for a few different reasons. This plugin has a beautiful interface that allows you to either manage your comments and discussions outside of your WordPress site, within your site or from the mobile app. Installation is incredibly simple and, with some of its newly launched features, users are able to create more engagement and richer discussions on their site.

COST:
FREE
Needed: Disqus Account
Where to Get it: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/disqus-comment-system/

WooCommerce

WooCommerce

WooCommerce is our recommended WordPress plugin for businesses that want and need to sell products and services from their website. With multiple payment integration options, an easy to understand control panel and a ton of helpful documentation for implementation, this e-Commerce plugin is our hands down favorite. Now, if your online store has thousands of SKUs and is more intricate than most businesses, then Magento may be a better option.

COST:
FREE (payment gateway extensions run $25 – $75 each)
Needed: Payment gateway and merchant account (unless you’re not planning on taking credit card payments)
Where to Get it: http://www.woothemes.com/woocommerce/

Backups

Backup Buddy

Backup Buddy is our go to plugin for securely backing up our WordPress sites. The plugin is very easy to install, setup and manage. Not only does it make backing up your site incredibly simple, but it also has some extra features like Sucuri, which monitors and scans your site for malware. We have this plugin as an honorable mention only because a plugin is not 100% necessary for doing backups. However, if you don’t have any savvy IT help, then this is a fantastic solution.

COST:
$75 (for use on 2 sites)
Needed: Just some extra space on your server to store the backups
Where to Get it: http://ithemes.com/purchase/backupbuddy/

Improving Your WordPress Website

WordPress
There’s no doubt that WordPress, in our opinion, is the best website platform available today. That said, it can be a very sensitive tool if you don’t know what you’re doing. Adding too many plugins that don’t meet the criteria outlined above and not keeping your site updated properly are two of the easiest ways to make your site slow, bloated and primed for being hacked.

WordPress has done an amazing job of creating a strong development community. The plethora of plugins out there is just one example of that. As long as you are doing your due diligence and working with a reputable WordPress development team, then you’ll at least be on the right path.

Try to limit your plugins to the ones outlined above, stick with reputable plugin authors like Yoast and think about building those features and functionality you want into your website’s theme before immediately going with a plugin.

If you find yourself stuck on whether or not to use a particular plugin or you’re just not sure how to tell if the feature you want can be built into your site, then we’d love to help. Just drop us a comment below or click the big, juicy orange button below to schedule a consultation with us.

Need help improving your WordPress website?

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Vinny La Barbera

I’ve been working in online marketing since 2000 and have helped thousands of companies improve their online presence and grow their business through better web / mobile design, development and online marketing.Learn more about me or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.