Essential WordPress Plugins You Should Install on Every Site You Build

Yeah, okay. I realize it’s a bit arrogant to try to dictate to everyone in the world what plugins they should install on their own WordPress sites. So, I come before you humbly to suggest that this suite of plugins is a pretty good place to start when creating a new site or improving an existing one. I’ve installed all of these plugins on many different sites over the years because I find them to be essential in almost every case.

In truth, I don’t have every one of these plugins installed on every one of my sites. Keeping installed plugins to a minimum should always be a factor in deciding which plugins to use. However, I do think every plugin on this list deserves to be considered in every WordPress project I do. You may prefer a different brand of plugin to any one you see on the list, and if that is the case feel free to ignore my rambling and go with what you know. The intention of this article is be a handy resource for newcomers and experienced users alike. With so many plug-ins out there, there might be a few on this list you never heard of or even thought of.

The same goes for me, too. If you would like to append this list, please tell us what tried-and-true plugins you find essential.

Thermal Exposure’s List of Essential WordPress Plugins

Essential Administration

Akismet – Essential Anti-Spam

AkismetThis one comes shipped with WordPress these days. Get a key and use Akismet. It works great, but note that it’s not 100% perfect.

Wordfence Security – Essential Security

wordfenseProtect your WordPress site from hackers. I’ve been contracted several times recently to fix websites after hackers had got a hold of them and the sites were blacklisted. Don’t let yourself be an easy mark. Also, DON’T use the default “admin” username for your admin role when setting up a new site, and DO pick a very tough password. This plugin can enforce the use of strong passwords for various roles.

BackupBuddy – Essential Backup

backupbuddyAutomated and Manual Backups for security and migration of your site. Useful for development when you need to copy a site from one server to another. BackupBuddy integrates with DropBox and other protocols to move your backups to an alternate safe place. You can set up multiple recurring schedules to back up the entire site, or just the database.

Enable Media Replace – Essential Media Replacement

enable-media-replaceAllows you to replace an image by uploading a new one and lets you choose between keeping the old name or using the new name and updating old name throughout the database.

WP Clean Up – Essential Database Optimization

WP-Clean-UpWordPress site slowing down? Clean and Optimize that database on a regular basis. Get rid of revisions and other clutter.

WP Memory Usage – Essential Monitoring


A gauge for your site’s memory consumption. Can help you track down naughty plugins.

Essential Website Configuration

Disable Comments – Essential Comment Control

Don’t want comments on your site at all? This will let you turn them off (or on) globally. Can be useful during site migrations to temporarily disable the comment engine.

Page Comments Off Please – Essential Comment Control

By default, newly created pages have comments enabled. This plugin turns that behavior off. Few things irk me more than having to go through a bunch of newly created pages and turn off the comments.

WPMU Login Image – Essential Login Screen Image Replacement

login-image-2100-afterThere are many plugins that let you replace the default WordPress image on the login screen. This is the one I prefer.

Erident Custom Login and Dashboard – Essential Login and Dashboard Customization

Similar to the Login Image plugin from WPMU above, this plugin lets you customize the Login screen and dashboard.

Mailgun – Essential Mailer

mailgunIf you find yourself wondering why all the email your WordPress site sends gets treated as SPAM, you need this plugin. This plugin requires a subscription to Mailgun (which is free up to a certain number of emails sent per month). If you’re on a shared host, your emails might be blacklisted for being on the same host as a known offender. If you’re on a dedicated server, you might know how damned-near impossible it is to setup a mailer that doesn’t get blocked. Say goodbye to sendmail! Mailgun becomes your mailer replacement and makes sure your emails pass muster from point A to point B. You’re welcome.

W3 Total Cache – Essential Cache

W3TotalCacheThere are other caching plugins out there, and this isn’t an endorsement of one in particular so much as it is a reminder that you should be implementing at least some level of caching for performance sake. WordPress is inefficient and slow, plain and simple. This plugin is a bit complex for the inexperienced. Take your time setting up this plugin and get to know what each setting does. There are plenty of notes and tips built right into this plugin. The improvements with caching enabled are more than marginally significant.

Essential Added Features

All-in-One SEO Pack or Yoast – Essential SEO

allinoneseopackYou need some kind of SEO plugin. Take your pick.

TinyMCE Advanced – Essential Visual Editor Control

TinyMCEAdvancedThe default visual editor for WordPress might work for your needs, it might not. If you want more control over text formatting, get this plugin. It also lets you specify which visual controls users have access to, and that can be very useful if you have contributors who love to get a little too creative with their typography. I find it best to set it restrictive and only enable formatting features as requests arise.

WP Editor – Essential HTML-View Code Coloring

WP EditorThis plugin ads code coloring to the HTML-view editor window. Very useful if you ever expect to go sifting through the code view.

Contact Form 7 – Essential Easy Forms

contact-form-7This plugin makes it pretty easy to add a contact form to your website. The form fields it generates are un-styled for the most part, so you might have to customize them to your liking. In my opinion that’s a bonus.

Contact Form DB – Essential Form Capture and Storage

contact-form-dbIf you’re using the Contact Form 7 plugin, this one is essential for storing those form submissions over time.

Responsive Lightbox – Essential Device-friendly Image Pop-ups

responsive-lightboxMobile-friendly, responsive pop-up image viewers for your galleries and full-size images. Not skimpy on the options.

WP Better Emails – Essential Email Customization

WP-Better-EmailsCustomize WordPress generated emails. Add branding and additional information by adding your own email template.

WP Open Graph Meta – Essential Facebook Integration

When people share your article on Facebook, this plugin helps make sure the post is formatted correctly and the correct thumbnail image is displayed.

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