Update: Check out the 2015 edition of our Best WordPress plugins list.
One of the most common questions I get asked from people who are new to WordPress, and others who have already been using it for a while, is the following:
Can you tell me which are the best plugins for WordPress?
Now any best WordPress plugins list will probably differ in that the author will have preferences based on the kind of sites he has. However there are quite a number of plugins that I tend to use on most WordPress sites I build, and those are the ones I will be listing here today.
As much as possible in this list of best WordPress plugins I will be sticking to features that everybody needs on a website, such as contact forms, backups, SEO etc.
I already featured many such plugins in my talk about WP Mayor and plugins I use at WordCamp Seville, so you can also check that out, I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.
Backups – BackupBuddy
This plugin has been the leading backup solution for WordPress for many years now, and it is backed by a company that has contributed a lot to the WordPress world. When choosing a backup plugin, you need a solid solution that gets updated as soon as there are changes to the WordPress core, and is backed by a solid company.
Although there are other backup solutions, my choice always falls on BackupBuddy, simply because I am ready to pay to put my mind at rest when it comes to keeping my sites backed up. There is no worse feeling than seeing months or years of work go up in smoke because of some hosting disaster or hacking exploit.
SEO – WordPress SEO
Another essential area for all sites, not just WordPress sites. By using WordPress, you are already using a great system with regards to SEO, however to really take it to the next level in optimization, you need a plugin. And what better plugin can you get than the one created by the most recognised SEO guru in the WordPress world: Joost de Valk.
WordPress SEO has all the SEO features you can possibly think of, and is a mainstay on all my sites. WordPress SEO is a free plugin, but I also suggest getting Video SEO, a premium add-on which improves your visibility in search engine results pages. Check out our review of Video SEO to learn more about this plugin.
WordPress Site Builder – Toolset
Toolset is a collection of WordPress plugins that let you build virtually anything without coding.
Define content types, display content, control access, and build front-end editing forms. A truly revolutionary plugin that deserves its place among the best 2013 WordPress plugins.
Forms – Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is hands down the best forms plugin for WordPress. Use it to create the most simple of contact forms up to multi-step user content submission forms on the front end of your site. It’s form builder is super easy and can create all kinds of forms imaginable. You can even create forms that enter content into custom post types.
You can also create conditional fields, and this works very nicely when you want to create order forms. Gravity forms can therefore be used to sell products from your site, and users can also customise the product and get an updated price before they purchase.
Multiple Site Management – ManageWP
If you own more than one WordPress site and you aren’t using ManageWP yet, you want to really take a look at this plugin/service. It will shave off hours of administration time and is one of the most important WordPress services for me.
Basically what it does is let you administer all your WordPress sites from one dashboard. It also includes stuff like automated backups, rank tracking and easy cloning of websites.
Multilanguage – WPML
If you are building any kind of multilingual website, the WPML plugin by ICanLocalize is essential. It is the most advanced multilanguage plugin for WordPress and will cover all your needs. It also has an in-built translation service, where you can pay to get content translated by professional translators.
Mobile Experience – WP Touch Pro
While responsive web design is all the range these days, it is not always an ideal solution. In fact, there are many sites for whom a responsive layout would not be beneficial at all, on the contrary it would likely slow things down for mobile users and not offer a great interface at all.
For those cases when a responsive solution is not ideal, I always go for WP Touch Pro, the best mobile plugin for WordPress by far.
Speed/Caching – W3 Total Cache
If you want to speed up your site, using a caching solution is the quickest way to do so. For this reason, one of the first plugins I install on any site is W3 Total Cache, the most complete and advanced caching plugin for WordPress websites.
Simply install and activate, and enjoy the speed boost your site receives. If you want to dig deeper into caching you can also fine tune things to your hearts content, as this plugin has a multitude of advanced options you can play around with. But for simple usage, just enabling the main options will suffice.
Social Media Sharing – Social Networks Auto Poster
Social Networks Auto Poster (SNAP) is a great plugin as it can connect to practically any social network available, and push my site’s new posts to these networks. It is unique in the fact that it also allows you to post to Google+, Linkedin and Pinterest, which is usually not possibly with other sharing plugins.
That is the main reason why I use the pro version of this plugin, and its thoroughly worth getting when you consider the advantage you’ll get over other site owners.
Mailing Lists and Newsletter Management – WYSIJA
Any serious marketer will preach about the importance of an email list, and keeping in touch with your followers via email. That is why I use WYSIJA newsletter plugin for WordPress to handle all my mailing list needs.
With this plugin you can quickly send out your latest posts to your readers, or also create custom emails using one of the many templates available within the plugin. You also get valuable statistics about open rates and links clicked by the email recipients.
Search – Relevanssi
Relevanssi replaces the standard WordPress search with a better search engine, with lots of features and configurable options. You’ll get better results, and also a better presentation of results. It’s really easy to set up, basically just install the plugin, activate it and run the indexation procedure within the plugin’s settings page, and you’re good to go.
Apart from the free version of Relevanssi, there’s also Relevanssi Premium, which has added features that make the search functionality even more powerful.
I recommend this plugin for most WordPress sites, however you should note that it will probably slow down larger sites and even cause problems. Only use it if your post count is lower than 10,000 posts.
Easy Digital Downloads
If you’re offering any kind of digital product for sale, I recommend using this excellent plugin. The core plugin is free, but you have a choice of several different premium add-ons. That way you only pay for what you need, and can get started selling your stuff absolutely free. The plugin is excellently coded with a very clean and easy user interface.
WP RSS Aggregator
I am biased when suggesting this plugin, as I’m the author, but I truly believe it’s a very useful plugin to have, for any kind of website.
You can see it in action on the WordPress news page here on this site.
This is a free plugin and there will also be a few premium add-ons available, which will extend its functionality further.
This is a hugely popular plugin, and is used to create any kind of menu imaginable. It’s quite unique and also works on mobile devices. If you’re thinking of going beyond the basic dropdown menu on your WordPress website, you’d better take a look at this.
Ninja Popups combines a professionally designed popups to convert visitors on your site/blog into taking an action whether its subscribing into your newsletter, offering a discount/coupon for leaving customers, or locking content until they share you will increase your subscriber count and social signal of your site/blog.
You can read the full review we made earlier this year to discover why we love Soliloquy so much, in short it’s the best slider in a very crowded market. Excellent coding practices and a fantastic UI make it hard to beat.
Since I’m giving recommendations in this post, I would also like to give a shout to the Genesis framework when it comes to getting a high quality framework/theme for your site, and HostNine + WP Engine for all your hosting needs.
Do you have any plugins that you always use on your sites? Let us know in the comments section below.
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