The Most Useful WordPress Plugins (My “Cheat Sheet”)

These are life-saving WordPress plugins that I use on many of my clients’ and my own sites.  Alright, maybe “life-saving” is a slight exaggeration, but these can definitely cure some of your worst WordPress headaches. I have tested each of these (except where noted) and vouch for their quality. I hope you find them as useful as I have. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Best Admin Pluginsde

  • Admin Columns: Clean up the admin
    I hate it when plugins add columns to the “All Pages” and “All Posts” admin area, cluttering them up with useless info. The worst offender is WordPress SEO. Admin Columns lets you purge useless columns. You can instead display custom fields in the columns – really useful for customizing!
  • Adminimize: Stop your clients from $%^&*ing up their new site
    Get rid of confusing and unnecessary menu items in your admin area so your clients don’t screw up the nice site you’ve just made for them.
  • Confirm Publishing Actions: Prevent yourself from accidentally broadcasting a half-done article
    Have you ever accidentally clicked “Publish” when trying save an unfinished post, inadvertently emailing hundreds (or thousands) of Jetpack subscribers your half-done article? This plugin adds a popup confirm box when you try to update or publish a page or post. It saved my ass while writing this very blog post in fact.
  • Custom Dashboard Page: Create a custom admin dashboard for your clients!
    The default WP dashboard is basically useless. This allows you to assign any page to be the new admin dashboard page!
  • Disable Visual Editor WYSIWYG: Protect a page or post from getting clobbered
    The WordPress Visual Editor has a way of screwing up JavaScript and even some HTML (especially blank space). Use this to disable the Visual Editor tab on any pages or posts that you specify, so that they can only be edited in the more benign Text mode.  Easy to undo per page if you need to.
  • Plugin Notes: Add admin notes to your plugin list
    This is something I could have used on many client sites where the client sometimes installed strange plugins. It allows you to add notes such as why a plugin was installed and who installed it.
  • Re-Add Text Justify Button
    The folks at WordPress removed the text justify button from the editor in version 4.7. This plugin simply gets it back. It has no parameters and no fuss.
  • WP Help: Help your clients and yourself remember how your funky admin works
    Create help notes in the admin area for your clients.  Document custom post types, custom fields, weird plugins, whatever you want.  I use this on almost every site now, both for my clients, and for myself, when I’ve forgotten how the site works six months from now.
  • WP Rollback
    This plugin will allow you to “roll back” plugin updates. Can be a life-saver if a plugin update messes up your site. Of course, you can use FTP to roll back the plugin, but this is easier and quicker.

Best Ad Insertion Plugins

  • AdRotate
    Allows you to create ads to place on your site using a shortcode. Ads can rotate through the same location on your site. Includes analytics capabilities.
  • WP Simple Adsense Insertion
    Gives you a shortcode to easily insert Google Adsense ads anywhere you want in your content.  I prefer this to plugins that insert ads automatically, even though that is more convenient.  Ads are too important to be left to chance.  You should hand-insert them at the right places.

Best Anti-Spam Plugins

  • Akismet
    It comes pre-installed with most WordPress installations, and it is good if you don’t mind having to register it on WordPress.org. It is free for non-commercial applications.
  • WP SpamShield
    This was a great alternative to Akismet which didn’t require registration. Unfortunately, it’s been pulled from the WordPress repo, but the makers claim it was for arbitrary reasons. They still plan to support it on their site, which is great, because it’s an excellent antispam plugin that doesn’t require a captcha or other inconvenience. Note, if you use forms with built-in captchas (such as the Divi form), you’ll need to disable the captchas in order to work with WP SpamShield. Read about other potential incompatibilities.

Best Backup / Migration Plugins

  • Backup and Restore Dropbox
    I haven’t tried this yet, but it has been suggested by some of my readers and has great reviews. Backs up your WordPress site to Dropbox and will do restores.
  • Duplicator
    This used to be my “go to” plugin for backing up and moving WordPress sites, but it started failing on GoDaddy hosts (probably not the plugin’s fault and more GoDaddy’s). It still works for me if I exclude the huge “uploads” directory from the backup, so sometimes I use it to back up the database and program files only.
  • Updraft Backup and Restoration
    This is my new standard backup plugin.  You can schedule regular backups to services like Dropbox, which is great.  Works on difficult hosts like GoDaddy, because it breaks up huge zip files into multiple files.  And it’s free!  (For Multisite support you have to use the paid version though.)  You can also use this to migrate sites, although you’ll have to use a different tool to update your database URLs.
  • VaultPress
    This is an automatic offsite backup service. It has a monthly fee, but is great for clients who don’t have time to manually to back up their sites themselves.
  • WP Migrate DB Pro
    This just handles the database and media files only, but it does some great things.  It will automatically do a search-and-replace in the database if you need to migrate from dev to live, or move to a new URL.  The ability to migrate media is invaluable for keeping a dev site in sync with your live site.

Best Code Insertion Plugins

  • Add Code to Head
    Does what it says. Just enter your code on a form and it inserts it in the head.  Great for tracking code, or whatever.
  • Per Page Add to Head
    Just like the previous plugin, but lets you add different head code per page. Good for tracking pixels.
  • Include Me
    This is for adding content in the form of PHP files to your content.  I use it for adding content that is shared across of Multisite network.
  • Reusable Text Blocks
    After Global Content Blocks went away, I went into withdrawal until I found Reusable Content Blocks. This allows you to create chunks of content or code that you can put almost anywhere using a shortcode. Very useful!!!

Best Commenting Plugins

  • Comment Attachment: Let users add photos and video to their comments!
    If you do use WordPress’ native commenting system, this plugin allows users to upload file types of your choosing, including images, videos, and PDFs, to their comments. File size limits are selectable. Not compatible with Jetpack comments though, and I couldn’t get it to work with the Divi theme.
  • Disqus Comment System: Interact with your readers
    Disqus is the best commenting platform in my opinion (if you don’t mind your comments being hosted by someone else).  Read my review of website comment systems.  It will even import your existing WordPress comments.

Read my more detailed look at commenting systems here.

Best Contact Form Plugins

  • Contact Form 7 : Keep in touch
    Along with Really Simple CAPTCHA, this is a great and popular contact form solution with lots of add-on capabilities. And, it’s free!!
  • Contact Form 7 Database Addon
    You should be recording contact form entries on your site with a log, given how unreliable web email is.  Contact Form DB keeps an on-site log of everyone who fills out your contact form.  You can export to CSV.  This is a must-have for any Contact Form 7 form!!!

Best Database Plugins

  • Better Search Replace
    This is a really lightweight, easy-to-use database search-and-replace tool. I used it to swap out particular shortcodes for a different one.
  • Change DB Prefix: Change your MySQL table prefixes
    If, for whatever reason, you need to change your MySQL database table prefixes in an existing site, this is the easiest way to do it! Just enter your new prefix and press a button.
  • Delete All Comments Easily: Delete all comments in one fell swoop
    I once had to service a site that had over 100,000 spam comments. After trying to delete them within WordPress (very slowly, 200 at a time), I quickly gave up and found this plugin, which deletes all comments in about a second!  The database size went down from 500MB to 50MB. Note this plugin deletes ALL comments, not just spam comments, for those times when you want to start with a clean slate.
  • WP Optimize: Clean up your database
    Remove old post revisions and spam comments to save space and speed up your site.  Run on an old side whose database has become bloated, then uninstall.

Best Debugging / Development Plugins

  • Advanced Code Editor: Be bad
    It is not good practice to edit code from the Admin.  But, if you must, use this.  It features really nice color coding and line numbers.  Uninstall when you’re done because being able to edit code from the Admin is not great for security.
  • Database Browser
    Let’s say you’re working on a client site with no access to PHPMyAdmin but you need to see the database. Voila! This plugin let’s you do that!  Just uninstall after you’re done though! You can also export the database to CSV, possible providing a poor-man’s migrating feature.
  • Debug This: See your WP query
    See exactly what query WordPress is running. Great for debugging WordPress query problems in your code.
  • Theme Check: See how messed up your theme is
    Checks your theme for anomalies.
  • P3 Plugin Profiler: See which plugins are bogging down your site
    Is your site loading too slowly?  Wondering how much each plugin contributes to the load time?  This plugin will give you a nice pie chart of exactly how much time each plugin adds (cough, Jetpack!) You can uninstall it when you’re done.
  • Query Monitor
    Similar to Debug This, but this has more emphasis on the WP queries on your site. Very useful.
  • Server IP & Memory Usage Display: Find out your memory usage
    Displays how much RAM  your site is using, along with PHP and WP limits. Very useful!
  • What the File: Find out which template file is being used
    Besides having the best name for a plugin ever, it’s a great diagnostic tool.  Tells you which theme files are being used by any WordPress page so you can figure out which you want to tweak.  Invaluable if you are doing template development or debugging!

Best E-Commerce Plugins

  • WooCommerce: Sell stuff
    The de-facto standard WordPress shopping cart plugin. Tons of features and options through plugins. Very configurable through the use of actions and filters.  Kind of a steep learning curve though.
  • Minimum Order Amount for WooCommerce
    If you want to enforce a minimum order amount for WooCommerce, this one just works.  Unlike another plugin I tried, this not only displays a warning message if the user doesn’t have enough in his cart, it stops them from checking out.
  • Custom Product Tabs for WooCommerce
    Add new tabs to your WooCommerce product pages! This is cool because you can create “global” tabs that you re-use on multiple products or tabs for specific products.
  • WooCommerce PDF Invoices & Packing Slips
    Does just what the title says. Has just the right number of customization options.
  • WordPress Simple Paypal Shopping Cart: Sell stuff simply
    If you don’t want to deal with the complexity of WooCommerce, and only have a few things to sell, this is a good choice. You can set up a store in minutes (unlike with WooCommerce). Can handle physical or digital products.

Best Events Management / Calendar Plugins

  • Events Made Easy: Set up a complete events management website
    A very powerful events management plugin with lots of customization possibilities. Takes some time to learn, but it’s worth it if you do events sites.  Does not require user login for people to sign up for events – just name and email address. This is my favorite events management plugin. I’ve never had to use a different one.
  • Google Calendar Widget: Display a Google calendar feed in your sidebar
    Simply does what it says. You can adjust number of events and how much detail to show.

Best Feature Solutions

  • Accordion Shortcodes
    If you need accordions on your site, this lightweight plugin provides a simple shortcode solution with no CSS styling so you can make them look like whatever you want. Accordion sections can default open or closed.
  • Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin: Create a classifieds section
    Great solution if you want to set up a classified ad section on your site.
  • Category Posts in Custom Menus – Automatic dropdowns for your category menu items
    In your category menu items, this allows you to have a dropdown menu with a preset number of posts from that category, automatically updated when you add more posts! This is one of those features that I think should have been built into WordPress core.
  • Jetpack: Add the kitchen sink
    Most people either love or hate Jetpack. I am ambivalent. It offers a painless way for people to subscribe to your blog, some nice on-site analytics, a cool photo gallery, and useful Widgets.  Just be sure to deactivate everything you’re not using, because Jetpack can really bloat your site (especially the cool CSS editor, unfortunately).
  • WP Tiles
    If you want tiled images in your posts without Jetpack, check out this plugin!

Best Forum / Question-and-Answer Plugins

  • DW Question & Answer
    OK, I have not used this personally, but it has good reviews and looks good. Enables you to set up your own version of Quora or Stack Overflow. Best of all, it’s FREE.
  • CM Answers
    Another Q/A plugin which I have used. It’s good but requires a good deal of setup and CSS to make it look good.  There is a pro version which you might need to buy to get the features you need.

Best Front-End User Upload Plugin

  • User Submitted Posts
    This plugin gives you a shortcode which generates a front-end form that allows people to upload posts with title, content, and featured image (among other things). Don’t worry, the post will be uploaded in a Pending status so it won’t appear immediately in the front end.

Best Custom Post Type / Custom Field Plugins

  • Advanced Custom Fields: Add custom fields to Pages and Posts
    One of the most commonly-used plugins to customize WordPress sites.  Lets you add custom fields to pages and posts. Often used together with the next plugin, Custom Post Type UI. The free version is very usable but there’s a paid pro version that adds some cool features like repeater fields.
  • Custom Post Type UICreate custom Post types
    Great for creating custom post types and taxonomies to use in your own theme or plugins. In the latest version, they revamped the UI which made it more cumbersome to use, but it’s still worthwhile. It even generates code that you can paste into your theme or plugin, allowing you to delete this plugin afterwards, which is awesome.
  • Pods – Custom Content Types and Fields
    This plugin combines the functionality of Advanced Custom Fields and Custom Post Type UI, allowing you to create custom post types and the fields that go with them (or with built-in post types).

Best Advanced Functionality Plugins

  • WP Crontrol: Create your own scheduled tasks
    I use this to run scripts at recurring intervals. You set up a WordPress action hook, and this executes it at your specified times.  Works great!
  • WP Mail SMTPSet up reliable emailing
    Web server email is usually not reliable. So, switch to this plugin, which utilizes the far more reliable SMTP service that many hosting providers give you for free. Requires a third-party SMTP email account. Note, I read that this doesn’t work with GoDaddy shared hosting unless you use their SMTP email (added note: GoDaddy’s SMTP email no longer works for me with this or any other email plugin). Here are the settings for Gmail, but I’ve heard this plugin works better for Gmail.

Best Audio Player Plugin

  • WonderPlugin WordPress HTML5 Audio Player
    This is a responsive HTML5 audio player that does a good job of displaying both single songs as well as albums. There are a variety of good skins to choose from. The free version has plenty of functionality. I was skeptical about this plugin at first because it’s not in the WordPress repository, but it’s been working great for me so far. I haven’t found another player that is as good at displaying albums/playlists.

Best Image Optimizer Plugin

  • EWWW Image Optimizer
    I was looking for an image compression plugin that compressed the actual uploaded file (not just the re-sized smaller files), because I wanted to keep the total site size manageable in the face of clients uploading 6MB jpegs straight from a digital camera. This plugin does it. You can limit the dimensions in pixels as well as specify the quality, and it WILL compress the uploaded image (so keep a spare if you need to). This plugin also works with Multisite – just do a Network activate.I’ve heard good things about Smush, but the free version of that keeps an uncompressed version of the image on the server.

Best Mobile Detect Plugin

  • WP Mobile Detect
    I use responsive design, but there are cases where you can’t avoid having to detect whether your site is being displayed on a mobile device or not.  When that happens, I use WP Mobile Detect.  It can be a real lifesaver!

Best Modal Popup Plugin

  • Popup Maker
    Whether you need a popup that happens automatically after page load, or upon button press, this is simply the best modal popup plugin that I’ve found. You can create popup themes to customize padding, shadow, background opacity, and many other parameters. You can put any content in the popup that would normally go in a WordPress page or post.  They just did this one right!

Best Post Plugins

  • Duplicate Post
    Great if you need to make copies of pages, posts, or even custom post types (when set up to allow that). Will even copy custom fields!
  • Fancier Author Box: Connect personally with your readers
    Add an “author box” at the end of each post to tell your readers about yourself and give your blog a human touch. See end of this article for an example!
  • Page Links To
    Oh man, I wish I had known about this plugin before. Basically, in any listing (archive) view, it replaces a link to the Post or Page (or custom post type) with an alternate link that you can specify. This is great for portfolio pages where you want the project images to link to an external URL, not a page on your own site!
  • Post Types Order
    This plugin adds a cool drag-and-drop interface to the admin to order your Posts any way you want. It also works with custom post types, which can be very cool!

Best Post Rating Plugins

  • Post Ratings
    Allows visitors to rate your posts on a five-star scale.  Light-weight plugin that works well. You can insert post ratings via shortcode or hooks, so you don’t need to hack your theme. I chose the Post Rating plugin over WP PostRating because I couldn’t get the latter to show ratings in my Divi blog feed using hooks without causing a memory error. I didn’t like the idea of having to hack the theme either.

Best Pagination Plugins

Most WordPress themes do not have page numbering on your archive pages by default (they usually just have “previous” and “next” links). These plugins add more fancy page numbering and navigation. But they do require template modification!

  • WP-PageNavi
    Adds pagination navigation controls to your post archive pages. Very customizable and easy to use as long as you know how to modify your template files.
  • WP-Paginate
    Also adds page navigation. Also requires template modification. A bit simpler appearance out of the box. (Note, for custom queries, your query variable must be named $wp_query).

Best RSS Plugins

RSS isn’t dead!  If you want to show a feed from several other sites on your site, RSS is the way to go.

Best Search Plugins

  • Relevanssi
    This enhances the WP search in many ways including fuzzy matching, weighting, boolean logic, searching custom fields, and others. Many say this is the best search plugin. However, this is a heavy-duty plugin and there is some setup and pre-caching required.
  • Search Everything: Search custom fields
    If you want a more light-weight and easier-to-use solution than Relevanssi, check out Search Everything. Use it to enable search of custom fields and more with minimal fuss.

Best Security Plugins

  • Advanced Automatic Updates: Stay ahead of hackers
    Update your WP core and/or plugins automatically. Sends you an email when updates are done. Not suitable for all sites, because a plugin update could break your site, but I use this on all of my non-critical blogs to save me a ton of time and keep them secure.
  • Disable XML-RPCProtect your site from DDoS attacks
    XML-RPC is a fairly useless feature for WordPress (remote publishing anyone?) The one thing it is good at is attracting DDoS attacks on your site. This plugin disables xmlrpc.php by adding code to your .htaccess file.  One of my clients has a high-traffic site which was attacked about once a month.  This stopped it. Note that disabling this will prevent the Jetpack Publicize module and probably other modules from working.
  • Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd
    Puts put an “under construction”, “coming soon” or any message you want as your front page while you’re working on your site. Log in to bypass it.
  • Rename wp-login.php: Prevent brute-force login attacks
    Doesn’t literally rename the file, but does some tricks to redirect. Great for preventing brute-force attacks trying to log into your site. Also lets you rename /wp-admin.
  • WordFence: Protect your site from hackers
    I use this on ALL of my sites to protect against hackers. Does regular scans for malware and blocks known evil IP addresses. Just be sure to disable “live traffic logging” because it bloats your database faster than a bean-and-cheese burrito from Taco Bell.

Best SEO Plugin

  • Yoast SEO: Get the right meta tags for SEO and social
    This is the most popular SEO plugin. A cool feature is that it shows you exactly how your site listing will look when it shows up in Google search results.  You can customize the text that people see in those results.  Also great for specifying social network meta tags, like what Facebook thumbnail that gets displayed when the site is shared. Seemingly unrelated, it’s great for implementing breadcrumbs in custom themes. Some have complained lately that Yoast SEO changes too often and is getting bloated with too many features that no one wants.  There is some validity to that claim, but I still use it.

Best Google Analytics Plugins

  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
    This is a full-blown GA plugint with dashboard that shows your stats. I tend to shy away from these types of GA plugins due to the bloat, but some people love these, and this one is highly rated.
  • Google Analytics for WordPress
    This is a lightweight plugin that doesn’t track outgoing clicks, but it does simply add the Google Universal Analytics code and exclude admin visits.

Best SSL Plugin

  • Really Simple SSL
    After you get your SSL cert, install this plugin. It’s got great reviews and just works by modifying your .htaccess file.

Best Tab Plugin

  • Tabby Responsive Tabs
    If you need a really simple tab shortcode plugin, this one does the trick. It’s easy to use and lightweight. Plus, there are cats on the info page! Great unless you need to use the same tabs in multiple places on your site, in which case you should use a tab plugin that utilizes a custom post type for the tabs.

Best User Access Plugins

  • Members
    Creates a new “Roles” admin menu item under “Users” that allows you to edit the capabilities of all WordPress roles, and to create new ones with custom capabilities.
  • Unconfirmed
    Oh man, this plugin is a lifesaver if you’ve ever been in this situation: You’ve created a new user and had the site email them their password.  The problem is, they didn’t receive the email. Now you’re stuck. Their account isn’t activated so you can’t reset their password.  You can’t even delete their account.  You have to wait a few DAYS to try again.  This plugin lets you see all unconfirmed users and manually confirm them, so you can re-send the email or create a new password for them. Invaluable!
  • User Access Manager
    This is a more advanced user access plugin for when you need the big guns.  This allows you to put users and any post type or page in groups. Then, only people in those groups can edit that content. Can also limit visibility on the front-end as well. It’s kind of tricky to set up due to minimal documentation, but if you fiddle with the settings (a lot) it will do what it claims. I haven’t found a comparable free plugin that does this.
  • User Role Editor
    Pretty much required if you use Ultimate Member on Multisite and want local admins to be able to approve or edit users. Also great for creating new user roles with specific limited capabilities.

Best User / Membership Plugins

  • Custom User Profile Photo
    Your user photo comes from your Gravatar profile, which you may not want for all of your sites. This plugin lets you customize your user photo.
  • Export Users to CSV
    Exports your users to a CSV file. Note, you may have to adjust your php.ini settings to allow greater export file size.
  • Import Users from CSV
    This plugin works great for importing members in a CSV file. Works great with Ultimate Member.
  • Ultimate Member
    This is a very popular membership plugin that has tons of features. Pretty flexible with some learning curve. Good plugin, but updates tend to break things, so beware.

Best Social Media Plugins

  • Easy Twitter Feed Widget: Show a Twitter feed
    Simply shows a Twitter feed in a Widget iframe. Does not require a Twitter app or signin.
  • Twitter Hashtag Feed WidgetShow a Twitter hashtag feed
    Shows a Twitter feed for a hashtag in a Widget.  This is a bit more involved to set up. People complain there’s no documentation on how to get the Twitter app credentials. Read how to do it in the WP Twitter Feeds documentation.

Best Widget Management Plugins

  • Black Studio TinyMCE Widget: Make Widgets easier to edit 
    If your client doesn’t know HTML (or even if they do), it can be hard for them to edit content in Widgets. This great plugin gives you a Widget that has a full WYSIWYG editor, just like Pages and Posts, so your clients can easily edit them!
  • JP Widget VisibilityMake widgets disappear on certain pages
    This is the exact same functionality that is in Jetpack, but without Jetpack. It allows you to show or hide widgets according to what type of page you’re on.  Seriously people, this should just come with WordPress natively!

Best WordPress Multisite Plugins

  • BackWPUP Free: Back-up your WordPress multisite
    This is one of the free backup plugins that works with multisite. I just started using it and I like it! I allows scheduling of backups to a folder or different storage services. If this works well, I might start using it on my regular WP sites!
  • Multisite Plugin Manager: Show or hide plugins from local admins
    If you go to your Network Admin -> Settings -> Network Settings and scroll to the bottom, you can turn on or off visibility of plugins to the child sites. But what if you some plugins visible to local admins and others not? Use Multisite Plugin Manager to do this.
  • NS Cloner: Replicate a multisite child site on your network
    This is a wonderful tool to copy a Multisite network sub-site.  Great for replicating sites on your Multisite network.
  • Unfiltered MU: Allow multisite Admins to add HTML tags to admin fields
    I discovered that WordPress filters out HTML tags for Multisite regular Admins (but not Super Admins). This is annoying and prevents regular admins from adding Google Analytics code, for example, to a theme’s admin field. This plugin undo’s that “feature”. This is pretty much needed on every Multisite install.

Well, I hope this list was useful to you.  For more lists of great plugins, check out WP Site Care’s list of best plugins and WP Review’s Top 30 Best Plugins. What are your favorite WordPress plugins?  Please leave a comment below! – Brian

4 thoughts on “The Most Useful WordPress Plugins (My “Cheat Sheet”)

  1. great list but i would like it if you could add Backup&restore dropbox-https://wordpress.org/plugins/dropbox-backup/.i can assure you that it is the best and most reliable of all backup plugins

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