7 Essential Plugins I Always Use When Starting New Sites

When you first start a new site, the sheer number of WordPress plugins that’s available to you can be a bit overwhelming. These days though, I have a core group of plugins that I install as soon as I start a new site.

So, if you’re new to building sites and feeling the decision fatigue when it comes to adding plugins to your site, then I’ll share my must-use plugins with you and a bit about why I use each one.

**And as always, I’m an affiliate marketer and this post contains some affiliate links, meaning I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

1. Wordfence Security

There are a lot of options for security plugins, and I’ve tried a few different ones over the years. But for several years now I’ve been happy with the Wordfence plugin.

There’s a free and a paid version, and for most of my sites I only use the freebie version. 

One of my favorite things about this plugin is that it sends me an email whenever there is a new login to my site. This is a great way to know when VAs are logging in and when someone with nefarious intentions has gotten your login credentials.

It does lots of other things to, like locking out people who are trying to login with invalid user names and alerting you when you have plugins that need updated, etc. And it will regularly scan your site for potential security issues.

2. SEOPress

Like security plugins, there are several popular SEO plugins that you can use for your site. For years I used Yoast on all of my sites, but then they had that problem with indexing images as posts (and later problems after that) so I bailed on them for SEOPress.

I know some people also use RankMath, but I tested it and really just prefer SEOPress.

There’s a free and a paid version, and for my sites I only use the freebie version. I honestly don’t even know what the paid version does.

One of my favorite things about this plugin is that it makes it super easy to strip the /category/ part of category URLs, which means making category hub pages is way easier for me. I’m sure other plugins do this as well, but this is just one of things that I love about this one.

The installation wizard is super easy to use and everything just works right outta the box, and with zero advertising (unlike Yoast). 

3. WP Rocket

There are also a lot of free caching plugins, and when I had lots of sites spread across my WPX accounts I was fine using W3 Total Cache. I’ve used other caching plugins as well, and I’ve tested the Breeze plugin that Cloudways offers.

But as I got more and more focused on getting the fastest possible load time from my sites, I realized that the premium caching plugins actually are better than the freebie ones.

So, yeah, you do have to pay for WP Rocket to use it. If your budget doesn’t allow for that, then go with W3 Total Cache or Breeze.

What I love about WP Rocket is that I feel like it’s a lot more user-friendly than W3 Total Cache. And, it easily integrates with Cloudflare and Imagify.

I’ve also tested Nitropack, and while it did make my site a bit faster than WP Rocket, it also did some wonky stuff to my site. Plus, Nitropack is rather expensive compared to WP Rocket – so not worth it.

4. Imagify

I actually only started using this plugin in early 2020 after not being satisfied with the other image compression options that I’d tested. It’s made by the people at WP Rocket and works seamlessly with that plugin as well.

The downside to this plugin is that it is a paid one, but from my testing it’s totally worth the cheap monthly cost. That being said, they work on a freemium model so you can use it for free up to 25mb per month, but that limit is likely not high enough for most people.

I love how easy it is to use and that it seems to work better than the other plugins that I tested.

  • Cost: Free for 25mb/mo, or starts at $4.99/mo for 1GB
  • Good for: Image compression wizardry
  • Learn more here

5. LuckyWP Table of Contents

For years I was using the Table of Contents Plus plugin, despite it never being updated (until recently). Then I switched over to LuckyWP and have zero complaints with it.

Honestly, you can use HTML to create your own table of contents and save yourself a plugin (and a bit of load time). However, it’s just faster to do it this way.

Not sure why you need a table of contents? That how you get those jump links that you see in the SERPs.

I like how easy to use this plugin is, but like I said – you can accomplish the same thing with HTML if you want to take the time to do it.

6. Shortcodes Ultimate

If you want to be able to easily add in buttons, columns, etc. then you will love this plugin. You can even do a pretty nice (though basic) responsive table with this plugin.

And best of all, you can do it all with the free version! There is a pro version that you can pay for, though I’ve never had the need for it.

What I love about this plugin is that it is a major time saver. Instead of having to Google how to code in random shit, I can just use this plugin to accomplish it with a shortcode.

Sure, it’s keeping me a bit tech-stupid since I don’t have to learn the CSS and HTML to do this stuff, but I’ll take that since it saves me time.

  • Cost: free or premium version
  • Good for: HTML and CSS voodoo with zero skills required
  • Learn more here

7. Akismet Anti-Spam

I use this plugin to manage spam comments, though I don’t use it on 100% of my sites. You see, this plugin works on the honor system when you create an account for it.

And it asks you if you plan on using it on a commercial site. If you say no, then it is free to use. Otherwise it starts out at $5 per month.

I’ve been using this plugin on sites for over a decade now. One of my sites gets over 300,000 monthly during the high time of year and it gets a fuck ton of spam comments…and I’m still on the free version of this plugin.

But another of my sites recently hit 50,000 monthly and I got a sternly worded email from Akismet that they were going to start charging me for that site….so I just started using AntiSpam Bee on that one instead.

I love that this plugin properly manages spam comments, for the most part. But use at your own risk on the freebie level.

  • Cost: free or starts at $5/mo
  • Good for: shutting down those spammers
  • Learn more here

Other Plugins

So, those are my core always use plugins, but I do have a few other plugins that I use here and there on sites. I’ll run through those real quickly.

And I think that’s pretty much it. I do try to use a few plugins as possible per site since each plugin adds a little to the site load time.

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