What Plugins Should I Have on my WordPress Website?

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WordPress plugin screenHere’s an interesting question I received recently: “Have I installed enough plugins on my WordPress website?”

I was a bit taken aback by that, because the short answer is that you need the smallest number of plugins possible that are necessary to deliver your website’s purpose.

My questioner believed that the more plugins you installed the better whereas, in fact, the opposite is true.

So let’s start at 50,000 feet. I’ve broken plugins generally into 4 broad groups which I’ve described below, along with how you would use plugins from each group.

Taking the first group, there are some plugins that you should install by default on every WordPress site, and I’ve set these out below.

Minimum set of plugins for any WordPress website

  1. A backup plugin – make sure it backs up the entire site
  2. A security plugin
  3. A contact form plugin – make sure you can add CAPTCHA functionality
  4. An anti-spam plugin, although that’s only necessary if you have enabled comments on your posts
  5. An XML sitemap plugin
  6. An SEO plugin

Any WordPress website should contain those plugins but, in addition, there are some plugins that extend the basic WordPress functionality and, in doing so, improve the visitor’s experience or make the job of administering the site easier.

Other plugins that improve the basic WordPress functionality

Here are some other plugins that can improve the user experience or the ease of administration over that offered by the standard WordPress installation. These may include:

  • A menu plugin – these offer more options than the standard WordPress navigation menu, but are only really necessary for larger sites with a more complex structure
  • A search plugin (the standard WordPress search function is not good)
  • A database optimisation plugin
  • A caching plugin – almost an essential if you’re using a theme from ThemeForest.

These should only be used if they deliver a quantifiable improvement to you or your visitors over the basic WordPress functions.

As an example: the WordPress navigation menu is perfectly adequate for a simple 5-page site. You would only want to consider a navigation menu plugin if you have a more complicated site structure and need to provide a slick navigation facility.

The same goes for a search plugin. On basic sites you may not even need a search function, but as your site grows this will become more important. The default WordPress search function is pretty basic so adding a search plugin can greatly improve the user experience.

Specialist function plugins

These are the plugins that are necessary to carry out the specific purpose of the site.

This could include, for example:

  • An eCommerce plugin for an online shop
  • A Directory plugin
  • A translation plugin for a multi-language site
  • A booking/reservation plugin for a travel site or a services site (such as a hairdresser)
  • A gallery plugin for a photographer’s business site
  • An advertising plugin if this is your chosen monetisation strategy
  • A product catalogue plugin (where the purchase transaction is completed off line)

…and so on.

It depends entirely on the function of the site and how you monetise it but, again, install only the plugin you need to achieve the site’s objective.

In some cases, with WooCommerce or WPML, for example, there are some extensions that should be added to ensure the required functionality is delivered in full. But only add the extensions you actually need..!

Bells and whistles plugins

These plugins add glitz, glamour and sexiness to your site, but don’t contribute much, if anything, to achieving the site’s purpose. They would include slider plugins, pop-up plugins, animation plugins and others that add special effects.

This last group, in addition to contributing little towards achieving the site’s actual objective, also often act as a drag on page-load times.

Slider plugins, for example, serve little actual purpose but inhibit the site’s SEO, take up screen space above the fold which could be put to better use, and slow down the page load-time.

Less is more

The focus in choosing what plugins to install should be driven by two things:

  1. Enabling the site to achieve its objective
  2. Improving the usability of the site – from either the site visitor’s or the administrator’s perspective.

Nothing more.

Today’s web surfers increasingly travel on a mobile device – searches on mobile exceeded searches on desktops/laptops some time ago and continue to grow.

So sliders, which were popular some time ago, are now used much less for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

Today the emphasis is on speed, intuitiveness and usability – getting people to where they want to go (or where you want them to go) as smoothly and quickly as possible.

In addition to the user experience aspect, from the administration aspect the less plugins you use, the less there is to go wrong, the less to maintain and the lighter the load on the server when it’s delivering your site to a browser.

One of the reasons I don’t like most of the themes from ThemeForest is that they sell themes that attempt to deliver anything you could possibly want in a website and, to do that, they usually have several plugins embedded and which install themselves on your site when you activate the theme.

If you buy one of those themes for a small business website, the purpose of which is purely to act as an online business card, you will inevitably get WooCommerce, a slider plugin, a drag and drop builder and probably a number of extensions as well.

These create unnecessary code bloat, slow down page load-times and serve no purpose on that type of site.

Spoilt for choice

There are around 40,000 plugins available in the WordPress repository today, plus hundreds more which are premium (paid for) and so don’t reside in the repository.

So you’re not short of options when you want to add functionality to your site.

However, there are well-coded plugins, badly coded plugins, plugins whose authors provide good support and those that do not.

For some tips on how to choose the best plugin for your need read this article.

Again, the message is: only install the plugins you need in order to enable your site to achieve its purpose. No more.

Do get in touch if you would like us to review the plugins you have installed and recommend the best configuration to deliver your site’s objective in the lightest and quickest way possible:


Martin Malden

About the author: Martin Malden owns Abledragon, a WordPress agency that was established in 2009. Today it serves customers in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK. Abledragon websites are built for today’s Internet, with the mobile user in mind, and are known for security and speed. Successful Abledragon projects.