I recently started doing websites after more than a decade of hiatus; I thought I would share some of my experiences.
Firstly, I felt that it was useless to build a new Content Management System, better known as a CMS, and settled on WordPress.
Its plugin ecosystem is probably the best in the CMS world; here are my WordPress essential plugins.
These are plugins that I use on every site, no matter what I build and are part of my development template, more about that on another day.
There are other plugins I use, but these are more specialised to solve individual problems, these I have excluded and may address in the future.
All-in-One WP Migration (Free & Paid)
I was looking for a way to move websites from Development to Staging to Production without the pains of backing and restoring up the database and relevant files.
All-in-One WP Migration does this with ease. The drawback? It will overwrite your entire site with the new one, as a backup tool and migration from production to development, it’s perfect.
Warning: The free version has a 512MB import limit you will need the paid Unlimited Extension to restore above that.
Analytify (Free and Paid)
I need to mention that I came across this one recently on WPCrafter where Adam Preiser does an excellent job of demonstrating it.
Many people underestimate the power of Analytics; it tells you a lot about your site, enabling it and reading that data can often be difficult.
This plugin makes both of these easy. I used Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights for years; it always felt it was a little clunky.
Contact Form 7 (Free and Donationware)
Contact forms are underestimated; they often are your first line of contact.
Contact Form 7 allows you to create contact forms for any requirements while adding security such as CAPTCHA, so you do not receive robot driven spam.
Contact Form 7 also generates shortcodes so you can use your customised contact form anywhere on your site.
Flamingo is a sibling of Contact Form 7; it records the messages sent using Contact Form 7 much like a mailbox.
Really Simple SSL (Free and Paid)
If you do not have SSL on your website by now, stop reading and get it done. Most search engines will rank you higher if you are using SSL, but after switching on SSL, you may find that not all of your page content is in SSL this creates mixed content that most if not all browsers will warn the user about, we call that soft reputation damage.
Really Simple SSL resolves this, that it: no fuzz, no mess, no complications.
Regenerate Thumbnails (Free)
WordPress is not perfect and an area if often fails is thumbnails, Regenerate Thumbnails solves this by allowing you to either regenerate a single or all thumbnails. I use it at least once a week.
TinyMCE Advanced (Free)
Don’t you wish that the WordPress editor was more like Microsoft Word or Apple Pages?
TinyMCE Advanced gets you partly there; it introduces things like Tables and other advanced features, all for free. It also includes a powerful configurator which has become handy from time to time.
There is a caveat; it only works in conjunction with the WordPress Classic Editor, so install it if you use WordPress 5.x+.
WP Super Cache (Free)
If you want, and you should, to accelerate your website, you need to use server caching.
Server caching will build all the WordPress dynamic pages, so pages, posts and any other post types, and keep a compiled version for fast delivery.
Server caching will accelerate your page delivery by not going back to the database and build the page on every request; I consider this essential.
WP Super Cache is one of many cashing systems, so why choose this one over the others? It is from the same team that builds WordPress, so I can only assume they know what they are doing.
WP Super Cache is also packed with advanced options to help you get more speed, and more speed help your site by getting better ranking in search engines, it also removes the waiting frustration of page loading.
WP-Optimize (Free and Paid)
Optimising a database sounds very technical and daunting to most, but it is something that needs to be done. Much like server caching it will accelerate your site by limiting the data volumes and returns from your database.
I started using WP-Optimize about a year ago, and I find it simple to use. Run it once a week.
WPS Hide Login (Free)
Hide your login page and have fewer chances of a brute force attack or nosy people trying to get into your administration system, that all there is to it.
WPS Hide Login is straightforward to use and take no time to set up if people or robot do not know where to log in, how will they?
Yoast SEO (Free and Paid)
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is another of these things that no one really understands and all to often push it for another day.
SEO allows the search engines to categorise your content for relevance, the more relevance, the better your website will rank.
Yoast SEO has very friendly tools to achieve some of the critical optimisations required; it even helps you write your content.
I can hear the cries already, Askimet and JetPack are missing! Askimet is a good idea but not required I find that ReCAPCHA works as well, JetPack has some useful tools, but it is not worth the performance hit on high volume sites in my opinion.
Neither of these makes this list, though both are installed and activated on this site for now.
There are paid versions of many of these plugins; the free versions are often all you will need.
I have to mention that developing these world-class plugins is costly and I would encourage you to support the developers by either purchasing their entry-level product or some accept donations.