WordPress plugins make it easy to change your website in practically infinite ways. Plugins are one of the things that make WordPress so powerful. But if you have too many plugins—or just one wrong plugin—it can slow down your website or even break it entirely.
My minimalist approach to web development applies to plugins, too. I use as few plugins as possible, but as many as I need. I generally only use well-established plugins or plugins I built myself. And I try to choose plugins that have a minimal (or positive) effect on the website’s size and speed.
Here are the plugins I do use on every website I build.
Note: Since I recommend a few premium (paid) plugins below I feel like I should point out that this post is not sponsored and there are no affiliate links in it. If I recommend a premium plugin it is because I pay for it and use it myself after trying many alternatives.
These are the first plugins I install, and they go on every website to help me build and maintain it. I have been using all of them for years, so I know they work well.
Query Monitor. This plugin—along with my browser’s built-in developer tools—helps me keep an eye out for problems while I am building out the site and whenever I come back for updates. It helps me track down and fix all kinds of problems.
Health Check & Troubleshooting. This plugin checks for common configuration errors. It’s not super useful until there is a problem, but then the troubleshooting feature can be really helpful.
Broken Link Checker. When I am working on a website there are often lots of pages moving around, and this plugin constantly looks for broken internal and external links.
Redirection. To avoid 404 errors, when deleting or renaming a page I always redirect it to the new page or a logical destination for someone who was looking for the original page. This plugin is a sort of companion to Broken Link Checker. It can also monitor for changes and automatically redirect when URLs change.
None of the above plugins should have a noticeable effect on page speed, and if they do it would only be for logged-in admins.
Gravity Forms. Nearly every website I work on needs at least one form, and Gravity Forms can do pretty much anything form-related, from simple forms to advanced forms with built-in logic to really complex forms with advanced customizations. However, Gravity Forms is a premium plugin, starting at $59/year. I have the Elite license ($259/year) so I can use it on all my clients’ websites with all the add-ons. It’s totally worth it, but if all you need is simple forms and want a free option, try WPMU DEV Forminator.
Gravity Forms is very well coded and doesn’t impact your page speed any more than it has to.
Custom Block Styles. I made a simple custom plugin that adds a few block styles to the WordPress editor that I use all the time for things like cards and section headers.
Before launching a website I install and set up a few more plugins to ensure it is ready for prime time.
Site Kit by Google. As you might expect, this plugin makes it easy to connect your website to Google services like Analytics, Search Console, and more. It also gives you a basic—but not especially useful—performance dashboard in WordPress.
Yoast SEO (Free Version). I have used Yoast for a long time, on many websites, to help with search engine optimization. I do the first-time configuration, then tweak the search appearance and social settings depending on the website. Then I use it to help me optimize key pages on the website. The premium version is totally worth $99/year if you want the extra features, by the way, and some of my clients are happy to pay for it.
Both of the above plugins are well coded and should not have much impact on page speed.
Optimization and Security. Every WordPress site needs to optimize for size, speed, and security. The plugins I choose for this depend on the website I am working on. Most of the leading WordPress hosting providers have built-in optimization and security or their own WordPress plugins, and I tend to use those when I can. I host with SiteGround, so I use SiteGround Optimizer and SiteGround Security for most of my clients’ websites. But some of my clients host with WP Engine and Flywheel, which have their own perfectly good optimization and security. When there isn’t a good built-in option I usually fall back to WPMU DEV plugins, Hummingbird + Smush for optimization and Defender for security. (You don’t have to pay for a WPMU DEV membership, but it’s a good value at $7.50/month if you want any of the premium features.)
Optimization and security plugins should have a positive impact on speed.
Bonus/As Needed Plugins
Advanced Custom Fields. I don’t always use ACF, but I use it often enough that it’s worth mentioning. And I have a Pro subscription ($49/year and up) because the extra features are worth it.
Custom Results and Reviews Plugins. Many of my clients want to feature results and reviews on their website so I built plugins to add that functionality. (At some point I will probably release them for free on the WordPress plugin directory, but I don’t think they are ready just yet.)
I do use other plugins as needed, but I’m currently managing nearly 20 websites and only a few of them have any other plugins installed and active. Most of the time, these are all I need.