Last updated on October 3rd, 2023 at 02:57 pm

If you're looking for a group of WordPress plugins you can start off just about any new site with - look no further.

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WordPress is the #1 content management system (CMS) on the Internet. It powers a full 40% of all the world’s websites. When you consider the number of ways a website can be built, 1 out of every 4 running on WordPress is massive. So what makes it such a great CMS? WordPress is easy to use and comes with a variety of free options that allow a designer to do just about anything.

WordPress isn’t just for the little guy either. Some of the biggest presences on the web use it for their CMS such as:

One of the big selling points for WordPress is the thousands upon thousands of free plugins. Plugins are little (or not-so-little) chunks of code that add functionality to your site with just a few clicks. No matter what you’re trying to do, you can almost always find a plugin out there that does it for you. Many of the best WordPress plugins are totally free! If you’re new to the WordPress game, check out these 10 plugins first.

Affiliate Notice

For some of the plugins on this list, I am a marketing affiliate. This means I get paid if you purchase them through one of my links. I use (or have used) and trust every one of the plugins I recommend on this list and would gladly speak good things about them regardless of my affiliate status. The affiliate status is just a nice bonus that helps supplement the income I make from my business.

For a full list of all of the affiliate programs I’m a member of, please see the site’s affiliate notice & disclosure page.

The 10 Best WordPress Plugins List

When choosing which WordPress plugins to put on this list, I focused on plugins that provide value for just about any website. This means that plugins that are primarily used for design & looks (such as Elementor) aren’t on the list.

I also focused on plugins that I use myself currently (or have used in the past) that I know work well and won’t blog down a website’s speed or load time.

So here we go – the 10 best WordPress plugins (in no particular order).

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CookieYes GDPR Cookie Consent Plugin

If you are looking for a simple solution to help with your WordPress site’s GDPR cookie compliance, this WordPress GDPR plugin is one of the best options out there. Using the plugin, you can make achieving compliance with GDPR (DSGVO, RGPD), CCPA, CNIL, and LGPD easy. 

With the plugin, you can display a cookie consent notice in the form of a banner/popup/widget and customize its elements to match your site’s style.

Using the built-in cookie scanner, you can scan your website and show the list of cookies to users using a shortcode.  Auto-cookie blocking of third-party cookies, privacy policy generator, category level cookie consent, etc., are additional features offered by the plugin.

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UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup Plugin

If there’s one utility you use on every website, it’s a good solid backup plugin. Before I do anything with a new website build, I take a baseline backup of the site using UpdraftPlus.

What can one really say about UpdraftPlus? They’re the leader in WordPress backup plugins and for good reason. Backups using their plugin are reliable and they don’t use some proprietary file format when taking backups.

UpdraftPlus comes in both a free version and a premium one. The free version allows you to take on-demand and periodic backups, send them to Dropbox, and perform restores. The premium version allows more granular control of retention settings, fully scheduled backups, and a much larger choice of cloud storage providers to send your backups to. The premium version is also ideal for site migrations as it comes with an onboard search & replace feature which is helpful when migrating your site to a new domain.

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With WordPress being the most common CMS on the internet, it’s no surprise that it’s also the one most hackers try to break into. Having a good WordPress security plugin is a must, and you really can’t get any better protection than what you get from Wordfence.

Wordfence is also one of the only few WordPress plugins that offer a real web application firewall in their free version. This means all requests to your site are checked against Wordfence’s database of vulnerabilities before they’re even allowed to execute.

One of the things I really like about Wordfence is that security is all they do. They aren’t some plugin developer that does a bunch of stuff and just happens to have a security plugin. In fact, due to their excellent work and reputation in the WordPress security space, they were authorized in 2021 by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE®) Program as a CNA, or CVE Numbering Authority. This means they’re authorized to assign CVE IDs for new vulnerabilities in WordPress Core, Plugins, & Themes.

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Health Check & Troubleshooting

I am quite honestly not sure how this little plugin hasn’t been included as part of WordPress Core. It’s made by the community and integrates seamlessly with the core Site Health tools.

Health Check & Troubleshooting is a free plugin that gives you the ability to enable “Troubleshooting Mode” where plugins & themes are disabled for your session only. It’s a great tool for troubleshooting issues on production sites without affecting your user experience during the troubleshooting process.

The plugin allows you to re-enable or disable plugins & themes one at a time so you can search for conflicts while your site visitors are none the wiser.

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WordPress’ native PHP mail function is notoriously unreliable. And if your site runs on shared or reseller hosting, your server IP could be on an email spam list because of other sites sharing your server causing your emails to bounce.

If you run a website for a business and you have a contact form, nothing is more important than ensuring the form emails make it to your inbox. Without email reliability, you risk missing out on the sales leads that make your website a profitable part of your business.

Enter, WP Mail SMTP. This plugin gives you the ability to use a preferred SMTP provider to send emails rather than through WordPress’ native PHP mail function. You can use regular SMTP email provided by your host, or one of the other many options provided by WP Mail SMTP. It integrates with some of the most popular email providers (the free version is a bit limited).

WP Mail SMTP is made by the same highly-respected developers who make WPForms – which also happens to be a little further down on this list.

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RankMath SEO

If you’re looking to get your website showing up on Google and other search engines, a good SEO plugin can help guide you. For most of my sites, I opt for RankMath SEO. It’s not the oldest kid on the block, but the plugin offers many features that are considered premium on other SEO plugins.

The free version of RankMath SEO includes an easy setup wizard which can automatically import settings from competitor plugins you might already be using. It also allows you to optimize your post for an unlimited number of focus keywords, a feature that is not free anywhere else in the SEO plugin space.

If that wasn’t enough, you can also integrate Google Analytics with the plugin which helps eliminate the need for other plugins designed to insert GA tags on your website. Even more important, it integrates with Google Search Console

RankMath SEO works with most page builders and uses fewer lines of code than most other SEO plugins.

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Antispam Bee

If you accept comments on your blog posts, then you know how quickly spam comments can overtake your site. There are a ton of spam-fighting plugins, but the one I like most is Antispam Bee. Not only does it effectively block most spam from your website, but it also does so without a captcha which can slow your load time and hurt your site speed scores.

The settings in Antispam Bee are pretty basic while still providing you with the flexibility you need. It’s an excellent “set it and forget it” plugin.

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WP Forms Lite

What is a website without a good contact form? With over 5 million installations, WPForms Lite is the go-to form plugin for WordPress.

The form builder itself is drag & drop and styles nicely with very little fuss. The forms are completely mobile responsive and work on all screen sizes.

The free version does most of what any website owner would need to gather contact info and customer messages while the premium version takes things further, allowing you to take payments right in your forms and a bunch of other features.

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WP Activity Log

While it might not seem like one of the first things you’d think of when building or maintaining a WordPress site, it might come to some surprise that WordPress doesn’t natively track much in the way of changes. If you need to look back and what happened on your site beyond post or page revisions, you’ll need another tool to do it.

Fortunately, the WP Activity Log by WP White Security is an incredible plugin that gets the job done. Initially, the plugin was designed as a security auditing tool, but it really has grown to a full-on record-keeping system for your website.

In addition to the obvious security benefit of keeping logs of what happens on your site, for those site owners who have multiple editors, contributors, or administrators, the log can really save you a ton of time when something breaks.

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Smush – Lazy Load Images

Jump on a few WordPress forums and you’ll undoubtedly see people asking for help speeding up their website. And in almost every case, the first recommendation is “optimize your images”.

Especially for beginners, the importance of properly sized & compressed images is easy to miss – until your site slows to a crawl. Fortunately, in addition to lazy loading your images, the Smush – Lazy Load Images plugin will resize and compress them so they load lightning fast on your site.

The pro version also includes webp conversion for your images which will make them load even faster.

Final Thoughts

While keeping plugin counts low on a WordPress website is beneficial, the right plugins will provide benefits that far outweigh the cost of adding them.

You might not need everything on this list, but they’re all worth a good look at.

Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He’s also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover bands, Liquifaction and Minority Report.

4 thoughts on “10 Best WordPress Plugins You Must Have in 2021”

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