How many “must-have” WordPress plugins can there be?

Summary: An essential WordPress plugin is a plugin that you must and want to install to each and every WordPress blog. In all honesty, the list should not be very long

In the spirit of Dirty Harry, and in honor of Clint Eastwood's birthday, I say this... "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one". "Essential WordPress plugins" -lists are no different. So here's my opinion on it.

Anyone who creates a list of 20 or 30 WP plugins and calls them "must-have" or "essential" is, for the lack of a better word, a moron. You know: "30 must-have WordPress plugins" ...really? MUST. HAVE. ...pfff

Publishing such posts shows that the author has no idea what they're talking about when it comes to WordPress and they just made the list as link bait. I'm sorry for all you so called "blogging / WordPress experts", but you should title your posts properly...

For me, essential plugin means "a plugin I must and want to install to each and every WordPress blog" -or- "a plugin does something that I must do better or easier than I could do it by hand". You can have a huge list of "great plugins" or "plugins I use and like", but essential... the max is 10 in my mind.

My recommended WordPress plugins -list now has 8, with couple of arguable choices there as well. I complement the list with additional 7 I really like, but I do not call them essential.

Truly Essential WordPress plugins?

Luckily, there are exceptions - I really liked this demonstration / speech by Jonathan Dingman (@Dingman on Twitter) from WP Vibe showing his non-bloated list of WordPress plugin choices. (The presentation took place in WordCamp Orange County 2010)

What made this different from most other such presentations and lists, was that these plugins actually can be considered essential or "must-haves", and not just cool plugins the author happens to like (with couple of exceptions, but that's cool).

Anyway, here is the video from Jonathan Dingman: Essential WordPress Plugins & Optimization (the presentation itself takes about 14 minutes, and continues for about 35 minutes from there with Q&A, which is good stuff too):

And here are the slides from that Essential (WordPress) Plugins and Optimization Presentation:

6 Awesome WordPress -plugins

Here is the edited list (by me) of the plugins from the presentation and the slides with some highlighted benefits if you're too busy to go through the video or the slides:

  1. SEO Smart Links
    • In-post, relevant links to posts and categories
    • Automatic cross-post linking
    • Custom keyword linking (optional case-sensitive), e.g. Affiliate links
    • Limitation options
    • (I haven't personally used this, as I've been doing internal linking and affiliate linking manually, but naturally it makes sense to automate it)
  2. Google XML Sitemaps
    • Great for SEO
    • Lots of options
    • Easy to use
    • Updated regularly
    • (This is one of the plugin I put on every single WordPress blog I've ever setup and each blog I will setup in the future. Beyond awesome.)
  3. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
    • Great for SEO
    • Users can see related content that they may like, making those links more "relevant" to the page
    • (This plugin has caused some issues before on performance, but I haven't seen any problems on my own blogs. Great plugin.)
  4. Redirection
    • Track the number of clicks
    • Affiliate links
    • Links you don't want to pass "juice"
    • Be able to change where a link goes later on
    • Track how often a link is clicked on
    • Disallow all outgoing links (SEO reasons)
    • (Awesome plugin. I'd add that it also tracks 404s, which is great for spotting bad links for example)
  5. W3 Total Cache
    • By far, the best caching plugin.
    • (This plugin is one of the enablers for speeding up WordPress to load under 2 seconds on shared hosting)
    • CDN options, Minify options (HTML/css/js), Memory caching via Disk/Memcache/APC)
    • (Do not use both this and WP Super Cache. If possible, use this, if not good on your hosting, use WP Super Cache)
    • Check my W3 Total Cache guide for step-by-step instructions on how to install and configure W3 Total Cache
  6. Google Analytics for WordPress
    • Easy to use
    • Lots of options (advanced)
    • Updated regularly for improvements and security
    • (I recently opted to use the highly Optimized Google Analytics asynchronous tracking code instead, just because it's SO FAST *and* I don't need the options this plugin has. But it's still AWESOME plugin that I might go back to one day)

The above is ripped straight from the slides, so give credit to the @Dingman. Jonathan also lists these two, which are awesome plugins, but not essential in my mind:

  • WP Super Cache
    • Focuses on utilizing file caching
    • Only use if you can't get W3 Total Cache to work
    • (Do not use both this and W3 Total Cache!)
  • Tweeted
    • Easy way to embed (single) Tweets from Twitter to a post or page!
    • (A little self-promotion from Jonathan, which is OK, since the plugin is good for what it does, but not needed by everyone)

On the Q&A part of the video, Jonathan also mentions other great plugins, like Contact Form 7 which I use on my contact page, Viper's Video Quicktags, which is an awesome plugin if you're using a lot of video, either your own or embed other people's content to the blog and Yoast's Breadcrumbs, which I run here on my blog as well. (All awesome plugins to recommend, but not quite for each and every blog)


All in all, great list with 6 truly essential WordPress plugins and great presentation by Jonathan Dingman (check his WP Vibe -blog as well!). When I think of it, it's not that far from my list of plugins...

I think the plugins on my list, like WP-DBManager for backups and WP for automatic image optimization deserve the "essential" stamp on them. Currently I use All in One SEO for SEO-stuff (HeadSpace2 is the other option) and Akismet for Spam protection but I'm constantly refining the list...

And with combination of these plugins listed by Jonathan and from my own list of essential WordPress plugins, my short list of recommended WordPress plugins is getting better and better - but that's just my opinion :)

So... What WordPress plugin(s) would *you* call a "must-have"?

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