The 6 most essential WordPress plugins

The most essential plugins for any WordPress blog, that's an interesting topic, isn't it? Too often I see a list like 20+ must-have plugins or 17 plugins you can't live without. Don't believe those posts, or you might make you blog super slow because of plugins.

This is my list of essential plugins, originally the five most essential, later updated to 6. There are so many plugins out there that it wasn't easy to pick "just" six, but I managed to do it! Can you? If you have your own plugin preferences that is OK, and in that case check the quiz at the end, but here's the list and how to install these plugins.

The Most Essential WordPress Plugins

Each and every blog will benefit from these plugins, so install these and look for more later if needed.

These plugins will be the backbone of your blog, taking care of:

  • Search Engine Optimization,
  • Comment spam control,
  • Backing up your data,
  • Creating XML sitemap for search engines, and
  • Speeding up your blog (via cache and image optimization).

1. All in One SEO Pack

Convenient and easy search engine optimization. Optimizes the canonical URLs (even better than the default functionality included since WP 2.9), simplifies handling the descriptions and title tags of different posts and pages and all this within simple interface.

2. W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache is better than WP Super Cache and handles much more than just page caching, like minification, database caching and making CDN usage easy.

3. WP-DBManager

You MUST backup your blog, both the database and the files. For the database, set this one up, schedule the automatic backup and optimization and you're done.

4. Google XML Sitemaps

Generates and submits a XML sitemap of your blog to the search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing). Greatly enhances your blogs SEO and search engine visibility.

In case you don't have comments and you don't images on your blog that's it. But every blog has comments and images, right? So go on...

5. Akismet

Akismet handles comment spam. You can use additional plugins, but always have Akismet on. As mentioned, the only case you don't need AKismet, if you fully disable comments and trackbacks on your blog.

6. WP (added)

Automatic image optimization plugin, read the story here: Blog Image Optimization. If you don't use ANY images on your blog, you don't need this one.

How To Install The Essential Plugins?

First of all, AKismet comes pre-installed since WordPress 2.8, so you don't have to worry about that, just activate it and do the configuration (check instruction below). In case you don't have it on your WP install for some reason, install manually.

Here's how you can install plugins with the latest WordPress versions, 2.7.x and onwards:

  1. go to the Plugins section,
  2. click “add new”,
  3. search for one plugin
    • "All in One SEO Pack"
    • "WP Super Cache"
    • "WP-DBManager"
    • "Akismet"
    • "Google XML Sitemaps"
    • "WP"
  4. click “install”
  5. activate the plugin after successful install.

Or you can install the plugin manually if you’re running old version of WordPress, or find uploading multiple plugins via FTP simpler than using the GUI on Dashboard:

  1. Download the plugin from the WordPress plugin directory
  2. Upload the plugin to the plugins -folder with ftp client, like FileZilla
  3. Activate the plugin from the plugins -page in WordPress dashboard

After you've installed, you should go and...

Adjust the Essential Plugin Settings

With All in One SEO Pack, no need to do anything. If you want to adjust the settings, you can, but you don't have to, they are good as default.

The same goes for WP - it works automatically when you upload your images (through WP interface, not FTP).

Google XML Sitemaps takes care of itself. Of course, you can go and set the settings if you don't want something to be "mapped", like certain categories, but other than that, install, activate and forget it.

For W3 Total Cache, if you choose that over Super Cache, read my detailed step-by-step W3 Total Cache guide to learn how to install and configure the plugin for the ultimate speeding solution.

With WP-DBManager, go to Database >> Backup, check that everything is "green" which means that the plugin has successfully created the directories it needs. If everything is OK, the plugin will tell you so. Create your first backup now.

Next - to automatically backup and optimize WordPress database - click yourself to DB Options. Check the email at automatic settings, set the schedule (usually weekly is good, and 3 days for the optimization). Click Save Changes. You will now receive weekly backup of your WordPress blog to your email where you can automatically archive them or save them to a safe storage of your own.

For Akismet, you will need the API Key, which you can get if you have account or you can go create it now (it's free). After getting it (instructions in the API Key -link), go to Akismet settings (Plugins >> AKismet Configuration) and enter the API Key there.

I hope you found this list to be useful. If you're seasoned blogger, it's likely that you are using these already or some other, very similar plugin. If you are just starting out, make sure you get these.

You should always keep your WordPress updated to the latest version, unless you have really good reason not to update.

The Essential Plugins Article Quiz!

Answer in the comments or do your own list and trackback

What are *the* plugins you would install, if you could only install 6 or less?

p.s. Check my resources -page for the full list of recommended WordPress plugins.

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Topic: WordPress Plugins
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