Every WordPress install includes plugins, even if it is just Hello Dolly (deleted), but almost every site has a different combination of plugins to meet the specific needs of a client.
There are a couple that I use on almost every install. These truly are “essential” because the fill necessary features like security, backups, and other administrative tasks that someone needs to do when operating a website.
- Redirection WordPress Plugin
This always gets installed to help track 404 errors and create redirects. Also keeps track of when URLs change which is incredibly handy.
Easy backups for sites that includes databases and media. You can use these archives to do restores or migrations and they work well with ServerPress
WordPress isn’t exactly the most secure software out there. And being open-source and widely adopted makes it a target. Sucuri is great at fixing a lot of the little site vulnerabilities that hackers look for and fixes them. WordFence WordPress Security is also good, but we are more familiar with Sucuri and use it more often.
- Contact Form 7
Probably the easiest contact for to setup to get up and running quickly. Not necessarily the prettiest forms you have ever seen, but you can find CSS samples all over the web and fix that. Easy to add new forms and Event Tracking with Google Analytics too.
- Google Analytics
There are a ton of these plugins and the largely all work the same. Some just take your UA number and generate the code others use API. This plugin also add Analytics Dashboards as well as a number of features like goals and event tracking that you need to track ROI.
- ShortPixel Image Optimizer
Images use the most storage on your server and bandwidth for your users. Compress your images without using your server resources.
This is a bit controversial, it doesn’t get used on every install that we do, but if you are migrating from WordPress.com to a self-hosted install Jetpack can be very useful. If you are a more advanced WordPress user you might think Jetpack is slow compared to other plugins, but if you are new Jetpack offers a lot of features you may need and it is supported by Automattic
WooCommerce probably deserves a mention, or it’s own post for essential plugins, but not every website needs ecommerce. If you want to check out keepkalm’s favorites on WordPress.org please bear in mind that some of the plugins have become out of date and you should verify that on your own. I remove them as I find them but I haven’t gone through them all for a few months or so.