This website contains affiliate links for the plugins I am about to recommend. This is NOT just another list of WordPress plugins to rake in as much affiliate money as possible (unlike most other blogs). This is a blog post that has the goal of sharing my extensive experience as an agency owner for 10 years, getting you to spend your money wisely, and only when and where you need to.
I don’t think it makes sense to provide you with yet another endless list of decent WordPress plugins. I’d rather focus on 4 essential plugins you should invest in. 4 plugins that will actually help your business grow online in one way or another. These plugins are not free, although very affordable considering the value they provide. Most do offer free versions if you want to try them out.
Why should you trust the recommendations I am about to share?
- Firstly – they form the backbone of this website. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. If I don’t use it, I don’t recommend it.
- Secondly – I have no vested interest in the companies behind the plugins I recommend. The tiny affiliate commission I get when you click and buy through one of the links in this post does not affect my judgement. I will recommend a good plugin without commission above a mediocre one with high commission any day of the week.
- Thirdly – don’t take my word for it. As mentioned earlier, I run an Online Marketing Agency (including website design and development). We use these plugins for most of our agency clients’ websites. In addition to that, I have tested most of the competition that exists for the plugins I’m about to recommend over the past 10 years. Let me know if you want to get in touch with our clients to hear their stories.
That being said, there is no one-size fits all. Therefore, I want you to know from which perspective I have made my selection. Here are the key focus points:
- Foundational to all WordPress websites (so no specific use cases like translation, e-commerce, LMS, and so on)
- We have to be using the plugin daily in our agency
- Speed above features
- Great value
- Fantastic post-sales support
If a plugin does not excel in these categories, it is out and I don’t recommend it. As simple as that. We make websites with a perspective on the end-to-end process from marketing strategy and website design to SEO and Advertising. That means it is of paramount importance a plugin is best-in-class for the above categories. Anyone that focuses on growing their business online should gladly take speed, performance and flexibility above unlimited design possibilities, to give an example. Hence why I will no longer work with page builders like Elementor and I don’t tend to use alternatives to WordPress like Webflow.
The only 4 WordPress plugins you should invest in to form the backbone of your website. You can add plugins for specific requirements like translation or e-commerce needs later. That is not covered in this post.
- Kadence Full Bundle: the last WordPress plugin set you’ll need to build your website (and help grow your leads)
- SEOPress Pro: the top WordPress plugin that helps you rank better in Google, Bing, etc. (and it’s not a plugin that will crash your database like RankMath tends to do, search through their support tickets to find some examples)
- FlyingPress: website caching and speed optimisation, cranked up to 11. Invaluable for SEO.
- WPvivid Premium: backup. your. site. Prepare for the worst and hope you’ll never need to use it.
To round up our list with a bonus plugin for agencies or businesses with multiple websites to manage: MainWP Pro.
Let’s dive into the plugins.
We build all of our WordPress based websites with the Kadence Full Bundle. For 3 reasons:
- You are not content locked, unlike page builders like Beaver Builder, Elementor, Brizzy, etc. Since you are using the WordPress Block Editor to build your website, your content is never locked in some page builder.
- The most feature-rich, performant, and affordable solution for the standard Block Editor. While Kadence has an awesome free theme and block plugin, the nearly unlimited design flexibility the Full Bundle provides, is quite unbeatable. (Think about custom blog post templates, mega menus, modals, conditional headers, conversions, etc.)
- Highly active development and consistently growing feature set. While they may not be as well-established as Astra for example, they are adding industry-leading features at a rapid pace.
The following three plugins are in my opinion the main reason you should buy a Kadence Full Bundle. For the following plugins, their pro version is included in this very affordable deal.
To start off, I am talking about Kadence Pro Theme. While they have still the best Free theme, most businesses benefit from the Kadence Full Bundle to get their website to the next level in my opinion.
How about Bloksy Pro?
While Bloksy is great, and I do recommend them in some cases for some people, the value of a Kandence Bundle is just unbeatable.
Bloksy Theme has a somewhat cleaner UI (subjective) and a very similar feature set to Kadence. That said, I have never used Kadence Theme and wished I had used Bloksy instead. We use Kadence as the base theme for all our (and our clients’) websites.
One caveat to this: while having used Kadence (and Bloksy) for WooCommerce based e-commerce sites, our experience here is not as extensive as with portfolio, business, or blog websites.
Let’s bring it back to value. Bloksy is a great theme, but it is just that: a theme. You’ll need a block plugin (Stackable is great with Bloksy!) to build your website. And even then, you won’t have Kadence’s awesome Conversions plugin, Custom fonts, etc. which are all included in the Full Bundle.
How about Astra Pro?
A great theme, a trusted theme, and you can’t go wrong with it. Astra has been here a long time and they keep developing very actively. It’s great but just cannot beat the value of Kadence’s bundle.
Astra is not as complete feature-wise compared to Kadence. If we need a white-label theme for our clients, we do tend to use Astra Pro as this is one feature Kadence does not have as of writing this blog.
How about another Theme?
Likely not as good. You should likely reconsider. Kadence has either more features, better value, better performance, more flexibility, or all at the same time. There is no other theme that I have used in the past 10 years that comes close to what Kadence offers with their Full Bundle today. If you know about a new theme that is worth considering, get in touch!
A fabulous block plugin. Probably the most popular free block plugin for WordPress after Spectra (formerly Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg). If we’re talking about the most popular paid block plugin, it is Kadence Blocks Pro at the top.
This plugin has most of what you need to build your website, can handle complex layouts, and is built for speed and performance. It works so well with Kadence Theme and your global style sets.
While there is more competition in the block plugins, certainly for niche use-cases, Kadence Blocks pro is just a no-brainer for your base website design and functionality. I love the modal, video, and section blocks that Kadence offers.
You no longer need an additional (often expensive) paid plugin to create beautiful banners, pop-ups, etc. to increase your conversions. Think about a timed promotion, exit-intent pop-up, and more. Kadence Conversions can do it all. The synergy with Kadence Theme and Blocks is a beautiful bonus.
If I say we were able to increase conversions by more than 20% on some of our client’s websites using Kadence Conversions, I am not exaggerating.
And many more…
There are even more features that just hit the value of a Kadence Full Bundle out of the park. Like custom/locally hosted fonts, Kadence Cloud, etc.
If this does not convince you that Kadence is the way to go, I do not know what will.
2. SEOPress Pro
Now you have built your website, it is critical to start ranking on Google. Before we get to the tool, let me tell you that no tool can replace a good and well-researched SEO strategy. An experienced SEO agency technically would not need an SEO plugin to rank. The plugin is just there to help you, the plugin is NOT the most important aspect of your SEO.
Of course, a great SEO plugin can make Search Engine Optimisation significantly easier, which is why I list this as a must-have. There is simply no better solution than SEOPress Pro.
- Best support of any SEO plugin. To give you a nice anecdote, I once discovered a minor implementation issue regarding sitemaps that could affect ranking. After contacting support, the owner came straight back to me to state he was very thankful for reporting it and that they would fix it in the next major version. That is the kind of support you expect.
- Great feature set at an unbeatable price. A very broad feature set, while not overloading you with features you likely do not need. In addition, one affordable plan to use on all the websites you have? That’s just great.
- Fabulous Analytics implementation (and flexible too!). I am not talking about their SEOPress Insights addon. While it is great, it is likely overkill for you. I am talking about the implementation of their Pro plugin. They offer you incredible flexibility in implementing and integrating analytics tools without the need for any other plugin (MS Clarity, Google Analytics, Matomo, etc.). Recently, Matomo on-premise support was added for those of you that are privacy conscious regarding Analytics.
There are many features I have not discussed here. Like the implementation of rich snippets through the use of schema markup that I like very much, and many more. Consider we are using this plugin for all of our clients after replacing RankMath Pro and we have battle-tested all features. With that knowledge, we prefer SEOPress above other tools.
SEOPress vs RankMath
While many still recommend RankMath (as I used to), we are stepping away from them with our Agency. Crashing databases and declining support responsiveness among other things make me no longer want to work with them. I can still recommend them if you are really strapped for cash and (still to this day) need the best and most full-featured free SEO plugin. However, I cannot with a good conscious recommend them for business-critical websites.
SEOPress has been around for a long time, so they are well established and keep innovating. Once we switched over all of our clients from RankMath to SEOPress, I never looked back. And one simple price for unlimited websites? That’s a steal.
SEOPress vs Yoast
Yoast? No. Slow, a tad outdated and not very easy to use. Not my preferred tool.
SEOPress vs any other SEO plugin
The others (Squirrly SEO, All In One SEO, etc.) are either lacking functionalities, have unclear UI, lack good support, have inactive development, slow down your website too much, or are worse than either SEOPress or RankMath in many aspects.
- Better Core Web vitals
- Faster real-world browsing
- Better UI
- Better support and development
In addition, the UI is just better and easier to use. But I reckon that is something very personal and subjective.
One final reason is the owner of FlyingPress, Gijo Varghese. He is somewhat of a guru in the WordPress speed community and is highly respected. He is super involved and active in developing his plugin. It’s rumoured that WP Rocket even gets inspiration from his plugin to improve their own features.
On a side note, I’m also more in favour of FlyingPress’ current pricing model compared to WP Rocket. while more expensive in the first year, they greatly reward loyal customers by lowering their renewal price.
[UPDATE October 2022] – While I used to recommend UpdraftPlus Premium, we moved all our client websites over to WPvivid Premium during the summer of 2022. Let me highlight the most important benefits of WPvivid compared to UpdraftPlus:
- Quicker updates. WPvivid are adding new features and fixing bugs at a fast pace. There are some minor bugs with UpdraftPlus that have existed for a couple of years that have not yet been fixed. That is not the case with WPvivid.
- Cheaper. At the time of writing, WPvivid has an amazing lifetime deal. The cost is a little more than what you would pay for UpdraftPlus Premium for 1 year.
- More features. Image optimization, easy staging sites, etc. all combine into one neat offering.
- Better & cleaner UI. I never really liked the UI of UpdraftPlus, WPvivid is just cleaner and easier to navigate (in my opinion).
You don’t need it until you do. If you need it and don’t have it, boy do you wish you had. Backups. Backups. And more backups. With our agency, we’ve seen our fair share of issues and disaster recovery scenarios from malware to hard drive failures. So, we even take it a step further and provide all of our hosting clients with 3 different backup solutions in 3 physical locations. That is likely overkill for a sole business owner, so I’ll just recommend you the plugin that we use across all of our clients for WordPress-level backups.
WPvivid Premium is the single best backup solution out there (even their free version). It has by far more flexibility, features, less impact on server resources, and better support than its competition like UpdraftPlus, BackupBuddy, and Jetpack Backups.
Again, if you are strapped for cash, you could go with the free version. However, I always recommend the premium version on any business-critical website for 3 reasons:
- Automatic backups before WordPress updates. I can’t stress enough how useful this is. Ever had a plugin break your layout or entire website? You can just roll back to the automatic backup right before the upgrade. That’s neat, isn’t it?
- Incremental backups and detailed schedules. This allows you to keep more granular backups at a more regular interval without needing crazy amounts of off-site storage. The more frequently you can make backups, the better.
- Useful addons. These include the creation of staging sites (without needing sub-domains and works on any host) and image optimization among others.
Bonus: MainWP Pro
In the beginning, I wrote that I would list a bonus plugin that is invaluable for agencies or entrepreneurs who manage multiple WordPress websites. MainWP Pro is that plugin.
It’s the best tool to manage multiple websites, end of discussion. It’s either far more advanced, secure, or affordable than the competition (like ManageWP, InfiniteWP or UpdraftCentral).
I don’t want to make this mini-review overly long, so here is a list of features I think are too good to pass up. These features are pro features and do not include the obvious ones like the ability to centrally update and manage all your websites.
- Code snippets: we always insert custom code snippets to harden WordPress websites (and you should too), this centralizes and simplifies that effort greatly.
- Reports: customized monthly reports on updates, backups, analytics, etc. for all your websites.
- Centralized settings: with many addons (like WPvivid and UpdraftPlus), you can centralize the settings of popular plugins. This includes WordPress core’s settings.
- Value: while most features are at least as good, if not better than others like ManageWP, it is a lot cheaper
- Self-hosted: more secure, faster, and you’re not relying on yet another cloud hosted solution. The only drawback is that it will use your server resources, but that’s a price we are willing to pay.
If you have an agency or own multiple websites, you should not pass up on this one. We did not manage our client websites centrally for a long time, but once we started working with MainWP we wished we started way sooner.
The plugins I just listed are the cream of the crop, the tip of the spear. If you’re building your business website or upgrading it and looking to invest some money, look no further than this list as your starting point. To drive my point home, these 5 are the only paid plugins we use on this website (apart from TranslatePress as our translation plugin, which we did not include in the list for reasons stated earlier).
If you are only able to invest in two plugins, I would say start building your website with Kadence Full Bundle and crank up your website’s speed with FlyingPress. The other two plugins do have a viable free alternative (RankMath free and WPvivid free). However, getting SEOPress Pro and WPvivid Premium should be your priority investments going forward, after buying Kadence and FlyingPress.