With over 45.000 free WordPress plugins (with 1.5 billion downloads in total!), not to mention many great premium plugins out there, you can easily extend WordPress’ functionality to build the site you want. But it can get really hard to pick and choose the most powerful and reliable plugins.
This list contains my recommendations (based on reviews, popularity and my years of personal experience with them).
I obviously don’t install all the plugins in this list on every site. Nor should you. Simply read their descriptions, click to view their screenshots, and then decide which of them are worth installing on your WordPress photography site (and potentially replacing your existing plugins). Not sure what WordPress plugins are? Read this first.
Almost all plugins below have excellent reviews & a rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars, and have been thoroughly revised and tested.
No affiliate links whatsoever, only plugins I know and trust.
Extending the default WordPress functionality starts in the admin area. This set of plugins can help you manage your uploads and post types, or perform more advanced tasks.
When adding content to your website, you sometimes need to completely replace an image. Instead of uploading a separate file to the media library, you can use this plugin to simply replace the image (and automatically update all uses throughout the site).
Whenever you upload an image to WordPress, a bunch of smaller versions (some cropped and some not) get created (depending on the values under Settings > Media or dictated by your WP theme). Sometimes you do need to re-generate these: after replacing images, after optimizing them, or in some site migration scenarios.
An alternative would be AJAX Thumbnail Rebuild, but I think this one is better.
It’s not rare to want to change the default image thumbnail size offered by your WordPress theme. Or the size at which other plugins generate their thumbnails. Usually you can’t control those sizes, but this plugin exposes them (including the cropping preference).
This plugin allows you to automatically generate images/graphics for high-DPI (“retina”) displays. Incredibly fast and easy to use. Thanks David for this recommendation.
The plugin description says it all: “By default, WordPress links images to themselves. A user sees that the image is a link, clicks it and they are then taken to a page of just the image. Then they click ‘back’ in their browser or move on to another site.”
Change the default image link option (to “none”) using this plugin.
Talk about a self-explanatory title :-)
Whenever you link to other websites out there, you might want to have those links open in a separate browser tab, so users easily get back to your site once their done. This is thought to slightly improve bounce rates.
Has your WordPress theme introduced a bunch of unnecessary stuff in your WP admin navigation menu? You can now hide them, re-order them, or even add new custom ones.
This also allows tweaking the WP admin menu, but most importantly it allows customizing your site’s login screen. It’s obviously not critical in any way, but I like to personalize the login pages for my web-design clients for consistency. A great alternative is WP Admin UI Customize.
Having too many pages in alphabetical order can make things hard to manage. Use this great little plugin to organize your pages (or custom posts) in the WP admin area.
With larger websites, you sometimes need to go beyond just the basic WordPress posts & pages. Creating custom post types (for your galleries, portfolios, workshops, testimonials etc.) can add clarity to your WP admin area.
If you create custom post types (or they’re part of your theme), you sometimes need to custom-sort them (instead of the default sorting order). This plugin allows you to do that in style, using drag-and-drop.
While the Types plugin is for creating custom post/page types, this one is for adding custom fields to WordPress posts & pages, and it’s great at it. Use this plugin to add visually-editable fields to your site, so you never have to work with source code.
Sometimes you need to share a post with a friend (or an editor) for preview before publishing it, WordPress doesn’t allow that (without giving admin access). This plugin comes to the rescue: you can now share an anonymous public link to your drafts.
Need to import a lot of content from an older website or a different platform? Save everything in a spreadsheet, save it as a CSV file (“CSV” stands for “comma-separated values”) and then import it all using this plugin. It can save you a lot of time, and its intuitive import process is a joy to use.
For advanced users.
Have you ever been in this scenario: you want to change something on your site’s design, you Google it, and find instructions telling you to place snippets of code into your theme’s “functions.php” file.
This plugin allows you to do that directly in the WP admin, and it’s actually very safe: it checks the entered source code for fatal errors before saving.
Need to change an URL or a piece of text on multiple pages?
You can avoid all the repetitive work using this fantastic plugin that does a “search-and-replace” on the WordPress database. And you can also do a quick “dry run” first (just searching, without replacing) to see how many items need to be updated.
It’s good to do a database backup before using it, but this plugin can really be a huge time saver when dealing with repetitive content changes.
Another self-explanatory plugin title. Good to do house (database) cleaning once in a while. A great alternative: Better Delete Revisions
WordPress Page Builders
Visual page builders are indispensable these days, a great way to update your site’s content without dealing with WordPress’ flawed default visual editor.
Most modern WordPress themes come with their own integrated page builders, but if you don’t have one, I recommend installing one.
Most of them are paid/premium plugins, but it’s a worthy investment:
- Visual Composer (my favorite + this “Ultimate Addons” pack)
- Divi Page Builder (really good as well)
- Cornerstone (as part of the X theme)
- Awesome Builder
- Live Composer
- Page Builder by SiteOrigin
If you already use a page builder, but still need to extend the design and layout of your pages, you probably need to use a shortcode plugin. These allow you to create buttons, lists, icons, columns, etc. (or create your own shortcode):
The look of your site depends primarily on the WP theme you’re using. But these plugins can help you improve the design and layout of your site even further.
When just starting with a new site, you might not be ready to share your creation with the world just yet :-)
Use this plugin to create a great-looking “Coming Soon” or “Under Maintenance” page for the public. (You’ll still see the “real” site when logged in as WordPress admin).
Unless you have a robust “Custom CSS” page in the Theme Options page provided by your WordPress theme, this is the plugin to use. If you do know a little CSS and want to make quick design tweaks beyond what the theme offers, you can try this plugin. It has nice CSS syntax highlighting too.
If your WordPress theme doesn’t have a good selection of fonts you can choose from, a plugin like this one can do wonders. It allows you to choose any font from the free Google Fonts library and apply it to specific elements on your site.
Display beautiful and mobile-friendly tables on your site, with advanced features (like sorting, filters, pagination etc.).
Simple as it sounds, it’s a feature missing from WordPress. This plugin lets you add an image widget to a sidebar (without writing code).
Unless your WordPress themes comes with its own galleries and slideshows, a plugin like Envira can work wonders. Forget bulky and ugly gallery plugins. Envira is fast, well-designed and a joy to use. And most importantly, it’s mobile-friendly.
You might need to get its Pro version for advanced functionality, but it’s well worth it.
If your theme is lacking this functionality, this plugin allows you to view enlarged versions of your images in a mobile-friendly lightbox effect. It comes with a ton of animations and options to choose from, and it also works with video links.
A good free plugin to add responsive slideshows to any page or sidebar.
Slider Revolution (paid)
The most powerful slider plugin on the market. It comes with a $19 price tag, but it’s incredibly flexible (animated texts, full-screen slides, video support, visual drag & drop editor etc.), allowing you to build sliders of any kind. Especially useful for your site’s homepage.
Essential Grid (paid)
If your WordPress theme lacks modern grid or masonry layouts, use this plugin to displays anything in a fully-adjustable grid. Not just images, you can display posts, pages, products, videos etc., and it comes with tens of pre-made skins. Made by the same company that does Slider Revolution (mentioned above).
Unless your theme comes with its own contact form functionality, use this.
Powerful yet straightforward plugin, easy to use. And because it’s so popular, many other plugins and themes integrate with it nicely.
Want to add an anti-spam verification to your contact form, but hate all those questions or image tests? This plugin integrates with Google’s “reCaptcha” invention for determining if you’re a human :-)
These plugins can help your site get more visibility on social media sites.
A great plugin to display social media sharing buttons in your posts and pages.
Sometimes you want to save time and automatically push your blog posts to your social media profiles. If that’s the case, this plugin is a godsend.
You can no longer afford to have a slow website. These plugins can help you improve your page load times.
Once I tested and switched to WP-Rocket, I never looked back, it’s fantastic.
It’s not free ($39 for 1 site), but it’s an important investment (since site performance improves user experience and SEO).
But if you’re keen on getting a free plugin, go with W3 Total Cache (I find it superior to WP Super Cache), but be careful how you configure it (and thoroughly test it).
Image file sizes have tremendous impact on website performance.
Start by making sure you only upload images at reasonable pixel dimensions (under 2000px, dpi is irrelevant here). But then use an image compression plugin like this way to bring file sizes as low as possible (in a lossless manner!)
As you probably know, you should never upload high-resolution images to WordPress, they’re not perfectly safe. This plugin can automatically resize all uploads to a smaller size. It can even help you batch-resize all your past uploads!
A great way to speed up the initial loading process of a page, is to defer the loading of images. This plugin does exactly that, only showing images when the user scrolls to them (aka “in the viewport”).
Plugins sometimes come with their own vulnerabilities that might leave your WP site exposed. Great security plugins can minimize the risks.
Unless you run your site on a managed hosting platform, having a good security plugin is essential. This is touted as the #1 WordPress security plugin, and it lives up to this title. It contains a strong firewall, many security measures, and the ability to detect problems in your themes and plugins.
Another excellent security plugin with tens of security features to protect your WP site, and it has never disappointed me. It comes with tens of security measures to protect you from common (or more obscure) security attacks.
Great plugin to have. Its description says it all: “Alerts when installed plugins contain known security vulnerabilities. Also lists vulnerabilities that exist in other versions of installed plugins.”
I started to prefer this great plugin over the famous Akismet (which requires getting an account), and does its job perfectly. No more comment spam. Also integrates nicely with Contact Form 7 and Gravity Forms.
Without regular backups in place, you’re asking for trouble. These backup plugins work well on most hosting providers and, most importantly, allow you to automatically upload backups to an external hosting service (like Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3).
Excellend free backup AND RESTORE plugin.
You can schedule it to run automatically, it can backup your database & files, save to Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive, FTP, email etc.)
A good alternative (but just for back-ups, no restore functionality).
The Yoast plugin should basically come pre-installed with WordPress, that’s how good it is. If you’re into SEO, you can also use plugins to help with redirects and with detecting broken links. (By the way, the Pro version of the Yoast plugin can do all three)
The one single SEO plugin you’ll need.
It allows you to define SEO titles and meta-descriptions (as well as social media images) for all posts & pages. If will also generate an XML sitemap for Google. Install this plugin if you’re using WordPress.
Adding 301 redirects is useful when:
1. You rebuild your website and completely change the URLs of most of your pages (example: /old-path/old-file.html becomes /new-path/something/)
2. You just want a short URL to share on social media (redirecting to the proper page).
Use this free addon to add multiple redirects in bulk.
If you changed your site structure (or just the permalink for some of your site), you might be losing some traffic (coming through links which are no longer valid).
This plugin detects any such broken links pointing to your site (“backlinks”) so you can:
- identify any functionality issues on your site
- redirect old links to new ones after a site migration (in an SEO-friendly way)
Great plugin to check in with on a monthly basis.
Looking to sell physical or digital products on your site? Look no further than WooCommerce: it’s the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress with tons of options and extensions. And virtually every WordPress theme integrates nicely with it (so you can have a cohesive design in the shop area of your site).
Setting things up does require some work, though. The greater the power of a plugin, the greater the complexity. And as you grow, you’ll also start needing premium WooCommerce extensions for more advanced functionality (automated customer emails, dynamic prices, custom shipping rates etc.), don’t say I didn’t warn you :-)
Membership plugins have exploded in recent year, and there’s no clear winner yet.
This is one of the free membership plugins I’ve have a good experience with, and allows creating your own online community and restricting content to members. Alternatives: WishList Member, Memberful WP, Members. For the most powerful solution, go with Restrict Content Pro.
Simple, yet useful plugin. Some WordPress themes allow inserting your Google Analytics tracking code (or ID) in the theme options, but it might be better to use a plugin for that:
- first of all, you can update a plugin much easier than a theme.
- secondly, you can be sure that Yoast keeps this plugin up-to-date with any Google webmaster requirements, they’re SEO experts.
My commenting plugin of choice (to replace WordPress’ native commenting system) is Disqus. It automatically integrates nicely with every theme, and has really good comment moderation features.
Some good alternative commenting plugins here.
Graphs & charts:
If you have any questions, please write a comment below to ask about:
- using specific plugins or not
- recommendations for other types of plugins that I didn’t cover here
- configuring/troubleshooting plugins
If you’re using WordPress, I really hope you find this curated list useful.