Plugin Toolbox: A List Of All The WordPress Plugins We Use (And Why)

Authored By: James LePage
Published On: July 4, 2020

We are frequently asked what plugins we use most often in client websites. in this article, we're going to list every plugin that we frequently use in our client websites. we've been building websites for the past four years, and in that time we've identified a list of plugins that work really well for us. Most premium plugins on this list, we have a unlimited agency license for, and most free plugins are extremely solid and stable.

Of course, you should never copy this list all together. We wrote this to give you a good idea of the plugins that we use, which you may be able to incorporate into your workflow, increasing the efficiency of your design process. At the same time, it's not a good idea to run down the list, head to each website, and simply purchase the plug-in because we use it.

Instead, you should use this as a starting off point to do more research into if this solution is a good one for you. We strongly recommend every plugin on this list, and have only had good experiences with them. Likewise, some of these links are affiliate links (or even partnership links). Some of these links are not affiliate links.

The defining factor of every plugin on this list is the fact that we use it in almost all of our WordPress web design projects. We're going to keep this list updated into the future, so if we begin using a new plugin in the future, we will correspondingly update this article. If we stop using a future plugin (which typically means that we won't renew our agency license), it will be removed from the list.

One more thing before we get into it. We're extremely knowledgeable and familiar with each plugin on this list. If you have any questions, simply head to the comments section of this article , and ask them. We'd be extremely happy to answer!

Our Plugin Toolbox

The following table is a list of all the plugins that we actively use in our WordPress development projects. Clicking on the title of the plugin will bring you to the description entry in this article, while clicking on the website link will direct you to the landing page for the plugin. This list is separated into use categories.

Plugin NamePricingPlugin CategoryPlugin LinkPlugin Use
BreezeFreeCaching & SpeedHereSpeed up Cloudways websites.
WP RocketPaidCaching & SpeedHereSpeed up other websites.
Asset Cleanup ProPaidCaching & SpeedHerePage specific optimization.
EWWWFreeImage OptimizationHereImage optimization.
ShortPixelPaidImage OptimizationHereOffsite image optimization.
Elementor ProPaidPage/Theme BuildersHereTheme builder (good for clients).
Oxygen BuilderPaidPage/Theme BuildersHereTheme builder (good for devs).
CPTUIFreePage/Theme BuildersHereAdd new post types.
ACF ProPaidPage/Theme BuildersHereAdvanced custom fields.
Code SnippetsFreeMiscHereAdd code snippets.
SendInBlueFreeMailingHereFree SMTP transactional email.
Formidable FormsPaidFormsHereDev focused forms.
Gravity FormsPaidFormsHereForms with extensions.
SucuriPaidSecurityHereAgency security.
WordFenceFreeSecurityHereFree security.
All In One WP MigrateFreeMigrationHereMigrate websites.

Caching & Speed

To speed up our WordPress websites, we have two go two plugins that we incorporate in client websites. The usage of each plugin depends on the host that the website is served from. As we've stated before, our recommended host is Cloudways. If we're hosting the website on Cloudways (with the underlying cloud provider being Digital Ocean), then will use the free caching plugin created by them called Breeze.

If we host the website on any other platform, we will use WP Rocket. WP Rocket is a premium plugin, but can be configured in a matter of seconds by uploading a JSON that contains all settings. This caching solution also offers a suite of other performance optimization tools , and we use it to add lazy loading, merge and minify files, and optimize our database.

The reason that we only use Breeze on Cloudways websites, and we use WP Rocket on all other websites is this. Breeze is perfectly optimized and created to work on Cloudways servers. Cloudways servers have varnish caching as well as a host of other performance features. Breeze integrates with these features perfectly (such as a stack path CDN) saving us time when it comes to the set up. We also compared Breeze and WP rocket, and found that Breeze resulted in a faster loading website on Cloudways.

Breeze

What We Use It For: Caching

Description Of Use:


This is a caching plugin that allows us to make use of the server-level Varnish cache that comes with Cloudways. We can also merge, minify, and compress CSS, JavaScript, and HTML, as well as automatically integrate with the CloudwaysCDN (which is rebranded from StackPath) in one click.
  • Browser Caching
  • Server Level Caching
  • Automatically Integrate With CDN
  • Merge & Minify

The solution is also free, and beats out the premium WP Rocket when running on a website hosted on Cloudways. It's very simple to set up, all you need to do is check off a couple boxes, and hit the apply changes button.

On the other hand, WP rocket results in a much faster website on Every other host. Typically, if our client is not hosting on Cloudways, they are using budget shared hosting from Bluehost or GoDaddy. WP Rocket works very well on these providers (better than all free solutions out there).

WP Rocket

What We Use It For: General Optimization

Description Of Use:


WP Rocket offers us all of the tools that we need to optimize a website for speed in a well designed, easy to use package. As an agency, we’ve created a standard options set, which we've exported as a JSON file. for each of our client websites, we simply import that file, apply the settings, and the website is optimized. It takes about one minute to completely optimize the website in this manner (caching, preloading, font optimization, and more).
  • Incorporate a preloaded cache automatically
  • Preload fonts
  • Integrate with all CDNs (espically Cloudflare)

This plugin is super well designed, and allows us to make our websites faster than anything that a free caching plugin could offer (We actually did a statistical study on this!). It's also really well designed, and the development team continuously adds new features. specifically for sites built with Elementor, we’re able to preload icon fonts (if these aren't preloaded, the PageSpeed score is massively impacted).

If we're building a website with Elementor, or if it has a large collection of plugins, we will install a solution called Asset Clean Up. This plugin allows us to go on a page by page basis, and disable specific scripts and CSS files. By doing this, we reduce the number of HTTP requests and size of data loaded, resulting in an overall quicker page speed loading time.

Asset Clean Up

What We Use It For: Targeted Speed Optimization

Description Of Use:


Asset Cleanup Pro is an incredibly well designed plugin that offers numerous features which can be used to speed up any website. However, many of these features are also covered by WP Rocket, so will only use this plugin on websites that are bloated with scripts. Typically these are large ecommerce websites that need to be running many individual plugins, or sites built with bloated page builders such as Beaver Builder or Elementor.
  • Manage plugins (enable/disable based on conditions)
  • Turn scripts/stylesheets on and off
    • Page Specific
    • Site Wide
  • Optomize Fonts

Asset Clean Up Pro also has a built-in plugin management system. In our opinion, this is an extremely powerful feature that isn't talked about enough. This feature allows us to disable plugins sitewide, and only have their scripts run when necessary. An example would be with gravity forms. by default, gravity forms loads its CSS stylesheet throughout the entire website.

If we're only using gravity forms on the contact page, there's no reason to be loading the CSS everywhere else. The plugin manager allows us to disable all assets associated with Gravity Forms, and only have them load on the contact page. We will do this for every plugin included in a website. This is especially powerful with WooCommerce, which has several large JavaScript and CSS files that massively impact loading times.

Image Optimization

Image optimization is an incredibly important aspect of any website development project. We do graphic design in-house, and tried to size the images accordingly. However, it's important to use a plugin to automatically resize, compress, and convert the legacy format to WebP. Depending on the hosting that our client website is on, we will use one of two plugins: EWWW (free) or ShortPixel (paid).

EWWW Image Optimizer

What We Use It For: Image Optimization

Description Of Use:


EWWW Is an image optimization tool that allows us to use our own server resources to compress, convert, and optimize images. Optimizing images results in a faster loading website, less bandwidth transfer, and less storage used.
  • Server based image optomization
    • Compress
    • Convert
    • Resize
  • One time bulk, then automatic (upon upload)
  • Lazy Loading
  • Convert to WebP and serve in next gen format with fallback to optomized legacy format
  • Plays nice with all CDNs.

By running the optimization using our own servers resources, we don't need to pay for Any credits or API access to optimize images. We can easily enable lazy loading, and convert JPEG and PNG formats to WebP. This is a great plugin to be used on a website that is less image heavy, like a corporate website that only has a blog for SEO purposes.  

We only use this plugin on high powered hosting such as Pressidium or Cloudways. most budget hosting offerings do not have enough resources to use this plugin, and will result in timeouts and website crashes. For that style of hosting, we will use the next option.

ShortPixel

What We Use It For: Image Optimization

Description Of Use:


Shortpixel is another image optimization service, that also offers a CDN. They run all optimization on their own servers, which means they have a paid credits system. You purchase the number of images you need to optimize per month, and everything occurs automatically and on their own servers.
  • Offsite Image Optomzation
    • Compress
    • Resize
    • Convert
  • Also comes with a great image CDN
  • Lazy load (with a bunch of options)

This is a great solution if your client is on low powered hosting that can't handle optimizing images. For example, if you install EWWW and frequently have server timeouts, you'll probably want to look for a solution that allows you to optimize images off site.

ShortPixel also does bulk optimization really well, and we can automate our tasks saving us time on the maintenance side of things. We get 5000 images a month for about $5, costs which are passed on to our clients. Of course, this only makes sense if it is a larger website and the client is consistently publishing content that contains images that need optimization.

What's nice is that you can purchase API credits, and they are not limited to one website. If you're a developer or agency, that means you can purchase a bunch of credits, and use them on multiple client websites

Page/Theme Builders

We typically build websites with one of the two plugins mentioned below. If our client specifically needs to be able to edit the website structurally, but has no technical knowledge, we will create the website with Elementor. Unfortunately, Elementor isn't super powerful when it comes to customization and development, and it's also very bloated and poor performing.

If we can at all help it, we will use a theme builder called Oxygen Builder. This is much more oriented towards developers, and basically allows you to create the website with HTML elements and CSS styling. It's much more bare bones when compared to elementary, but because of this it loads much quicker and offers us a lot more flexibility. We also use it to build Gutenberg blocks for our clients, so they can easily “build” pages and posts. We're definitely trying to transition more towards using Oxygen Builder -- and recently converted our agency website to use this solution.

Elementor

What We Use It For: Website Creation

Description Of Use:


Elementor is a visual theme builder that allows us to create websites, dynamically apply templates to pages and custom post types, and build pretty much everything we need using it. The main reason we'll use this page builder is to make our websites completely editable by the client. This is the only product out there that a non technical and user can easily understand and use to build new pages, while editing existing pages on a structural level.
  • Visual Editing
    • Header, Footer, Pages, Posts & Templates
  • Easy to use and learn
  • Powerfull enough that we can build whatever we need

There are definitely some drawbacks when it comes to this page builder, but the usability it offers our client far outweighs them. Elementor is a bit limited if you're a developer, and it is also very slow performing.

Oxygen Builder

What We Use It For: Website Creation

Description Of Use:


Oxygen Builder Is an extremely powerful, developer oriented theme builder. The core value of this solution is clean code, which means that websites built with it load extremely quickly. We also get access to advanced PHP editing, And we can see the results visually and in real time.
  • Clean code, super fast
  • Developer features
  • Build Gutenberg blocks

As mentioned above, this plugin is extremely fast, and oriented for developers. That means that we can build super responsive, customized websites using this tool.

One of our favorite parts of this solution is the fact that it allows us to build Gutenberg blocks, and create pages that can easily be edited by clients in Gutenberg as well. Like it or not, we believe that Gutenberg is the future of WordPress. This theme builder allows us to incorporate that into the web sites, visually create, and access advanced tools.

If we can help it, we would choose Oxygen over Elementor any day of the week.

When it comes to building websites we typically find ourselves needing to extend the general functionality of WordPress. We do this by creating custom post types with CPTUI and custom fields with ACF Pro.

CPTUI

What We Use It For: Custom Post Types

Description Of Use:


The free version of CPT UI allows us to add as many custom post types as needed.
  • Free, Quick & Simple

For example, when building a website we will typically create a custom post type for these services that the company has to offer. This tool allows us to easily do that, as well as add categories and tags (custom taxonomies).

ACF Pro

What We Use It For: Pretty Much Everything

Description Of Use:


This is truly a theme building toolkit that we can use to create whatever we need. First off, we can add custom fields to post types and custom post types which allow us to collect more information and displayed on the front end. What this means is that we can make the websites much more usable to our customers as they only need to enter data into set fields on the back end, and then that data is processed in the way we need.

ACF Pro Works super well with both Oxygen Builder and Elementor.

We also use this plugin to create Options Pages. This is great because it allows us to create a central location where clients can Change global settings like the website logo, color scheme, and typography.

Another functionality that we use often is the Gallery field. The Gallery field allows clients to upload multiple photos and create (you guessed it) Galleries. because we typically work with service companies, this is an extremely important functionality to include . Typically, we use CPT UI to create a custom portfolio post type, and this Gallery field to display that portfolio entry visually.

On the topic of developer plugins, we also wanted to mention a free plug in that is used in 100% of our websites. That plugin is Code Snippets, and it allows us to quickly add PHP code snippets to WordPress without having to go in and edit the themes Functions.PHP. In the case of Oxygen Builder, that file is disabled, so Code Snippets becomes even more necessary.

Code Snippets

What We Use It For: Little Bit Of Everything

Description Of Use:


Our go to script management tool.

Probably the most popular use case for this plugin is installing Google Analytics to our websites, but we also use it to add specific PHP snippets that extend the functionality of each client website.

For example, if we're looking to install a live chat plugin, we can easily place the JavaScript code in the WordPress header using this tool. Another neat functionality is that you can activate and deactivate the scripts, meaning you can disable the code from running in the website, while not completely deleting it.

Another plugin that we're going to mention here (but it's not going to get its own entry panel simply because we don't use it in the majority of our websites) is called Custom Fonts. This allows us to easily upload font files to WordPress and generates a font face in the background, meaning we can use CSS to easily add custom fonts to our WordPress website. It works well with Elementor.

Mailing

PHP Mail has low deliverability rates and can typically end up in spam depending on the type of host. on the other hand, Cloudways doesn't come with a built-in Mailing feature, so we usually need to add SMTP capabilities to our WordPress website. For this, we use SendInBlue. For most websites, this is a free installation as you get 300 transactional emails per day. This is more than enough for most form/wordfence/admin notifications. 4 hour agency websites, we pay for a plan and split the quota across each site.

SendInBlue

What We Use It For: SMTP, Mailing

Description Of Use:


SendInBlue Automatically integrates your WordPress website with their SMTP service via an API. The plugin is well designed, easy to install, and best of all, free. All you need to do is have an account with sending blue, paste in an API key, click the connect button, and send a test email. Then, all Mail is sent over the SendInBlue Servers with your underlying email address.
  • Free 300 transactional emails per day
  • Never down
  • Super solid product

We also recently begin Using this service to connect email subscriptions from our website, as they offer email campaigns and list building capabilities as well. We can definitely grow with this company, as we use barely any of the services that they have to offer. For example, you can set up SMS (like Twillo), run super customized campaigns, and more. Most of these features are paid, but they actually end up being cheaper than MailChimp when used at scale.

Forms

We go back and forth between these two form providers (both paid). Gravity Forms comes with a ton of integrations and third party add-ons that seriously extend the functionality of it. However, the back-end design is fairly dated, and if we're not purchasing integrations, then we'd prefer to use Formidable Forms. Formidable Forms is more developer friendly, has a much more modern back end interface, and plays nice with Oxygen Builder.

Gravity Forms

What We Use It For: Forms

Description Of Use:


As we stated above, what really makes this plugin special is the crazy amount of third party add-ons that you could access. For example, one of our favorite add ons is Partial Entries. This records data as it is entered into the form, so even if somebody abandons it in the middle, we have usable lead information.

Our top addons are the:

  • Stripe Addon
  • Partial Entry Addon
  • User Registration

Yes, this is a forms plugin, but the extensions that you can access for this platform seriously add tons of additional functionality. Honestly, you could probably build an entire web application with WordPress, Gravity Forms, and some CSS styling.

Formidable Forms Pro

What We Use It For: Forms

Description Of Use:


If we're able to use this form plugin instead of Gravity Forms, we will. It's quick, the back end interface is very modern, and we get many advanced features built into the plug in itself. While we can access third party additions, there typically is no need to do so.

The three main things that set this forum plugin apart from others is:

  • Global Style Sets
  • Developer Tools/Features
  • Frontend Views

We can easily display entries on the front end. for example, customers can view payments made through the form. This removes the need for WooCommerce in some situations.

We can build global style sets visually, without the need for CSS. This is helpful because there is poor documentation for many form plugins when it comes to CSS styling, and it saves us a lot of time period we can also export these style sets an import them into other installations of the form plugin.

There are tons of advanced developer tools/features. For example, right next to the shortcode, there's a PHP snippet that you can use to embed the form in your website.

Security

Depending on the website, we will end up using one of two security services.

WordFence

What We Use It For: Security

Description Of Use:


WordFence is free, and does its job very well.
  • Scans
  • WAF
  • Login Security

We use it to consistently scan web sites, protect them with a web application firewall, and integrate two factor Authentication Into the login for WordPress. There's not much else to say here, the plugin does its job very well, is free, and offers us pretty much everything we need Related to security in an individual package.

Sucuri

What We Use It For: Agency Security

Description Of Use:


Sucuri’s Agency plan offers all of the features that you'd need to offer clients as an agency. There's monitoring, central website management, $100 credit in malware removal, CDN Performance, brand reputation, and a lot more.
  • Specialized agecny security plan
  • Simple setup
  • Saves us time

Keep in mind that you'll need to pay for this service, but it's very valuable as it saves you a lot of time. If you're an agency, you can simply include these costs in your maintenance plan. If the client doesn't want to pay for security, we’ll simply add Wordfence to the website and call it a day.

Migration

We typically develop the website on Local (offline) or Pantheon Dev hosting (online), Which means that we need to migrate the website to the live host upon completion of development. We've used every plugin under the sun, but find that All In One WP Migrate is the best, and simplest option out there.

All In One WP Migrate

What We Use It For: Migration & Backup

Description Of Use:


In its simplest form, this plugin allows us to export a website to a proprietary .wprss file, downloaded to our computer, and then re uploaded to the live web host. Once uploaded, all files are imported, replacing the existing WordPress installation with our website We have the Amazon S3 Extension, Which allows us to export the website files directly to an Amazon S3 bucket.

This means that we don't need to download any large files onto our computers, and it's also just faster to do it this way.

We can also schedule consistent exports of the website (read; backup) with hourly, daily, and weekly options. Because we purchased the Amazon S3 extension, we also have access to the Unlimited Extension which is used in all of our migrations as well.

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Dmitry
Dmitry
3 months ago

Hello!
This is an awesome list – so many great tools mentioned. I have used many of these…

Thank you for your hard work.

James LePage is the founder of Isotropic Design, a digital agency that builds WordPress websites. I read, write and design constantly!

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