This is my point of view on which popular, free WP plugins are essential for me. Choice of plugins is dependent on the needed functionality as well as personal preference. There is no list of essential plugins that is right for everyone. In general I try to limit my number of plugins, and use only those that I very much need.
That being said, most sites benefit – or would benefit – from some sort of …
- Backup: I use WP Clone (Update: I switched to UpdraftPlus).
- Caching: I use CloudFlare (no plugin needed) and LiteSpeed Cache. LiteSpeed Cache provides a number of optimization features in addition to caching, but many features only work for sites hosted on LiteSpeed web server. For sites running on Apache I like the simplicity of Comet Cache.
- Contact Form: PirateForms – very bare-bones but works great for me. I like light plugins. The immensely popular Contact Form 7 is awesome but a little too heavy for me.
- Firewall: Perishable Press 6G Firewall along with CloudFlare, instead of a plugin.
- Image Optimization: I use the image optimization included with LiteSpeed Cache.
- Login Security: Limit Login Attempts Reloaded and WPS Hide Login along with CloudFlare page rules and a strong password
- Search Engine Optimization: Yoast SEO.
- Database Optimization: As with image optimization, this functionality is bundled into LiteSpeed Cache. WP-Optimize works great too.
Other plugins that are essential for me:
- Akismet for spam avoidance – only on sites that permit user comments.
- Menu Icons for adding, well, you know.
- Meta Slider for adding visual interest to an otherwise boring page.
- Sticky Menu (or Anything!) on Scroll to keep my site logo and Top of Page link on screen.
- WP Mail SMTP because my host turns off PHP mail (Update: Switched hosts. Switched back to PHP mail for now.)
WPPOV supports freedom from Net Neutrality and the GDPR. The Internet of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.