While I don’t like to rely too heavily on a lot of plugins for many site features, there are a few that are invaluable for certain functionality or to help the development process. These are some of the plugins that I use on just about every site.
WordPress.org has an excellent set of Theme Review guidelines that themes are checked against before they can be distributed on WordPress.org. This plugin scans the theme and checks it against many of the Required checks that a theme should pass.
If you’re using either a custom theme or a commercial theme that you purchased, I’d recommend scanning it with Theme Check to find possible security flaws or issues that could cause conflicts with future versions of WordPress or other plugins. While the test isn’t exhaustive, it can be useful to see what it finds – and if there are a number of issues that it flags, the theme’s code is likely not well-written.
Yoast has been the go-to SEO plugin for WordPress for years. Other than on-page SEO best practices such as alt text for images, that should be handled by your theme and your content, Yoast provides the tools to set up your site correctly. The main features I use with Yoast are homepage/archive custom meta titles, the custom meta titles/descriptions for posts, and the XML sitemaps.
When redesigning or developing a major new feature, it’s necessary to have a separate staging site to avoid pushing untested or unfinished code to the live site. When the staging site exists, you don’t want visitors finding the incomplete site and looking around, and you definitely don’t want Google to index the staging site and flag the content as duplicated or include it in the search results.
To avoid this problem, I run Restricted Site Access on staging sites – it requires a user to be logged in to be able to see any content on the site, which prevents any of the possible issues on a staging site, and lets you allow specific people to be able to access the site at any time.
Out of all the contact form plugins available for WordPress, I’ve found Gravity Forms to have the best combination of an easy-to-use interface and an extensive feature-set. There’s also an extensive list of add-ons available, to cover many of the possible integrations that you may want to use.
Setting up your site with Google Analytics provides all kinds of useful data, and is one of the first steps to take when setting up a new site. There are a number of plugins available to let you connect your site with your Google Analytics account, but this one lets you to quickly see a few of the basic graphs and numbers in your WordPress dashboard without having to log in to Analytics.