Almost a year ago, I wrote an article about page speed. I listed a few things necessary to make your WordPress site load faster and use fewer resources.

A popular part of that article, mainly because it led directly to action steps, was reducing the number of plugins and increasing the efficiency of the ones used.

Besides switching from the Thesis WordPress Theme to the Volatyl Framework, most everything written in that article still describes how SDavis Media is structured.

However, the framework swap and aggressive, new design tactics changed the landscape of my plugins. Here’s how.

Removing WordPress Plugins

Like most WordPress users, I have a few plugins that I refuse to operate without.

This list is different for everyone and there’s no doubt that it can change over time. Let’s review mine.

Here’s a snapshot of my plugins panel:

essential WordPress plugins

As you can see, there are fewer now than there were in my page speed article. Let’s first talk about why that is before I explain each plugin.

Switching Frameworks & Features

The first two plugins to go were “The OpenHook Customization Manager” and “WP-PageNavi.”

Volatyl HooksOpenHook, though it could be used for a few basic WordPress actions, was primarily created to add content to the Thesis WordPress Theme. The Volatyl Framework has a similar hook structure. However, the hooks interface is built into the Volatyl Options removing the need for a remote plugin.

WP-PageNavi was used in conjunction with custom PHP to create numbered pagination of article feeds in Thesis. Though I no longer use pagination on SDavis Media, that feature is also built into Volatyl.

Purposefully Structured Content

The next two plugins to go were “Display Widgets” and “WordPress Popular Posts.”

Not very long ago, I wrote an article about the redesign of SDavis Media and why I dropped things like sidebars and dropdown menus.

As you would expect (I hope), less space to fill means less meaningless content.

Display Widgets was used to add conditionals to every widget to determine where they displayed across the site. I could have a widget in sidebar one that only displayed on single posts and was hidden everywhere else.

WordPress Popular Posts uses article statistics like comment count and total views to make lists of your site’s most popular content. I used it as a sidebar widget, though it could be used in other areas as well.

Without sidebars, these widgets became irrelevant to me. I scrapped them.

Essential WordPress Plugins

With those plugins removed, using a new WordPress framework, and changing my design strategy, my needs changed.

A new plugin was added and has become part of my “never leave home without it” list.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

WordPress SEO by Yoast is packed full of SEO features.

The reason why I never used it before is because Thesis offered great SEO features itself. Many of the major frameworks do, including the Genesis Framework. However, Genesis does a little plugin sniffing and if WordPress SEO by Yoast is installed and activated, Genesis turns its SEO features off. Nifty.

WordPress SEO by YoastThe Volatyl Framework has the same respect for Yoast’s plugin. It goes a step further, though. Volatyl does not include any options at all.

Every WordPress theme should be optimized for search engines… period. SEO best practices are not limited to options you can turn on and off. Instead, many of the biggest SEO advantages are found right in your theme’s markup.

Volatyl focuses on a search engine optimized foundation and leaves the additional features to talented plugin developers like Yoast. Those SEO settings will stay with your WordPress install as long as the plugin is active.

There’s absolutely no reason to lose or adjust SEO settings simply because you switched front-end designs (WordPress themes).

The Original Plugins

Yoast’s plugin was the only one added to the ranks. The remaining five plugins, three of which won’t be deactivated any time soon, are still in action.

Akismet by Automattic

Not very many WordPress users respect Akismet. Why? I don’t know. It gets treated like “Hello Dolly” for some reason.

To make a long story very short, Akismet blocks the hell out of spam.

Akismet for WordPress

I use Akismet on all of my sites and I will continue to do so.

Jetpack by

Listen, I can’t get rid of this thing.

In the page speed article, I used Jetpack as a way to consolidate functionality in plugins. Jetpack does everything under the sun for your WordPress site. Though not all of it is necessary, some of it is just plain old slick.

I use Jetpack for exactly two things.

  1. Jetpack’s Carousel feature powers my Portfolio. I used do_shortcode() for placing a WordPress gallery in a custom PHP page. Because it’s a WordPress gallery, having Carousel activated in Jetpack gives you a nice slideshow experience when you click on one of the gallery images.
  2. The Contact Form feature is awesome. You can add contact forms to any part of your website just as easily as adding an image. Again, I created a form in a post and used its shortcode with do_shortcode() to power my custom contact page form as well as a few others.

Jetpack is not a necessary plugin. It comes with a lot of additional weight. But for me, a couple of features it provides are must-haves. For now, Jetpack stays.

W3 Total Cache

W3 Total Cache by W3 EdgeGoing back to the page speed article, W3 Total Cache (or W3TC) is used to serve your site faster by caching, minifying files, and more.

I use MaxCDN to quickly deliver my content all over the world. W3TC links right up with MaxCDN for maximum speed. From what I read recently, W3TC and MaxCDN integration may have just gotten even better.

That’s it. WordPress SEO by Yoast, Akismet, Jetpack, and W3 Total Cache are my must-have plugins.

Lazy/Helper Plugins

I use two more plugins to make life a little easier on me. This stuff can be stressful sometimes, you know?


The Raw HTML plugin is used to keep WordPress’ editor from turning water into wine without your consent. I started using this plugin at the arrival of WordPress 3.4. Read about it here.

Pretty Link Lite

Plain and simple, Pretty Link Lite turns ugly URLs into pretty ones. In SDavis Media’s early days, before having its own URL shortener, Pretty Link Lite was how affiliate links (and other monstrosities) were cleaned up.

Soon, I will scan every article on this site and replace the Pretty Link Lite links with shortened links from my own shortener. That’ll allow me to remove the plugin. Until then, don’t judge me.

Maintenance Mode

The last plugin I have chosen to neglect here is the Maintenance Mode plugin.

I turn it on when I am upgrading Volatyl or doing something sneaky. It blocks the site from unregistered users. I can remove it and re-install it at the drop of a dime. It deserves no attention.

What’s on your list?

Published by Sean Davis

When I'm not developing WordPress themes and plugins, I'm usually helping further the Easy Digital Downloads project, traveling, or playing racquetball. Say hi on Twitter. @SDavisMedia


  1. I’m definitely going to snatch that Raw HTML plugin up.

    Good stuff.

  2. Great post! Thank you for the MaxCDN mention and for using it of course! 🙂

    • You got it, David. Thanks for dropping by. This and our recent interaction on Twitter is a great way to keep a customer. That’s “social media ROI” if anybody wants to know!

  3. Hey what’s up Sean?

    Very interesting choice of plugins man, these are the ones I normally use although I could probably remove a few honestly.

    Audio Player, Broken Link Checker, CommentLuv Premium, Custom Image Src, Digg Digg, Exclude Pages from Navigation, Fast Secure Contact Form (I normally use Gravity Forms instead), Google XML Sitemaps, Login Lockdown, Premise, Pretty Link, Social Metrics, Subscribe to Comments Reloaded, EVS WP Plugin, Maintenance Mode, WP Touch and Youtuber (this one I can get rid of now but I would have to update every single post I think).

    I think there are too many but a few of these are not required all the time, I’m pretty sure I could get away with about eleven or probable twelve of these.

    For caching I would use WP Super Cache (direct recommendation from HostGator) and for SEO I normally use the framework’s (Thesis, Genesis or WooThemes) but if I had to, I would definitely use Yoast.

    Still too many plugins I guess? LOL


    • Haha thanks for stopping by, Sergio.

      I don’t ever want to say someone has too many plugins. I will say, though, that having more plugins than you need and having them for pointless reasons is no good.

      In regards to your plugin list, I agree that some can be turned off and removed. Like my “Maintenance Mode” plugin (which you also use), your Broken Link Checker can be removed and only installed to do a quick check. That’s how I do it.

      I used to be all about Google XML Sitemaps but now I let Yoast handle that for me. I got rid of it before I started using Yoast but it was just a short period of time.

      Some of them are unnecessary based on theme choice and your ability to write some code. For example, there’s no need for WP Touch if you use a responsive theme. I’m not a huge fan of mobile versions at all. Other examples would be Digg Digg, Fast Secure Contact Form, and Exclude Pages from Nav.

      The first two could be done with just Jetpack. Of course, the social buttons won’t float with Jetpack but that’s something to think about. Showing me the buttons while I’m in the middle of reading your post doesn’t make me want to share it. I’m still not sharing until I’m done. It just looks cool… but the functionality is 1000% pointless. FSCF was my old contact form favorite. But usability and maintenance are simply better in Jetpack if you ask me.

      The third, Exclude Pages from Nav, is not something I’ve looked at. But if it does what I think it does, that seems totally unnecessary. Assuming it has something to do with nav item configuration, that should be done manually anyway.

      So I would definitely comb through them and give all of them a thorough evaluation. There’s nothing saying that lots of plugins are bad, as long as they are coded well. But I definitely think the less code the better. Sometimes, all it takes is a little extra thought (and maybe a little effort) to get there!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, man.

  4. Ahh forgot to say I’m definitely picking up Raw HTML as well, thanks for that man!


  5. Great post i highly recommend pretty link to track your affiliate links. Also to add to the speed of your website have you use the footer-javascript plugin?

    Thank for this awesome post Loving the new layout with out side bards. Chi-Clean

    • Haha thanks, man!

      Pretty Link is great (I mentioned it in the post) and so is its additional functionality. Sometimes I have to be real with myself, though. If the functionality is great but not great for me (because I pay it no attention), then it’s still just extra. I either have to start caring about that functionality or get rid of it. Usually, trusting that my focus is where I need it to be at the time, I usually just scrap it.

      In this case, Pretty Link just isn’t serving a purpose other than changing URLs for me. I have my own system for it so it’s time to let it go.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting (and sharing on Facebook)!

  6. Great list!
    I really need to cut back on my plug-ins .
    I recently rediscovered jetpack, I have had a love/hate relationship with it.
    Thanks for the post!

    • I feel you, totally. Honestly, I’ve just been too lazy to find the lighter version of it. I’m almost positive someone has stripped it down for individual use of its components.

      If that’s the case, I’ll eventually use the carousel and the contact form, getting rid of the rest. With just those two, the only one I’d consider extra is the carousel. It’s cool, though!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I’ve recently started using the Custom Post Widget by VanderWijk. Love it and use it with every site now! It makes things much easier for non-techy clients to update blocks of content outside of the normal post or page. AND I can use it as a widget and tell WP not to add/strip tags, so that my html code stays intact and readable for things like forms, social links, etc.

    • Thanks for the comment, Tricia! It’s not a plugin for me but seems useful in certain cases. I hope it can solve problems for others who find it here. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I use some of the same plugins for my projects. Sort-of similar to your RAW HTML plugin, I use the ‘Insert JavaScript & CSS’ plugin and find it pretty useful (if I absolutely have to use it).

    I was surprised to see that you don’t use any TinyMCE plugins. Do you use the standard WordPress TinyMCE? Would you recommend getting rid of them if I have them?

    Lastly, how well does Yoast SEO work with Thesis? I know thesis has great SEO features but Yoast has got some stuff that Thesis lacks.

    I’m thinking about using Yoast but I want to be sure it will work smoothly before I set everything up & find that it’s poorly compatible.

    • Right, I don’t use Raw HTML very often but it’s nice to have when I need it.

      No I don’t mess with any of the TinyMCE stuff. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s bad because I don’t know. But I use the HTML editor… I don’t use WYSIWYG at all.

      I don’t have any facts on Yoast and Thesis together but I know there were some issues in the past. What I do know is that Thesis doesn’t deactivate its settings when Yoast is installed… which is what Genesis does. The reason I think that is important is because I really think SEO settings should jump from theme to theme… making it plugin territory. Thesis does it all in house. So you’re good to go if you never stop using Thesis. Otherwise, leaving Thesis means losing SEO settings. As far as Thesis SEO settings in comparison to Yoast, no I don’t think Thesis has anything on Yoast. However, I can’t tell you what is of the utmost importance with SEO and what isn’t. So even though Thesis has less SEO features, it’s very possible that the ones it has are the ones that matter… making the additional Yoast features cool but possibly unnecessary. Again, though, I don’t know if that’s the case.

      I would visit the DIY forums. I can almost guarantee you’re not the first person to ask. I use my own framework now and I left SEO options out… I like Yoast. When I used Thesis, I stuck with Thesis all the way.

      • Thanks man, that’s a huge help.

        I found a few different solutions for those interested in using Yoast with Thesis (only version 1.85), one of which includes editing the head.php file to manually deactivate the Thesis SEO options. The “$head->meta();” replaced with “if (!defined(‘WPSEO_VERSION’)) $head->meta();” seems to do the trick when Yoast is activated.

        Hope all is well, I’m gonna be trying out Volatyl here soon because it seems like a beast of a framework. Keep up the good work dog, I love reading/learning from your work!

  9. Great article Sean.
    The W3 Total Cache plugin helped speed up my site, and in turn improved my SEO rankings.
    Thanks !

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