Themes & plugins in my WordPress toolkit

One of the great things about WordPress is that there are ENDLESS themes and plugins available to use on your website.

This can be both good — you can probably find almost any design or functionality you need, already done for you — and bad — it can take forever to wade through the options, looking for the perfect fit.

To streamline my process, I, like a lot of other WordPress designers, developers and implementers, have a preferred toolkit. Like a mechanic who uses tools specifically suited for their work, I too have tools that I use on almost every site.

Let’s dive in.


My all-time favorite themes to work with are the Genesis themes from StudioPress. I find them SUPER easy to use and configure. I always end up with a site that is easy to update and looks great.

If using a Genesis theme isn’t a possibility, I really dig the Elementor Pro page builder. You can basically build a site top to bottom regardless of the theme. (I have some friends who love the Astra theme in combination with the Elementor builder.)

Both of the above are paid options and in my experience, worth it. I wrote a bit more on the skinny on WordPress themes awhile back if you want to learn more.


Having a core base of plugins to use on every site saves time and mental bandwidth. For me this involves must-use plugins and as needed plugins.

Must-Use Plugins

I mentioned Elementor Pro as a theme builder earlier, but I’ll talk about Elementor itself here. The free version of Elementor has TONS of options available to build any sort of design and implement almost any kind of functionality.

What’s doubly great about Elementor is if there’s something you can’t find in the base or pro versions, you can probably find it in an addon plugin. Search for elementor in the plugin repository and you’ll find awesome plugins like Essential Addons, Premium Addons and LiveMesh Addons.

Almost every website needs a contact form. I find Ninja Forms really easy to work with, although if you need something beyond the basics, you’ll have to pay for the additional functionality.

Frequently I need to integrate with MailChimp and I’ve used MailChimp for WordPress to do that.

In general, I recommend UpdraftPlus for backups. Because I maintain a lot of sites, including a few of my own, I also use the backup feature in ManageWP.

Wordfence is my go-to security plugin and Yoast is my go-to SEO plugin.

For caching, I often use WP Fastest Cache.

Although I don’t have one specific plugin that I use, I find myself searching for duplicate in the repo if I need to duplicate a page, post, widget or menu. I’ve had varying degrees of success with these, but it’s often really helpful to be able to duplicate something quickly.

If I want to see analytics within WordPress, I’ll use Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics or Monster Insights. If I don’t, I’ll just add the GA code to WordPress directly and skip the plugin altogether.

As Needed Plugins

Here are a few other plugins I’ve used on various sites that I like.

Other Tools

And here are a few other tools that I love that aren’t themes or plugins.

Regardless of the tools you use, it’s great to have a list of go-tos that are reliable and work really well. What are your go-tos?

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