Creating, operating, and maintaining a website is not easy. This is true for everyone, from large corporations to the hobbyist. You need a great looking design, but your visitors must also be able to navigate it easily. Additionally, the site must be optimized for search engines, while also being protected from spammers. Essentially, this is why WordPress is the most popular systems available. In fact, WordPress runs close to 29 percent of the internet, including many major media websites like the New York Post, USA Today, CNN, Fortune.com, TechCrunch, NBC, and many more.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a coding whiz-kid or a web design professional to build an impressive WordPress website. Essentially, anyone can have a site up and running within minutes of getting started. But, in order to really stand out in the crowd, you will need WordPress plugins. These add-ons will provide your site with critical functions and enhancements lacking within a basic WordPress installation. Moreover, there are thousands to choose from, which is one of WordPress’ biggest strengths.
What Are WordPress Plugins?
A plugin is a small bit of software that adds a specific set of functions to a WordPress website. They can help you manage your website, improve its performance, or provide your visitors with an enhanced experience. Moreover, they seamlessly integrate into your website. If there is something you would like your website to do, there is likely a plugin that will do it. So, this makes it easy for the average person to add features and functionality to their website without knowing a single line of code. Best of all, thousands are available for free on the official WordPress website, but there are also many premium plugins as well.
Yet, not all plugins are equal. You need to be savvy enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. You must only use WordPress plugins that are reliable and well supported, with the ability to give a real boost to your site. I can tell you from experience, rolling the dice on a questionable WordPress plugin can have dire consequences. A bad plugin can slow your website, conflict with other functions, or scramble your database. Fortunately, the WordPress community provides reviews, and poorly coded plugins are typically easy to stop. You want to do your research and look for plugins that lots of downloads and plenty of great reviews.
Why Are so Many WordPress Plugins Free?
The most common plugin question is, “Do I have to pay to use WordPress plugins?” Currently, to be listed in the WordPress directory, a developer must agree to make their plugins compatible with the GNU General Public License v2, or any later version. While some conditions apply, this free software license essentially gives the end-user the right to use, copy, distribute, modify, or sublicense these programs. But, this still does not answer why a developer would provide their work for free.
There are many reasons, from community projects that are not owned by a single company to the plugin developer who sells premium versions of their free plugins. There are some people who create top-notch plugins as a way to show off their coding skills to potential clients, and others who are just simply WordPress enthusiasts. The goal of creating a great plugin is not always to make a dollar. However, you will often find the top free WordPress plugins connected to large companies with a vested interest in creating a reliable product and attracting positive attention to their brand.
What Are the Best Free WordPress Plugins?
Today, I am providing a list of plugin solutions to help you manage and organize your WordPress website. Each of them is supported, reliable, and well reviewed. Moreover, most are at the top of their categories, but there are also a few hidden gems. However, before we get started, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your WordPress plugins and ensure that they do not cause trouble for your website.
- Remove plugins that you no longer use. – Unnecessary plugins can slow down your website.
- Install only high-quality plugins. – Poor reviews and few active installations happen for a reason.
- Look for plugins that are well-supported. – Is the developer responding to questions and concerns on the plugin’s support page?
- Keep your plugins up to date. – Old and outdated plugins can slow your website or provide a security risk.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s explore the best free WordPress Plugins.
15 Essential and Free WordPress Plugins
1. Ad Inserter – WordPress Ads Management
Currently, Ad Inserter boasts a 4.9 out of 5-star rating on the WordPress.org website. Many would agree that it is the most effective, reliable, and stable ad placement plugin available. With Ad Inserter, you can customize ad placement and user experience based on the individual webpage, position, device, and more. Furthermore, while there is a premium version with a ton of additional features, the free version will likely work for most, which is often the mark of a great plugin developer.
2. Akismet Anti-Spam
While many developers have tried to compete with the Akismet Anti-Spam plugin, none has come close to their 5+ million active installs. Akismet’s primary features include the automatic checking of all comments and filtering out spam. Additionally, Akismet exposes links within comments so that you can easily see which are misleading. Moreover, the most blatant spam comments are outright blocked, saving you time and disk space.
3. Contextual Related Posts
The Contextual Related Posts plugin is a very powerful and useful add-on that empowers you to show related posts, both on your website and within your feed. You have the choice to automatically display related post recommendations on your posts and pages, or you can use shortcodes, widgets, or manually install the code into your theme. Also, Contextual Related Posts makes use of a powerful algorithm that utilizes the post’s content to find the most relevant recommendations. While highly customizable, even non-coders will be happy.
4. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
If you are not using Google Analytics to track your website’s performance, you will never be able to reach your full potential. The Google Analytics Dashboard ensures that you are utilizing the most current tracking code on your website, and provides you with real-time statistics, right on your WordPress dashboard. Without leaving your site, you can review stats that include bounce rate, page views, referrers, keywords, and more.
5. Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) by BestWebSoft
One of the easiest ways of stopping spam subscribers, while allowing real people to register and log in, is with Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) by BestWebSoft. The free version will add Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) to your registration form, login page, and reset password requests. Plus, there many other features, such as whitelisting certain IP address. The premium version adds compatibility with other popular plugins like Jetpack, WooCommerce, BuddyPress, and more.
6. Jetpack by WordPress.com
Even though I have been slowly turning off functions and finding alternatives, Jetpack is still one of the easiest ways to increase traffic to your WordPress website, keep it secure, and engage your visitors. The free version provides many traffic and SEO tools, security and backup services, content creation tools, and methods for connecting with readers. While most services and features are free, paid plans do provide powerful enhancements. Regardless, the plugin is most fitting for the newbie. As time goes on, you are likely to seek out more focused plugins, and not a one-size-fits-all solution.
7. MailChimp for WordPress
In order to grow, it is essential for a website to build a mailing list. MailChimp for WordPress is the best and the easiest way to add more subscribers to your MailChimp lists. Plus, there are several free add-ons, but the premium version adds functionality for WooCommerce, detailed reporting, and more. MailChimp is a newsletter service that enables you to run email marketing campaigns for your opt-in email subscribers. The bonus here is that MailChimp is free for lists of 2000 subscribers or less, which makes it the perfect newsletter-service solution for many small businesses. Moreover, the plugin developer provides some of the best support you can find.
A redirection manager is likely one of the least thought of website functions, but it is required for making sure visitors are correctly guided through your site. Redirection will handle your site’s 301 redirections, maintain a record of 404 errors, and by and large tie up all the loose ends on your site. As a result of limiting errors, it may even help increase your site’s rank within search results. If you are using permalinks, you need this tool. Don’t look for a premium version. Redirection is 100% free,
We all know that social media sharing buttons are very important for expanding a website’s organic reach. Shareaholic strives to be an all-in-one content amplification solution. It not only includes sharing buttons, but it also adds follow buttons, related content, social analytics, and monetization features. There are other share button plugins with more active installations, but I keep coming back to Shareaholic, even though I do not take advantage of all the features. I think it provides the best look and the easiest customization.
10. Shortcodes Ultimate
Are you looking for an easy way to create buttons, boxes, tabs, sliders, and other visual and functional content elements? Shortcodes Ultimate provides 50 shortcodes for adding many elements, including spoilers, pull quotes, members only and guest only content, and much more. As free plugins go, this is one of the most powerful and useful for creating quality content. However, it does not stop there. Shortcodes Ultimate’s premium version provides even more shortcodes and customizations.
11. Simple Author Box
In the past, I recommended Starbox as a way to add an author box to content pages. However, it is no longer available from the WordPress repository. So, several months ago, I went looking for an alternative. I then discovered Simple Author Box, which will add a responsive author box to your blog posts. The author box will include the author’s name, Gravatar profile image, and the author’s bio. Additionally, there are over 30 social profile fields added to the WordPress user profile screen, which can then be displayed as social icons.
12. UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup Plugin
What happens if your website has a catastrophic failure or gets hacked? If you don’t keep and maintain backups, it may mean having to start all over from scratch. UpdraftPlus is simply the best backup and restore solution for WordPress. For most, the free version is all you will need to schedule regular backups of your database and files. Best of all, you can easily store your backups to the cloud using Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or any one of many other services. You can even have the backups emailed to you. The UpdraftPlus premium service provides a fully-hosted solution.
13. Smush Image Compression and Optimization
Large image files can quickly cause your website to slow down. Smush will quickly and easily strip your images of unnecessary information and lessen the file size, without losing image quality. It can also automatically set the maximum width and height of large images before adding them to your media library. Moreover, you don’t’ have to worry that the plugin will add a strain on your website. It uses WPMU DEV’s own servers to do most of the work. You can reasonably expect a reduction of up to 30 percent. But, if you need even more compression, WP Smush Pro can get you where you need to be.
14. Wordfence Security
Unfortunately, every website needs a comprehensive security solution to protect from attackers. Hacking attempts are not a matter of if, they are a matter of when. Don’t think you are too small to get a hacker’s attention. Those with malicious intent target both large and small websites. Wordfence Security provides the best protection available, and they do it for free. Moreover, the plugin has a very deep set of additional tools. Simply put, Wordfence provides the most complete WordPress security solution available.
15. Yoast SEO
While WordPress has good SEO on its own, Yoast SEO can take things to the next level. What I find most useful is that it forces you to pick a focus keyword when writing a blog entry. Then, it provides a page analysis that will ensure your post is correctly optimized. Moreover, it adds important functionality, like Facebook OpenGraph implementation and XML sitemaps. Arguably, when it comes to organic reach, this is the most important plugin you will ever install.
Which free WordPress Plugins do you think are essential? If you would like to talk about the best and essential free WordPress Plugins, or a related topic, please leave a comment below.