Here at Torque, we do a lot of plugin comparisons and lists. We’ve compiled lists of the best plugins for countless functions — from graph creation, to mobile optimization, to backups, and everything in between.
While those lists are definitely helpful pieces (I might be a little biased. Maybe.), we thought of something that would be insanely more helpful.
A list of the best free WordPress plugins. . . for. . .well (almost) everything.
That’s right: There’s a plugin here for just about every function you can think of (and even for some functions you can’t). And not just any ol’ plugin, but what I believe and have found to be the best plugin for the average WordPress user for each specific function.
Here’s how we’ve formatted the post for easy reading:
This article has been formatted into four sections: 1) content and user engagement, 2) functionality extension, 3) back-end optimization and security, and 4) miscellaneous.
*Note: it would be near impossible for to list every single function, so the best way for this blog post to become a great resource for WordPress users is for YOU to add your plugin recommendations and thoughts in the comments sections. We’re counting on you!
Content and user engagement
Edit Flow: editorial calendar & content management
Edit Flow is literally the end-all, be-all of any blog’s content management. Its functionality extends beyond what you normal get with an editorial calendar/post scheduling plugin. For multi-personnel blogging teams, this plugin is invaluable.
Within the post editor, you can create custom statuses to define a post’s workflow, collaborate with your colleagues, keep track of important details (like budget, word count, and other requirements), and set notifications for specific users and user groups.
As one of the most underrated ways to visualize content online, graphs have the potential to be instrumental in the success of any detail-oriented blog post. With Visualizer, the graph creation process becomes both simple and highly functional on WordPress.
This plugin offers nine different graph types, ranging from line graphs, to pies, to scatter plots, are possible, and the plugin has even been optimized for cross-browser compatibility, great looks, and lightning-fast speed.
CM Tooltip Glossary: Tooltips
Tooltips are another effective, although often underutilized, strategy to display content on a blog. CM Tooltip Glossary allows you to create a lexicon of specific words and phrases which, when placed in a post, will display a stylized text box when hovered over.
Not only can you add text definitions for each tooltip, but you can also choose to show a YouTube or Vimeo video when a tip is triggered.
Meteor Slides: Slideshows
Ah, the good ol’-fashioned slideshow. A slider is the first thing most people turn to when they’re in need of some alluring image display. The trouble is, there are literally hundreds of different slideshow plugins on the market – it’s easily one of the most developed website functions.
Although it’s challenging to name a single plugin as the overall best, Meteor Slides comes admirably close. You get more than 20 different transition styles and multiple built-in language options.
OnePress Social Locker: Social Locker
The unique concept of a social locker is a driving force behind the social media popularity of many blog posts. By hiding content until the user shares the post, you incentivize (and therefore greatly improve) user engagement.
OnePress does a great job with its free social locker. Not only is the design aesthetically pleasing, but it incorporates the three leading social networks and is SEO friendly (keeping the hidden content crawlable for search engine spiders).
One of the all-time most downloaded WordPress plugins, WordPress SEO by Yoast is the premier solution to help you optimize your site for search engine visibility. With options for snippet previews, page analysis, friendly permalinks, breadcrumbs, social media integration, and RSS optimization, WordPress SEO is the best option for free search engine optimization around.
YARRP: Related posts
By now, practically everyone knows that one of the best ways to decrease bounce rate and increase pageviews per visit and visit duration is to display links to related posts at the end of every one of your blog posts.
YARRP (Yet Another Related Posts Plugin) is one of the best plugins for that function, if not the best. With 3 million downloads, YARPP offers templating, an advanced algorithm, post filtering, and two types of display.
Digg Digg: Social Media Sharing
What blog goes without social media sharing buttons?
Digg Digg is one of the most popular social sharing button plugin. With it, front end users can share your post to over 20 different social networks. To customize your display, you can choose between floating sticky bar or sharing buttons at the top/bottom of your post. Lazy load is also an option.
Google Analytics by Yoast: Google Analytics
Google Analytics by Yoast (formerly Google Analytics for WordPress) is the simplest, easiest way to integrate Google Analytics with your website. If you’re code-averse and hate tinkering around in your site’s HTML (like me), then this plugin is a godsend.
Just authenticate, configure the provided options (e.g. internal link tracking/demographics reports/event setup), and voila. You’re good to go.
Shortcodes Ultimate: Shortcode Package
Not every WordPress theme comes chock-full with all the shortcodes you could ever hope to use. For those of you who run a lightweight premium theme or even just a free shortcode-limited theme, but want to extend the functionality a little bit, Shortcodes Ultimate is for you.
The plugin is literally the ultimate free shortcode package, with more than 30 shortcodes, responsive design, a special widget, and more featured in this CSS3-powered plugin.
From Matt Mullenweg and Automattic comes the de facto forum plugin: bbPress. Simple, optimized, and lightweight – no new CMS to learn, no limitation of functionality, no incompatibility with your current theme – what more could a forum owner want?
WooCommerce is the most popular free eCommerce WordPress plugin, with more than 5 million downloads to its name. Built by the beloved “Woo” brand, you’re likely to see all over WordPress forums and communities. WooCommerce has a simple UI and great functionality: never was it easier to sell products online.
Google Adsense: Google AdSense
For those bloggers who monetize with the CPC ad network Google Adsense, this plugin will be a huge time-saver. Named for its function, the Google Adsense plugin allows you to quickly and easily insert Adsense ads into a widget in your sidebar or even in specific places throughout your website.
Just choose a color scheme and set your layout, and then you’re practically done. No need to fool around with code.
Although you’ll have to go outside the WordPress repository to download this plugin, pmPro is definitely the most featured free membership plugin.
With no limitations, various monetization options, and tons of content options (drip-feed, webcast, audio/video, downloads, and discussions), pmPro is well worth its salt.
Custom Sidebars: Sidebars
A relatively new WPMU Dev release, Custom Sidebars allows you to add as many widgetized sidebars to your website design as you please. Simply create the sidebar, add widgets, and place it in your design.
The display of the sidebars can be limited according to category and post-type. Specific sidebars can also be set for archive, blog feed, and search result pages.
Max Mega Menu: Mega menu
It’s a pity that mega menu functionality isn’t a native feature of WordPress. But no big deal as Max Mega Menu does that job quite nicely. With it, you can build your mega menus through a drag-and-drop editor, choose from a variety of menu styles, customize menu triggers (hovers vs. clicks), customize transitions, and set coloration with a built-in color picker.
With nearly 20K downloads, Max Mega Menu maintains a perfect 5-star rating.
Easy Google Fonts: Fonts
Ever wished for more font options to spice up your typographically-boring design? Now, with Easy Google Fonts you can quickly and easily change up your typefaces.
Instead of messing about in your theme’s inner workings, once you install the plugin the only thing you have to do is set theme-specific font controls then head over the WordPress Live Customizer and choose where each font goes.
Easy Google Fonts, too, has a perfect rating after 40 reviews.
FooGallery: Image management
FooGallery might not be the most popular image management plugin out there, but in my book it’s the best. 4 galleries – Responsive Image Gallery, Masonry Gallery, Simple Portfolio, and Justified Gallery – are built into the theme. Reorder images with drag and drop and use visual shortcodes to vitalize the design.
A number of both free and paid extensions exist for this plugin.
Back-end optimization and security
W3 Total Cache: Caching
Everyone knows that high page load speed is crucial to any website’s success. The first step towards a speed-optimized website is setting up a caching plugin.
My personal choice (the one I’ve used ever since I setup my first WordPress website) is W3 Total Cache. It’s incredibly versatile, extremely effective in what it does, and simple to navigate. When fully configured, it has resulted in over ten times greater speeds.
Google XML Sitemaps: Sitemaps
One of the easiest-to-implement qualities of an SEO-friendly website is a sitemap. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a sitemap is essentially a page on your website that linearly displays all your content and links. It helps Google to keep track of your content and is one of the first things any webmaster should setup on a new website.
Google XML Sitemaps is a quick ‘n’ clean sitemap generator for your website. Rated as the top WordPress plugin of all time, the plugin will also notify all major search engines every time you publish new content to your website.
WP Smush.it: Image compression
A relatively familiar plugin to most WordPress users, WP Smush.it helps to increase your website’s performance and speed by compressing your images (without losing image quality). Like a couple other plugins on this list, Smush.it is currently developed by WPMU although it was originally released by the folks over at Yahoo!.
After installing the plugin, every image you add to your media library will be automatically run through the plugin and be compressed. If you have already uploaded some images on your website prior to installing Smush.it, you can bulk compress these images as well (although this could take some time, depending on how many images you have up).
Advanced Access Manager: User role editor
Advanced Access Manager helps you keep track of and restrict the activity of WordPress accounts registered to your website. If you have several employees or freelancers you collaborate with, Advanced Access Manager is a great way to ensure that each account is only given access to specific pages of your website’s back end.
Far more than just a regular user role editor, though, AAM also allows you to track each user’s activity and control access to specific media files.
WP Mobile Detector Mobile Plugin: Mobile optimization
It’s official. Mobile is taking over the Internet. And you, as a website owner, need to make sure that you’re ready for the waves of mobile traffic that are sure to hit your site.
The WP Mobile Detector Mobile Plugin optimizes your site’s design and UI for mobile visitors. Although it’s not the only one of its kind, it is the first free plugin to differentiate between a smartphone and a regular mobile phone.
WP Admin UI Customize: UI Customizer
If you’ve ever gotten tired of WordPress’s default boring, branded admin panel, then you need a UI customizer. WP Admin UI Customize is the best in that area.
The plugin allows you to play around with the dashboard layout, toolbars and side menu, meta boxes, login screen, and more. Customize to your heart’s content!
Wordfence Security: Security
Wordfence is the most popular security plugin at the WordPress.org repository – and for good reason. It has one of the most advanced back ends of any security plugin on the market.
Upon first installation, Wordfence combs your site for existing security threats. It scans the themes and plugins installed on your website for the signatures of over 40,000 known malware variants as well. Wordfence’s default caching engine, FalconEngine, also helps to boost your site’s speed.\
Limit Login Attempts: Limit logins
Another popular security plugin, Limit Login Attempts has one primary function: limiting the number of login attempts a certain IP address can make before the site locks down for that address. The number of retry attempts possible for each IP is fully customizable.
This is an incredibly useful plugin to help withstand and keep your site safe from brute-force attacks.
UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration: Backups
Not too long ago, I deleted my site. No, that’s not a joke. No, that’s not a lie. And no, that’s not an exaggeration.
I literally went into cPanel and, courtesy of a very unfortunate, highly, unintelligent mishap, deleted all of the content I had spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours crafting.
Fortunately, however, I had configured a backup plugin on my website just a few days prior to my major blunder – and all was well within just a few hours. I have since never again setup another site without first installing a backup plugin.
Although I used something different back then, these days UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration is my top choice for backups because of its ease of use and many options. It allows you to automatically schedule backups (separate file/database backup schedules if need be), send backup files to a variety of different locations (e.g. Dropbox, your email, Google Drive, etc.), and even quickly restore backups right from the plugin UI itself.
Captcha is one of the simplest and most user-friendly captcha plugins you’ll ever come across.
Instead of asking users to interpret some annoying half-unviewable phrase of text, it only requires users to submit a super-simple math problem (e.g. eight – ____ = two, fill in the blank).
The captcha can be inserted into login, registration, password recovery, and comment forms.
Nowadays, most new WordPress installations from cPanel come with the spam-repelling plugin Akismet already built in. Developed by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg himself (plus a few other distinguished contributors), Akismet is one of the most effective comment spam control plugins out there.
Each new comment submitted to your website is checked against Akismet’s web service to determine its validity. Each comment comes with its own status history, which tells when it was caught/cleared by Akismet and if it was manually marked as spam or as a valid comment by a moderator. Every commentator on your site also gets his/her own comment history, where you can view the number of approved comments for that user.
Contact Form 7: Contact form
Contact Form 7 is the mother of all WordPress contact forms. The second most popular WordPress plugin of all-time with 22 million downloads, Contact Form 7 is powerful, flexible, and user-friendly.
Create each form with auto-generated tags, insert them into a post/page with the use of a shortcode, and tada. You now have a fully-working, customized, Ajax-powered, Akismet-friendly, CAPTCHA-enabled contact form on that webpage.
WP RSS Aggregator: RSS
Although RSS feed aggregation has never been one of the most popular plugin functions, it is nevertheless a highly useful and occasionally sought-after one.
WP RSS Aggregator does its job most excellently. To import a feed into your website, simply enter the feed URL into one of the plugin pages, customize a bit (set the limit of posts to be pulled from the feed and decide whether or not you’d like to link to the feed source), and you’re good to go. You can add any number of feeds with this plugin.
Additionally, several premium add-ons, starting at $15, are available to extend the plugin’s functionality.
PayPal Donations: Donations
For the average non-profit, PayPal Donations is an absolute must. With this plugin, you no longer have to go into PayPal’s non user-friendly UI to create your donation buttons within unintelligible code. Nor do you have to adhere strictly to PayPal’s pre-conceived notions of what a good donation button design is.
All you have to do is spend a few minutes installing and configuring this plugin, and the only thing left to do is decide where you want to insert your donation button: in a post (via a handy shortcode), in a widget, or both.
Popups – WordPress Popups: Popups
When it comes to free popup plugins at the WordPress.org repository, the pickings are honestly quite slim. To get quality popups, you usually need to look to premium plugin marketplaces or sellers.
One of the very few decent free popup plugins is this one: Popups – WordPress Popups. Although the design isn’t exactly cutting-edge, the variety of possible viewing filters and conditions makes it a truly powerful plugin. 5 different popup locations are possible and numerous other options can also be customized.
SendPress Newsletters: Newsletter
While it’s almost always a better choice to go with professional programs like Aweber or GetResponse when launching a full-on marketing campaign, SendPress is one of the few WordPress plugins that allows you to collect emails and send simple newsletters.
The email templates, although limited in customization, are designed quite tastefully. Collecting email addresses is also super simple, as you get to choose in-post forms and signup tabs in widgets.
Quite a few back end settings, such as account restriction and subscriber editing, are available for customization.
Jetpack by WordPress.com: A little bit of everything
Our final plugin on this list provides a very fitting end, considering its nature.
You see, Jetpack isn’t just any ol’ WordPress plugin. It’s an Automattic-developed, highly versatile, monster website management tool with a ton – and I mean a ton – of different functions.
Jetpack packages many functions into one plugin (such as simple traffic stats, custom css insertion, CDN capability, post by email and a whole host of others).
To really understand what it’s capable of, you need to check it out yourself.
That concludes our list! And now, it’s your turn.
What suggestions/additions do you have? Mention your choices in the comments below, and help this list grow!
Jonathan John is a WordPress enthusiast and freelance blogger. He loves comparing WordPress plugins and themes, sharing the latest Automattic news, and helping non-techies get the most out of the world’s favorite CMS.