WordPress will never be able to do everything you want it to do… and that’s a good thing. If the platform contained every functionality known to man, it would be a monster. Goodbye, five-minute install!
Fortunately, there are plugins. Lots of plugins. WordPress add-ons make up for what the core lacks. It’s no wonder the extendability provided by plugins is one of the platform’s biggest strengths.
It is, therefore, no secret that, while there are tens of thousands of plugins in the WordPress directory, the difference in quality can be vast.
In an attempt to divide the wheat from the chaff, here is a list of 32 must-have, free WordPress plugins for different purposes. All of them are reliable, well supported, and ready to take your site to the next level.
Sound good? Let’s get started.
Essential WordPress Plugins For Site Maintenance
First we will look at a few plugins that will improve the general handling of your WordPress site and make the day-to-day tasks a little easier.
1. Antispam Bee
As every WordPresser will quickly find out, the amount of spam on the Internet is mind blowing. Without a proper filter, quality comments will drown in the wave of noise attacking your site.
Antispam Bee is a free plugin that catches spam comments very reliably. It is trusted by more than 200,000 users and can keep up with commercial solutions while not costing you a dime.
You need this. Trust me.
Jetpack is not so much one plugin as a collection of several addons with different functionality. Some say it is a bit bloated and they do have a point, however, Jetpack is so chock full of some many useful features that I’m willing to overlook it.
Highlights include real-time analytics for your dashboard, a content delivery network for images, and a lightweight mobile theme. I will go into detail on some of the features further below.
If you would like to know more about the plugin, you can read my guide to Jetpack. Should you be one of those people who think Jetpack is too large or only want parts of the functionality it has to offer, check out the 45+ Jetpack alternatives.
Nothing is more frustrating than losing your entire site to lazy backup habits. It’s one of those “I know I should be doing it, but…” things that makes a real difference when the worst scenario finally comes to pass.
Duplicator not only lets you make a backup of your site for emergencies, but also allows you to easily move it from one place to another (such as from staging to production or vice versa).
Just run the plugin, have it zip up your site, copy to the new server, and run the installer file. Everything else happens by itself. The plugin will even replace all mentions of your old site address in the database with the updated one.
4. Theme Check
Theme Check will examine whether your theme is up to the latest WordPress standards and best practices.
This is actually the same process used by WordPress.org when testing themes for submission to the directory and the plugin, therefore, comes highly recommended for developers.
Updating WordPress can be a real hassle, especially if you are running several sites at once. The Easy Updates Manager gives you more control over the process.
The plugin is highly customizable. Determine whether to update major or minor core releases automatically as well as themes and plugins for one site or several.
In case you didn’t know, for every image uploaded to your site WordPress creates several versions of it in different sizes. This is so you don’t have to input a bajillion pixel, 5MB image in a place where it will only show up as a 150 by 150 thumbnail.
Image sizes are controlled under Settings > Media. You can change the sizes according to your needs, such as to exactly fit your content area.
However, what about the images already on your site? That’s what this plugin is for. It lets you generate new versions of your images with the updated size. A real life and time saver.
Having different sidebar content on different pages used to be tricky business. It often involved coding multiple sidebars with a lot of conditional statements or duplicating the same widget several times.
Thankfully with this plugin it’s a matter of the past now. All it takes to hide (or show) widgets on certain pages is ticking or unticking a checkbox. If you have trouble with that, maybe you need to rethink your career choices.
Don’t like other people commenting on your site? Well, you no longer have to put up with it.
This handy plugin allows you to control the commenting function site wide. Disable comments by post type, for pages, attachment pages, and more.
Just be aware that if you want to disable comments on a per-post or per-page basis, this is not the plugin for you. In that case WordPress’s standard options will be enough.
WordPress SEO Plugins You Can’t Go Without
To make sure your website doesn’t rot unnoticed in some dark corner of the Internet, the following plugins will help you get all the search-engine love it deserves.
9. Yoast SEO
For me (and many others) this fine piece of software by Team Yoast is the go-to SEO plugin for WordPress. If you want to take full control of your site’s search optimization, this is the way to go.
Features include automatically-updated XML sitemaps, editing for SEO titles and meta descriptions, breadcrumbs, and OpenGraph integration.
Don’t worry if you are overwhelmed by the plethora of settings. You can refer to the in-depth guide to using WordPress SEO by Yoast on this very site.
Alternatives: All-in-one SEO Pack
What’s more annoying than clicking on an interesting link and landing on a non-existent page? When it happens to other people on your own site.
Enough of that already!
The Redirection plugin not only allows you to track when somebody lands on a non-existent link on your website (the dreaded 404 error) but also lets you set up a 301 redirects to get them to the right content next time around.
Extremely useful if you change your permalink structure, move parts of your content or just want to sent visitors on to another page, file or website.
Having an analytics solution in place is key to understand your visitors’ behavior and most of us opt for Google Analytics. However, it’s quite annoying having to constantly surf to their site to see how our site is faring.
With Google Analytics by Yoast you can check the most important performance indicators for your site directly from the WordPress dashboard. It also has one of the easiest setups in the pluginsphere — you are literally done in seconds.
Other features include the option to ignore logged-in users of any level and upward, anonymize user IPs in countries where such a thing is mandatory, track 404 pages and more.
12. Related Posts (included in Jetpack)
Displaying a list of content with similar topics underneath your posts is a good way to keep visitors on your site longer and there are a number of plugins that can do this.
However, most of them are a real drain on the database and can seriously slow down you site. Some hosting providers even ban them for that very reason.
To address this issue the Related Posts module in Jetpack outsources the heavy lifting to the WordPress.com servers, leaving yours free to do what they are supposed to. Not bad for a free plugin.
Alternative: Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)
Since we were talking about 404 errors earlier, these can, of course, be avoided by fixing broken links before anybody has a chance to click on them.
This aptly-named plugin can monitor the links inside posts, pages, your blogroll, and more. It will find references to non-existent sites, missing images and redirects.
The best part is that broken links can be edited directly from the plugin page. No need to find them manually on your site.
Alternatives: Broken Link Manager
Essential Free WordPress Plugins For Successful Marketing
Relying purely on traffic from search engines is no longer enough. In today’s online world, you need to actively market your site. Thankfully the following plugins will make that a little easier.
SumoMe is similar to Jetpack in that it is not one plugin but a whole bunch of free tools rolled into one. Anything you need for effective list building, lead generation and site promotion, you can find here.
Not only does SumoMe include share buttons, image sharing tools and click-to-tweet functionality, it also lets you easily add calls to action in different places of your site from pop-ups to full-screen messages.
Tools for content analysis that show how far people are actually scrolling your page and heat maps to measure clicks round out the package.
Collecting email addresses is mandatory when you are running a website. The SumoMe stack above offers several solutions for this, however, it is far from the only one.
MailChimp for WP lets you connect your site to the popular email marketing provider MailChimp (here’s how to do it). On the other hand, MailPoet is a service that keeps your list locally on your own site.
I’ve had nothing but good experiences with both.
If you are looking for additional social sharing options, this is the plugin for you. It offers integration for over 200 social networks and social bookmarking services.
Besides that, it is easy to customize and loads quickly. What more can you ask for?
17. Contact Form 7
Not only is it your job to communicate effectively to the outside, but your readers should find it equally easy to get in touch with you. A good contact form is a simple solution for that.
While there are many solutions for forms out there, Contact Form 7 has stood the test of time as one of the most popular WordPress plugins.
It’s easy to use and allows you to create forms for your blog without any coding. Besides that, it also supports spam fighting technology like CAPTCHA and Akismet. Awesome or awesome?
Never has adhering to a publishing schedule been this easy. See all upcoming posts in a handy calendar view and change their publishing dates by easy drag and drop.
The plugin also allows for editing posts on the fly and managing the work from several authors at once. Organized website, here we come!
As the name suggests, this plugin allows visitors to subscribe to comment threads via email. That way they will get notified when there are new comments so they can come back and keep the discussion alive.
Not only that, the full-featured subscription manager lets you readers unsubscribe if they are no longer interested, block notifications altogether and even change their email address.
Must-Have Security Plugins for WordPress
Security is an often neglected topic. However, with growing popularity of WordPress it will only become more important. Time to get ahead of the curve with these plugins.
iThemes is a reputable company in the WordPress sphere, known for a number of high-quality plugins and products. Their security solution is no exception.
After install, the plugin will harden your site against outside attacks almost automatically. Most features, from two-factor authentication to file comparison for detecting malware, are activated with one click. Hackers, stay out!
21. Login Lockdown
Login Lockdown will limit the number of login attempts to your site that can be performed in a given time span from one IP address.
The goal is to protect your site from brute force attacks in which hackers attempt to crack passwords by trying out many different combinations in a short amount of time.
While this kind of feature is present in many security plugins (including iThemes), here it is in standalone form.
Improve Site Performance With These Must-Have Plugins
Having a fast and responsive site is key to satisfying visitors and search engines alike. Let’s face it, who loves a sluggish website? That’s right, nobody. Here’s to make sure yours doesn’t become one.
22. W3 Total Cache
Cache plugins are one of the main methods to speed up your WordPress website.
What they do is save a static HTML version of your site, thereby cutting out the need to generate pages on the fly.
As a result, fewer requests are made to the server and database, pages load more quickly, visitors are happier and search rankings improve. What’s not to love?
As I said in the beginning, the quality of plugins available for WordPress can vastly differ. Some can harm rather than help your site’s performance and slow it down.
However, when your website has come to a crawl, it isn’t always easy to pinpoint who is the culprit. Thankfully, the P3 plugin takes the guesswork out of this.
What it does is measure the load times of all plugins active on your site and report it back to you. From there it is easy to take remedial action.
24. WP Smush.it
Images easily make up the bulk of any WordPress site or web page. For that reason they are also one of the main culprits for long loading times.
To remedy this fact, WP Smush.it strips unnecessary information from images that get uploaded to your site. This makes the files smaller and therefore quicker to load. Plus, it can smush existing media in bulk, too!
Alternatives: EWWW Image Optimizer
25. BJ Lazy Load
Yet another plugin to help your site save bandwidth and loading time. The lazy load plugin does so by replacing all images on your site with placeholders and only loading those that your visitors can actually see.
As they scroll down, the rest of the images are loaded when they get close to appearing on screen. It works with images, thumbnails, gravatar avatars and even iframes.
Alternatives: Photon (included in Jetpack)
Like the rest of WordPress, over time the WordPress database can easily become cluttered. Artifacts from uninstalled plugins, spam comments, post revisions, you name it.
Enough of that, WP-Optimize is here to save the day!
The plugin lets you clean up and optimize your database with just a few clicks. Trashed comments and posts, revisions and spam are deleted just as quickly as unused data. For a squeaky-clean WordPress database.
Miscellaneous WordPress Plugins For A Better Website
Lastly and handful of essential free WordPress plugins that don’t really fit into any category but can nevertheless vastly improve your site.
27. Easy Fancybox
Spice up your images and other media with this awesome jQuery lightbox. A click on any image will open a fancy (see what I did there?) popover. The plugin is compatible with multisites, popular video services such as YouTube, and many leading gallery plugins.
28. qTranslate X
Need your site to be in several languages? Boy, do I have good news for you.
qTranslate used to be one of my favorite plugins. Unfortunately support for the original ceased at some point, leaving me and others stranded.
Thankfully, a new team of developers has come together to bring it back to life.
qTranslate allows you to edit content in several languages from the same screen. Translations show up in different tabs for easy access.
Shortcodes allow you to input content in different languages into widgets and other places. Even URLs can be translated! I definitely recommend you check it out.
I’ll be the first to admit that not every site needs the ability to display tables, so this plugin is not strictly essential.
However, for those looking for this functionality, TablePress is a gift from heaven.
Easily set up tables hat can be embedded anywhere on your site. You can input any data, including formulas, sort it, paginate tables and more.
Besides that, the plugin is able to import and export from and to Excel, CSV, HTML and other formats. It’s just very well done.
For the HTML illiterate, Black Studio’s TinyMCE Widget plugin brings the WordPress editor to sidebars. Insert rich text and media into widgets without the need for HTML coding! Very handy for clients who don’t know jack about markup.
This plugin replaces the standard WordPress search bar. See results by relevance instead of recency, allow fuzzy keyword matching as well as one-term or exact-term search. The free version works for a single site, and the pro version even supports search across multiple websites.
32. Cookie Law Info
Thankfully, this plugin provides an easy solution to do so.
It is fully adaptable to the look of your site, can be displayed both in the header and footer, and is compatible with WPML and qTranslate for easy translation.
Which WordPress Plugins Are Essential to You?
By now, a huge number of plugins are available for WordPress. It’s only natural that some are better than others.
The above collection lists a number of high-quality additions to any WordPress website. However, that doesn’t mean you have to or even should install all of them.
I know the word essential sounds like definitely must-have on your site. Yet, what is essential should always be seen in the context of your website and its objective.
What is a can’t-go-without for one site might be completely useless for another. Therefore, you need to think in terms of what is essential to you.
Pick what seems useful, test it and keep it if it makes sense. Don’t go overboard, just stick with the what you absolutely need. After all, isn’t that the meaning of essential?
What are your personal must-have plugins that you install on almost every site? Do you disagree with anything on this list? Let us know in the comments.