WordPress is steadily evolving. Every year there are several major releases, not to mention hundreds of new themes and plugins.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how far WordPress and the entire community have come.
I mean, the plugin directory alone by now houses more than 40,000 plugins. Forty freakin’ thousand, and no end in sight.
However, this kind of overabundance can create its own type of problems. Because, let’s face it, who has the time to try them all out?
Therefore, right now I want to take the opportunity to talk about some highlights currently found in the WordPress plugin repository.
Yet, instead of the usual suspects that are on all the best-of lists, I will concentrate on rather recent additions to the plugin directory or plugins that have seen major changes this year.
I will also stay somewhat off the beaten path and put the spotlight on lesser known specimen.
Good, then let’s go over some of the best free WordPress plugins 2015 has seen so far.
Plugins For WordPress Development
We will start off with some helpful plugins for developers. Whether you are just starting out with building WordPress websites or are a seasoned pro, here are some potential additions to your workflow.
Wp-config.php is one of the central files of every WordPress install. Too bad you have to fire up your FTP connection every time you want to make a change to it. Or do you?
As the name suggests, WP Config File Editor is a plugin that allows users to modify wp-config.php directly from the WordPress backend, including syntax highlight and PHP error detection.
However, what’s even better is the plugin’s ability to input parameters via user interface instead of writing code.
Among others, this way you can make the following changes:
- Set cache memory limit
- Enable/disable plugin and theme editor
- Control automatic updates for core, plugins and themes
- Force SSL login
- Modify time interval for emptying the trash
- Switch on/off post revisions and set maximum number
- and much more…
In addition to that, the plugin comes with a backup and restore function. Who else is considering uninstalling Filezilla?
The next entry is a great tool for debugging sites and performance analysis. Query Monitor allows you to monitor database queries, hooks, conditionals, HTTP requests, redirects and more.
You can use it to analyze any page for query and PHP errors as well as filter them by components (core, plugin, theme) and check enqueued scripts and styles.
The plugin’s author is John Blackbourn — release lead for WordPress 4.1 — so you know you’re getting something. For more information and a glimpse behind the curtain, visit the plugin’s Github page.
One of the many measures to speed up WordPress and reduce page load time is compressing your theme and template files. However, instead of using external tools for that, Autoptimize can do it automatically.
The plugin concatenates scripts and styles, minifies and compresses JS, CSS, HTML and has additional optimization options like moving styles to the site header and scripts to the footer.
To make it truly effective, combine Autoptimize with a caching plugin.
While you are working hard to polish your latest site, why not give visitors a glimpse at what they can look forward to?
Easily set up a placeholder for your site and edit its content via WYSIWYG editor. That means you can add images, text, links and even code is fair game. Plus, the coming-soon screen works well on mobile, too!
Besides, a solid 5 out of 5 plugin rating with more than 100,000 installs is nothing to scoff at. If that doesn’t convince you, an alternative worth checking up is Under Construction WP.
Besides an awesome name, Pluginception is a real gem for anyone who likes to create plugins for their functions instead of lumping them all together in functions.php.
The plugin will quickly and easily create all necessary files and folders for new plugins at the touch of a button. All you need to input is your code. Awesome or awesome?
Ultimate Member is a true newcomer that made a pretty big splash this year. It offers awesome functionality for anyone looking to build a community around their website via a membership site.
The plugin’s feature list is impressive. What I like most are their beautiful user profiles that include header images, profile pictures plus description, personal info, recent posts, comments and more.
It also offers front-end user registration and login, member directories so members can interact with each other as well as content restriction for user-only content.
While the main plugin is completely free, they have paid extensions for important features such as social login, payment gateways, reviews, MailChimp, WooCommerce and more.
Fresh WordPress Plugins To Improve Your Site Design
First impressions are important. For that reason you should ensure your website makes a good one. Here are a few plugins which can improve your site’s design and functionality.
Woah, this one came of nowhere for me. I was very pleasantly surprised to find something this cool exists for WordPress (and for free to boot!).
I shouldn’t really have to explain anything, the above screenshot says it all.
However, I’ll try anyway. Swifty bar is toolbar sticking to the bottom of the screen that provides all sorts of important info for visitors browsing your content:
- Post title
- Time to read and progress
- Share options
- Previous/next post links
The plugin can easily replace any other social share options. You can also customize it to show different kinds of information such as the number of comments in the current article. It also supports custom post types.
Not only is this super useful but done quite elegantly, no? Plus, did I mention it’s free?
If you have some sort of portfolio to show to the world (and don’t we all these days?), the Portfolio plugin will help you do it in an elegant way.
Add images, titles, descriptions and more to each item and display your collection in different layouts. Portfolios can be added anywhere via shortcode and are fully responsive.
To see the plugin in action, watch this video:
Be aware though that the functionality is a bit limited out of the box. For advanced stuff you will need to invest in the premium version.
Let’s face it, the WordPress login screen hasn’t changed all that much over time. If you think that’s a shortcoming, you’re in luck.
The Tesla Login Customizer allows you to style the screen completely to your liking without writing any code. Change colors and fonts, add logos, background images, animations and much more.
For the lazy among us, the plugin also comes with a handful of pre-made templates. And it sports additional features such as reCaptcha and user redirection after login.
Sometimes it can be a good idea to have different sidebar content on different pages. Yet, writing conditional statements is a pain in the butt. If only there was a better way.
Luckily, there is. Display Widgets allows you to take control when and where widgets appear on your site.
Set conditional rules in the widget menu via check boxes to show or hide widgets on pages, archives, categories, taxonomies and languages (if you have WPML installed). Goodbye manual coding!
Alternative: Dynamic Widgets
If the above plugin doesn’t have enough options for you, Dynamic Widgets might be worth a look. It allows for even more conditional widget display such as by role, date, browser, mobile devices, URL and more.
Besides that, it supports several other plugins like qTranslate, bbPress and BuddyPress to name just a few. However, this plugin controls conditions from a central plugin page instead of the widget page, which I don’t like as much.
ProBlogger arguably has one of the best archive pages on the web.
Several years of blog content perfectly displayed in a small space.
Well, now you can have the same for your blog thanks to Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner who has put together the aptly named Compact Archives plugin.
It will display your archive in a more ordered and space-saving form instead of the usual long list. So all of us can feel like Darren Rowse a little bit.
Awesome New Plugins For Content Creation
Content is and will always be the heart of any website. With content marketing growing in importance, it’s important to take all the help you can get. Here is some in form of plugins.
I feel like I mention this one in a lot of articles lately. Maybe just because it is so good.
CoSchedule is an awesome editorial calendar for scheduling your blog content via drag and drop.
It has been around for a while, however, they recently added more functionality.
Besides scheduling when content will be published on your own website, you can now set up your social publishing as well.
Currently supported platforms are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Google+ and Tumblr. In addition to that, users are able to coordinate a multi-author workflow through team messages.
Adding it to the list is a bit of a cheat since while, technically, the plugin is free, using it is bound to a monthly subscription.
However, it’s so cool I had to include it. Plus, the team behind the plugin also have a good blog.
Alternative: Publish to Schedule
In case you don’t opt for CoSchedule, this plugin might be a viable alternative. It does similar things, however, Publish to Schedule works more like Buffer, one of my all-time favorite tools.
The plugin allows you to set up a regular posting schedule for your blog. Every new blog post will then be added to the schedule and published according to it. No need to do it manually any longer.
Eli the Computer Guy also liked the plugin and made a video about it:
Definitely worth checking out.
This plugin is friggin’ awesome! I stumbled upon it when I needed to add a table to a website and was just about to dust off my HTML knowledge.
TablePress makes it incredibly easy to create spreadsheets without any coding. You can embed them into posts, pages, widgets and more via shortcode.
Cells can contain any kind of data, including formulas, and it can be imported from HTML, Excel, CSV and JSON. Additional options for visitors like pagination, filtering and more are available.
The Distraction-Free Writing Mode is one of the cooler features in WordPress. With one click you get a clean and calm writing environment for content creation without distractions.
However, some might feel it is lacking a bit in functionality and you end up with a lot of going back and forth between normal editor and zen environment.
Just Writing to the rescue!
Not only does the plugin allow you to add more formatting options (e.g. alignment, font options, heading tags, paste as text and strikethrough), you can even completely customize the distraction-free writing mode:
- Remove fade effect and keep top bar visible at all times
- Add preview buttons
- Reorder buttons
- Set user-specific options
- Set DFWM as default
Control freaks will love it!
So-called A/B split testing is a great way to gain knowledge on the effectiveness of different parts of your website. Torque already has an article about A/B split testing tools for WordPress for all those interested.
Since blog post titles are one of the most important factors for clickthrough, it is only good and proper that you use the best one.
How do you find them? By testing, of course. You can use this plugin to run variance tests.
Title Experiments allows you to add multiple versions of your articles with different titles to the loop. They will then be served up randomly to visitors and the plugin will track impressions and clicks.
The so-garnered information will easily let you determine a winner and settle for the better title. Rinse and repeat.
Ever published a fresh blog post and remembered right afterwards that you forgot to do something crucial?
With this plugin, that will never happen again!
You can create a to-do-before-publishing checklist that contains anything from “set featured image” to “fill out meta description” to “pray to the Internet gods for good ranking”.
Failing to check every item will result in a warning or keep you from publishing the post. Super useful for the more forgetful (or busy) among us.
Alternative: Requirements Checklist
The same idea, however, a different approach.
Instead of relying on your voluntary cooperation, the Requirements Checklist will actually check if you filled in different locations. If you didn’t, the Publish button won’t even show up!
At the moment, the plugin can track:
- Featured image
- Up to 5 custom taxonomies per post type
- Focus keyword and meta description in Yoast SEO
- Title, description and keywords for All In One SEO Pack
Built-in compliance, love it!
Do you ever wonder about the quality of your writing? Don’t worry, everyone is a bit insecure like that.
Plus, this plugin might be able to provide you with an objective-ish answer.
As you might know, the well-known Yoast SEO checks the readability of your content. It does so via the so-called Flesch reading ease score.
The Word Statistics plugin does the same, however, with three different measurements:
In practical terms, the plugin will count your words per sentence and syllables per word. From that data it determines how easily accessible your text is and displays the at the bottom of the WordPress editor.
Nice. Me write gooder from now on.
Marketing & SEO
If content is king, promotion is queen. Content creation is only one part, beating the jungle drum the other. The following plugins can help with that.
Probably a bajillion plugin options for social sharing buttons already exist. What could this one possibly have to add to the conversation?
Well, nothing since Naked Social Share is all about reduction. All it does is is let you add simple, unstyled social share buttons to different theme locations.
The plugin concentrates on functionality over design so that designers can style the buttons to their specific needs. Only minimal customization options are available, e.g. for the button order.
Sometimes less really is more.
Answering to comments on your site is a central part of promoting your content. Nothing is a better guarantee for traffic than building a loyal community.
Postmatic is a plugin I only became aware of when a site I am working with started sending me emails about comments under my articles and offered me to answer them via email!
How awesome is that?
No logging into the other site, not even having to go to the post URL, just hitting Reply in my email inbox — what a cool way to handle comments and keep the conversation going!
Plus, the plugin recently got another addition named Optins which offers several ways to invite commenters to hop onto your email list. Sign me up.
Double whammy for the guys behind Postmatic because here is another one of their creations.
Epoch is similar to Disqus, a comment system that completely replaces the native WordPress comments. However, Disqus has gotten some flak lately and Epoch might be a worthy alternative.
Rather than doing away with WordPress comments, this plugin turns them into a real-time commenting platform.
That means everything is happening right in front of your eyes like live chat, no page reload necessary to view the latest comments. Good news for visitors and server load alike.
Plus, Epoch makes nice with CDNs, mobile devices, other comment plugins and of course Postmatic.
Isn’t it a shame when your older content just vanishes into obscurity? I mean, you put a lot of time and effort into creating it, right?
I myself know how tedious it is to go through your archive and repost the good stuff from earlier. You know you should to it, but there are so many other things to do.
Good thing then that Revive Old Post can do this for you.
Formerly known as Tweet Old Post, the authors have extended the plugin’s functionality to include Facebook and LinkedIn as sharing options.
Choose a time interval, number of posts to share, add hashtags, include links and off you go.
You can also exclude categories and specific posts to you don’t want to see back in the light of day (don’t worry, we all have those).
While SEO is constantly on everyone’s mind, SEO for images is a neglected topic on many websites and blogs. So much so that I recently wrote an entire article just on that topic.
To get you started, here is an aptly-named plugin which will dynamically provide title and alt attributes for all your images. Merely activate, provide your pattern and you are good to go.
An additional cool thing is that it leaves your database alone. Therefore, upon deactivation everything will go back to the way it was before.
Other Cool Free WordPress Plugins
Here are a few more items that didn’t fit any particular category but were nevertheless so awesomethey just had to be included on the list.
I always like to mention SportsPress as a great example for a well-going niche product.
Its authors successfully identified a need that was clearly unmet in the WordPress market and then knocked it out of the park with their solution.
SportsPress has everything you need in order to create a website for a sports team or club. It allows you to create league tables, player profiles and statistics, promote upcoming matches (including venue and map) and run an event calendar.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Additional features allow you to set up a professional sports team website quickly and easily.
I also know the team behind the plugin and they work hard to improve their product. Definitely worth checking out.
Give caught my eye because it has over 50 solid five-star ratings at more than 3,000 installs. That’s not an easy thing to do and very respectable.
The plugin is an all-in-one solution for accepting donations online and ideal for non-profits and anyone else who is collecting money for a good cause.
The feature list includes highly customizable donations forms, reporting features and email templates. There’s no commission for using the plugin, everything you collect stays with you.
Plus, the people behind Give seem to be really invested and hell bent on making a great product.
I think anyone who tinkers with WordPress professionally has — at some point — thought about building an online course.
All of us wantrepreneurs might have gotten one step closer with LearnPress, a full-fledged learning management system (LMS) for WordPress.
The plugin lets you easily create, manage and sell anything from single lessons to entire courses. Here is a video rundown of some of its capabilities:
Like many plugins on this list, LearnPress is pretty fresh on the market.
Therefore the team is still working on bits like payment gateways and other important extensions. Users might have to have some patience before they can take full advantage of the plugin.
However, I’m already looking forward to see what comes out of this.
What Are Your Best Free WordPress Plugins 2015?
I hope the list above has provided you with a few new ideas for plugins that are worth checking out. I certainly learned a lot during the research.
What makes me really happy is to see the many cool ideas the WordPress community continues to come up with. Before, I had no idea most of these plugins even existed.
Yet, as can be seen WordPress becomes a more and more professional ecosystem every day. It provides solutions for many of the challenges in modern web publishing.
Seeing the high quality of and dedicated teams behind many of these creations gives me confidence for the future of WordPress and I am excited to see what new and improved plugins next year will bring us.
What are some of your best plugin discoveries this year? Tell us what gems you have found in the comments below.