My Favourite Free WordPress Plugins
Plugins are pieces of software that can be added to your WordPress website. They give your website additional functions and features. They are very useful, can save you time, enhance the look and usability of your site and are mostly free. If you can think of something you want your website to do, there will be a plugin to do it. Here are my favourite free WordPress plugins for different uses.
What You Should Know About Plugins
Before I get in to my favourite free WordPress plugins, I am going to highlight a few things you should know about them.
Keep them updated
This is mainly for security reasons. One of the main reasons plugins are updated, is because hackers find ways in though older versions. However, it is a good idea to not update them straight away. This is because there may be bugs that won’t do your website any good. So, give it a week or so for others to find the bugs.
These need to also be updated or deleted. This is also for security reasons, as they can act as backdoors to your website. Plugins actually put strain on your website, therefore deactivate them until you decide to use them.
The number of plugins
Plugins are just a pieces of code, this means that the amount of plugins you have installed and activated shouldn’t really matter. What does matter, is how well the code has been written. Therefore, it would be better to have a number of well written plugins, than one badly written one taking up your resources. However, there is a rule of thumb that you shouldn’t have more than five plugins. This is because the more you have, the more they are likely to conflict. Some people say that lots of plugins slow down your site, however, there are plugins that actually speed it up! You just need to be mindful about downloading plugins and not go silly.
Check the ratings
When you download a plugin from the WordPress back office, you will notice some stats. There will be a star rating and a number of users. This is a good indication of the quality and usefulness of each plugin. You should also check out:
- Number of downloads
- Average rating
- The developer (are they well-established?)
- Evidence of active support
Installing a plugin is an important decision for you to make. Plugins are a piece of code you are putting in to your site that adds functionality. Therefore you need to decide if you really need it.
Theres are some WordPress plugins that you have to pay for, or pay for an upgrade. However, just because you are paying for it, it doesn’t mean that it is any good. For most functions, you will likely find free WordPress plugins to the jib perfectly well. However, there are some very good “paid” plugins. Before you take the plunge, you really need to make sure that it is what you need and that it is from a reputable developer.
Plugins are probably the best thing about WordPress websites. However, the huge amount of them available is pretty overwhelming at first. If you look in to the things I have highlighted above, you shouldn’t get in to too much trouble. Also, as you get more experienced, you will learn more about the right ones to choose.
Checklist for Choosing WordPress Plugins
1. Make a list of features
First you need to write a list of things you would like your website to do using plugins. You should begin with those features your website cannot function without. Some functions are completely essential for websites, such as SEO and anti spam. These are the ones that should be at the top of your list.
2. Search for plugins
During your search for appropriate WordPress plugins, you will find free and premium versions. Start with the free WordPress plugins, you will find them on the WordPress website, but it is easier to go through the plugin menu in the back office of your website. There are thousands of free WordPress plugins. They are mostly well written and are easy to find, as they are categorised. Lots of these free WordPress plugins have premium versions, giving you extra functionality and support if you need it.
3. Install Good Plugins
When I say “good”, I mean quality plugins that have been tried and tested. You can easily check the ratings, reviews and number of downloads of each of these WordPress plugins. This gives you a good idea of how good they are. You can also google the name of the plugin and you will find reviews from bloggers that have used them.
Bonus WordPress Plugin Tips
- If you have a particular feature you want your website to have, you can use the WordPress plugin Checker. This is a website that can detect if any of the 50 most popular plugins are installed on a WordPress powered website.
- If you find that your new WordPress plugin isn’t working, this could mean you are getting a conflict with another plugin. To see if this is the case, you will need to deactivate all of the other plugins one by one. This will help you to eliminate the offending plugin. Then you need to decide which one you want to keep.
Free Plugins for Speed
If your website is nice and fast, it can give you better search engine rankings. This leads to improved conversion rates (increased sales and signups). It will also save you storage space and bandwidth. Therefore, if your website speed isn’t too good, you may want to look in to these free WordPress plugins.
Lazy Load by WP Rocket
Images really have an effect on your website’s speed. Lazy Load only shows images when they are visible to the user. It also works with iframes. These are what allow you to put videos on to your website. If you have lots of images on your website, this is a good one to install. It is very easy to install and set up. There are lots of settings, but until you are comfortable playing with them, you can leave them allow to do their job.
EWWW Image Optimizer
The EWWW Image Optimizer is another free wordpress plugin that speeds up your website. It optimises your images to make them more responsinve. While EWWW I.O. will automatically optimize new images that you upload, it can also optimize all the images that you have already uploaded, and optionally convert your images to the best file format. You can choose pixel perfect compression or high compression options that are visually lossless.
W3 Total Cache
Cacheing is a great way of speeding up your website. W3 Total Cache makes a noticeable difference to the speed of your website. This can be a bit technical to set up, but you can also check out WP Rocket Cacheing Plugin. However, you should only have one cache plugin active at a time, as they will conflict.
Free Plugins For SEO
You are most likely wanting to attract as many visitors to your site as possible. As I have discussed before, content is king. Good content gives your website good search engine optimisation, and there are plugins to help you do this.
All In One SEO Pack
AIO is a very popular SEO plugin. It is very easy to use, so it is ideal for beginners. There is an All in One SEO Pack Pro version too. This gives you more features such as video sitemaps, eCommerce SEO, 1 year of professional support, and several other features. But, if you are just starting out, the free version of the plugin is fine.
YOAST is probably the most popular SEO plugin. Arguably, it is even easier to use than AIO. Again, there is a pro version, but the most important aspects of it are in the free version. It allows you to easily control titles, meta descriptions, manage sitemaps, set keywords and track how often you have used them.
Free Plugins for Design
Making your WordPress website look good is much easier with a good plugin. Some plugins allow you to do things that you would normally need to know html code to do. Therefore, websites can be made to look a lot nicer with the right plugin.
Elementor is a very versatile free plugin. There is a pro version, but the free version has lots of functions for making your website looking good. You simply drag and drop certain “elements” on to the page you are working on. These elements include:
- Test boxes
- Short code boxes (ideal for Youtube videos, affiliate linked images and anything you can write yourself)
- Star ratings
- Social media
- Many more
I use it on all my sites. It lets me do fun stuff, like make this text spin around!
Free Plugins for Social Media
Giving your website visitors easy access to your social media channels is a great way of building a regular audience. There are certain plugins that allow you to put links to your social media on your website.
WP Social Sharing
WP Social Sharing is quite a light weight social media plugin. But, if you just want to add icons for various social media channels, this is a goos free WordPress plugin. It is very simple to use, and it lets you customise the share text and add custom text, before your share buttons.
Everything is responsive, which means it works well on mobile devices. This free WordPress plugin uses CSS3 buttons rather than images.
Custom Share Buttons With Floating Sidebar
This free WordPress plugin hasn’t got a particularly snappy name. But you won’t be under any doubt in what it does.
If you are still not sure, this plugin, lets you put a floating share bar to the right or left of the pages on your website. You can also add your own message to the share buttons, for an element of customisation.
With this plugin, you can control exactly which pages/post types you want the sidebar to be displayed on. You don’t actually have to have a floating sidebar though, it actually lets you add normal social media share buttons before or after your post content.
However, for the best results, you need to upgrade to the Pro version. This is because the free version’s floating sidebar is not responsive. So if you do use the free version, make sure that you tick the box to Disable Sidebar For Mobile.
Free Plugins for Spam Protection
Website comments are great for SEO, as Google like to see active websites that people are engaging with. Unfortunately, you can get people spamming your site via the comments sections. Spammers, will try to slip their own affiliate links in and try to use your site for their own backlinks. Akismet is a super simple anti spam WordPress plugin, that you just have to activate. It will catch the majority of spam, giving you less to worry about.
Essential WordPress Plugins
Now you have an idea of some good free WordPress plugins, and a check list, you should be able to get the functionality your website needs.
You really need to make sure you have the following:
- An SEO plugin
- An anti spam plugin
- Plugins for website speed
Your website host should be able to provide good website security. If not, you may want to look in to some security plugins. These are likely to be quite limited unless you pay for a premium version. All my websites are hosted through Wealthy Affiliate.