WordPress is a wonderland of plugins that can dramatically improve performance and functionality at no cost whatsoever. If you’re not taking advantage of this suite of add-ons, you’re really missing out. To give you an idea of just how much you can add to your Web presence at no expense, we’ve assembled this list of ten of the top free WordPress plugins available right now.
1. Google Analytics by Yoast
Google Analytics is the most powerful free solution for tracking and understanding your traffic. The main hidden cost of it is that it can be unruly to manage and is especially confusing to newcomers. Google Analytics by Yoast both simplifies the system and extends its functionality, while also providing the convenience of displaying metrics directly in the WordPress dashboard rather than forcing you to log into a separate account. Link tracking is a big feature of this plugin. It gives you the ability to view both outbound links and downloads as either events or page views, and also integrates tracking of search result and “404 error” pages.
The base plugin is free, and has almost complete functionality. Paying for the premium version adds technical support and the ability to use custom dimensions.
2. Really Simple CAPTCHA
CAPTCHAs are a virtual requirement for any site that has users sign up for something. Unfortunately, they’re also a common point of failure that drives those same users away from the site in frustration, either because they are unreadable or do not function correctly.
Really Simple CAPTCHA is an easy, all-in-one plugin that keeps the verification process entirely in-house. There’s no connecting to an external server for your CAPTCHA, thus no chance of failure to deliver. The CAPTCHA plugin generates a four-character code that is easy for human eyes to read but will still trip up bots.
The default form that Really Simple CAPTCHA integrates with is Contact Form 7, but it can be configured to work with other plugins.
Akismet is the front-line defense against spam for millions of sites and blogs. Not only do these intrusive comments break up conversations and turn readers off, they can also contain deceptive and harmful URLs that lead your users to malware and hacking attempts. Akismet is a continually growing database that logs previous spam attempts (as reported by the plugin’s gigantic user base) and automatically compares suspect comments to them. URLs are also displayed fully, preventing them from being hidden in text.
The only catch with this one is that it is only free to personal blogs and sites. Business sites will have to pay for a subscription to use it.
4. NextGEN Gallery
Need to display an image gallery? NextGEN Gallery is the most popular way to do it through WordPress, with a user base in the tens of millions. Both slideshow and thumbnail galleries are supported with a wide range of display options including transitions and lightbox effects. Every gallery displayed throughout your site or blog is managed from one central location. It’s also easy to add watermarks, create albums and resize all thumbnails across multiple galleries with just one command.
The basic version is free and has full functionality. Paid upgrades are available that add new gallery display types, a full-screen professional lightbox, comments for individual images and technical support by e-mail.
For those who need a storefront that seamlessly integrates with WordPress, Woocommerce is one of the best answers. WooCommerce works not just for physical goods that are shipped, but also for the sale of digital downloads, subscriptions, bookings and memberships. The ability to accept credit cards, Paypal and bank transfers is also built right in and ready to go.
How could something like this possibly be free? The developers make their money by selling customized themes and extensions for individual stores. But the core functionality is absolutely free to anyone who cares to use it.
6. Google XML Sitemaps
This free plugin simplifies the process of creating an XML sitemap. So what is that, and why do you want one? Well, if your site or blog has many different links and pages, search engines can sometimes have trouble identifying and classifying all of them. The XML sitemap is a link page aimed specifically at search engines, formatted in a way that is quick and easy for them to understand. The plugin not only automatically generates this sitemap for you, but also automatically notifies the major search engines when a new page or post is created.
7. Wordfence Security
Wordfence is an open-source and completely free security solution for WordPress that first scans your existing site for potential compromise before reinforcing it against future attacks. Core features include blocking of both individual and network attacks, two-step authentication by way of phone, and checks themes and plugins against a massive database of known malware before allowing them to activate. Falcon Engine caching that improves website speed is also included as a bonus.
All of these features are standard with the free version, but there is also a premium paid upgrade that adds enhanced technical support, password auditing and the ability to block entire countries among other things.
Want to back up an entire site all in one shot for offline archiving? Or do you need to move your site from one host to another? Duplicator makes the process about as painless as is humanly possible. This is all possible with the free version, but the premium paid version adds the ability to transfer a site to Dropbox or Google Drive as well as set regularly scheduled backups.
WP-Optimize cleans and optimizes databases without requiring any actual technical knowledge (and not much effort either). Some of the things that are cleaned up automatically with WP-Optimize include outdated revisions, incomplete posts, spam comments and wasted space in database tables.
Like tables, but don’t want to learn how to code? TablePress is the answer. Both tables and the images included in them can be set to be responsive for all types of mobile devices. Tables can also be exported to and from Excel, JSON, CSV, and HTML.
These ten examples of top free WordPress plugins add an amazing amount of added power when designing any site or blog, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. You can find a free solution for just about any need within the WordPress framework. Hopefully this collection of plugins gets you off to a strong start!