I've been experimenting with a new blog, and I've been struggling to choose the best free WordPress plugins available in 2013.
As I'm sure you know, the deeper you dig into the 26,000+ WordPress plugins, the trickier it gets. For one thing, you don't want to install a plugin that hides a malicious script that spreads spam.
If you go overboard and install too many plugins, you can slow down your site.
Then there's the problem of wondering whether your blog will break if you install a plugin or new theme, and then upgrade to the latest version of WordPress.
You could simply go to WordPress.org and choose the most popular or highest rated plugins, but there's no guarantee you'll actually end up with the BEST ones. Old plugins that have been around for years skew the voting.
So I decided to narrow the choices by seeking out the opinions of four highly successful, veteran affiliates – Rosalind Gardner, Neil Shearing, Rae Hoffman and John Gibb – to find out which free WordPress plugins they think are the best.
Here's what they use and recommend. To make it easy to find the plugins, I've added a summary and brief description of each one.
Rosalind Gardner, successful affiliate, author, speaker, affiliate coach, and Internet marketing consultant, recommends:
Akismet (free for personal blogs)
Broken Link Checker
Breadcrumb Navigation XT
Contact Form 7
Deactivate Visual Editor
Dynamic Content Gallery
Allow HTML in Category Descriptions
Jetpack by WordPress.com
Login Lockdown (not updated in over 2 years)
Mass delete unused tags
Platinum SEO Pack
Search and Replace
Shareaholic | share buttons & related posts
Subscribe to Comments
Theme Test Drive
WP Simple Firewall
WP No Category Base
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
(Rosalind also uses a variety of Genesis plugins, designed to go with the Genesis Framework, a premium theme, which adds a lot of versatility to WordPress and has dozens of beautifully designed themes.)
“What I've found is that as WordPress steadily improves, its creators and WordPress theme developers incorporate the most useful plugin functions,” Rosalind told me.
“For example, in using the StudioPress Genesis themes, I have been able to eliminate some navigation plugins such as those used to create breadcrumbs and menu navigation.
Warning About Broken Link Checker
“I've discovered that some plugins should be used with caution, such as the Broken Link Checker,” Ros says. “It was sending so many 'empty clicks' to Commission Junction merchants that they sent me a warning letter to suspend its use. Now I use it sparingly and deactivate the plugin when not in use.”
UPDATE: Ros says that list makes her look like a plugin fanatic. “I should have mentioned that I don't use all of them on each of my blogs.”
Neil Shearing, successful affiliate and author, recommends:
Broken Link Checker
Contact Form 7
Flash Video Player (not updated for 2 years)
Google XML Sitemaps
Minimum Word Count
Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions
W3 Total Cache
“I don't generally like having a huge number of plugins,” Neil says. I suspect that the more plugins you have, the more they clog up your WordPress database like too much software on your desktop machine slows it to a crawl.
“Some I use rarely, for specific tasks, such as the Broken Link Checker, and some I use just because I'm too stubborn to remove them and they still work, like Google XML Sitemaps (its functionality is also in WordPress SEO),” Neil told me.
“Some may have been superceded, like WPtouch if you use a “responsive theme” which changes depending on how it's viewed. Although, those themes are more likely to be ‘premium' than freebies. I would be more likely to embed a YouTube video now than use Flash Video Player, so that's pretty much “legacy” too. The others I still use.”
Broken Link Checker
“My top free plugin that I use the most is the Display Widgets plugin,” Rae says. “I wrote a post about it here How to Create Targeted Sidebar Advertisements (Without Using Code) but essentially, I love the flexibility of being able to show or not show widgets depending on the page the user is on – and the intent of said page.
“And while there are several widgets that offer this option, Display Widgets has the most functionality without being daunting – meaning it doesn't need a manual to learn how to use,” she says.
“I use it to target advertisements as I discussed in that post, to run specific AdSense channels and also to detract attention on a sidebar where they're already where I want them to be (AKA they're on a ‘money page') or ATTRACT attention when they're on a popular page that doesn't have a money focus within the content.”
John Gibb, successful affiliate, affiliate coach, and owner of hundreds of blogs, recommends:
All in one SEO
Better WP Security
Facebook Comments For WP
Vixy YouTube Embed And Download
WP Captcha Free
W3 Total Cache
Comment Luv (for some blogs)
300 Blogs Hacked
John was stressed out, dealing with problems when I contacted him.
A few days later, he said:
“Recently, I had over 300 blogs hacked and deleted. Since then, I now use a low cost plugin called Sick Network, which helps keep my blogs secure and updated with a few clicks. You can manage 200+ domains from one simple dashboard interface.”
Also because of the multiple hackings, John is now using the free Better WP Security plugin, which helps protect your WordPress installation from attackers. It hardens standard WordPress security by hiding vital areas of your site, protecting access to important files via htaccess, preventing brute-force login attempts, detecting attack attempts, and more. It will email you when a file changes on your site.
Fortunately, John had backups of those hacked blogs.
“I was using Backup Buddy, but do manual backups for large blogs, with my tech support. I am going to get ManageWP soon and run that alongside Sick Network,” John said.
(Using ManageWP, you can manage, update, and back up all your WordPress sites from one dashboard. You can upgrade all your WordPress blogs with one click.)
“I will use Sick on a portion of domains, and ManageWP on a portion of domains. Sick is not so good for backups though – seems to freeze.”
John says free backup plugins are available, but with the amount of volume he has, he would rather just pay for premium services and plugins.”
Joost de Valk (Yoast)
A BIG question for many bloggers is: “Which is the best plugin for SEO?”
An old favorite free WordPress plugin, All in One SEO Pack, has been downloaded 14.9 million times, compared with 5.5 million for the newer WordPress SEO by Yoast. However, Yoast's plugin has been voted a higher average rating.
Which is better?
Search Engines News, a search engine optimization resource I've trusted for years, chooses the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast (Joost de Valk), narrowly over All in One SEO Pack.
To me, that makes Joost an SEO expert, so I've included his plugin recommendations here, too. (You can find his WordPress SEO recommendations here.)
WordPress SEO (naturally, it's his plugin!)
W3 Total Cache
SEO Friendly Images (free and paid versions available)
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
Comment Redirect (by Joost de Valk). Looks good but not updated for over 2 years.
Google Analytics for WordPress (by Joost de Valk)
Summary (in alphabetical order)
DESCRIPTION AND COMMENTS
|Ad Injection||“This free plugin can take a little getting used to, but it's fantastic for inserting ads with varying factors on your blog,” says Rae.|
|Akismet||Hugely popular anti-spam plugin (comes free with WordPress)|
|All in one SEO Pack||A good free plugin for basic on page SEO, says John.|
|Allow HTML in Category Descriptions||When you add text to a category description, WordPress strips out all most of the formatting. With this plugin, any HTML you add to the category description will not be deleted.|
|BackWPup||You can schedule easy and complete automatic backups.|
|Better WP Security||“Due to hacking, I am now using this plugin,” John says. It helps protect your WordPress installation from attackers… Hardens standard WordPress security by hiding vital areas of your site, protecting access to important files via htaccess, preventing brute-force login attempts, detecting attack attempts, and more.|
|Breadcrumb Navigation XT||“Generates locational breadcrumb trails for your WordPress blog. Used on all of my blogs … You don't need this if you're running StudioPress or Thesis as it's built into those themes,” says Rosalind.|
|Broken Link Checker||It spiders and checks all your links for broken ones. Neil was surprised to find thousands of broken links on his blog. It's useful, but use it sparingly and deactivate the plugin when you're not using it, says Rosalind.|
|CommentLuv||Helps you encourage comments by giving links back to other people's most recent blog posts. “I use this on websites where I am aiming to build a long-term following,” says John.|
|Compfight||“Lets you easily add images you can use on your blogs (legally),” says John. It helps you find Creative Commons licensed photographs.|
|Comment Redirect||Redirect commenters who have just made their first comment to a page of your choice. On this page, you could thank them for commenting and ask them to subscribe to your blog, like you on Facebook, or whatever you want. (Not updated in over 2 years.)|
|Contact Form 7||Simple and flexible way to create contact forms.|
|Deactivate Visual Editor||Deactivates the visual editor for a specific page or post by a custom field set by the author. “For use with Exec-PHP to ensure that you don't break your php code,” Ros says. (Not updated in over 2 years.)|
|Display Widgets||“I love the flexibility of being able to show or not show widgets depending on the page the user is on,” Rae says.|
|Dynamic Content Gallery||Creates a dynamic gallery of images for latest or featured content posts, categories, pages and Custom Post Type posts.|
|Exec-PHP||Executes PHP code in posts, pages and text widgets. (Not updated in over 2 years.)|
|FAQ-Tastic||An easy way to build an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your site.|
|Facebook Comments For WP||“This one, when set up right, will allow your readers to comment using their Facebook accounts,” says John. “Since many people practically live on this site nowadays, it's good to have it integrated.”|
|Flash Video Player||“Lets me stream Flash .flv files from my blog,” says Neil. “I use it a lot less nowadays as I prefer to embed YouTube movies after uploading the .flv files there first … this one is old and hasn't been updated for a long time, so you may want to skip it.”|
|Google Analytics for WordPress||Track your WordPress site easily and with lots of metadata: views per author and category, automatic tracking of outbound clicks and pageviews. By Yoast.|
|Google Sitemap Plugin||Good for a sitemap and gets you indexed fast, says John.|
|Google XML Sitemaps||“Google checks for the sitemap often, so why not add it to your blog in a few clicks with this plugin?” Neil says. (It's needed if you use WordPress SEO by Yoast, because that plugin includes an XML Sitemap module.)|
|Jetpack by WordPress.com||Heaps of features (comes free with WordPress).|
|Login Lockdown||Limits the number of login attempts from a given IP range. (Not updated in over 2 years.)|
|Mass Delete Unused Tags||Tidy up your blog by deleting unused tags.|
|Minimum Word Count||You can set a minimum word count required to publish a post. You can exempt administrators.|
|Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions||Clean up your database: Options include: Delete redundant revisions of posts and pages, delete trashed posts, pages and comments, delete spammed comments, delete unused tags, etc. “This is the plugin that helped me shrink my WordPress database by over a THIRD in just a few clicks,” Neil says.|
|Platinum SEO Pack||This SEO plugin allows you to specify keywords, description and more, says Ros. “I use it most often to specify a title that is more search engine friendly than the one used on my posts.” (Not updated in over 2 years.)|
|Popshops||“Use to build product feeds with affiliate marketing networks like Commission Junction, LinkShare, Google Affiliate Network, ShareASale, LinkConnector, buy.at, Pepperjam and more,” says Rosalind.|
|Quick Cache||Speed up your site. Quick Cache takes a real-time snapshot (building a cache) of every Page, Post, Category, Link, etc., for faster loading of pages.|
|Redirect||Helps protect (cloak) affiliate links and you can track your conversion, clicks to certain products/merchants etc., John says. (Not updated for over 2 years.)|
|Search Everything||Adds versatility to the basic WordPress default search. “I use this specifically to exclude pages from my search functions,” Ros says.|
|SEO Friendly Images||“It can automatically add the title of the post and or the image name to the image's alt and title tag,” says Joost. (free and paid versions)|
|Shareaholic | share buttons & related posts||Adds an attractive social bookmarking menu and related content widget.|
|Sharebar||Adds a dynamic and fully customizable vertical box to the left of a blog post that contains links/buttons to popular social networking sites.|
|Subscribe to Comments||Allows commenters to subscribe to email notifications for subsequent comments.|
|Theme Test Drive||Safely test drive any theme as an administrator, while visitors use the default one.|
|TweetMeme Button||Adds a button which easily lets you retweet your blog posts.|
|UpdraftPlus Backup||Easy and complete backups and restoration. Manual or automated backups. You can do backups to a variety of places. Neil uses it to make backups to Dropbox.|
|Vixy YouTube Embed And Download||“Lets you integrate YouTube videos easily. I always use it on my blogs,” John says.|
|W3 Total Cache||“A bit of work to set up, but that should make your blog an awful lot faster,” says Joost.|
|WP Captcha-Free||“Blocks comment spam without using captchas. Will never block all spam, though,” says John.|
|WordPress Simple Firewall||Protects your blog with a fire wall and your WordPress login against bots and brute force attacks.|
|WP-PageNavi||“You'll want to make sure that if a bot goes to a category page, it can reach all underlying pages without any trouble,” says Joost. Otherwise, if you have a lot of posts in a category, a bot might have to go back 10 pages…” This plugin solves the problem.|
|WP No Category Base||Removes the mandatory ‘Category Base' from your category permalinks (e.g. ‘/category/my-category/' to ‘/my-category/').|
|WP-DB-Backup||WordPress database backup. (Not updated in over 2 years)|
|WP-EMail||Allows people to recommend/send your post or page to a friend.|
|WP-Polls||Add a poll into a blog post or page.|
|WP-Print||Provide a printable version of your posts or pages.|
|WPSocialite||Faster loading pages. “Unlike a lot of social media plugins, which load the images along with the page and make loading slow to a crawl, you can set WPSocialite to load the images when a visitor scrolls down a page,” says Neil.|
|Yet Another Related Posts Plugin||“One way of getting search engines to get to your older content a bit easier, thus increasing your WordPress SEO capabilites a LOT, is by using a related posts plugin,” says Joost.|
|yaCAPTCHA||Helps you block comment spam from bots. (Not updated in 2 years.)|
If you try adding any of these plugins, I recommend you try one at a time, and then check to see if anything has broken. Because I'm not a programmer, I avoid ones that haven't been updated for years.
If you try any backup/restore plugin or software, it would be wise to do a trial backup and TEST the restore function. You wouldn't want to discover AFTER a disaster that the restore function doesn't work!
What do think? Are these the best free WordPress plugins?
I'd love to see your comments.