The WordPress plugin repository now consists of well over 50,000 plugins that can be used to achieve everything from adding an animated snow effect to your website at Christmas time to protecting your website from brute force attacks that can cripple your hosting and bring your website to its knees.
In this post, we’re going to cover our favourite free plugins that are available now to use on your WordPress website. To be included in this guide we have used the following criteria:
- The plugin must be recently (and regularly) updated. If a plugin hasn’t been updated in the last 6 months then warning bells should ring. A regularly updated plugin suggests that developers are always improving the plugin, keeping it secure and making sure that it is compatible with the latest versions of WordPress.
- The plugin must be free. Every plugin that is available on the WordPress plugin repository is free but many are restricted in their functionality unless you pay for a premium version. We’ve only included plugins that provide a good level of functionality without needing to sign up for a premium version.
- We’ve used it. So we can vouch for its quality.
Security should always be one of the first things that you think about when creating a WordPress website. The exceptional Wordfence plugin gives you a high level of protection against hackers.
It contains a firewall that blocks known malicious traffic from visiting your website by checking the IP address of your visitors. They have a massive database containing all the IP addresses of the bad guys that they have discovered and if you’re a paid subscriber your website is protected against their most up-to-date database. Free users have a 30-day delay on the latest protection but this should be OK for most small business websites.
The plugin also contains a vulnerability and malicious file scanner. It will let you know when your website is vulnerable to attack because of a security hole in a plugin or theme. It will also let you know if any malicious files have been found on your website.
Both of these plugins are a great help with optimising your website for search engines. There’s no need to install both as they both feature the same tools. Yoast has been around for a long time so it has more downloads and a wider range of online help available but SEOPress prides itself on its small footprint on your website – with no adverts and gives more of a white label solution.
Both enable you to add titles and meta descriptions to each page or post that you have and will help you optimise your page content for your chosen keyword. You can also specify what title, description and image are shown when you share your content on social media.
Both allow you to hide certain content from search engines and also create XML sitemaps for you to submit to Google Search Console.
We now use SEOPress as our tool of choice for our clients as the premium version gives us better value for money to use on multiple websites. If you’re only using the plugin on one website then the choice is less obvious and both plugins will do a great job of helping you optimise your website for search engines.
There is a common misconception that installing these plugins is enough for your SEO. Just installing the plugin will have no effect on your website’s search ranking. SEO is an ongoing job that requires planning, research, and continuous testing and improving.
You’ve been doing your marketing and networking and people are starting to visit your website… well… hang on a minute… wait… we’ll be there soon I’m sure… Oh, bugger it. I’ll try somewhere else instead.
It’s said that 40% of people won’t wait longer than 3 seconds for a website to load. I’m not quite that impatient but if I don’t see anything happening in 7 or 8 seconds then I’m off, probably for good. There are so many factors to think of with website performance but one useful thing to do on a WordPress website is to add a caching plugin.
WordPress is built on the PHP framework which means that each time someone visits your website the server is building a new version of the page to display to the visitor. Using page caching is a way of storing a pre-built version of your website on the server so that when a new visitor comes along your web page is already built and loads much quicker – something that Google *loves*.
Some great premium tools are available and we choose to work with WP Rocket for its simplicity and great results. However, W3 Total Cache is a fantastic free tool and will instantly reduce your loading times without any technical setup.
You’ve spent what feels like forever creating an amazing WordPress website but then disaster strikes. You’ve not been as on-the-ball as you should’ve been when it comes to updates and security and you’ve been hacked. Or maybe your cheap hosting company was indeed too good to be true – they’ve gone out of business and your website has gone with them.
It’s not always a good idea to rely on the “backups” provided by your hosting company. I recently spent a good chunk of the day trying to do a restore of a website that was hacked whilst hosted by GoDaddy – if you’re not a technical person then don’t assume that you’ll be able to do it yourself. There are several good backup plugins available that make the job a lot easier (BackupBuddy and VaultPress for example) but we recommend UpdraftPlus coupled with Dropbox or Google Drive storage to keep your backups safe away from your web-server. Relying on backups stored in the same place as your website or on your own computer is not the best plan as these could be lost also.
The premium version gives more options for backup locations, incremental backups to save on space and also offers an amazing migration tool if you need to move your website for whatever reason.
Do you have a ‘product’? Imagine going into your local supermarket and not finding anything for sale. You’re after some cat food so find the right aisle… just opposite the dishwasher tablets… but all that is there is a list of the cat food that they sell with a phone number to call or a form to fill in to register your interest. Aaaarrghhh! Your cat is not going to be happy that she’s going to have to wait for the supermarket to get back to you with a price before she can eat. Why can’t you just buy the cat food now?! If you sell a product or have a service with a fixed cost then why not sell it directly from your website?
WooCommerce is your best way of selling online through your website. You can easily add new products, control stock availability, accept payments through many different vendors (e.g. Paypal, Stripe, Amazon Pay…) and automate emails that are sent out to buyers. WooCommerce is a free plugin so you’ll only be paying your transaction fees through the payment providers.
There is also a wide range of WooCommerce add ons that will enable you to do pretty much anything else that you want to do with your spanking new online shop. Gift Vouchers? Personalised products? Wish lists? Not a problem.
Oh. My. God. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the new breed of page builders have revolutionised how people build websites. Divi used to be the go-to tool to build websites if you didn’t have much technical know-how. It has now started to look a little dated and clumsy due to the rise of Beaver Builder and Elementor which both make website building a complete joy. Using a page builder was considered by techy WordPress snobs to be cheating and adding bloat to your website (increasing page load speeds) but with Elementor and Beaver Builder the bloat is much less and the pure flexibility of the tools mean you can create pretty much anything you want. There will forever be developers that tell you that using a custom-built theme is the only pure way of building a website but using a tool like Elementor allows our clients to easily update their own websites if they so wish (cutting out the need of the developer to update your website) – and we consider this a GOOD THING. We love empowering our clients to be able to update their own websites that we have built them – and we thank Elementor for this. Both Beaver Builder and Elementor are amazing plugins – I can’t honestly remember the reason why we chose Elementor over Beaver Builder as our tool of choice – perhaps it was because there’s only room for one small furry creature in our business.
Contact Form 7 makes adding a contact form to your website super easy. Visitors fill in the form which fires off an email to your inbox. Make sure that you add a Google CAPTCHA to your form though to try and stop the bots! Flamingo is a plugin that works with Contact Form 7 to save a copy of each form submitted just in case you accidentally delete the email from your inbox! Just make sure you’re GDPR compliant!
However, this said, if you’re using Elementor then it’s got an awesome form builder built-in (if slightly less powerful than Contact Form 7).
Sending out emails FROM your website is not as easy as you might think. The default method that WordPress uses may mean that emails like password reset or important WooCommerce transactional emails end up in spam folders – or even worse aren’t even getting that far!
WP Mail SMTP helps with this by using the SMTP account that comes with your email hosting to increase the chances of your email being delivered successfully. Set yourself up a free Sendgrid account and link this to WP Mail SMTP to make sending these emails much MUCH easier.
If you want to do some bulk mass-mailing (for example newsletters) then these will be best done outside of your website using an email marketing tool – our favourite is ConvertKit (affiliate link) but other popular choices are Mailchimp, Active Campaign and Campaign Monitor.
Loads of prospects are visiting your site but you don’t know who. Wouldn’t it be great to have a way of capturing their email addresses so that you can start sending them emails?
If you do decide to go with Mailchimp (it is probably the most used email marketing tool by small businesses – and it has a free plan) then the Mailchimp4WP plugin connects your website to your Mailchimp account to make it super-easy adding people to your email list.
But don’t forget – you’ll probably need to offer some kind of incentive for people to sign up for your mailing list. A lead magnet (ideally packed full of value like this one!) will definitely entice prospects to sign up or perhaps a coupon code giving new signups a discount on their first purchase?
Have you ever noticed how Facebook seems to know what websites you have been visiting? It may seem creepy but it’s actually just a simple little thing called the Facebook Pixel that can be used to help you remarket to people that visited your website previously. Once the Facebook Pixel is installed on your site you can create audiences within Facebook Ads Manager that include people that have visited your website whilst being logged into their Facebook accounts. You can then create Facebook ads that are targeted specifically at these groups of people. Clever, huh? There are cleaner ways of adding the Pixel to your website but this will do the trick and will be easier for most users (you can also use it to add Google Analytics code).
Setting up a free SSL certificate is now super easy (as long as your web host isn’t rubbish. If they are, then move. NOW!) but making sure that your website is configured to use that SSL certificate is not always so easy for novices. This plugin will force your website to use the secure HTTPS address instead of HTTP and will stop Google Chrome and other browsers flagging up your website as Not-Secure.
If you’re building your own website and don’t have the knowledge (or desire) to set up a separate environment to build your website on then you’re probably going to be building it where everyone can see it. The problem with this is that potential customers will be able to see your site before it’s ready. To solve this you can use the Coming Soon plugin to show everyone else a holding page – perhaps containing some of your contact details – so that only you can see your work in progress. You can also use it to pop your website into Maintenance mode to make some alterations.
I’ll leave you with one final comment. Please please PLEASE keep your plugins updated – fixes are regularly released for all of the above plugins and sometimes they are to fix vulnerability flaws.
Keeping your WordPress website maintained and clean is vital to keeping you online and your data safe. See https://www.websitecare.co.uk for information on our Website Care Plans that cover all of this for you (if you hate that kind of thing!).