7 Essential Free WordPress Plugins

Cynthia CloskeyGeneral

One of WordPress’s great strengths is its extensibility: You can add most any feature you need through a plugin or theme (what WordPress calls its templates). Here are 7 free plugins I find myself adding to nearly every WordPress website I set up. Most of these also offer paid, premium versions, which add even more features.

(Note that I don’t mention any security, backup, or caching plugins here. The hosting company we use is WP Engine, a managed WordPress hosting platform. They handle performance, backup, and security for our sites, so we don’t need to worry about those issues.)

WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO plugin examplehttps://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/
WordPress SEO by Yoast (Joost de Valk) provides comprehensive but easy-to-use search engine optimization tools to your site. It adds a preview to every post and page editor, so you can see how the page titles and descriptions you set will most likely look in search results. And it offers analysis and recommendations per page to help you make your site as search-engine-friendly as possible, with a minimum of effort. It includes XML sitemaps, breadcrumb paths (for better internal linking), and more.

Google Analytics for WordPress

Another plugin from Yoast (Joost de Valk), Google Analytics for WordPress does more than embed your Google Analytics code into your site. It ensures you’re using the latest code, helps you use more advanced tracking features like monitoring downloads and outbound link clicks, and metadata. Using this will make your Google Analytics reports richer and more informative, so you can learn more about what interests your website visitors.

Shadowbox JS

Shadowbox JS at workhttp://sivel.net/wordpress/shadowbox-js/
The Shadowbox JS plugin improves how visitors look at the images on your website. If a visitor clicks a thumbnail or small image on your site, the default thing that happens is they are shown either the full size image on a page by itself, with no link or button to take them back to the page they had been on, or they’re taken to an attachment page with the image on it but with a confusing title and strange layout. With Shadowbox JS, clicking a picture opens a popup, with the original page still behind it grayed out. The visitor can click through a gallery of all the images on the page. It’s a more elegant way to show photos on your site, and provides a more usable and friendly experience to your website visitors.

Header and Footer

Many web management tools require you to add code to the head of the pages in your website, or to the bottom of the page: verification codes for webmaster tools, links to scripts for webfonts, traffic tracking scripts, and on and on. Some themes provide a space for you to insert such codes, but if you change themes you need to remember to copy the codes. Instead, you can use Header and Footer, which very simply injects the code you provide into the head element or into the bottom of the body element of every page in your site. It’s indispensable.

Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin

If you make structural changes to your site and move pages from one URL to another, you need to redirect visitors and search engines to the new URLs from the old ones. This plugin makes that easy. It’s also useful when you want to create a short, easy-to-type URL for a landing page or as a redirect to an external address.

Google Plus Authorship

Search results with and without Google Plus Authorship infohttp://marto.lazarov.org/plugins/google-plus-authorship
You can link content you write on your site to your Google+ profile. This causes your Google+ photo to show up next to your posts in search results — it’s eye-catching, Google seems to rank such results highly, and it helps people recognize you and the topics you write about. This plugin makes it easy to set up the links between your site and your Google+ profile. Check out this screenshot: The top result uses the authorship relationship, while the lower results are regular search results. Both are great, but which one would you be more likely to click?

WP to Twitter

Twitter is more than a broadcast tool, and it’s best used as a way to personally connect with people. But it’s still useful for announcements, and automatically tweeting your new blog posts ensures that you won’t forget to tell people you published something new. I’ve found the WP to Twitter plugin to be reliable and simple to set up and use.

How about you? What are your indispensable WordPress plugins?


Photo credit: Paul Wilkerson on Flickr