5 Free Essential WordPress Plugins

5 Free Essential WordPress Plugins

One of the best things about WordPress is the amount of flexibility and customization that can be done through the use of plugins. Now, it’s never a good idea to load your WordPress installation up with a ton of plugins because that can really put a load on your site and slow it down.  If you have a bunch of old plugins (and themes) installed that you aren’t using it’s a good idea to delete them so they aren’t using up resources.

Almost every WordPress website is going to use at least 1 or 2 plugins. We put together a list of 5 Essential WordPress plugins that will help your website’s search ranking, security and speed as well as keeping it backed up and helping people contact you.  Not only these plugins great, they’re free! Most of them have premium features/versions that you can buy, but for most websites the free versions may prove valuable enough.

SEO – Yoast SEO

WordPress Yoast SEO

WordPress is a great platform when it comes to SEO. Yoast SEO takes it to thge next level. Not only do you have complete control over your page titles and descriptions, Yoast SEO will analyze your pages and give you an in-depth analysis of both the good and bad parts of the page, including: keyword density, proper page title/description, amount of words and a Flesch-Kincaid readability score. Your page analysis comes with an easy Green/Yellow/Red light indicator to show you how your page is doing.  If you see a green light, great job!   Red, it’s time to check to page analysis to see where you can improve.

Yoast SEO also allows you to easily set what image shows up when your post is shared on Facebook and Google+ giving you more control over how your content is shared on social media. You can also set the default description that shows up beneath the image.

No matter what type of business website you’re using WordPress for, you need to make sure your pages are put together properly and optimized as best as possible to get those get Google search results.  With Yoast SEO you’re in good hands. There are a lot of other WordPress plugins that can help you with your SEO. Another great WordPress SEO plugin you may consider is All In One SEO Pack.

Security – Wordfence

WordPress security Wordfence

WordPress is one of the most popular way to build a website in the world.  According to WordPress, it powers 23% of the top 10 million websites. With that popularity has come the need for good security.  With that many websites being powered by WordPress it has become a popular target for hackers and malware.

One of the most important steps in WordPress security is keeping things up to date. That means your core WordPress files, plugins and themes. On top of that you should really install some sort of security as well.  Our top choice for a WordPress security plugin is Wordfence.

Wordfence comes in both free and premium versions. For most basic websites the free version will do a great job of securing your website. Even the basic version will:

  • Scan your site for malware and potential threats
  • Lock out attempted logins by bots and scrapers
  • Notify you when admins log in to the site
  • Real-time blocking of known attackers
  • And way more…

Security can’t be an afterthought. Plan ahead and keep your site safe. Another level of security can be added with the Sucuri Security free plugin from Sucuri.  This plugin will help harden your WordPress installation and can be used in conjunction with Wordfence.

Speed – WP Super Cache

WordPress caching WP Super Cache

Your visitors don’t want to have to wait for your page to load to get to your content.  According to Kissmetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in less than 2 seconds and 40% will abandon the site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Caching plugins help speed up the way your web pages load by storing your content as static html so that it loads quicker for your visitors. There are numerous WordPress caching plugins that you can choose from. For it’s ease of use and great results we recommend WP Super Cache. At the most basic level all you need to do is install the plugin and turn it on. The plugin will handle the rest. Want to speed up your site even more? WP Super Cache will work with most popular CDN networks as well.

One of the most popular, and powerful, caching WordPress plugins is W3 Total Cache. While it may be a more powerful plugin, it is also a lot more difficult to set up properly. In exchange for the ease of use we still recommend WP Super Cache in most cases.

If you’re really trying to keep your plugin count down, it’s worth noticing that another benefit of  using Wordfence for your security, it also includes their Wordfence Falcon Engine caching option. Like WP Super Cache you simply turn it on and it handles all the caching for you.

Contact Forms – Contact Form 7

WordPress Contact Form 7

When your visitors are on your website and need to contact you it’s best to make it easy for all visitors. Contact forms are better than simply listing an email address because your visitor may not have email capabilities on the computer or phone that they’re using at the moment. Contact forms work on almost every device possible so are great on your mobile-friendly websites.

Many WordPress themes will come with a basic contact form option. If you want more control over what questions are asked and required you will need to install a contact form plugin.  Contact Form 7, with over a million active installs, is by far one of the most popular options.

For a free contact form plugin you get a remarkably easy plugin that is extremely flexible. You can create as many contact forms as you like and it only takes a simple shortcode to get the form to show up in your page or sidebar. When someone fills out your contact form you get an email with all of their responses. It can also be set up to send an autoresponse when a vistor completes the form.

Contact Form 7 can easily integrate ReCaptcha to keep out bots and your visitors don’t need to be able to decipher those tiny little pictures of numbers and letters.  Another option which completely eliminates even having to check a box saying you’re a human is to install a honeypot. Luckily, there’s a plugin specifically for adding a honeypot to Contact Form 7.

Backups – UpdraftPlus

WordPress Updraft Plus

So now you have your website optimized, secure, running like lightning and have your contact forms all in place. What’s next?  Back it up! Keeping regular backups of your website is vital in keeping up your web presence and simply for your peace of mind.

There are a variety of backup solutions for WordPress users. With over half a million active installs, UpdraftPlus is easily one of the most popular.

All the standard features you’d expect are present. Regular backups can be scheduled of your site files and databases and those backups can be stored in a wide range of locations including Amazon S3, Dropbox, Google Drive and others.  Not only can you backup your WordPress installation, more importantly you can also easily restore from the backup.  Not all WordPress backup plugins have the capability of restoring for you.

Other popular WordPress backup options include BackWPup and WordPress Backup to Dropbox.

A note on free WordPress themes and plugins

Everyone wants to save money where they can.  When it comes to WordPress plugins and themes there are tons of free options. You need to be careful of the free options though.  Don’t download plugins from anywhere other than the official WordPress repository or directly from the developer’s website. If you find a premium plugin or theme that someone is offering for free, you don’t know if it has been compromised and possibly recoded with malware.  It’s not worth it for you or your visitors.

On that note, all of the plugins we’ve recommended here are highly recognized and actively updated for new features and security. Most of them have premium versions or add-ons that allow them to offer the basic plugins for free.

Is there a particular plugin that you use regularly and can’t imagine not using?  Are there other options that you use and recommend?  Let us know in the comments below.