Don’t Use WordPress Without These 15 Must-Have Free Plugins

By December 4, 2017 No Comments

With so many options, choosing the best WordPress plugins for your website can feel overwhelming. No WordPress website is complete without these 15 top free plugins.

In pretty much every situation, WordPress is hands down the best platform for your website. One of the advantages of WordPress is the massive amount of free plugins you can install to improve your website.

If you coded your website by hand, it would take hours to implement features that WordPress plugins can get up and running on your site in seconds.

There are more than 50,000 plugins on the official WordPress plugins directory. And there are even more if you consider the vast amount of paid plugins you can purchase and install.

When you’re looking to add something to your site and start searching for plugins, chances are there are multiple similar options that appear to achieve the same goal.

How do you pick the best plugins? Experiment! The best way is to try all the options and see how you like them, looking for any “side effects” like breaking other features on your site.

That takes a lot of time—fortunately, we’ve done the work for you. We’ve built dozens of WordPress websites for our clients and experimented with our fair share of plugins.

There are even plugins that add features to your site you don’t even realize you need!

We’ll review the top free WordPress plugins you should install to maximize what you’re getting out of your website. Where relevant, we’ll also suggest alternatives for more technical users and explain why the plugins we picked stand out from their competitors.

Keep reading until the end, as the post will wrap up with a few plugins you really should avoid.

The Best Free WordPress Plugins

There are numerous benefits to adding these plugins to your website. They’ll help your SEO, improve its performance, integrate your site with your other digital marketing efforts, and add other features your users have come to expect.

While we’ll only talk about free plugins in this post, there are quite a few powerful paid plugins as well that are worth exploring. However, these free plugins will get you in the game while you consider whether you might get an added benefit by investing in their paid alternatives.

You can install all these free plugins right from the WordPress admin dashboard by navigating to Plugins > Add New, searching the plugin name, clicking “install”, then “activate”.

1. Yoast SEO

Let’s start with an important one—Yoast SEO!

For good reason, this is one of the most popular plugins of all time. The purpose of your website is to get the word out about your business. Yoast gets your SEO in shape to increase your traffic from search engines.

Brief refresher for the uninitiated: SEO, or search engine optimization, is a set of strategies you can use to help search engines understand what your site is about, and in turn, send more traffic your way.

Yoast covers all the essential SEO tactics. The plugin makes it really easy for you to update the title and description that appear on search engines (called “meta” title and description).


We recommend Yoast over the other immensely popular SEO plugin called All In One SEO. Both are great options with similar features, but Yoast is much more user-friendly.

Yoast is easier for a non-technical user to understand, while All In One SEO works well for SEO and website development pros. (Yoast is good for pros, too, with all the same essential features.)

2. Ninja Forms

Your website should make it easy for visitors to contact you. Ninja Forms is the best free option to make that happen.

Without coding anything, you can set up customized contact forms and embed them in the relevant spots on your site.

Ninja Forms, like many of the best free plugins, has a paid version. They’re not shy about trying to get you to upgrade either. But the plugin’s free features are enough for most situations.

Another great option is Contact Form 7, but it doesn’t have the simple user interface of Ninja Forms and it’s harder to customize the look and feel of your forms without basic HTML knowledge.

So if you’re a website pro, Contact Form 7 is a better option as there are more free options that cost money with Ninja Forms and other form plugins.

Setup Tip

Also install Flamingo so you can save form submissions. It’s useful to have everything in one place and to have a backup in case you have any issues with email delivery. Ninja Forms includes this feature in the main free plugin.

3. Akismet

Everyone hates spam. Since contact forms are a must-have for your website, you also need to save your inbox and prevent spam.

Akismet uses a variety of tactics to prevent spam comments and form submissions on your website.

This plugin is great because it just works. Install the plugin, walk through the initial setup, then leave it be. It’ll automatically safeguard your site from annoying automated spam.

Your email inbox will thank you!

4. Google Analytics Dashboard

If you don’t already use Google Analytics, this should be the first thing you do after finishing this post.

Google Analytics is a ridiculously powerful, free system from Google that tracks your website traffic. It’s easy to install and collects a ton of data you can use to understand what visitors do on your website, how they found you, and so on.

So after you’ve created your Google Analytics account, you need to set it up on your website. The easiest way to do that is through Google Analytics Dashboard for WP.

It’s super simple to set up. Google Analytics Dashboard will authorize your Google account, walk you through a very easy setup process, and then you never have to worry about it again.

There are dozens of Google Analytics plugins, but the others aren’t as simple. It’s easier to make mistakes as they usually require copying your tracking code snippet—if you don’t already know what that means, go with Google Analytics Dashboard.

You can also see the most important website analytics every time you login to WordPress, so you can take a quick look without making a special trip to Google Analytics.

Setup Tip

If you’re anything like me, you’re always testing your site and loading the same page dozens of times to get it just right. So you don’t skew your own analytics with these pageviews, you should exclude administrator traffic. 

Go to Google Analytics > Tracking Code > Exclude Tracking, then check the boxes for any users you’d rather not show up in your analytics.

This way, the analytics you see will be your real customers.

5. Pixel Caffeine

Google Analytics has been around forever. The new kid on the block is the Facebook Pixel, a similar offering from Facebook.

Why do you need both? It’s always great to have multiple data sources so you can compare notes and see if anything looks inaccurate. But more importantly, Facebook advertising is highly effective (and cheap) for many businesses, and the Facebook Pixel opens up options to get more out of your ads.

Even if you don’t plan to advertise on Facebook, adding the Pixel to your site is still a good idea for the additional analytics and insights about your audience.

Click here for Facebook’s official, straightforward instructions to create your Pixel.

Once your Pixel is set up, install the Pixel Caffeine plugin to add it to your WordPress website.

Just like Google Analytics Dashboard, Pixel Caffeine makes it very easy to add the Facebook Pixel to every page.

And as you’ve come to expect from the last few plugins, you can just set it up once and forget about it, even as you create new pages and posts on your website.

Pixel Caffeine is the best option because of how easy it is for any user to get their Pixel up and running. It just works. And it’s a free tool developed by AdEspresso, the Facebook advertising arm of Hootsuite, one of the best social media marketing platforms—so you know it’s going to work.

6. MailChimp

If you don’t already use MailChimp, it’s a great place to start for your email marketing. You get 12,000 monthly emails and 2,000 subscribers for free, which is plenty for businesses just getting started with their email lists.

You should definitely be collecting email addresses on your website. It’s a huge missed opportunity to let your viewers leave your site without securing a way (their email address!) to bring them back to your site again.

Use MailChimp for WordPress to add an email signup form with just a few clicks.


The plugin works well with your MailChimp account, so there’s no confusion as you set up what list to subscribe users to and any other fields (like name) you want to capture.

Setup Tip

One drawback of this plugin is that you only get one form in the free version.

But you can set up a form and then include it in multiple places on your website, like on your homepage, contact page, sidebar, and wherever else you think users will be likely to sign up.

7. Popup Maker

If you want a simple, feature-rich plugin to add popups to your site, go with Popup Maker.

Popup plugins are among the worst for making you realize an hour after you start tinkering that you actually need the premium version.

We used Popup Maker to set up our email capture (why not give it a try?).

Popup Maker has everything you need to set up all kinds of popups. After setting up MailChimp for WordPress, embed your signup form in a popup and your website becomes a lead-generating machine.

Setup Tip

Popup Maker includes several decent-looking themes, but make sure you take time to customize them to match your site colors and fonts. You don’t want your popup to look like out of place spam!

8. UpdraftPlus

You’ve probably had several “computer catastrophes” by now, like hard drives crashing and viruses. These incidents can seriously hurt your productivity and cause major setbacks.

UpdraftPlus is a free plugin that helps you avoid time-wasting (and money-losing) website catastrophes.

Set it up to automatically make regular backups of your site, store the backups in a place of your choosing, and then sleep easier knowing you can recover from a website glitch or hacker in minutes, not days.

There are over a dozen options for where to store your backups, and one will definitely suit your needs. We recommend taking daily backups and retaining at least 10 so you have a little over a week to catch any issues with your site and restore a backup if necessary.

9. Really Simple SSL

SSL, or secure socket layer, creates a secure connection between your website and users so hackers can’t compromise their browsing. You may have also heard of this as “HTTPS”.

You might think you don’t need SSL if you aren’t selling anything or collecting sensitive data on your website, but think again.

In October 2017, Google Chrome started marking websites without SSL as “not secure”, which makes users nervous about using your website.

Since the fix is so easy, there’s no reason not to maintain your users’ confidence by setting up SSL.

Start by installing Really Simple SSL, which implements this important security measure on your site in just a few clicks.

There are several options for free SSL certificates that work just fine for most websites. Our favorite is Comodo Free SSL Certificates, a service from one of the most trusted SSL providers.

You might need some technical help to get your certificate—Comodo also has simple instructions if you want to give it a shot yourself.

Then once you have the certificate, set it up with Really Simple SSL to bring your users the security they deserve.

10. Ultimate Social Icons

The WordPress plugins directory is flooded with options for social media sharing. This makes sense because it’s one of the most important features your website can have. Who doesn’t want free advertising?

We recommend Ultimate Social Icons because it includes every platform you could want, many different button styles so they look great with your site, and plenty of options for how and where to display the icons.

Those are just a few of the 16 options for icons that come with this versatile plugin.

Many of the other options are “clunky” plugins, meaning they have tons of unnecessary extra code that slows down your site. Or they’re harder to set up or come with fewer free options.

11. Shortcodes Ultimate

If you have a solid paid WordPress theme, your WordPress might already be loaded with custom visual components (like image slideshows or fancy list displays).

Shortcodes Ultimate is still worth a mention as most WordPress sites could benefit from the plugin’s visual components. Laying out your content in the cleanest, simplest way possible is important to drive a positive impression with your customers.

This plugin includes more than 50 “shortcodes” that are easy to use in posts, pages, and other content areas across your site.

Take a look through the list of included shortcodes and see if any of them could improve your site appearance.

12. The Events Calendar

This may not be relevant for every website, but this phenomenal free plugin deserves a mention on our list.

The Events Calendar is by far the best free plugin to—as the name suggests—keep your site updated with upcoming events.

It’s very easy to add events, the calendar looks great right away, and the free version comes with tons of features.

Maybe dates are irrelevant for your particular business, but The Events Calendar is definitely the way to go if your website needs a calendar.

13. Google PageSpeed Insights

The next few plugins are related to your website performance, so you can give your viewers a blazing fast browsing experience.

Years ago, Google started considering website loading time (“pagespeed”) as one of their ranking factors. They have continually increased the impact of pagespeed, especially recently as mobile browsing has increased in popularity.

Pagespeed is important to Google because it is important to your users—every second it takes your site to load can decrease your conversions by 7%, and 40% of users won’t wait around if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Google has your back to help you speed up your website. They have a tool called PageSpeed Insights that you can use to identify opportunities to decrease loading time for specific pages on your site.

But there’s an even easier way. The Google PageSpeed Insights plugin automatically tests every page on your website so it’s easy to find pages with particularly big issues.


For each page, you can see the issues that are hurting your score and how to resolve the issues.

The next few plugins will help you increase your PageSpeed score, decrease your website loading time, and offer your users a buttery smooth browsing experience.

14. EWWW Image Optimizer

One of the easiest ways to decrease your website loading time is to use images with a smaller file size. You can decrease the file size of most images without any noticeable impact on image quality.

Many websites have hundreds or thousands of images, so fixing them manually would take forever. EWWW Image Optimizer will take care of this for you automatically.

This plugin will compress files behind-the-scenes as you upload them so you never have to worry about image file size again. And EWWW comes with a “bulk optimizer” so you can compress the images you uploaded to your site before setting up this plugin.

There are several other widely used image optimization plugins, like Smush and ShortPixel. As I tested all the options, I noticed EWWW has the best features and effectiveness without shelling out cash for the premium versions, which all the plugins offer.

15. Cloudflare

This plugin is a gift for pushing your website performance to the next level.

Cloudflare is a content delivery network and website optimization tool. Let’s break that down:

Content delivery network

Right now, your website is probably hosted on one server, wherever your hosting company is located. For this example, I’ll say your hosting company is in Texas.

Your website will load faster for users accessing it from Texas than for users from Ohio, Maine, or France. As users get further away from the server, your website will take longer to load.

Most hosting companies do not offer an option for where to host your site. So even if you’re a local restaurant in Ohio, your website might be hosted in California. That’s inefficient, and it’s also an unnecessary delay for your customers.

A content delivery network automatically hosts your site on multiple servers around the world. While you only update the one site as you always have, the changes are pushed to all these servers so users can connect to the server closest to them.


This alone can deliver drastic speed improvements.

Website optimizations

I’m not going to go too far into this so as to keep the post on-topic. Basically, there are a number of behind-the-scenes methods like caching and code “minifying” that speed up your site.

It’s hard to explain these concepts without going into the technical background. What you need to know is they are very important for your website loading time, and they have the highest impact on your Google PageSpeed score.

Fortunately, you don’t need any technical background here. Cloudflare takes care of these optimizations automatically.

Why Cloudflare?

We recommend Cloudflare over other similar offerings because it’s reliable, easy to use, and the free version is adequate for most websites. If you get thousands of visitors per day, you probably need one of their paid plans, but the pricing is very reasonable for the enormous benefits.

The Cloudflare plugin makes it easy to get started. You probably don’t even need a website developer to help set it up, but the installation process does involve changing your domain name’s DNS settings.

This is easy to do with popular domain companies like GoDaddy, so it’s up to you whether you handle this step yourself or ask an IT professional for help.

Avoid These Popular Plugins

We recommend steering clear of these widely used WordPress plugins, as they cause more harm than good and there are many better options.


This plugin is one of the most popular, which isn’t too surprising as it’s developed by Automattic, the creators of WordPress itself.

Jetpack has plenty of drawbacks and we recommend using (superior) alternatives. Jetpack bills itself as multi-use plugin with tons of important features, which is true.

Frankly, it screws up your site. Jetpack is a very “clunky” plugin that will decrease your site performance. It causes issues with many WordPress themes and many other plugins, so you might spend hours troubleshooting an issue only to find uninstalling Jetpack was the one-second solution.

For all the features you get with Jetpack, there are better options. Here are a few examples:

  • Site stats and analytics – use Google Analytics instead
  • Brute force attack protection – this feature is included with Cloudflare
  • Email subscriptions – MailChimp for WordPress does just fine
  • Contact forms – Ninja Forms is far superior

I could go on. For some of the Jetpack features not covered in this post, simply search the feature in the plugins list and you’ll certainly find a better option.


As one of the most popular social media marketing services, this might come as a surprise.

It’s a shame, since Sumo has a lot of great free features to improve your digital marketing. But the Sumo WordPress plugin is really bad.

We actually used to have Sumo on this website. When I removed it, the website started loading 1-2 seconds faster. That’s a big difference.

The benefits of the plugin’s social sharing features are offset by all the visitors who leave your site since it’s so freaking slow.

MailChimp for WordPress, Popup Maker, and Ultimate Social Icons achieve the same goal without sending your site to the stone age. The extra effort is worth it!

Improve Your WordPress Site With These Plugins

Any of these plugins will go a long way—and all of them will make your website a superstar.

To recap, here are all the features you get with these free plugins:

  • SEO enhancements
  • Robust contact forms
  • Spam prevention
  • Detailed traffic analytics
  • Better Facebook advertising
  • Email marketing
  • Dynamic popups
  • Automated backups
  • Secured website
  • Social sharing
  • Simple events calendar
  • Automated page speed monitoring
  • Image compression
  • Lightning fast website speed

Not bad for free!

We love WordPress for this reason—you’d have to pay a fortune or spend hundreds of hours to get all these features anywhere else. This enables website design companies like us to offer more affordable prices, since we’re equipped with so many tools to give you the site you want. 

If you have any questions about these plugins or anything else about your WordPress site, drop us a line and let us know how we can help.

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