WordPress has a very large number of free plugins that extends its functionality in every imaginable way. It’s time consuming to sift through them all to find those that perform the tasks we need in a satisfactory way. Here I try to save you time by pointing you to the best plugins for a host of common functions. Some of my recommended plugins have been downloaded millions of times, while others just a few thousand, but they’re all extremely useful.
The plugins and their competitors were tested live and compared. The criteria for selection for this list was that the public output not link or redirect to the site of the plugin’s author, and that it not require any modifications to any other files (except.htaccess), or registration on any site, as well as not contain advertising. All these plugins are straight-up installs, usually with minimal configuration. Just use your WordPress plugins search form to find and install them (names in bold).
1. Efficient Related Posts: To create more page views by providing “related posts” links at the bottom of each post, with titles. Note that it does have one shortcoming in that it displays the section even when there’s no related links found. Uses tags, so make sure all your posts are accurately tagged.
2. Social Bookmarking Reloaded: Generates a row or rows of nice little icons for a wide variety of social networks (you choose which). The great thing is that the links go directly to the sites rather than through a third party’s, as happens with the hugely popular (undeserved) AddtoAny plugin. It has insignificant defects in its settings page, where the default text is in Italian, which you can easily change, and a page exclusion selector which was broken in our tests.
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4. GD Star Rating: Adds a rating system for your posts, comments and pages. Uses Ajax effectively. Has an excessive number of options, which may be a little intimidating at first, but works beautifully once you get the hang of it. This is a great feature to add to your site as it invites visitors to get involved and personal.
5. All in One SEO Pack: Justifiably one of the most popular plugins. One of WordPress’ biggest shortcomings is that it doesn’t produce keyword and description meta tags. This plugin can automatically generate them and also let you enter your own wherever you need to. Additionally, it can auto-generate single post titles that use the actual post headline, making them more search engine friendly. It can add html to the head area of a page, but not the footer, hence our need to include the Header-Footer plugin as well.
6. WP-Polls: My choice to add polls to your sidebar(s), another great mechanism to get your visitors to participate in your site. Uses Ajax. Every other popular poll plugin we tested used a third party polling site and required registration. WP-Polls is very easy to use and has all the options that matter. I would only use this on a site that has a decent number of visitors, since a poll with few participants can be unattractive.
7. ShortPixel Image Optimizer: One of the most popular image compression plugins, ShortPixel smoothly compresses your images and speed up your web pages. This is good for users and Google alike. The free account includes 100 monthly credits, which can be not enough for some users. Fortunately, ShortPixel plans are pretty affordable, especially if you take a one-time plan.
8. WordPress Automatic Image Hotlink Protection: To protect your images from bandwidth thieves, that is, other sites using your image URL in img tags, use this plugin. It will protect your files in the wp-content/uploads directory by modifying the WordPress root directory’s.htaccess file. If there are any images that should be linked to from other sites, you should move them from the uploads to an unprotected directory you create.
9. WP Archive-Sitemap Generator: To create a site map page, which helps you get more page views. Has many settings. Remember that Google recommends having no more than 100 links on a single page.
10. Redirection: To redirect old URLs to new ones. Good to have on board even if initially you don’t have any bad incoming links.
11. Contact Form 7: One of the most popular plugins for its simplicity yet high flexibility. Requires the Really Simple Captcha plugin, by the same developer. Don’t even think of having a form without a captcha unless you like spam! Despite the name, you can use it to create all types of mail forms.
12. User Photo: Allows users to have their real mug shot in their bios rather than the ugly avatar icons.
13. Favicon Generator: Use it to upload an image which it will transform into a favicon. It will also automatically add a html tag for it in the page head output, but be mindful that if your theme comes with its own favicon, it won’t remove the existing tag.
14. Register Plus: A good way to keep the connection with your visitors is to have them register for something. This popular plugin lets you upload your own logo for both the log-in and registration page, replacing the default WordPress logo. More importantly, it can send out a confirmation email, which requires them to click on the link it contains in order for the process to be completed (lest you like spam again!).
15. Subscribe2: Once you have users that are registered, you can use this plugin to email to them. It can be set to automatically email new posts to all users.
16. Google XML Sitemaps: It’s simply wrong not to have a sitemap.xml file, as it will guide Google’s and other major search engines’ spiders to the right resources on your site, resulting in more of your pages being indexed. This plugin will automatically generate a valid sitemap.xml for you.
17. WP Super Cache: A big defect with WordPress is the large number of files it needs to load, plus all the code it has to execute, to render a page. Google and other search engines could penalize your site because it takes too long to download pages, not to mention that visitors might not want to wait around either. This plugin saves copies of pages to disk and returns them instead of letting WordPress go through the normal page construction process. Disable it when you’re changing things on your site, lest you don’t get to see your modifications on the spot.
18. WP Photo Album: If your site needs to have one or more photo galleries, this problem-free plugin will do the trick. If some of you are wondering why I didn’t pick the more popular and complex NextGen, it’s because the latter was buggy when it came to viewing photos, and included software advertising.