The calendar is about to turn over to 2016, so I figured it was the perfect time to write a little roundup of the very best free WordPress plugins for 2015. A quick browse of the plugin directory yielded a handy list. The following plugins were considered to be the most popular for the longest period of time this year.
Jetpack is from WordPress.com (and requires a free account) and provides a suite of tools that you can turn on or off as you wish. There are several tools to help you grow your traffic, including Related Posts, Publicize, Enhanced Distribution, and Sharing. Security tools keep you safe from brute force attacks and login attempts, and keep your plugins up to date. It will even automatically optimize and speed up your images. It also has tools to let you customize your site using custom CSS, contact forms, galleries, carousels, and more. It has settings or notifications, subscriptions, configurable widgets, and lots more.
WooCommerce is now owned by Automattic (the makers of WordPress) and powers 30% of all online stores. It gives you the tools to create and manage an online store using virtually any WordPress theme. It has inventory control, multiple shipping options, lots of payment options, taxes, and lots more. You have full control over how your store looks and acts. You can sell physical and virtual products, too.
There are lots of extensions available (both free and paid) that let you add almost any feature you might need. Examples include a membership site, subscriptions, bookings, dynamic pricing tables, CSV product importing, and more.
Yoast SEO takes WordPress SEO to the next level. It performs a page analysis where it checks for things that can be easily forgotten. For example, it checks your images for an alt-tag containing the focus keywords for that post, for post length, for meta descriptions, for sub headings, and more. You can control which pages show up in Google and which do not, and it outputs canonical links so things show up in their proper order. It will also build an XML sitemap that includes images, optimizes RSS, adds breadcrumbs to compatible themes, and adds social integration.
WP Super Cache
This is a PHP caching plugin that speeds up your page-loading and reduces the strain on your webserver. It uses three different methods. The first is Mod_Rewrite, which bypasses PHP and produces static HTML files from your site’s dynamic PHP files. Your webserver then serves the lighter HTML files instead of the heavier PHP files. The next is PHP, which caches the files as static PHP instead of dynamic. The last is Legacy Caching, which is slower but a better option for users that are logged in and leaving comments. It will also compress pages and supports CDN.
Contact Form 7
This is the most popular contact form plugin and is considered the standard in the industry. Many themes and plugins are designed to integrate with it. It supports multiple forms so you can use different types of forms on different pages. You can customize your forms using markup.
It supports many other plugins that utilize contact forms including Flamingo (saves submitted messages), Postman (an SMTP mailer), Contact Form 7: Accessible Defaults (a suite of base forms), and Bogo (a compatible multilingual plugin). It supports Ajax submissions so users won’t have to reload the page, multiple types of CAPTCHA, spam filtering using Akismet, and lots more.
This is a security plugin that protects against malware and hacks. It has a lot of real-time blocking features that include blocking of known attackers, malicious networks, bots doing security scans, and more. It protects your login with two-factor authentication, enforces strong passwords, and locks out brute force attacks. It has lots of scanning capabilities and it first checks to see if your site is already infected.
It also scans for known vulnerabilities, known backdoors, malware signatures and variants, malware and phishing URL’s, heuristics of backdoors, trojans, suspicious code, and lots more. It includes a firewall that blocks common threats. It also has lots of monitoring and caching features.
Google XML Sitemaps
This plugin creates an XML sitemap so search engines can better index your site. It helps search engine crawlers to see the complete structure of your website, which also helps them to index it more efficiently. It supports pages and custom URL’s. It also notifies search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask of your updates so they are aware of new content on your site. It uses clean code and is lightweight so it doesn’t slow your site down or put a strain on your server or your visitor’s web-browsers.
This is the most popular gallery plugin and for a good reason. It has a platform where you can upload and manage images. It has batch-uploading so you can upload multiple images at once. You can add, delete, and rearrange images, group galleries into albums, edit thumb-nails, import meta data, and more. There are two different front-end display styles to display slideshows and thumbnail galleries.
Plus, you can control the style, size, controls, transitions, timing, lightbox effects, etc. There are free extensions to add features such as shopping carts so you can sell your photos, a scroll gallery, image rotation, sliders, carousels, widgets, skins, backgrounds, lightboxes, and so much more.
W3 Total Cache
This plugin lets you modify your visual editor toolbar by adding, removing, and rearranging buttons as you wish. It comes with 15 plugins that you can enable or disable as you want, depending on the buttons you choose. This helps keep your editor light. It lets you create and edit tables, adds new options for inserting lists, adds a search and replace feature that searches and replaces text within the visual editor, and more. You can set font families and sizes. Plus, it gives you a menu that makes it easy to access tools that are not used that often.
There are a lot of familiar names here, which should come as no surprise when we’re talking plugin popularity. Even so, did one of your favorites miss the cut? Do you think any of these plugins get more hype than they deserve? Feel free to sound off below.