WordPress is awesome but it alone probably won't do everything you need. That's where free WordPress plugins come in.
The plugins you'll need most will help you avoid spam, hackers, and data loss. You'll also likely want plugins that give SEO guidance and improve user experience. And luckily, some of the best WordPress plugins are free!
But first things first.
How to Install a Plugin on WordPress
Installing a plugin is easy and done right from your WordPress dashboard.
- Log in to your WordPress account
- Select “Plugins” on your WordPress dashboard (on the left side).
- Select “Add New” at the top of the page.
- Search for the plugin you want by entering its name in the search box.
- Once you’ve found the right plugin, click “Install Now.”
- Once the plugin is installed, click “Activate.”
If there are settings you need to customize in the plugin they will either be in the “Settings” section in the WordPress dashboard or in the “Plugins” area. Find the plugin you want to customize and there will be a small “settings” link under the name.
Sometimes the plugin will have it's own section in the WordPress dashboard.
Here's a quick walkthrough:
10 Best Free WordPress Plugins for Blog
Out of the tens of thousands of plugin options for your WordPress blog, we have narrowed the list down to seven absolutely critical ones that are must-haves for your blog.
1. Antispam Bee
The first comments you get on your site will be spam comments. You know the ones I'm talking about. They probably look something like this:
I every time emailed this website post page to all my friends, because if like to read it afterward my contacts will too.
It's very annoying to receive these fake comments and a waste of time to have to read and delete them. Sure, you can disable your comments altogether, but you likely want the legitimate feedback from your readers.
If you want to keep comments turned on and avoid spam comments then you need some sort of spam blocker, and Antispam Bee is free and does the job well.
One of its features is that it will display your spam statistics on your WP dashboard, including your total amount of blocked spam. You’ll be able to see in a very short period of time how much spam this plugin stops.
Antispam Bee is free and has over 500,000 installs on WP.
Related: How to Deal with Negative Comments
2. Insert Headers and Footers
Insert Headers and Footers allows you to insert code right into a header or footer on your site without having to mess with the actual code of your theme.
You'll have to do this when you need to verify that you are the site owner. For example, when you set your site up with Google Analytics or Pinterest. Those companies will give you a piece of code to copy and paste into the header of your site. This allows them to verify that you have admin access.
Without a plugin like Insert Headers and Footers you have to go into the actual code of your theme to add this. Which most people are not comfortable doing.
Insert Headers and Footers is compatible with most WordPress themes. It offers great support if you have any questions about how it functions. This plugin is almost universally praised on the WP website, with reviewers using words like “excellent,” “easy,” “simple and effective,” and “awesome.”
Once installed, you can access it in the “Settings” section on WordPress. Click on “Insert headers and Footers and you can easily see where to paste the code.
Updraft backs up your site and saves the backup to one of several convenient locations. At over three million installations, UpdraftPlus is one of the most popular WP plugins available. It’s even been translated into 27 different languages.
You will want to back up your site, and have access to the backups just in case something happens. You could be hacked, your site could crash, an update could change the way your site functions — any number of things can go wrong with your blog. It’s the stuff of website owners’ nightmares.
UpdraftPlus will automatically back up your site on a daily basis. That way your site can always be restored. You can choose where your site backs up to from places like Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, the Updraft vault, your email account, and more. And you have the control to set the backup schedules so you know just when it’s going to happen.
Once installed, you can customize Updraft in the “Settings” section in WordPress.
The free version will be fine for 99% of bloggers. If you find it's no longer supporting your needs then the premium version adds database encryption, expert support, multi-site compatibility, and more. It costs $70 initially, and then $42/year.
Speaking of hackers crashing your site — Wordfence is designed to keep those hackers out in the first place.
If you haven’t already, you’re going to spend hours building your site, making it look and function just the way you want it to. If you don’t protect it, you’re at risk of losing it.
Wordfence is the door lock for your website. It erects a firewall to keep out malicious traffic, then it uses its malware scanner to keep out suspicious activity. It will alert you when anything is out of sorts on your site in terms of security breaches on your site. Finally, it secures your login system so nothing bad happens there.
This plugin has a whopping three million installations and a 96% positive rating. There is a free version and a paid version. The free version is probably enough protection for your site, but you can explore the premium version if you’re so inclined.
The premium version includes perks like real-time malware updates, real-time Firewall Rule updates, and more. The paid version will cost you $99/year.
5. WPForms Lite
You will probably want a contact form on your site so people can email you. You don't want to put your email address on the site because it will get picked up by bots and flood you with spam emails — everyone's favorite thing.
Contact forms allow people to email you without actually having your information. You will get the message in your email inbox and reply from there.
Note – because the email didn't actually come from the sender's email you can't just hit reply. You have to copy and paste their email address into the “recipient” address bar, otherwise, you will just email yourself the reply.
WPForms is easy to use, mobile responsive, and totally free.
WPForms Lite is the free version of WPForms and will likely be plenty for your entire blogging career. If you have a site that collects a lot of information in a bunch of different forms then you can consider upgrading at that time. But for a simple contact form, the free version is more than enough.
Once it's installed, there will be a WPForms section in your left sidebar in WordPress where you can create new forms — and you can create a lot more than just contact form too.
6. Yoast SEO
Yoast is one of the most popular plugins on WordPress. It gives good readability and SEO suggestions to make your articles easier to read and rank on Google
Once you have it installed, use the Yoast SEO configuration wizard. You’ll answer questions that help the plugin determine how to configure itself to get the best SEO results for your site.
This plugin puts a Yoast box below the editor in WordPress that will analyze the article you are currently writing. After you have written your article scroll below the editor to the Yoast plug in.
There you will see a box that shows you things like a readability score, and SEO score, and more. If your readabilty or SEO score is low it will give you suggestions on how to improve.
Here is also where you can edit the meta description of the post and change the SEO title.
- the SEO title is what will show up in search results
- the meta description is the description that shows up just under the title in search results
Yoast SEO is available in both free and premium plugins. When you’re starting out, the free version is fine. As your site grows, you may want to consider switching to premium.
My favorite premium feature is the “orphaned articles” notification. This tells you if you have articles on your site that don't have any internal links pointing to them. This comes in very handy when doing your internal linking.
7. Easy Table of Contents
You've probably heard that Google likes long-form content. The average article length is getting longer and longer. But that doesn't necessarily lead to the best user experience. What if the bit the reader is interested at at the end of a 3,000 word post?
That's where a table of contents comes in. It allows the reader to see the structure of the article and jump directly to the part of the article that interests them.
This plugin automatically creates a table of contents at the top of each article. You can set it to do only posts or also include pages. You can also choose what level of headings you want in your table. Do you want just H2s, or do you also want to include H3 or below?
If you want to see it in action scroll up. I have this plugin creating a table of contents on all my posts and it includes all H2 and H3 headings.
You can choose from several different bullet point formats. The plugin works with seven different page editors including the WP mainstay Gutenberg.
The settings can be accessed in the “Settings” section in WordPress. There are more settings than I can show in a single screenshot but here's a peek.
The plugin has more than 200,000 installations and has been translated into 12 different languages. It’s free for everyone.
8. Your Email Service Provider Plugin
You can probably live without it, but why would you?
9. Grow by Mediavine
Social sharing is crucial in our world today. In order to have a successful website, you have to allow people to share your work with others through social media.
Enter Grow by Mediavine. Formerly called Social Pug, this plugin is all about giving you the choice of what your social media share buttons look like and where you place them on your site.
The customizable buttons can stand out or blend in to your site, depending on your preference. They can be placed just about anywhere around each of your pages.
Additionally, you can choose to display more social sharing data that might spur visitors to your site to share your content. The more shares you have, the more views you have, the more popular your blog becomes.
The free version gives you social sharing buttons for Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter, which is probably all you need.
If you want buttons for more sites, you’ll need to pay for the premium version. But you won’t just get additional buttons. With the premium version, you’ll also be able to do things like use Google Analytics to track your sharing results and put your buttons in multiple locations around your page.
The premium Grow by Mediavine plugin is $34/year, which could really be worth it as your site grows. The additional buttons for more social media sharing and the access to the analytics to help you understand your visitors could really help your website build traction and gain followers.
If your site runs slow, the first thing you want to check is your images. Uploading full-sized, uncompressed images is a big drag on load time.
So what do you do if you already have a bunch of huge images on your site that are affecting site speed? Install ShortPixel. It will compress all the images that are already in your media library. Easy Peasy.
ShortPixel has compressed almost 2.5 billion images on over 230,000 sites around the world. You can install it for free or you can get the paid version. Which one you get depends strictly on how many images you need to compress each month.
If you need to compress 100 images per month or less, it’s free. This will cover most bloggers. 100 per month is a lot of images. Most bloggers won't even come close to that.
If you currently have more than 100 images on your site (likely) you can still use the free version it will just stop optimizing once it hits the 100 mark and then it will pick up again next month. Let's say you have 300 images already on your site and you upload another 20 each month — that leaves you 80 credits per month that will work towards the existing 300. You'll have all your images optimized within four months.
If you don't want to wait for the month to roll over to get another 100 images, you can upgrade to compress 5,000/month for $4.99, and the price goes up from there.
They also have one time plans that you can purchase to cover your current media library in one shot — this starts at $9.99 for 10,000 images.
Bonus: Pretty Links
Ok, this plugin isn't free, but it's still something to consider as soon as you start to monetize. When you begin to get affiliates, it may be easy to keep track of these links and where they’re going. But as your site gets bigger and you add to your number of affiliates, it can be harder and harder to manage.
Pretty Links is your affiliate links manager. It keeps them all in one place and allows you to quickly grab them to easily insert them into your articles in a matter of seconds. If you don't use some form of affiliate link manger you'll end up with a monster spreadsheet full of 100 character long affiliate links — no fun at all.
But Pretty Links does more than just give you a place to store your links. It also helps you brand your links and track them when you use them so you know which ones are getting the most clicks.
Another benefit is that if your affiliate link changes, which will happen sometimes, you only have to replace the affiliate link in the Pretty Links plugin and it will automatically point your links to the correct place. This saves time, since you don't have to find and replace the link all over the site.
Plus, if you have affiliate links in printables out there they will still work.
This plugin also allows you to make your links “nofollow.” That designation lets search engines know not to track the link or count it in searches because it’s a paid link. In fact some search engines like Google can penalize you for not making paid links nofollow.
This may not be something you need when you first start out. But as your website gets bigger and you partner with more affiliates to bring in more passive income, you’ll want to seriously consider adding Pretty Links to your list of plugins.
Pretty Links is not a free plugin, but it is affordable. As a beginner, it would cost you $49 per year.
Plugins solve problems and fill the gaps in WordPress — and don't let the price fool you there are a lot of great free plugins.
Also, don't install plugins you don't need. When you have a problem that can be solved with a plugin, great.
But don't “pre-solve” problems. Installing plugins you don't need can lead to a mess. Sometimes plugins break, or have security issues, or just don't play nice with each other. Install the plugins you need, and don't worry about the rest.