These are some suggestions for a variety of plugins that you may find useful. How relevant these are will depend on what you’re using your site for, so don’t install any of these unless they really make sense for your site.
If you’ve discovered a free plugin that you think more people should know about, please take a moment to share it with me.
WP Quick Admin Main Menu
One thing I don’t like about the Block Editor though is the fact that it removes the admin menu from the left of the screen, meaning an extra click to navigate anywhere else in the admin screens. WP Quick Admin Main Menu addresses this issue by adding the menu into page and post editing screens, but as a slide out drawer activated by mousing over the WordPress logo in the top left of the screen. A small and simple feature, but one I wish was part of WordPress core. At the time of writing, it’s not been updated for nine months and that time will probably grow over time because it’s so little used, but also because it’s unlikely to need updating any time soon.
Yoast is one of the best known WordPress plugins, making it easy to optimize your site for search engines.
Make sure you get this set up properly from the start as there are a few settings and the defaults may not always suit you. You’ll ideally want to set up a free Google Search Console (https://search.google.com/search-console/about) account and link your site to it.
I’m also highlighting a younger alternative called WordPress SEO Plugin – Rank Math (https://wordpress.org/plugins/seo-by-rank-math/). This doesn’t have the content readability features of Yoast, but it includes some SEO tools that are paid for features with Yoast. For example, it’s optimized to work with WooCommerce and also allows you to specify schema types for each page and post which can enhance how the pages appear search results.
For most site owners, I’d advise using Yoast unless there are specific features you need from Rank Math.
Contact Form by WPForms
While Contact Form 7 remains the most popular contact form plugin, Contact Form by WPForms is close on its tail, despite being a much younger plugin.
This popularity is probably down to it offering users a drag and drop interface which is much more user friendly.
This includes a few ready made form templates and you can also upgrade to a premium version if you need more features. For most sites though, the free version should cover all requirements.
Plugin Security Scanner
One of the biggest risks to WordPress sites is having a plugin or theme installed that contains a known vulnerability. Often code vulnerabilities are fixed before anyone can start taking advantage of them to hack sites. That’s not always the case though.
This plugin connects to WPScan Vulnerability Database every day and checks if any of the plugins installed in your site is listed as having a new unpatched vulnerability. If it finds any problems, it sends an email to the site admin email address.
To make use of this, you need to sign up for an API key from WPScan Vulnerability Database. That’s free if you’re using the service on your own site. Alternatively, you could sign up for alerts about all vulnerable plugins by registering at https://wpvulndb.com/users/sign_up, but you’ll need to remember which plugins are installed on your site.
If you’re allowing comments on your site and don’t want to pay for a license to use Akismet, Antispam Bee is a popular alternative. Unlike Akismet, this doesn’t use an external service to assess comments, but can do a good job if you find your site being targeted by spammers.
Tawk.To Live Chat
Offering the option of real time chat has become very common, largely for it’s ability to drive conversions.
Tawk.To offer a free service and WordPress plugin that allows you to set up a floating chat box on your site. This will provide an option for users to send an email if you’re available for chat.
Even if you don’t want this feature on your site all the time, do consider using this if you’re every running a product launch over a limited period of time. Being able to respond to potential users’ queries in real time can really help generate more sales.
Multiple Domain Mapping on Single Site
This is a fairly specialist plugin, but for a small niche of users, it may be incredibly useful.
Do you sell multiple products and want to use a separate domain for each one? If yes, you could be one of the people who finds this very useful.
Normally that would require you to get hosting for each one and create and manage a site on each web hosting account.
With this plugin, assuming you only want a single sales page for each product, you can create a single WordPress site and point multiple domains at it. The plugin will automatically display the correct page depending on which URL is used.
This has the potential to slash your web hosting costs while keeping things simple with you just having to manage one WordPress install.
This free plugin lets you integrate the Facebook Pixel into your site and create a Facebook Product Catalog.
The pixel is designed to track users of your site and will allow you to create audiences in Facebook that you can use to target advertising.
While Facebook advertising is becoming more expensive and a little less targeted because of privacy concerns, it can still be a cost competitive and highly targeted way to advertise. Unless you are 100% certain you will never use Facebook advertising, I suggest you install this. It will start collecting data about your audience once added to your site that will then be available in the future if you decide to run ads.
If you look under General Settings, then Advanced Settings, you’ll see a checkbox labeled Delay PageView pixel firing. This particular setting can be useful to help you avoid adding people to your audience who bounce out of the page too quickly. Using this setting to delay a page view being registered for two or three seconds can mean you won’t be collecting users who only looked at your pages very briefly before hitting the back button.
If you’re using WooCommerce to make your site an ecommerce store, Pixel Caffeine can also create a product catalog on you Facebook page with a single click.
Note that if you want to apply for Instagram Shopping (https://www.facebook.com/business/instagram/shopping/guide), you’ll need a product catalog on your Facebook page.
Chances are you will want to be able to display forms on your site to help you collect opt ins to your email list.
For a free solution, I think MailMunch offers a balanced solution. It gives you a mix of form types and a reasonable mix of features considering its free. I’ve not used it personally for a few years, having been reliant on Thrive Leads (https://thrivethemes.com/leads/) for most of my sites instead. Thrive Leads is not expensive for what it offers, but when starting out you may not need the breadth of features it includes. In that case MailMunch should be a good way to get started.
Perhaps MailMunch’s weakest point is the variety of email services it integrates with, which isn’t as wide as it could be. However, MailChimp is one of the services they connect with and if you’re starting out, their free plan is going to make them very attractive.
Cookie Notice for GDPR & CCPA
The European Union’s GDPR laws require site visitors to give their permission for a site to store cookies on their computer.
To fully comply with GDPR’s rules, a site shouldn’t place cookies on a user’s computer until they’ve actively accepted cookies. By default, the Cookie Notice (https://wordpress.org/plugins/cookie-notice/) plugin doesn’t block cookies until they’re accepted, so it’s not a perfect solution, though better than doing nothing.
However, it does have a control that allows you to place scripts in the header only after a user has accepted the cookie notice. We’ll look at third party scripts later, but as a quick example, if you use Google Analytics, you can place the tracking code in the Header text box of the Cookie Notice settings screen and the associated cookies will only be set if the user accepts the cookie notice.
If you take this approach with any third party scripts, ensure you remove them from any other settings that were being used to insert them. This works fine with any third party scripts on your site, but requires you to set it up and allows for you to make mistakes.
An alternative free option if your site has 100 pages or less is Cookiebot (https://wordpress.org/plugins/cookiebot/). If you sign up to their service and activate the plugin, all cookies should be automatically blocked until a user consents.
As a bit of an aside, more recently, California has introduced its CCPA laws offering their residents greater privacy rights, including rules on cookies. While the thresholds of the CCPA mean most small businesses will never have to worry about compliance, it’s perhaps an indication that the subject of personal privacy is becoming of greater concern for both users and legislators. As such it’s something you should keep an ear open to on an ongoing basis.
Quiz And Survey Master
Quizzes and surveys can be useful tools in various situations. Fun and engaging quizzes can be effective lead magnets to help you get opt ins to your email list. If you manage to nail it with a quiz that users really enjoy, you can benefit from word of mouth sharing as users encourage friends to try your quiz too.
This plugin can serve another purpose too. You can create personality type quizzes, the kind of thing that Buzzfeed made very popular. However, rather than just doing it for fun, you could use it to assess someone’s knowledge level. On that basis, at the end of the quiz, you can direct them to content and information that is likely to be most useful for them.
That can be a powerful tool within a membership, ensuring new members are getting off to an effective start as they’re immediately connecting with the most relevant content. You could use a similar approach on a large blog to help direct readers to the content that is most likely to engage them.
You can also use this to create surveys to discover what your prospects need. This can help in coming up with product ideas. You can learn more about this approach from Ryan Levesque’s book Ask (https://www.amazon.com/Ask-counterintuitive-discover-customers-business-ebook/dp/B00UD7AX66 ).
This is a pretty powerful plugin considering it’s free and you may need to read the documentation to fully get to grips with it. If you want more features, there are additional premium addons that extend the functionality further.
Do you often work with your laptop on battery power only? This plugin could potentially extend your working time when your laptop isn’t plugged into the mains. This won’t necessarily work with your laptop though.
All this plugin does is apply a dark theme to the admin area of your WordPress site. The idea of a dark mode saving battery life is something that more commonly applies to mobile devices, but even then it requires a device that has an OLED screen. With this display technology, darker pixels draw less power, hence longer battery life.
Currently very few laptops use OLED screens, so laptops without the tech can’t benefit in the same way. The more common LED screens have a back light that uses the same amount of power regardless of how light or dark a pixel is. So they don’t benefit in that way.
However, some laptops automatically dim the back light when they detect the screen is displaying a darker view.
Check the image below comparing the normal admin interface with 89% battery and 2 hours 38 minutes remaining. After working in Dark Mode, battery had dropped to 86%, but now I had 3 hours and 48 minutes work time remaining.
If you really need to squeeze as much working time out of your battery as possible when working on your site, this may help. After activating the plugin, go to your user profile and enable the Dark Mode checkbox there to turn it on.
If you don’t see any improvement, it may be worth checking your graphics drivers to see if they have any power settings. For example many laptops use Intel’s integrated graphics. If you look in the hidden icons in the Windows bar, you may be able to open Intel Graphics Settings. Under Power, in the On Battery section, you may have a Display Power Saving Technology control that you can enable, which may help.
In a perfect world, your WordPress site would include just a handful of plugins and have all the features and functionality you need.
In the real world, your WordPress site may well have dozens of plugins installed and active to achieve everything you need. That can lead to the menus of the admin section becoming overwhelming as they start to overflow with new links.
One of my own plugins, Underwhelm, can help you with this. It allows you to create different hats, such as one for when you’re blogging or one for when you’re managing your ecommerce store. For each hat, you can create a new admin menu. So depending on which hat you’re wearing, you can select a different admin menu that contains only the items that are relevant to the job you’re doing.
Add To Any
Letting users share your content can be a powerful way to spread the word about your business. Add To Any is one of the most popular social sharing plugins and is very easy to use.
You can add sharing buttons to your blog posts and any other types of pages on your site. This also lets you add floating buttons to every page that sit at the side of the screen on desktop and then at the bottom of the screen on mobile.
You can select which social networks to add, though an extra button is displayed with the icons that will open a pop up to let users select from a much wider range of networks.
One possible alternative to this is Add This (https://www.addthis.com/). This is more involved too setup, requiring some of the setup to be handled on their site after you register for a free account. Its point of difference is that it displays the social media buttons it believes are most relevant on a user by user basis. If you have an audience that is truly global and likely to be using many different networks, this could be useful.
Asset Cleanup: Page Speed Booster
If you want to take your site optimization to another level, Asset Cleanup: Page Speed Booster is a useful tool.
However, it is quite involved in use as you need to work through all your pages. Used without care, you can break your site using this, so be warned and make sure you understand what the different settings are doing.
For that reason, if you’re new to WordPress, skip this plugin for now as it will add complexity to managing your site. Just keep it in mind for the future when you reach the point where you’re confident in running your WordPress site and you need to optimize performance.
This can mean lots of extra code being loaded on pages even though it’s not needed. With this plugin, you can prevent plugins from loading files on specific pages.
This allows you to reduce the file size of your pages, but it comes with a potential downside. If you remove the wrong files from a page, it can break your site.
Fortunately this plugin has a Test Mode that is activated on the Settings page and when turned on, you’re the only user who sees the pages with the files removed. This allows you to remove files and ensure that the page still works without running the risk of breaking your site for other users.
This plugin comes with quite a lot of inbuilt support material, including a selection of videos by 3rd parties that help explain using the plugin. If you do decide to use this, make sure you use Test Mode and carefully check everything works correctly.
You can now use the minify and combine controls in Asset Cleanup. Be sure to use incognito mode when testing your site after making changes with Asset Cleanup.
Important note: Whenever you install a new plugin or theme, you should clear this plugin’s cache. This cache is separate to the cache saved by WP Fastest Cache. Mouseover the Asset Cleanup entry in the top bar and click on the Clear CSS/JS Files Cache entry in the dropdown. Failure to do this may lead to new plugins or themes not working correctly.