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Top Free WordPress Plugins List

***Updated January 11, 2013***

Searching for a new WordPress plugin and testing new plugins is a time consuming process that doesn’t always yield good results. In my last post about WordPress Plugins, I discussed my method for searching for new WordPress plugins. Most of the time when we are designing and developing custom WordPress themes, we have a stable of plugins that have not caused us or our clients any major headaches.

The list below of free WordPress plugins are ones we use depending on the goals and needs of the individual WordPress site we are working on.

I love that plugins extend WordPress in wonderful ways and allow our clients to manage their website without learning how to code, but we like to take the point of view of only installing plugins that you need, and trying not to use too many.

There are countless articles and points of view on plugin usage and the number of plugins you should use on a site, but this post isn’t about that. My goal for this post is that you can hopefully shorten your next WordPress plugin search based on the list below of various free plugins we have used on different WordPress projects over the last few years.

Development/Backend Plugins for WordPress

  • Search and Replace
    A simple search for finding strings in your database and replacing the string. I needed this when the commands directly in phpmyadmin weren’t changing everything in the database.
    After listening to a session at a WordCamp regarding issues searching & replacing with serialized data, I now use this tool exclusively for migrating sites from our development sandbox and anytime a search and replace within the database is needed. WordPress Search and Replace Tool is not a plugin but it works great and is easy to use.
  • SEO Data Transporter
    Since some plugins and themes store SEO data differently, when switching themes or SEO plugins not all of the data gets transferred. This plugin can help you to transfer your data from one theme/plugin to another.
  • Regenerate Thumbnails
    I use this one when transferring a client to a new WordPress theme that has thumbnail support and the old one did not, or if the new design has new thumbnail image sizes.
  • Post Type Switcher
    This plugin allows you to easily change any WordPress content entry to any other type that is registered-pages, posts, or custom post types. This plugin is great when overhauling an existing site’s content or after adding custom post types.
  • Widget Logic
    Use this plugin to conditionally show your widgets using WordPress’ Conditional Tags.
  • WP-DB Backup
    This is one of the easiest to use free database backup plugins for WordPress that we have found.
  • Limit Login Attempts
    This plugin adds a simple layer of security to your WordPress login screen.
  • Simple Page Ordering
    We install this plugin on every site we build to add simple drag and drop management to the WordPress page menu in the dashboard.
  • Simple Local Avatars
    If you are going to be an active blogger or commenter we think everyone should get a Gravatar but we have built a few multiple author sites for media companies where this just wasn’t practical so Simple Local Avatars allows you to upload a photo directly within the user profile page.

SEO Plugins for WordPress

  • Simple 301 Redirects
    When moving an existing non-WordPress site to WordPress, making major content changes to an existing WordPress site, or for using a few analytics and marketing tricks, we like this plugin to create redirects and keep old links from showing an error.
  • WordPress SEO
    We think this is by far the best all inclusive WordPress SEO plugin there is. We use this plugin on our own site to handle SEO settings, XML sitemaps, adding content to our RSS feed, Facebook OpenGraph meta data, Twitter Cards, and Google Authorship.
  • Google XML Sitemaps
    When we build themes on top of the Genesis Framework by StudioPress we usually don’t use the WordPress SEO plugin above and instead use the theme framework’s built in settings, but we still need a plugin to handle XML sitemap generation (XML sitemaps are built in to WordPress SEO).
  • Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps
    For large sites, or sites with significant traffic, this plugin performs better than Google XML Sitemaps.
  • Google Analytics For WordPress
    This plugin is by the same author as WordPress SEO and is very easy to use for adding and configuring Google Analytics to your WordPress site.

Content Plugins for WordPress

  • Sociable or Digg Digg
    Adds social sharing icons, Facebook Like Buttons, Twitter Tweet Buttons, etc almost anywhere on your site.
  • JetPack
    Also adds social sharing icons, but also adds other cool features like a subscribe to comments and subscribe to posts checkboxes on your comment form. The latest release of JetPack also includes a nice gallery carousel, contact forms and more.
  • Social Profiles Widget
    Normally we design and program custom social media icons into our themes, but this plugin allows for non-programmers to quickly add social media icons via a widget to their WordPress site.
    Use this plugin to display related posts at the end of your blog posts to help keep your visitors on your site longer.
  • Contact Form 7
    One of many good, free plugins for adding a contact form (and other forms) to your site.
  • Tweet Old Post
    Although somewhat controversial with social media “purists”, this plugin automatically tweets out old blog post links to your Twitter profile based the settings you choose.
  • Comment Redirect
    Allows you to send new commenters on your blog to a specific landing page anywhere on your site.
  • WP-Touch
    Use this plugin to easily create a mobile version of your WordPress site. I have used the free and paid Pro version and think both are great.
  • WordPress FAQ Manager
    This plugins adds a custom post type for FAQs and includes options to have them expand/collapse accordion style on a page. The custom post type allows for easier management and creation of FAQs.
  • MediaElement.js
    MediaElement.js is an easy to use HTML5 video and audio player with Flash and Silverlight fallback support for older browsers.
    Translation: Works on old computers, new ones, tablets, and smartphones.

Image/Gallery Plugins for WordPress

  • jQuery Lightbox for Native Galleries
    This plugins extends the native WordPress gallery feature in a simple and elegant way.

    The developer has discontinued support of this plugin and recommends switching over to Jetpack’s carousel feature.
  • NextGen Gallery
    Another option for a gallery. NextGen Gallery is one of the most downloaded WordPress plugins, and has many more configurable options than using one that just extends WordPress’ native gallery feature.
  • Portfolio Slideshow
    This plugin is simple to use and the transition effects between images is nice and clean.
  • WP-Cycle
    This plugins creates a very simple image slider that you can integrate into your theme or an individual page.
  • Slidedeck2
    SlideDeck 2 is a responsive slider plugin that lets you easily create content sliders out of almost any content. Connect to a variety of content sources like YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, WordPress posts and Pinterest to create gorgeous, dynamic sliders.
  • Multiple Galleries
    This is a handy plugin that adds a simple checkbox within the media uploader to allow you to include/exclude images within a native WordPress gallery. By default, WordPress will include all attached images to a gallery. This plugin allows you to pick and choose or have multiple galleries on the same page/post.

    No longer necessary with WordPress 3.5!

We build all of our WordPress sites on the Genesis Framework and maintain a list of Genesis specific plugins. Combine the plugins you need from these two posts along with a Genesis based theme for a great WordPress site.

Remember: Only use the plugins you need and deactivate and uninstall any you are not using. Always make sure you backup your site before installing new plugins.

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Comments & Feedback:Check out what others have to say about this post!

    • Jennifer Bourn

      No problem! WordPress is constantly changing and new tools and plugins are constantly being added – that’s why we share the best WordPress plugins we use for small biz sites

  1. Just added Fast Secure Contact Forms…WOW…couldn’t be easier or better for what I wanted.
    Question, with all the talk about out of the box wordpress’ SEO capabilities, what is the real benefit to SEO plug ins?

    • Don – It depends on what functionality you’re looking for. Years ago an SEO plugin was neccessary … now it isn’t always. For example, Genesis sites have the SEO tools built in, so a plugin isn’t needed.

      Why people still use plugins for SEO boils down to a few reasons:

      • Many believe that the theme design and functionality should be kept separate from the content. Keeping them separate means all data and the content can easily be moved to another URL and the theme/famework can easily be changed.
      • Some of the SEO plugins, like WordPress SEO by Yoast has many other features also built in. I like that with Yoast you can easily see where you can improve your SEO efforts for a post. That plugin also has many other features built in that make it very appealing. For example, for sites that don’t allow for Google Authorship, the Yoast SEO plugin takes care of that.
  2. I am so grateful to have found your site recently. Your list of plugins makes me think I’m in Chinese restaurant, there are so many good choices. So, I had all in one SEO on my site before I switched to Genesis. Should I delete it? If I do, what happens to all those titles and descriptions in the boxes for title, description and keywords at the bottom of the page I write a post on? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

  3. As I need to have so many items updated on my Website, it’s great to have you both delivering such high level, but easy to understand relevant content. Here’s another great list you’ve provided. Much thanks to you, Sue

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