WordPress is a fantastic platform for building and managing websites. It’s user friendly and has seemingly endless functionality. But everything can’t just be built into your WordPress theme. No worries – in many cases there’s a plugin for the capability you need.
Built-in functionality within a WordPress theme isn’t always a bad thing, but having every feature plus the kitchen sink built-in can cause some headaches. This makes the code ridiculously long and complex, which can slow down your site, and you often end up with many unused features that you never needed in the first place. Also, if you ever decide to switch to a new theme you could run into some problems such as losing content for features not supported by your new theme.
Have no fear, the plugins are here.
Plugins make it easy to pick and choose the features you need. Plus you can take the plugin (and any related content) with you if you ever decide to update to a new WordPress theme.
We’ve put together a list based on questions we get asked at WPExplorer. We receive a lot of requests to add built-in features to our themes, but in many cases there’s a plugin for that. So here’s our list of the best WordPress plugins grouped by feature (but in no particular order).
WordPress SEO Plugins
Premium – Infinite SEO by WPMU
Infinite SEO makes SEO easy, and even includes a setup wizard to help you get started. Just install, set your options, and customize. Infinite SEO also has an SEOmoz report panel built right in so you can keep track of how your rankings are doing.
FREE – Yoast WordPress SEO
One of the most popular free plugins, WordPress SEO by Yoast is a great free alternative for setting up your WordPress site. This plugin adds an SEO tab to your WordPress dashboard so you can make quick changes to your sitemap, titles & meta, breadcrumbs, RSS and more.
WordPress E-Commerce Plugins
Premium - Easy Digital Downloads Extensions
The Easy Digital Downloads plugin itself is free, but you can add any number of Extensions to really pump up the functionality. You can add PayPal, an affiliates system, volume discounts, shipping, MailChimp integration, social links, Pushover sales notifications and more!
FREE – Cart66
Another premium e-commerce plugin worth checking out is Cart66. This plugin includes Google Analytics, MailChimp and Gravity Forms integration as well as options to add “buy now” links to your social account, sell/host your own digital goods and more.
FREE – Easy Digital Downloads
Get the awesome Easy Digital Downloads plugin for free. There are even a handful of helpful extensions available on WordPress.org. This is a quick and professional way to add a payment gateway (with cart, discount options, and user data) for digital goods on your website.
FREE – WooCommerce
With over a million downloads, WooCommerce is a solid and free option for creating your own online store. With many supporting WordPress themes this plugin is easy to install, use and manage. Plus there are extensions for purchase that add features.
FREE – Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding by Astoundify is gaining momentum, and is a great way to garner funds from donors and investors. Designed for fundraising campaigns, this plugin supports various contributor levels and integrate seamlessly with PayPal & Easy Digital Downloads.
WordPress Post Rating Plugins
Premium – LoveIt Pro
This cute LoveIt plugin that allows users to “heart” your posts, pages, portfolio items, etc. Each user can love something once and a notification will popup if they try to love it again. The plugin also enables you to track popular content and has a “most loved” widget.
FREE – WP Post Ratings
If you just want a traditional 5-star rating system, WP Post Ratings is a popular and well tested plugin that will get the job done. Readers can submit their vote for content, the plugin takes an average and then it displays the rating (however you can always upload a custom image).
WordPress Social Sharing Plugins
Premium – ATT Social Pop
If you want to add sticky sidebar social sharing tabs Social Pop is the plugin for you. Social pop adds simple and elegant social tabs for all the major social bookmarking/networking sites to the side of our website. This makes it effortless for readers to share your work.
FREE – JetPack Social Sharing
JetPack is a beast of a plugin with many useful features – one of them being social sharing. Add icon or text social sharing links to your posts so visitors to your site can easily share your work with their friends and followers.
WordPress Caching Plugins
FREE – WP Super Cache
This plugin has more downloads than there are people in Costa Rica. Why? Because WP Super Cache can make your WordPress website super fast by displaying static HTML pages to most users (using Mod_Rewrite, PHP, and legacy caching to peed things up).
FREE – W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache can improve your page speed by increasing server performance and reducing download times. It does such a good job that it’s even recommended by well known companies such as Page.ly, DreamHost, MediaTemple, Go Daddy and Host Gator.
Premium – WP Engine
Yes – I know that WP Engine is not a plugin, but I think they’re worth mentioning here. We use them to host WPExplorer, and because WP Engine uses managed caching there is no need for a plugin to keep your site speedy.
WordPress Notification/Alert Bar Plugins
Premium – FooBar
Foobar is a great plugin for adding customized notification bars to your website(s). You can choose options including but not limited to top, bottom, inline, social buttons, RSS feed, tweets, scrolling messages, custom HTML, unlimited bars and much more.
FREE – WordPress Notification Bar
If all you want is a basic notification bar, you might want to give WordPress Notification Bar a try. This plugin lets you add a simple notification bar to the top of your website with options for text, callout button and color customization.
WordPress Slider Plugins
Premium – Layer Slider
For the ultimate in slider customizations you have to take a look at the Layer Slider WordPress Plugin. You can create and perfect your sliders down to the pixel, millisecond, and even percentage of a degree rotation. There’s no question why this plugin is so popular.
Premium – Slider Revolution
The Slider Revolution WordPress Plugin is full of options. Make your slider full width, full screen, responsive, captioned, fast, slow, or choose from any number of customizations for typography, links, buttons, animations, transitions, etc.
Premium – NivoSlider
A fabulous plugin, the NivoSlider is a tried and true WordPress slider plugin to add to yoru website. There are multiple transitions, a handful of slider types (manual, category, sticky, etc.), preset css styles, and for quick setup it’s integrated with 500px, Flickr and Instagram.
Premium – Soliloquy
Soliloquy is an awesome responsive slider plugin. For those who need more addons are available for slider themes, thumbnail navigation, Instagram integration, featured content slides, dynamic cropping, carousel, lightbox, edit screen preview and image filters.
Premium – SlideDeck
Create neat and tidy sliders using SlideDeck. The plugin supports image, text, videos and HTML and includes a side-by-side editor so you can see your changes in action as you make them. Plus Soliloquy features a drag & drop slide order and supports 14 different content sources.
FREE – Soliloquy Lite
Get the lovely Soliloquy WordPress slider plugin for free by trying out the lite version. The slider is still responsive, has drag & drop image uploading, and if you ever want more you can purchase the full version or a support license for extra help.
FREE – SlideDeck Lite
SlideDeck Lite is a stripped down version of the premium version. You can still build some great sliders that are responsive and use various media. And if you wish your slider supported various content sources and other features just upgrade.
WordPress Contact Form Plugins
Premium – Gravity Forms
There is no end to the magic Gravity Forms can create. You can make forms with multiple pages, entry confirmations, addresses, check-boxes, drop-downs, radio buttons, pricing fields, etc. You can also schedule your forms and enable form-to-post features.
FREE – Contact Form 7
This plugin does just what it says. Contact Form 7 creates lovely and straightforward contact forms with fields like name, subject, and message. You can enable email confirmations and install the Really Simple Captcha to prevent spam.
WordPress Backup Plugins
Premium – BackupBuddy
BackupBuddy is a great solution to backup your entire WordPress installation, plugins, widgets, content and more. Need to do a full restore? No problem – upload your backup file and importbuddy.php and you’re back on track!
FREE – BackUpWordPress
Easily backup your WordPress website everyday using the BackUpWordPress plugin. The plugin uses mysqldump and zip functions to backup your installation, and you even have the option to have the backup files emailed to you.
WordPress Advanced Menus Plugins
Premium – UberMenu
If you want more in your navigation, Ubermenu is a mega menu plugin you need to checkout. Add images, shortcodes, descriptions, use drag & drop widgets, choose sub-menu effects, create vertical or horizontal menus, and customize just about everything.
WordPress Security Plugins
Premium – VaultPress
We love VaultPress – it is a great level of protection to have just in case disaster strikes. It takes daily backups (or real-time ones if you upgrade), keeps an archive of them, and VaultPress will even help you if you need to restore your site.
Premium – Security Ninja
Security Ninja uses over 27 security tests to make sure your website stays safe. The plugin reviews your site for weaknesses, helps you take preventative measures, has a debug mode and even has its own code snippets to make fixes easy.
FREE – Security Ninja Lite
If you just want basic protection, Security Ninja Lite does a good job of helping you keep your WordPress website safe. There are multiple security tests and preventative measures included in the plugin, but for extra safety you can upgrade to the premium version.
FREE – Better WP Security
Brought to you by FooPlugins, this Freemium plugin is aptly named Better WP Security. This plugin will help you keep your site safe with measures such as site scans, trouble bot/user bans, obscured sensitive data, file change detection and more.
WordPress Link Cloaking Plugins
Premium – PrettyLink Pro
Although under the link cloaking section, PrettyLink Pro does so much more. With this plugin you can also manage redirects, integrate Google Analytics, generate QR codes, automate various elements like URL replacement, and auto share pretty links for your posts and pages.
FREE – PrettyLink Lite
If you want simple link cloaking with basic hit tracking, PrettyLink Lite is a great option. This plugin allows you to created custom links, nofollow links, link groups, forward parameters and redirection links. The plugin also tracks the hits on each link.
WordPress Font Option Plugins
Premium – Font Uploader
With the Font Uploader you can add your own custom fonts and use them for just about any element on your WordPress theme. This plugin utilizes .otf, .ttf, and .eot font files and is cross browser compatible. It also supports Google webFont and has a section for custom CSS/HTML tweaks.
FREE – Font Uploader
Just need one or two custom fonts? The free edition of Font Uploader makes it easy. Upload your .otf or .ttf font files and let the plugin do the hard part for you. It embeds the fonts files using CSS and @font-face makes for neat and tidy code.
FREE – WP Google Fonts
WP Google Fonts is a quick and easy way to add the option for using Google fonts for elements in your WordPress theme. The plugin adds Google code so you can call any of the hundreds of fonts available, and you can do it all from the comfort of your admin panel.
FREE – Font
Font enables you to see the changes you make to a web element in real time. This meals you can click, drag, re-color, re-size or change the font for a specific web element and see your changes take effect as you make theme. This is great for developers and newbies alike.
WordPress Related Posts Plugins
FREE – Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
YARPP is probably the most popular related posts plugin on WordPress.org. With well over 2 million downloads, this plugin is a great way to add thumbnails for related posts, pages and custom post types to keep readers on your website.
WordPress Author Box Plugins
Premium – Fanciest Author Box
Make your authors happy and have a look at the Fanciest Author Box plugin. This adds a section to each of your posts with an author bio, social links, and other posts they’ve written. It’s easy to customize with a little coding knowhow – take a look at ours below!
FREE – Fancier Author Box
Not sure how fancy you want to get? Take Fancier Author Box for a test drive. This free version of the plugin still has social links, a bio section and customization options – it’s just been trimmed down on the available features a bit.
WordPress Event Management Plugins
Premium – Event Espresso
Serve up some piping hot events to your readers with the Event Espresso WordPress plugin. Manage the events from beginning to end, including a calendar, invites, registration, wait lists, billing, coupons, confirmation emails, social sharing, multiple languages and so much more.
FREE – Events Manager
Events Manager is a popular (and free) options for managing events through your WordPress website. The plugin has lot of features including (but not limited to) event registration, recurring events, BuddyPress support, Google maps, event submissions and more.
WordPress Lightbox Plugins
Premium – Foobox
This fully responsive and mobile ready lightbox plugin is the perfect addition to portfolios and galleries. Foobox has built-in social sharing, a slideshow function, and automatically works with WordPress Galleries upon installation.
FREE – Lightbox Gallery
Lightbox Gallery is a free plugin that is a great way to add lightbox functionality to your galleries. Plus the plugin has been localized for a variety of languages, has a tooltip caption option, includes pagination, and your can choose a Highslide JS display option.
FREE – WP jQuery Lightbox
The WP jQuery Lightbox is another free plugin with plenty of lightbox goodness. The plugin supports media library titles and descriptions, is touch-swipe enabled on mobile devices, and is keyboard enabled (use arrows to navigate) on desktops.
WordPress Coming Soon & Landing Page Plugins
Premium – ATT Coming Soon
Get visitors and clientele excited about your upcoming WordPress website with the Authentic Themes Coming Soon plugin. This way you can login to the admin panel and view the site as you work on it, while visitors see a coming soon landing page with MailChimp integration.
FREE – WordPress Landing Pages
WordPress Landing Pages is a quick and easy way to put together landing pages while you work on your website. Plus the plugin fully integrates with Gravity Forms, Contact Form 7, and Ninja Forms so you can collect information from those who land on your page.
WordPress Testimonial Plugins
Premium – Sweet WordPress Testimonials
The Sweet WordPress Testimonials Plugin is an easy way to add client testimonials or testimonial forms to your posts and pages. Just use the shortcode icon in the rich text editor to insert a testimonial “visual zone” that you can double click to easily edit.
FREE – Symple shortcodes
For a quick and minimal solution, Symple Shortcodes includes a basic testimonials shortcode. You can add the person or company’s name, the testimonial and an image. Just insert the shortcode just about anywhere by using the Symple icon in the rich text editor.
WordPress Restricted Content Plugins
Premium – Restrict Content Pro
Restrict Content Pro gives you the ability to add premium and restricted content to your WordPress website. Add an unlimited number of membership levels, manage subscriptions, record payments, issue discounts, and of course restrict content.
FREE – Restrict Content
Easily restrict content in pages, posts or blocks of content to registered members only with the Restrict Content free WordPress plugin. Just active the plugin and restrict content by simply selecting the user level to restrict by, or by using the shortcode for a block of content.
WordPress Share to Download Plugins
Premium - Social Locker
Use the Social Locker to lock premium content (like posts, discount codes, images, videos, special offers, downloads, etc.) until users share your content using social media. The plugin inserts a locked content screen that includes a number of popular social media options.
FREE – Social Locker Free Edition
Use the Social Locker Free Edition WordPress Plugin to lock content. It’s the same idea as the premium version of the plugin – users must socially share your content to access it. This plugin includes a free trial of the premium features, but you’ll have to upgrade if you want to keep them.
FREE – Tweet 2 Download
Have users Tweet 2 Download your content with this simple and straightforward plugin. The plugin asks users to “pay with a tweet” before they can use or download your content, making this plugin a great means of viral social marketing (especially if you add some hashtags in the tweet).
So there you have it – a list of some of the very best WordPress plugins that should address most of your WordPress wants and needs. If we missed a functionality your clients often ask for, or if there is a plugin you’re constantly recommending, leave a comment below and let us know about it!
So next time you want to ask a theme developer to add some extra functionality to a theme or are wondering why it isn’t there in the first place…ask yourself…is there a plugin for that? Almost always the answer is YES!