60% of the entire CMS marketplace is dominated by WordPress. That’s millions of people. And when you have a market with so many participants, you better believe there’ll be some huge add-ons available. In WordPress’ case, it’s plugins. We’ve created a stripped-down list of essential plugins perfect for a bare-bones website. Here are seven of them for each of the most important categories in the construction of such a site, and they won’t cost you a cent.
Confusingly, this one is actually named “WordPress SEO” in the plugin library, which really goes to show the SEO prowess of its creator, Joost de Valk. Yoast is an awesome plugin that just keeps getting better. Besides offering the on-page optimization features that you’d expect, like custom meta title and description, you can also control how your content is read by search engines via the comprehensive dashboard. The coolest thing about Yoast is its rating system: little color indicators showing how well a post is optimized against the keywords you choose, which returns suggestions if a post needs improvement.
W3 Total Cache
One of the most important things on any website is its loading time. WordPress out-of-the-box is considered to be a bit sluggish in comparison with competitors like Drupal or Joomla. Once again, free WordPress plugins come to the rescue. W3 Total Cache is a plugin savior, mostly because of the centralized control it offers webmasters over all the different cache types you can activate. This is an indispensable, especially if your content is particularly heavy.
Most website designers seem to overlook the importance of on-site search. WordPress’ stock search code is not as good as it should be. Relevanssi is another free plugin that sets the record straight by offering advanced customization of your site’s search index. You can even tweak the display of returned search results. Relevanssi also keeps a log of all user searches, something that’s incredibly valuable for further site improvements.
Custom Post Type UI
We’ve talked about how core WordPress files still don’t allow for custom post types, unlike Drupal. But there are a number of plugins you can choose from in order to fulfill this lacking function. In the case of free WordPress plugins, the best is Custom Post Type UI. With it, you can create custom post types and taxonomies via a friendly interface (your alternative would be to add post types directly via the functions.php file, but that’s a whole other beast).
Right now there’s a lot of chatter out there about the best comment system. When it comes down to it, choosing the comment system depends entirely on your site’s audience. Would you install Facebook comments on a Fortune 500 business blog? Maybe not. And a lot of people dislike the standard WordPress commenting software. This is why we want to press the case for Disqus. It’s a great plugin that lets you seamlessly integrate commenting functionality into your site. Our favorite thing is that it allows users to login in a variety of ways, or to post as a guest. Also, it offers the most recent comments around your site for them to browse.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
The most important aspect of site analytics in WordPress is the ability to embed the necessary tracking code in the <head> section. Yoast takes care of that. Once it’s installed, you can integrate Google Analytics with this nifty plugin. It displays the most recent information from that excellent software right on your WordPress dashboard, giving you a great resource to quickly glean stats about your site’s performance.
The great debate over whether redirected URLs are good or bad is hard to consider when it comes to language plugins. In general, redirecting a URL is not good for your SEO. However, the alternative is a lot more tiresome. Polylang, although it causes URL redirection, is one of the coolest free WordPress language plugins. It’s incredibly intuitive. For each post and page, there are clear options for adding their translated equivalents via little plus signs beside language indicators (flags). It’s so easy it hurts.
Let’s not forget: these free WordPress plugins are for the most bare-bones websites. They’re still excellent tools, but that’s no reason to stop here. Continue hunting. Great WordPress tools come in free and paid categories alike. If you find any other great deals, drop a comment below.