As you may well know, WordPress is the most popular website building platform in the world. Approximately 3.5 out of every 10 websites are built with WordPress.
One of the main reasons why WordPress is so popular, and much loved, is because of the near-endless array of plugins you can use. While there are loads of premium plugins that you can pay to use, we are going to focus on the amazing plugins you can add for free to enhance your website.
We will look at the 5 key areas you will need a plugin for and the best free option in that category.
Every WordPress website needs to be protected. Often people building their own website forget or don’t realise, but a WordPress security plugin is a must for each and every website. Every website we manage faces at least one hacking attempt every day. Without a security plugin, that website would be easily compromised.
Every decent hosting plan comes with spam filters, firewalls and hefty protection from hacking and DDoS attacks. You might assume that would be enough, but good security comes in layers.
On top of our hosting, we use Cloudflare as the next layer of security and an extra firewall to keep out the bad guys.
At WordPress level, we use Wordfence. There are loads of excellent WordPress security plugins out there and over time I have tried and tested all of them. After much testing, I’ve come to the considered conclusion that Wordfence is the best.
From the long list of great security plugins, I strongly recommend Wordfence due to its ease of use, robust security features and how you can leave it on auto-pilot and not need to nurture it.
Wordfence, much like other plugins on this list, has a freemium model. You can install the free version or pay for the feature-richer premium version. Luckily, Wordfence is not one of those freemium plugins that offers an inadequate free plugin. The free version will provide a more than a robust option.
One feature you don’t get with Wordfence is the ability to move the WP login page. As standard, all WordPress websites have the same location for their login page. This means hackers know exactly where to go to start knocking on your site’s back door.
The approach from Wordfence is to provide such strong login protection that you won’t need to move the login page. After testing a heavy-traffic website with and without the default login page URL, I found a big drop in hacking attempts when the login page was relocated. As such, we also recommend WPS Limit Login as an additional security plugin to further protect your website.
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Every website needs security and every website also needs a viable backup plugin as well.
What’s the point, of a backup plugin? Doesn’t hosting provide backups?
Any decent hosting account provides daily or weekly backups of your website content. So why use a plugin to replicate a job your hosting already does?
The purpose of a backup plugin is to save a copy of your website every day, week or month (depending on how often you change your content). This ensures that if anything goes wrong you can easily rollback your WordPress website without any stress.
In the past, I’ve had two sites needing a backup to be restored to fix a broken website. With one, I relied on my hosting account to restore files from a previous backup. This process took around an hour and was stressful whilst waiting. With another, I pressed the button to restore a site from a backup plugin. 1 minute later the website was back online and working perfectly.
After much testing of all major backup plugins, I have found that UpdraftPlus offers by far the best free plugin. Firstly, you can choose when and how often you want to create a backup. Whilst building a new site we’ll back it up daily and once it’s live move it to weekly or monthly backups.
The choice of where you can store your backups is great. With the free UpdraftPlus plugin you can sync your backups to Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, UpdraftVault, Rackspace Cloud, FTP, DreamObjects, Openstack Swift, or email. As you can get free Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, you can easily host your site backups for free.
Once again there is a paid version of their plugin that comes with more enhanced features. I’ve never seen the need to pay for the pro version when the free version does everything I need and more!
Increasingly, websites live and die by their search engine optimisation (SEO). No matter how wonderful your website is, without it ranking well on Google it may never be found!
An SEO plugin will help your site be noticed and rank well in Google. Having an SEO plugin is, again, a no-brainer.
While there are many great SEO plugins available for free, we recommend SEOPress. It’s a newer kid on the block, but one that has an immense range of features. When you compare it to the big boy YoastSEO, you can see that SEOPress offer more features and more functionality with its free version.
SEOPress helps you build great meta descriptions of each of your web pages and posts. They help guide you to use the best keywords and link to Google Analytics, Tag Manager and Google Ads. They also help you ensure your links look amazing on social media – the other crucial way you’ll get your website found online.
Since I started using SEOPress I must admit my SEO knowledge has greatly improved. While their free plugin helps you take the hassle out of SEO, it does also help educate you and make you aware of the key things you need to do to improve your SEO ranking.
Much like Wordfence, SEOPress is a freemium plugin. You can download the free version or pay for the enhanced pro version. Much like Wordfence again, the SEOPress free plugin offers you plenty of features and does not force you to pay for the pro version.
If you do choose to go for the paid pro version you will find it costs a respectable £31 per year for the powerful plugin.
There are essentially three ways you use WordPress to help you build websites. You can install a pre-built theme and edit the content, use WordPress and code your own theme or use a visual page builder to drag and drop your own website.
WordPress was designed to be a platform where everyone can build a website. With a page builder, you can build your own website your own way.
At the point of writing this, we have a choice of Beaver Builder, Divi, Brizy, Oxygen and WP Bakery, amongst others. The most popular page builder is, of course, Elementor.
Rest-assured I have tested all of those page builders before concluding that Elementor is by far the best. Full of features and really easy to use, Elementor is a no-brainer.
The free version will allow you to easily build websites for yourself and others. However, to be able to create more complex sites or complete themes, you will need to pay for the Pro version of Elementor. The paid version is around £39 and allows you to use dynamic features and essentially build your own WordPress theme!
I can’t express enough in a blog how much I love Elementor compared to other systems and platforms I’ve used before to build websites.
While Elementor comes with so many excellent features, both for free and with the inexpensive pro version, there is a growing world of add-ons and additional plugins to expand Elementor. Many free plugins offer a great many options. If you want extensive additional options, the Crocoblock suite of premium plugins helps you create dynamic, complex websites.
While many novices forget to add security to their websites, even more, experienced website builders forget to optimise their images.
I’ve spent a bit of time recently fixing slow-loading websites and the number 1 reason is people using massive, bulking images.
If you find a great photo online or take one yourself it will almost certainly be around 4 times too big (width and height) for a website. Plus it will be at least 4 times too large a file to load quickly on your website. Nothing will cripple your page loading as simple as one bulky image!
The purpose of an image optimisation plugin is to strip out as much data from your photos or images as possible. A photo taken on an iPhone will store the location, type of phone and user in the photo’s data. Why? An image optimisation plugin will get rid of every unnecessary kilobyte of data.
That’s not all, these plugins will also ensure your photo will load at the best size. Got a photo that’s 4000 pixels by 3000 pixels? It would need to be less than half that size at most for any website.
Once again, there are loads of great image optimisation plugins out there. We use and recommend ShortPixel. Not only does it compress and resize photos, but it also stores photos on their own content delivery network (CDN), thus speeding up the loading of your images. Turning on ShortPixel significantly reduces the loading time of any website.
The free version of Shortpixel allows you to add 200 photos per month to your website. If want to add more images but don’t want to pay for the pro version, then go for Optimole. Their plugin offers much the same options as ShortPixel and is free for up to 5000 website visitors per month.
WordPress was built to be an open-source platform where everyone can build a website. With the wide range of amazing, free plugins, anyone can build their own website without paying for plugins.
If you need help building a website, or would just like help optimising or finishing off your website, get in touch and we can help.