We here at Rycob Media use WordPress and Shopify for our online web development; our co-owner/head web developer Ryan has been building websites since he was a teenager.
All of this experience, and working with a variety of clients has given us plenty to go on when it comes to our 5 must-have plugins for WordPress.
This article will feature our must-haves that are free to use or plugins that have free-to-use versions so that anyone looking to start a website, regardless of their budget can use them.
Our number 5 choice for free plugins is Wordfence. It is one of a couple of WordPress plugins that secure and protect your site from attacks. It acts as a firewall; and it stops people who are trying to break into your site, whether they attempt by brute force logins or by changing files.
So why do we recommend Wordfence over some of their competitors? In this case, it’s pretty simple. Their free version is simply the best. Their largest competitor, Sucuri, is lacking what we consider an essential part of website protection, which is a firewall. Firewalls stop malicious attacks before they can happen, limiting the amount of threat that your website faces on a day-by-day basis.
While it isn’t perfect and there are some features that are locked behind a freemium paywall it is still our number one recommendation for a WordPress Security plugin.
4. WP Forms
Our number 4 choice, (and everyone who has used WordPress will know why) is WPForms. Or more specifically, WPForms Lite, the free version.
Building forms on WordPress without a plugin can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare. It is a ton of coding and formatting across 3, sometimes 4 different programming languages. All just to build a quick and easy contact form that a plugin could build for you in 3 seconds.
So why SPForms over, say, Contact Form 7? The most used form building plugin on WordPress. There are a couple of reasons. First, the layout and design of form building is much simpler and easier to understand for WPForms. It is a visual builder, so it’s just drag-and-drop and quite easy to figure out.
It does have some shortcomings, especially when it comes to conditional logic, as that is a premium feature, but for basic forms and standard websites, it is more than adequate!
Our third choice for best free WordPress plugins is UpdraftPlus. It is a backup service for your website that makes it so that if anything happens, or if your site breaks you don’t lose all of the hard work you have done!
Additionally, it’s able to sync to third party servers (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) in the free version. This makes it so that not only do you have the security of a backup, but you have a copy of it with you everywhere you’re logged in to your cloud account.
Having a plugin like this may seem pointless, and it will be. Until you need it. Then you will have never been happier that you spent the time setting it up and getting everything backed up.
I will note that some hosting providers offer backups for all wordpress installs. However, we stil recommend using a plugin within wordpress itself. It never hurts to have multiple backups, and when it’s free, why would you not?
If you just google “Top WordPress Plugins” right now you’ll find that Yoast is near the top of almost every single list. Including ours, coming at number 2. And there’s a reason for that. Yoast SEO is hands-down one of the best SEO plugins available.
In addition to staying up-to-date on the ever-changing world of Search Engine Optimization, it also gives a TON of information to help you learn about SEO in its free plugin. It also helps you learn about readability. The metric they use to describe how well your article comes across, and how it is interpreted by your readers. Is it too complicated? Too long? Too short? Yoast helps with all of those things.
With that being said, there are some things you will find annoying about the free version that the premium version gets rid of. For example, Yoast treats “free plugin” and “free plugins” as two completely unrelated terms, even though all of us reading know that they are essentially the same thing. It is still extremely helpful to learn what sorts of things to look for in the article using the free versions. But be prepared for a couple of “OK” ratings.
Before we get to our top pick for the best free plugin there three plugins (or kind-of plugins) that didn’t make the list but are worth considering for your website!
Honourable Mention 1: WP-Optimize
Made the same people who make UpdraftPlus, WP-Optimize is a very niche plugin. It allows you to compress and maintain your database, remove tables no longer in use, compress images, and a whole host of other optimization tasks.
This is quite a niche and is usually only used by web developers and the like, but if it is a task you need to do there is a ton that WP-Optimize can do to make your life so much easier.
Honourable Mention 2: TinyMCE Advanced
TinyMCE Advanced has been a lifesaver for us at Rycob Media. There are plenty of things that the base text editor that comes with WordPress can’t do. Change the text colour, insert a table, etc. All things that we take for granted after writing on a word processor.
This plugin is tiny and just makes life so much easier, with tons less coding needed, and fewer plugins necessary to do simple tasks. It’s one of those ease of living things you don’t realize how much you value until you don’t have it.
Honourable Mention 3: CloudFlare
Cloudflare isn’t a plugin, which is why it didn’t make the main list. Instead, it’s a CDN or Content Delivery Network. A massive one at that. It takes your website, puts it on to a bunch of servers all over the world and stores it.
This means that if you’re based in Canada, rather than your US-based web host server receiving the request, and returning the website data to Canada, it instead goes to Calgary and back. This shortened distance and closer proximity of your website can save literal seconds off of your loading time.
They also have a free plan that adds even more security to your website, in addition to the speed boost. It can also be kind of difficult to set up. So make sure to check out our guide of How to Set-up Your Free Cloudflare Account to see the settings we recommend and how to set it up yourself.
Our top choice for free plugins that every WordPress site needs is Elementor. Elementor is a visual page builder that we use on a lot of our pages! It takes what would normally be complicated, coding nightmares into a quick drag and drop. And unlike Devi, it’s main competition, it’s free!
There are tons upon tons of useful components you can use. There are even full templates if designing from the ground up isn’t your style. For examples of what Elementor can look like check out a lot of pages on our site! While there are customization and coding spread throughout a lot of what we were able to do on our site made possible by Elementor.
You will undoubtedly find a couple of things you would like to use that are marked as premium, including some of their best templates. But there are additional plugins that can fill in some of those features without slowing down your site. Check it out and I’m sure you’ll love it!
Conclusion. Did we miss a plugin?
Those are our top 5 (and a couple of extra) plugins that we here at Rycob Media recommend. They cover everything from security to design, but each is helpful in its own way, and together they can make a pretty awesome website.
Do you have any you think we missed? Maybe you have your own top 5 list. Maybe you’ve made your own WordPress plugins that would make it on to the list! Let us know so that we can check them out, give our thoughts, and maybe update our own list!