The absolutely must have free WordPress plugins of 2012

Everyone has their own list of must have, free WordPress plugins and I'm no different. After half a year of trying some new ones, I've landed on this list – broken out in seven categories. So let's first look at the categories – because there are clearly some categories I'm not covering (and I'll explain why).

The Seven Categories of free WordPress Plugins

1. Search Engine Optimization
My first category was SEO – because everyone wants their posts and sites to be found. That said, there's a great article here on the benefits of the long tail and how to really maximize traffic to your site (focus on topics, write longer posts, and analyze the traffic afterwards). If you do this, I suggest a non-plugin (HitTail) because they do the analysis for you. It's great.

2. Cache / Performance
Google recently announced that speed and site performance would be added to their algorithm for search engine ranking. That's one of the reasons I switched to WP Engine – because my site is now blazing fast compared to before.

3. Sharing
Everyone will tell you that you should let the community do the work for you – by giving them easy ways to share your content. I'm not sure I completely buy the pitch, because I read a lot of articles that I never share. But that doesn't mean I want to make sharing content difficult, so sharing made the top list.

4. Commerce
I know, a weird one since a lot of people create sites that don't sell anything. But my take is that you never know when you're going to create something of value that you may want to charge for (either as a digital product, a service, or as a membership). So here's to driving more commerce on WordPress sites (did I mention I love WooCommerce?).

I've really enjoyed Livefyre on after trying a host of other options, but they're not the only name in town. Here are a few great options.

6. DB/Backups
You didn't think I'd completely ignore utilities, did you? While I love BackUpBuddy, it doesn't make the list of free plugins. But there are some good ones to look at. In the end, you want to know you can restore your database when something goes wrong (like installing a plugin that makes your site go crazy – which never happens to me, right?).

7. Related Posts
I'm only starting to go back to related posts after noticing how poor performing they were, but they are an effective way to share additional posts on the site, if you can make sure the plugin performs well. Here are a couple options that aren't too bad and at least one that is fantastic (nrelate)!

Wait, what about….?

I know, you're looking at the categories and wondering why forms, security and image galleries are missing.

  • Forms is off the list because I love two plugins and both have some cost attached (GravityForms & Formidable Pro). Either way, I'm not going to suggest you look at other options. I'm just going to tell you to grab one of these two.
  • Security is a you-get-what-you-pay-for thing for me, so again, I don't suggest free. I'd send you to Sucuri every day of the week and 7 times on Sunday. Seriously, go there now (the simple site scan is FREE)!
  • Did you know WordPress can now natively handle your image galleries? So you don't need no stinkin' plugins!

Get to the list already!

Plugins Name Last Week's
Total Downloads
SEO All in One SEO  83,349  11,681,564
SEO Google XML Sitemaps  35,052  8,071,527
SEO WordPress SEO  26,646  1,783,940
SEO SEO Ultimate  7,671  806,910
Cache WP Super Cache  18,131  3,457,033
Cache W3 Total Cache  8,407  1,198,207
Sharing Sexy Bookmarks  5,056  1,675,436
Sharing Add to Any  4,371  2,335,354
Commerce WP e-commerce  11,602  1,951,491
Commerce WooCommerce  9,372  244,720
Commerce JingoShop  1,672  104,005
Commenting commentluv  9,159  552,618
Commenting Disqus Comments  8,593  765,270
Commenting Livefyre Comments  1,530  41,643
DB/Backup BackWPup  10,701  308,473
DB/Backup WP-DB-Backup  5,016  1,401,692
DB/Backup WP-Optimize  2,212  289,940
Related Posts nrelate  1,238  135,759
Related Posts Efficient Related Posts  237  75,909


Do I really need all 19 of these plugins?

Nope. That's why I grouped them in those 7 categories. Now you can pick one or two from each and give them a try. And while you're at it, let me know which ones I missed that you'd put on the list!