How to Install and Configure Top Free Must Have WordPress Plugins
When it comes to building websites, you’ll agree with me that WordPress is the best and preferred choice for small business owners to large companies all around the globe. The best thing about WordPress is that it’s free, you only need a hosting, really easy to use and extremely powerful.
I use, but more importantly, many of the most successful and influential bloggers and business owners are using it for a reason.
The main thing, making WordPress so popular is the available functionalities that can be easily added thanks to the available plugins.
What are WordPress Plugins?
Imagine WordPress plugins like extra parts that are added to an engine to make it more powerful. These plugins extend the available functionalities that already exists in WordPress. They offer custom functions that allow the webmaster, you, to tailor the website to your specific needs.
I don’t know the exact number, but there are more than 8000 free and paid plugins available for installation.
As you might imagine there is basically a plugin for everything. Actually, there are many plugins doing basically the same job. Choosing which plugin to install is probably the hardest part.
Once you’ve installed WordPress, is a good idea to add a couple of plugins. And here I am not talking about regular ones, I am talking about the best free WordPress plugins.
Below I will show you how to install and configure the top free must have WordPress plugins. Also, I am going to tell you why you need these plugins.
Before I show you how to install them step-by-step, let me first list these essential WordPress plugins:
- Akismet – Protect from spam
- Yoast SEO – SEO plugin
- WP Smush – Optimize images
- CaptainForm – Contact form plugin
- 404 to 301 redirect – No more 404 errors
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – Helpful statistics
- WP Super Cache – Caching plugin
- Loginizer – Protects you from brute force attacks
- MailMunch – Email capturing plugin
All of these plugins are free, though some of them have premium versions that are paid. Still, the free versions of these plugins will do the job for right now.
How to Install and Configure Top Free Must Have WordPress Plugins
1. Akismet – Block spam comments
Akismet is an advanced hosted anti-spam service that will protect your website from spam comments. It efficiently processes and analyzes masses of data from millions of sites and communities in real time. To fight the latest and dirtiest tactics embraced by the world’s most proficient spammers, it learns and evolves every single second of every single day.
Why do you need Akismet?
Akismet has large data of spammers and will automatically protect you from bogus comments on your site. If these comments are not removed from your site, in time google will rank your site poorly.
Extra tip: If (probably it will be) Akismet is already installed on your WordPress, simply activate it.
Let’s install and configure Akismet:
Access your WordPress dashboard by typing yourdomain.com/wp-admin, navigate to Plugins > Add new > Search for Akismet > Install the plugin:
Once the plugin is active, you will see a screen that will prompt you to activate your account, click on Active:
On the next page go to Get your API key:
You will be redirected to the official site of the plugin:
Create an account, or sign in if you already have a WordPress.com account:
Choose the plan on the left to proceed:
As you can see below, a payment should be made to proceed. Don’t freak out. Simply click on the price and scroll to the left:
Set the amount to $0.00 and click on Continue:
Verify that the plugin will be activated on your domain name and click Activate this site:
The API should be automatically added inside the field. Check the box: always put spam in spam folder for review and Save changes:
Congratulations! Akismet was successfully installed and activated on your WordPress. Let’s proceed with adding the next plugin.
2. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO (formerly known as WordPress SEO by Yoast) is the most complete and used SEO plugin among WordPress users. It has all essential features to help you optimize your page and posts content, images, titles, meta descriptions and more.
Why do you need Yoast SEO?
SEO by Yoast will help you SEO optimize your posts and pages which will lead to higher google ranking, more traffic, and potentially more revenue.
Let’s install and configure Yoast SEO:
Access again your Plugins section > Add New > Search for Yoast SEO > Install the plugin:
After the plugin is successfully activated, you will see this message, click start tour:
Subscribe to new news and updates if you like and close this screen. After that click on your info to add your site title and alternate name. Additionally, you can choose whether you are a company or a person:
Webmaster tools section allows you to verify your site with the different Webmaster Tools. Check these two WordPress tutorials for further help:
Inform Google about your social profiles by entering them from the Social Tab > Accounts:
Make sure that your XML sitemap functionality is enabled from XML sitemaps:
To make the most of this plugin, you will need to use the toolbox added after all of your posts and pages.
Find long tail keyword and use it inside your title, slug and meta description:
You are all set with Yoast SEO plugin. Let’s proceed with the next must have plugin for WordPress:
3. WP Smush
WP smush resizes and optimizes all of your images using extremely powerful and 100% free smusher. This plugin will automatically smush all images upon upload, saving you time, space and will also significantly increase your site load time.
Why do you need WP Smush?
Optimizing images is a must for every website owner. Media files will pile up and soon your site will start loading slowly. Leading to poor user experience and low Google rankings.
Let’s install and configure WP smush:
Go to Add new plugin > Search for WP smush > Install and activate the plugin:
The automatic smushing will be automatically enabled. Which means that all new images will be compressed without any additional actions from you.
WP smush will also calculate the images that are not smushed and will give you the option to compress them. Click bulk smush:
See the results:
That’s basically all there is to know about this plugin. It will smush all your newly uploaded images so you can rest assure they are optimized.
CaptainForm is extremely easy to use form builder that requires no coding skills. All types of forms for WordPress are built right from the dashboard. No add-ons required. Add multiple contact forms and modify them the way you want.
Why do you need CaptainForm?
Sooner or later people will want to contact you. Actually, this should be one of your main priorities. Placing only an email won’t do the job. Ease your visitors by adding contact forms.
Let’s install and configure CaptainForm:
Search for CaptainForm inside the add new plugin section > Install and activate the plugin:
A new section inside your dashboard will appear called CaptainForm. Go to New form and activate your free account:
As you can see, there are a couple of pre-made templates ready to be used. Click on create blank to build one from scratch:
One the left are your fields and on the right is how your form will look like. Drag and drop the fields you will want to use for your form:
Click on field to edit the text and make it required:
Advanced fields has some extra fields you will want to use:
Show layout options allows you to make some modifications. During the process you can always preview your form:
Go to settings to set where should all the information from the form be sent. Follow the steps below:
- Settings section.
- This is the email where you will receive all the information from the contact forms.
- Modify the email to fit your needs.
- Enable the autoresponder. This will send an email to the person filling the form.
- Modify the subject of the email that will be sent.
- Show short thank you text.
- Save changes once you are ready.
Step 3 of designing your contact form to actually publish it. Click on publish and choose one of the options:
- Copy this shortcode and paste it into a page or a post.
- Set the contact form to appear when the visitors clicks on text, image; floating button or auto popup.
Now create a new post and add the shortcode inside the text area to see how the form looks on your website:
Looks amazing right?
This plugin will automatically redirect all traffic going to your default 404 error page to any other page, designed by you, using 301 rule. Which is great for your SEO. You will no longer see 404 errors in your Google Webmaster tool account.
Why do you need 404 to 301?
404 error page is a common error for WordPress sites. However, you will need to permanently resolve this and show Google that your site is providing top user experience and no errors.
Let’s install and configure 404 to 301:
Search for 404 to 301 inside the add new plugins section and install the plugin:
Now create new custom 404 page. Add links to other existing pages so people can navigate better:
Now let’s set the page you’ve just created to appear when people bump into your 404 error page:
- Go to 404 to 301 newly appeared menu
- 404 Settings
- Redirect type set to 301 (good for SEO)
- Select existing page.
- Choose your page.
- You can enable email notifications but I don’t advise you to do it.
- Save the changes.
You are all set. Now when someone accidently (or not) goes to 404 error page, he will be redirected to your custom page.
This plugin enables you to track your site using the latest Google Analytics tracking code and allows you to view key Google Analytics reports straight in your WordPress dashboard.
Why do you need Google Analytics?
What better way to scale your business than seeing what pages people are visiting, where are they from and how long they stay on your site? Use the data to create even better content and focus on your target audience.
Let’s install and configure Google Analytics Dashboard for WP:
Firstly you will need active Google analytics account.
The next screen is showing the 3 main steps. Simply go to Sign up:
Fill the form here with info about your website:
The pop-up screen will prompt you to agree with the terms and the services > Click I agree:
Your account is created. Still, there is one more thing that has to be done.
On the next screen, you will receive a tracking code that you will need to add to your WordPress site.
Access your WordPress admin section and go to Appearance > Editor > Theme header (header.php) find where is the </head> section:
Paste google analytics code between the two lines like this:
The code is successfully added. Save the changes and proceed with the installation of the plugin.
Inside section Plugins > Find Google Analytics dashboard for WP > Install it:
Go to Google Analytics dashboard by clicking on settings:
Click Authorize plugin:
Go to get access code:
The page will ask for permission > Click on Allow:
Copy this code:
Paste it and save the changes:
When you go to your Dashboard > Home here you can see all the data: sessions, users, organic searches and etc.:
Keep in mind that it might take a day or two any data to appear here.
This plugin generates static html files from your dynamic WordPress blog. After a html file is generated your webserver will serve that file instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more expensive WordPress PHP scripts. A very fast caching engine for WordPress that produces static html files.
Why do you need WP Super Cache?
You need a caching plugin to optimize your site performance and increase page loading time. Both Google and the people visiting your site will be looking for that.
Let’s install and configure WP Super Cache:
Find WP super cache and install it:
A message will appear. Click on plugin admin page to configure the plugin:
Enable the Caching, save the changes and click onn Advance:
Go to Advanced settings and check the following boxes:
- Cache hits to this website for quick access.
- Use PHP to serve cache files.
- Compress pages so they’re served more quickly to visitors.
- 304 Not Modified browser caching. Indicate when a page has not been modified since it was last requested.
- Cache rebuild. Serve a supercache file to anonymous users while a new file is being generated.
- Mobile device support.
- Coarse file locking. You probably don’t need this but it may help if your server is underpowered.
- Set CacheTimeout to 1800 or 3600.
- Timer 600 seconds.
- Save changes.
Loginizer is a WordPress plugin which helps you fight against brute force attack by blocking login for the IP after it reaches maximum retries allowed. You can blacklist or whitelist IPs for login using Loginizer. You can use various other features like Two Factor Auth, reCAPTCHA, PasswordLess Login, etc. to improve the security of your website.
Why do you need Loginizer?
The combination of this plugin and using a strong password with capitals letters, symbols and numbers will help you protect your site from hackers.
Let’s install and configure Loginizer:
Go to your plugins section search for Loginizer plugin and install it:
By default, the plugin is active and will protect you against people trying to brute force your wp-admin page.
After 3 incorrect attempts, the user area will be locked for a certain period of time.
Probably the best free plugin that will help you get more email subscribers. Beautiful and easy to set opt-in forms that can be integrated with famous autoresponders MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, Campaign Monitor and others.
Why do you need MailMunch?
Adding email opt-in forms for getting email subscribers is a must for every business owner. It will not only help you bring people who subscribed back to your site, but it will help you earn more money from products you launch in the future.
Let’s install and configure MailMunch:
Install MaiMunch from inside your Plugins > Add new section:
Once the plugin is active you will be prompt to create your first optin form:
Choose type of form:
Select a design:
Add a title to your form:
Add appealing message to make more people subscribe to your email list:
Customize the colors:
Decide whether you want also the name of the subscriber. It’s a good thing do to if you want to make the future emails feel more personal:
In this section, you can customize when your form to appear:
Connect the form with your autoresponder. MailChimp is free till your list has fewer than 2000 subscribers. So it’s a good idea to start using them. Click on MailChimp:
Add your user and pass (Create free account by going to their official site: MailChimp):
Ask people to confirm their subscription and choose your list from the drop-down:
The final screen will give you the option to upgrade your package. Click Finish to complete the process:
One final thing before the email opt-in box is active. You will need to create a free account with Mailmuch. If you don’t have an account already, simply click Sign up and create one:
You are all set. Now when you go to your site you will see the email opt-in form:
It’s also a good idea to create popover and after posts forms to increase your conversion.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully installed the best 9 free must have WordPress plugins.
These plugins will help you with some of the essential things to better manage your WordPress. Some of them are:
- Protect your site from hackers and spam comments.
- SEO optimize your articles to get higher in google searches.
- Add contact forms to communicate better with your visitors.
- Optimize your site performance.
- Get more email subscribers.
Of course, there are other plugins that you will need to add depending on your project, but these here are essential for any WordPress installation out there.
Did you have any issues during the installation of the plugins? If yes, contact me directly using the comments section or using this page: Contact Me.
What other plugins you’ve installed on your site? Share with us in the comments below: