WordPress is both the world's most popular blogging platform and the widest used Content Management System (CMS). And one of the reasons it's so popular is that it happily supports templating and plugins, making it highly flexible and customisable to suit different website needs.
This flexibility, alongside the platform's huge popularity, means there are thousands of free WordPress plugins available on the web.
That's the good news. The bad news is that sorting the wheat from the chaff can be a real challenge. So below we've chosen some of the best WordPress plugins to add functionality to your website - and as the icing on the cake, are all available free of charge!
Another thing you can do to promote your WordPress blog is to add sharing options to your site. The Shareaholic WordPress plugin enables you to an attractive social bookmarking menu and related content widget to your posts, pages, index, or any combination of the three.
A great way to build a loyal readership is to suggest additional content on your website that the reader might enjoy, once they've got to the end of a piece of content.
There are numerous plugins that provide this "related content" functionality automatically, and one such example is nrelate. As well as automatically generating content links for you, you can use a plugin shortcode to manually insert links to related posts, and the look and feel is entirely customisable.
Although WordPress continues to improve its support for rich media, the ability to embed video directly in your site remains a challenge that often involves copying and pasting HTML embed code from the platform hosting your video.
This plugin makes it easier by adding platform-specific buttons that allow you to simply paste in the URL of the video you want to embed. The plugin then fetches and generates all the necessary code to embed that specific video for you, saving a lot of hassle in the process!
For many websites the ultimate aim is to convert browsers into buyers, and this plugin provides an excellent way to help achieve this by building a mailing list, highlighting a special offer or simply drawing the reader's attention to some content on your website.
This plugin makes it easy to visually create call-to-action popups and track conversion rates, as well as set up and compare A/B split tests.
As social media has exploded, the need to integrate feeds into your website has increased. This is a great example of a really simple integration of the Instagram service.
Choose whether to import images from a specific user, or based on particular hashtag, and the plugin will do the rest.
You can choose whether to display a grid of thumbnails, or a slideshow of images, and there are options to customise the background, colour themes, borders and slideshow pacing - but it's the relative lack of configuration options that makes this plugin appeal.
There are loads of different event plugins available for WordPress, but one of the best (and most popular) is The Events Calendar. This module extends the Wordpress post types with a new Event class, allowing you to quickly create events and adding functionality such as the ability to render a list, calendar view, search events and integrate maps. If you're running a club or society, or designing a Wordpress-powered website for a client that regularly runs events, this plugin will save you a huge amount of time.
WebKite makes it easy to add filters and sorts to your content - the same kind of filtering functionality as seen on Yelp, Kayak, and Amazon.com. The free WordPress plugin allows you to embed that content on your WordPress site. There's a great example of an interactive restaurant menu built using WebKite here.
This great WordPress plugin allows you to manually crop all the image sizes registered in your WordPress theme. Clicking on the Crop link next to any image in your media library brings up the lightbox style interface, and you're ready to go.
Easy Pricing Tables for WordPress makes it easy to create and publish beautiful pricing tables on your WordPress site. This plugin works with any WordPress theme you have installed. After installing the plugin and creating your first pricing table, you can publish your table anywhere on your site using a shortcode.
SlideDeck enables you to create customised slideshows that are displayed in a content slider on your WordPress site. Each slide can be filled with text, images, video, social media stream feeds and syndicated content.
Content supported includes Twitter feeds, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr and more. The slides are presented through a template system, referred to by SlideDeck as a "lens", which can be configured to match your site design. The premium version of the plugin adds more lenses, but the free version does allow you to develop your own.
A brilliant WordPress plugin for creating a customised audio player that sits within your site, this supports multiple or single tracks, complete with playlists and is inserted into your standard content with the familiar shortcode system.
Based on HTML5, it works across all modern browsers. The Lite version is free, and there's also a pro version with extra features.
If you're looking for a mobile skin solution, WPTouch is one of the best WordPress plugins for your needs.
It allows you to serve a different theme to users on mobile device such as an iPhone or Android phone, providing a user-friendly and small-screen-optimised version of your content instead of forcing mobile users to navigate a desktop-orientated design.
Installation is very simple, and the plugin can be configured to match your overall design aesthetic relatively easily. This is a great quick-fix solution if you don't want to get into designing your own mobile theme.
JetPack brings some of the functionality of WordPress hosted blogs to self-hosted WordPress installations.
The features are wide and varied and include cloud-hosted stats for your site, email subscription to your site, a built-in URL shortener service, social-network-based commenting, inline spelling and grammar checking and an enhanced gallery system.
15. NextGen Gallery
NextGen Gallery is one of the most feature-rich WordPress plugins for creating image galleries, and that alone makes it our personal favourite.
This plugin offers a great deal of flexibility in creating gallery content, including the ability to watermark images, create slideshows, organise content into albums and use different themes for display of your images. You can choose from free and pro versions of the plugin.
16. WP e-Commerce
WP e-Commerce turns your WordPress website into a fully featured ecommerce store, complete with built-in connection to (and integration with) many major Payment Service Providers (PSPs).
The system enables you to upload products into different categories and offers customers a shopping cart system to allow them to build an order. It handles calculation of shipping, payment capture and all the email confirmations associated with buying and selling on the web.
The plugin is free, and while you can buy additional upgrades to the system, it's open source just like WordPress - so it's perfectly possible to extend the cart's functionality yourself. It's for these reasons that many champion it as the best WordPress plugin for ecommerce.
BuddyPress is a social media platform in a box. Building on top of the WordPress system, it allows you to register, maintain a list of friends, @message other users, create groups of common interests and host your own forums.
BuddyPress itself is also extensible, allowing you to further extend functionality to include document upload, integration with other social media streams, create membership-only websites and much more.
If you're looking for a user-led or project-based system that encourages collaboration and interaction between visitors to your site, BuddyPress is an ideal solution and one of, if not the, best WordPress plugins for social networking.
If you're a film-maker or someone who handles video on a regular basis, you'll know it can be tricky to display your film content beautifully without resorting to manual hacks around embedding content. Vimeo users can take advantage of the Vimeography WordPress plugin to create and display fantastic-looking galleries of video content - all orientated around displaying nicely within your WordPress site. Multiple galleries of content can be created, and are inserted into posts or pages using the standard WordPress shortcode system.
Vimeography is arguably the best WordPress plugin for video, although note that only supports content from Vimeo. And that's not likely to change soon because the developer believes Vimeo is the best platform to displaying portfolio-quality content (ie without advertising or unnecessary platform branding).
Words: Sam Hampton-Smith
This is an updated and extended version of an article that was previously published on Creative Bloq. Keep adding your suggestions in the comments below!