Review Best Free Must-Have Plugins – Use The Advantage!

wordpress pluginWordPress plugins have the ability to turn your ordinary blog into a high ranking and profitable website, BUT which ones are the Best ones? Which ones are the absolutely Must-Have plugins? Which plugins do you really need to kick-start your online career to blogging mega-stardom?  This review will give you the answers to those questions.

There are thousands of plugins to choose from. Some are Eat-My-Dust competitor killers, and others are, well…very nice, but do I really need another plugin?  Then, of course, there are the plugins that no one likes to mention – the clunky, slow and just-don’t-work-plugins someone put together for their school project.  I know, I know….a major achievement, and I couldn’t do it, but they won’t make it onto my best ever plugins list.  Sorry guys, nice try – keep plugin away, tho’ Smile….just don’t give up your day job.

woman sherlockBut not to worry, trusty readers, your fearless reviewer of all things Plugin has been delving into the bowels of the WordPress Plugins world, and has emerged with a list of the absolute must-have, can’t-do-without Plugins that every blogger needs. Yes, needs.  Why?

Because you can spend weeks searching blogs and forums, trying to find out how to do something essential for the structure, or SEO (search engine optimization) or appearance of your blog, and keep being told, ‘It’s really easy, you just add %^@&^*%$&* code into your *^%*$ in cpanel, and it’s done”.  Most ordinary bloggers, like me, will not find that easy.

The beauty of a good plugin is that you just ‘plug it in’ and you’re good to go.  No worries! No cPanels, no HTML code, no geeky instructions to confuse the normal person – that has all been sorted out by the clever-clogs who made the plugin.  You just have to find the best ones.  Luckily Smile, I’m here to tell you what they are.

No 1: The Ultimate TinyMCE plugin by Josh Lobe

This is my No 1, All Time Winner!  Take a bow, Josh, you deserve it.

Anyone new to WordPress will quickly become frustrated by the difficulty of formatting their posts. This brilliant plugin allows you to easily control:

  • font sizes
  • text colors
  • fill in colors
  • hyperlinks to other posts (or outside websites)
  • page breaks
  • text boxes with every formatting option imaginable
  • tables
  • adding h1, h2 and h3 seo tags to headings and sub-headings,
  • embed YouTube videos
  • css styling
  • HTML editor
  • Extra smilies

and many, many more tools from basic to advanced.

The Ultimate TinyMCE adds 2 + extra rows of formatting boxes to the edit page of WordPress.  They are easy to use, and the plugin itself, supplies really good Help pop ups. There is also a Plugin Support Forum where Josh will answer you questions. Hi Josh!  I recommend this plugin for anyone and everyone.  Oh, yes, of course, it’s free.

UPDATE: The TinyMCE  plugin ‘officially’ doesn’t work with WordPress 3.9 and above. BUT I am still using it and it is working fine for me.  Josh now wants us to switch to WP Edit – either the Free version HERE, or Josh’s preferred (for him, which is quite understandable) Pro version HERE.  After reading some comments at these website pages, it looks like lots of features of TinyMCE are not available in WP Edit.  Personally, I will keep using my TinyMCE plugin until it really doesn’t work properly any more.

NOTE: The following plugins are not in any Ranked order of  Usefulness.  I would describe them all as ‘must-have’ and excellent.  They are listed in roughly the order I installed them on this blog.

The early plugins on this list are the plugins I found that I needed right at the start.  Those further down the list are the plugins I found that I needed later, during the process of developing this blog.

2: The All In One SEO Pack plugin by Michael Torbert of Semper Plugins

This very popular plugin allows you set the SEO structure of your Website or blog: Home Title, Home Description, Home keywords, make your posts Canonical (always use the same url format style – good for google bots), specify the structure of your pingbacks, add Google Analytics to your site, and a host of other must-do SEO tasks, including similar SEO options for your Pages and Posts, including specifying your own Meta Titles, Descriptions, keywords, and permalinks – what you see tagged on the end of your post’s url. See Meta Tags, Title Tags & Meta Descriptions.  The All in One Pack has a free version as well as the paid version which has a lot more SEO options and tools.

2b: WordPress SEO by Yoastdoes exactly the same thing as the All in One SEO Pack, has equally good reviews and is also good. I have used both and both work well.

3: Analytics for WordPress by tomatosoft

This plugin couldn’t be easier:

1. Locate your Google Analytics code (at Google Analytics) in your Account Details.

(Google will give you your personalized Analytics Code when you set up your Google Analytics Account.) 

2.Install and activate the Analytics for WordPress Plugin on your WordPress Dashboard.

3. Copy/paste your Google Analytics Code into the text box supplied by this plugin (in your Dashboard>Settings), and it’s all done for you.  Works like a charm.  It ‘s so easy and works so well, I have nothing to add.  It’s an excellent plugin.

                 3b: Google Analytics for WordPress by Joost de Valk

This is the usual recommendation for adding Google Analytics to your Website or blog.  I run it successfully on my other site, Addiction Rehab Now, and have never had any problem with it personally, over there, on that site.

I did have a problem with it when I tried to install it to this blog – I couldn’t get Google to link to it and start giving me data, even though it had installed the code in the Header as it was supposed to do.   I never found out why it didn’t work for me on this site – the installation was exactly the same, but I was using a different WordPress theme than on Addiction Rehab Now – maybe that made a difference.

I have since come across another couple of bloggers who had similar problems with the Joost Analytics plugin.  It is a good plugin, but so is the one above, which now runs successfully on this site.  So, if, for any reason, the Analytics plugin by Joost is not working for you, try the Analytics for WordPress plugin by Tomatosoft reviewed above.

Or, just install the Tomatosoft one first up, instead of the Joost one.  I’ve never had a problem with the Tomatosoft plugin.  The data collected by each one, is approximately the same.

4. Google XML Sitemaps by Arne Brachold

This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and to better index your blog.  It’s dead easy to install and works like a charm. Job done!  Generating an XML sitemap for Google to crawl can make a big difference to your Google Ranking.  Don’t confuse this with an HTML Table of Contents sitemap.  For that you need………

 5. Table of Contents Creator (TOCC) by Mark Beljaars

The HTML sitemap generates a visible, readable, Sitemap of Contents that you can add to your blog to give your readers extra navigating options when exploring your blog.  This plugin automatically generates a dynamic site wide table of contents that is always up-to-date. All entries are navigable making your site very SEO and user friendly. TOCC can be configured to display static pages, blog entries and forum comments, whatever you prefer.

Another great feature of TOCC is the ability to include anchor tags on any page marked with a special class. This feature allows links to articles, downloads or even other sites to appear within the table of contents as if they are part of your site’s navigation. You can choose the order and style of your Site Map, and many other variables.

To see a Demonstration of how this Plugin collates all your posts, pages, categories etc, see the Site Map for this blog, in my Menu at the top of the page.

6. NoFollowr by Joel Birch

Whenever you add a live hyperlink in a post, from your blog to anwordpress plugins outside website, you need to decide whether to allow the Google crawlers to follow that link away from your site to the other one.

There are many opinions about which links you should allow Google to know about (follow), and which you should you let your readers know about, and be able to follow your link – but block those links for the Google crawlers (a nofollow link).

In general, out links from your site are considered to be ‘leaking link juice’ – (I didn’t invent that phrase, so don’t blame me).

Why?  Because what every blogger wants is for other sites to be coming to your own blog, so you build up incoming links to boost traffic and credibility in the eyes of Google. Visitor traffic that goes the other way – away from you to someone else –  is ‘the wrong direction of traffic flow’.

However, if those sites are high ranking authority sites in your topic area, an out link to them might make Google think that you also have authority, and give you Brownie Points – Brownie Points are a favorite currency in Aus – they can sometimes earn you a ‘Big Red Tick’, or even…(gasp)…a ‘Koala Stamp’ plus ‘The Housewife’s Badge of Approval’…..sorry, I digress!

This you-beaut NoFollowr plugin is really, really cool!  Install it, and suddenly all your external links have either a little green tick, or a tiny red dot next to them!  They are only visible to you when you are logged into your site as the Administrator.

Then, if you want to make that out-link a ‘nofollow’ link, you just click on the little green tick and it changes to red – before your very eyes!  Brilliant!  No messing with Code or CSS and no trips into the bowels of your cpanel.  Easy as! Believe me, you will feel like a genius, when in fact, it’s Joel Birch who is the genius mastermind clever-clogs of this little gem of a plugin.  Thanks, Joel.

7: Akismet Free Spam Protection

One thing you really want to avoid is spammers invading your Comments. Why people do this is still a mystery to me, but they do.  In order to block them totally from even getting near your Comments box is to install Akismet.  For a full review of this plugin, and why I prefer it to the popular Captcha Anti-Comment spam plugin, see my article Is It Spam? How to Check.

Akismet that will come with your WordPress Theme and show up on your Dashboard – unfortunately it is by no means Free.  Besides, you just don’t need it if you install the free Spam Free for WordPress by Todd Lahman – Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!  Read on:

Breaking News! Update: I’ve worked out how to get Akismet for Free – yes, really free.  See my article  How to Get Akismet Anti Spam Filter For Free  – Yes Free!  There you will find detailed instructions about how to do it, and also a review about whether you actually need it or not.

The Latest Update Do you need Akismet? …Yes, you really do need the Akismet Anti Spam plugin. Absolutely!  Read my Cautionary Tale here – and learn from my mistakes!

Don’t do what I did and suddenly get hit with 300 human spam Comments per day and get listed as a spammer on the Stop Forum Spam data base – Install Free Akismet today! and save yourself the pain.

8. Comment Reply Notification by denushua. 

This is a handy little plugin that places a check-box under your Comments text box, as you can see at the foot of this article.  Then your readers can check (or un-check) and choose if they want to be notified by email when a reply or additional comment is made.

This will allow visitors who leave Comments, to follow up their comment and expand the conversation, should they wish to do so.  It’s a useful addition to your blog because returning visitors count with Google as Traffic – one of the main parameters that Google uses to judge the importance of your site, and which therefore influences your page ranking.  We are always trying to increase the number of visitors to our blog in as many ways we can think of.  This is one easy way.

UPDATE: 12th Nov 2012. I have deactivated this plugin on this site. Not because it’s not a good plugin, it is.  But I found that having the Jetpack Plugin (Get instant Stats right There On Your WordPress Dashboard) was blocking how this Comment Reply Notification Plugin was working. And, I didn’t want to ditch my you-beaut Jetpack Stats Plugin.  See How to Customize Comment Reply Notifications Using Jetpack.

9. Twenty Eleven Theme Extensions by Mike Walker, MozTools

Those of you who have been keeping up :), will know that I started out, using the WordPress default Twenty Eleven Theme for my blogs.  One of the major limitations of this Theme is that you can only have a sidebar on your Home page, and not on any other page or post.

It is possible to fix this by creating something called a Child Theme, but that involves quite a bit of knowledge of HTML and code, which most beginners regard as a foreign language they would rather not know about, if at all possible. So up till now, sticking with Twenty Eleven meant you had to put up with no site wide sidebar, or find out how to create a Child Theme.

BUT! Clever old Mike Walker has come up with this handy plugin that allows you to add sidebars to all your posts and pages in Twenty Eleven with just one click of the mouse!  And it works!  I know there will be a lot of people out there thanking Mike for this life saving plugin.

Not having sidebars on all your pages and posts is a serious limitation of Twenty Eleven, in my view.  Now, you can keep your default theme and also have your valuable, site-wide sidebars. Well done Mike.


What? Only 9 recommended Must-Have plugins? Can’t I make it a nice round 10?  Well, right now, not really.  I’ve found that these plugins are all I need to get a website or blog, up and running smoothly.

Also, I know that all of these plugins are excellent, because I rely on them every day, and I’m therefore happy to recommend them.  You will see many lists of so called Must Have plugins if you search for them, but they are not always essential plugins, and also, I only recommend what I have personally used, and regard as the best.

There are many other perfectly good plugins for various more specialized tasks that you will need later on, but for the ‘Absolute Basic Must Have Starter Guide Plugins List’ – these 9 will be all you need for a while.

If and when I come across any more excellent Must-Have Plugins, I’ll add them to this article.  So there you go – happy days!  Just keep plugin’ away. And Subscribe to our Newsletter for regular updates.

     ……Cue Motto!

Plan Well. Start Small. Think BIG!

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Review Best Free Must-Have Plugins – Use The Advantage! — 14 Comments

  1. Hi, Josh Lobe here; developer of Ultimate Tinymce.

    Thank you so very much for the review. You know, I spend so much time in my forum and working on development… it’s so gratifying to see someone taking initiative to write an article to share it with the rest of the community.

    Also, I’ll be checking these other plugins you recommend. I already use three of them currently… but I saw a couple I’m interested in reviewing.

    Thanks Carol!!

    • No worries, Josh. It’s nice for a blogger when you can write a rave review and really mean it, which is true for all the plugins I review in this article.

      I know there are millions of plugins out there to choose from, but I do my research before trying them out on my blog. However, not all of the ones I try survive after I’ve used them.

      But all the plugins I review here survived my ‘suck it and see’ test: an ancient Aussie way to test to see if something works or not. We’re a sophisticated lot down here….

      And the Ultimate TinyMCE had to be No 1 because I use it everyday, and rely on it everyday, and I think ‘Thanks Josh’ every day!

  2. I have to thank both Carol and Josh today. Thank you Josh for Ultimate TinyMCE and your forum wherein I read Carol’s review, which led me here! And Thank you Carol for this article, and cementing my confidence in Ultimate TinyMCE, which I have just installed on my site. After reading, it looks as though there are at least 6 more plugins to follow! Thank you Carol, I like your site and what I’ve read so far. I have subscribed, and look forward to learning how to make my first million!

    • Hi Kris, yes the Ultimate TinyMCE is a beauty, isn’t it. The others are good too, and I rely on them everyday, but the swag of formatting options that Josh gives with the Ultimate TinyMCE, is right there on my Edit Post screen, and I use it every day in my Tool Box.

      You might like to also check out the articles I’ve written on the Jetpack PLugin, and the WPStats Dashboard Plugin, and he SEObook Toolbar. I’m still finding ‘hidden’ data options with the Jetpack Plugin. For example you get daily data on which articles got visited, plus a visitor number count – and also for the previous day.

      But you can also click on a small icon (that I hadn’t noticed before) and it gives you the visitor history for each article from when it was first published. And more besides.

      Welcome aboard.

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  4. Thanks so much for the information on the wordpress plugins. I just downloaded and activated the “Spam Free WordPress”. Had a little trouble at first but followed the troubleshooting on their website and it’s all good.

    • Well done Karen!

      Sometimes it feels like every time we try to do something new, we have to tweak something to make it perfect. Not always of course.

      I find that something I had some problem with 1 months ago, now seems so simple that I wonder why I had any trouble the first time around.

      That particular plugin had a recent upgrade, and a few people (including me for a while) thought it wasn’t working because the visible copy/paste security step was no longer there.

      But after a few days, I saw that it was still keeping out the bad guys (spam bots) and the security automated spam block software is still working, but behind the scenes.

      I personally think this was a mistake on the plugin maker’s part (they never ask me first :)) – because people like to see that a plugin is working in real time – well I do anyway.

      But I know that it is still working and continues to block automated spam as well as it always has done.

      Karen, you might be interested in reading the following article that deals with how to synchronize your WordPress Comments section with your Anti Spam Plugins so they don’t block/interfere with each other.

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  7. I built my first WordPress website using Weaver II. Now I look at the level of complexity in the backend and am embarrassed to turn it over to my non-technical client. There are HTML and shortcodes in many places, and I don’t think they will be able to use it as I promised.
    Any advice as to plugins that would simplify or educate them?

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