Free plugins are great and all, but premium plugins are where it’s at if you’re running a professional website or building one for a client. With premium plugins you can count on better features, code quality and documentation, as well as reliable support.
After all, you’re paying for those special – and usually necessary – extras.
Yes, there are free plugins that also offer support, great code and decent manuals, but if you want to be confident that a plugin will be updated with new versions of WordPress, or even after a security scare, it doesn’t hurt to fork out a few bucks for that reassurance.
This list compiles the best plugins money can buy, covering everything from spam and optimization to search engine optimization and website management.
So let’s dig in and start downloading.
What does Akismet do, exactly? It filters out spam comments on your blog so you don’t have to do it yourself.
This plugin scans all the comments you receive and then tries to match them against its growing list of known spam comments. If a comment can be matched and is similar to known spam, the comment is automatically filtered into the spam queue.
It doesn’t always catch all spam comments, but it does catch most of them. Instead of trying to look through your comments queue for tens or even hundreds of spam comments, you can just filter out the odd one.
It’s a powerful plugin that is consistently updated with the newest spam tactics to ensure your site remains as safe as possible. It’s trusted and used by over one million users, including WPMU DEV.
Flexible plans are also available so if you’re strapped for cash because you’ve just started a business or you want to test the waters before jumping into the deep-end, you can choose to donate an amount of your choice or one of the affordable plans.
You can even use it for free if you need to for a while, but it’s good to consider donating when you hit it to the big leagues since your support helps keep the plugin alive and kicking spam’s, er, behind.
Why did Akismet make it on the list over others? Here’s the thing – there are a lot of great free options out there including WP-SpamShield, Anti-spam and Antispam Bee, but in the world of WordPress, not all plugins are made equal.
Anyone can submit a plugin to the WordPress Plugin Directory. While it does need to be approved before it’s posted, it’s not a rigorous screening test. Generally speaking, if the plugin technically works and doesn’t do anything spam-like, it’s accepted.
Since WordPress is widely run by (amazing) volunteers, it’s incredibly difficult to do a full evaluation of each plugin. Plus, it can be an excellent way to give others the opportunity to build upon plugins and make them better which is the nature of open-source technology and WordPress.
Still, since it’s also volunteers posting the plugins, there’s no guarantee that the plugin is solid, light weight, regularly updated or has support available if something goes wrong.
Can you blame them? They’re only trying to help you for free.
Simply put, premium plugins from a trusted source are usually a safer bet since they have the means to update, offer support and publish quality plugins.
Akismet is made from the same folks who made WordPress so you know you are backed by a trusted source.
Caching is the best way to reduce the loading time of your site by saving some of the data temporarily. With that data saved, a browser doesn’t keep having to reload it every time a visitor goes to your site, for example. This means everything from your site is displayed to the end user including high-quality images with larger file sizes, but the browser doesn’t need to load all the data for every visit.
Caching plugins have the same process, except elements like scripts are also temporarily saved to help improve your site’s speed all the more. If you want more information on caching, check out one of our other posts by Tom Ewer called The Top 3 Caching Plugins Compared and Choosing the Best One for Your Site.
WP Rocket is what I like to call an “install and go” plugin. It’s as easy to install as most other plugins and once activate, works right out of the box without any configuration, although, there are extra options in case you need a bit more features.
It’s one of those plugins that you can install and happily forget about because it does all the leg work for you without needing anything else on your part.
It’s likely the easiest caching plugin to use out there and does a good job helping speed up your site. It has the necessary features you would want in a caching plugin, it’s properly cared for with updates and it’s also a well-built plugin.
Both plugins each have over one million and that makes sense since they’re both solid plugins that are updated regularly and work well.
The problem is, caching performance is sort of a subjective subject. Since every WordPress site isn’t exactly the same with different amounts of files, plugins, scripts and themes, some caching solutions may work better for one user than for another.
If that’s not complicated enough, most free caching plugins have a long list of options that can be a headache to sort through to find the ones that should work best for you. That’s if you understand all the options in the first place.
Instead, WP Rocket is simple to use and doesn’t require any fiddling with options to work well and straight away which makes it an excellent choice for most people from users who are new to WordPress all the way to seasoned professionals who can spend their time in better ways than sorting through options.
If the free caching plugins work for you, that’s fabulous, but if you need a plugin that works really well that you can just install and get on with your life, WP Rocket may be the better choice for you.
WP Clean Up Optimizer
The WP Clean Up Optimizer does what its name suggests – it cleans up and optimizes your WordPress database tables.
After publishing with WordPress for a while, you may notice a build up of unnecessary entries in your database tables such as tons of old post revisions, tags that haven’t been used, backlogged spam comments and the like.
Cleaning out your database by removing all the bloated data can reduce the amount of storage space used up for your site and even help speed it up. This is just one feature that WP Clean Up Optimizer includes.
This plugin can also help repair corrupted tables, update plugins automatically, optimizes the efficiency of the data that’s transferred to your site and database and you can schedule repairs, cleaning and optimizing.
There is also a free version of the plugin so you can test out most of its features before deciding to upgrade to the premium version, but what makes the upgraded WP Clean Up Optimizer plugin a better choice over its free counterparts?
In the free version, you aren’t able to schedule tasks, repair or optimize your database and block spam IP addresses from accessing your site.
There are also other free optimizing plugins out there such as WP Optimize which doesn’t have as many options. Since plugins increase your database load, it’s important to keep the amount of them you use to a minimum.
If you find a plugin that has most of the features you need, over two or more plugins that would collectively complete the same amount of work, it’s better to install the one plugin. While WP Optimize is also updated fairly regularly, WP Clean Up Optimizer is updated far more frequently to ensure you get the best results.
While they’re both great plugins, WP Clean Up Optimize wins with more helpful features and regular updates.
WP Smush Pro
WP Smush Pro started life as Smush.it – an image compression plugin for WordPress sites. It was run by Yahoo! successfully for some time and gained popularity fast.
It got so popular, it strained their server and had to give it up. That’s when WPMU DEV came to the rescue and picked it up to keep the plugin going.
Since then, many improvements have been made and the name of the plugin was changed to WP Smush Pro. It still compresses uploaded images in WordPress only it does an even better job of it.
Image compression is necessary to keep your site fast, reduce storage space and bandwidth usage.
When a browser visits your site, the page downloads the images, text, files, scripts and other front-end content in order for it to display to the end user. If a user’s browser needs to download images with a huge file size, it not only keeps your site storage fuller, it increases your bandwidth and slows down your site since it takes longer for everything to load.
If you can keep your content’s file size as small as possible, it helps reduce the burden on your server. That’s what compressing images helps do. It reduces the overall file size of an image.
Even better, when your site loads quickly, it bodes well for your search engine ranking, meaning more people can find your site easier when doing a search.
WP Smush Pro works beautifully. Depending on the image, it can reduce the file size by more than 60% without losing the original quality of the image which is called lossless compression. If you don’t mind a barely noticeable reduction in an image’s quality (lossy compression) you can save even more space.
Why go premium, though, especially when there’s a free version of the plugin and other free plugins? With the free version, you can smush images that are up to 1MB in size, but with the premium version, you can smush images that are up to 32MB with over twice the compression power.
There are also other image compression plugins such as the equally popular EWWW Image Optimizer. It’s a fine choice for many because it works well, but if you want to reduce your image files by more than an average of one to 25%, you need to go for their lossy compression. While it’s a fine option, the numbers speak for themselves.
Ajax Search Pro
Ajax Search Pro is an advanced search bar for WordPress. You might be wondering why there’s a premium search plugin on this list when WordPress already comes with a native search capability.
The reason is that the default search feature isn’t all that powerful. When you search for posts, it doesn’t produce results that are all that accurate. Even worse, custom post types and other custom content won’t be displayed in search results. That’s a bummer.
This plugin not only beefs up your site’s search feature, but it shows results in real time, without needing to load a whole other page to post the results. This means searching not only becomes more powerful and accurate, but results are shown so much faster.
This search plugin also displays suggestions, autocomplete, highlights keywords and includes performance tracking.
Is this plugin really worth it when there are other options? Some strong free search plugins include Relevanssi and Better Search. There’s even Dave’s WordPress Live Search that shows instant results, just like Ajax Search Pro.
What makes this premium plugin different is its style and design. It’s a lot more professional looking and performs a bit better than other free plugins especially in terms of the search features that are included.
If you’re not as interested in your search box displaying instant results, but need an incredibly accurate and professional option, there’s our Custom Google Search plugin that uses Google’s powerful and highly accurate search capabilities.
It’s customized to fit into any site beautifully, without looking like the Google site and it’s also an “install and go” plugin. If you’re already a WPMU DEV premium member, you can install this plugin right now in a couple clicks.
At the end of the day, all these search plugins are great options. It just depends on your particular needs.
As of WordPress version 4.3.1, turning your site into a store is not a part of the core functionality. To add this feature, you need a plugin.
Cart66 adds eCommerce capabilities to your site with a huge list of features. Here are some of the most notable ones:
- Shopping cart
- Sell digital files
- Shipping service integration
- Order updates for customers
- Inventory tracking
- Sales reports
- Coupons that can be auto-applied
- Automatic notification emails
- Sell on social media
- Affiliate programs
- Sell subscriptions
- Integrates with other services like MailChimp and Gravity Forms
- Wholesale store capability
There are many free plugins, but Cart66 knocks them out of the park. It’s all about the sheer number of robust features available under one roof. This can help keep your site running a bit faster since you won’t have to install as many plugins as with other free plugins such as WooCommerce and WP eCommerce.
It’s a plugin that’s proven to work well and is maintained often. Still, if you’re not in need of so many features, free plugins may be better for you.
What if you still need a professional plugin that can handle creating and managing an online storefront for you with many extra features, but not quite as many as Cart66? Sounds like a better fit may be MarketPress eCommerce. It has all the features you need and it’s still a light-weight and clean plugin.
Depending on the setup you want to achieve, you may need to opt for one of the other options, but Cart66 definitely has the most capabilities rolled into one plugin.
Easy Social Share Buttons
Sharing your posts and site on social media is a strategy that has becomes permanently imprinted in the world of the internet. At least, it has been for quite some time and has no signs of changing anytime soon.
The Easy Social Share Buttons plugin is made to make social sharing as easy as possible. Not only can you display sharing buttons and counters on your posts or pages, but you can also choose between styles, 18 different positions on the page, custom sharing messages and analytics, just to name a few.
You can also choose what happens after someone shares your post, which is a killer strategy described in our post Why WordPress Testimonials Can Generate More Selling Power than the Best Sales Copy.
It’s feature packed, well-built and works well with any theme. You can also make many customizations so you can adjust everything to your liking.
There are tons of free social sharing plugins out there so what makes this one better than them all? It really depends on what you’re looking for in this category of plugins, since most of the options are great such as the Sumo Me, Floating Social and Social Marketing plugins, to name only a few.
The biggest difference is that this plugin has mostly all the features you could need or want when it comes to sharing in one plugin. If you need other features such as inline pop-ups, then other plugins may be your jam.
SmartCrawl is a robust search engine optimization (SEO) plugin.
SEO means making your site and its content primed up for search engines to take notice and rank your site higher in search results. WordPress is already built to be friendly toward search engines, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left for you to do.
Great content and titles are definitely the most important aspect in great search rankings, but it doesn’t hurt to give your site a boost with direct interaction with Google and Bing, automatic sitemap updates, title and metadata optimization, custom home title and meta description and tons more features that SmartCrawl brings forward.
This plugin ensures your site flags down the attention of major search engines in a classy way so your rankings improve. There are many alternatives, but none quite like SmartCrawl that’s as easy to use as it is powerful.
With ManageWP, you can manage plugins, themes, posts and updates for multiple WordPress sites all in one place. You can also monitor and track your sites’ uptime, receive notifications when traffic rates change, view Google analytics and schedule site backups.
If you manage lots of sites, ManageWP helps you save oodles of time by completing everyday tasks in one place, often in a few clicks or less. It’s also secure with two-factor authentication available.
There are many free and premium alternatives, but many are unreliable or have a mash of features that seem out of place and not entirely useful. ManageWP keeps things quick and easy and offers the features you need in their different affordable plans.
Still, if you’re looking for a solid free plugin, MainWP is an excellent option, but ManageWP also has a free version of their plugin as well. There are also other notable premium plugins to help you manage your sites, but ManageWP comes out on top with great features and stellar support.
The plugin that’s best for you does depend on what your specific needs are, and that’s why we put together a comprehensive review in our post Managing Multiple WordPress Sites: The Ultimate Guide.
Backing up your site is an incredibly important step to take to keep your site safe. If you make a mistake or you get hacked, restoring your site quickly from a backup is a great way to reverse the damage and get your site back up on the web in record time.
BackupBuddy is one of the best plugins you can use to backup your site. Not only can you backup and restore, migrating your site to a new domain or server is a snap. It can save you tons of time.
Once you install it, you may even wonder why you haven’t done it sooner. You can backup your entire site, including your files and database. Scheduling backups is also easy.
You can also save your backups outside your server and email account to offsite cloud storage solutions such as Amazon S3, Google Drive, Dropbox, FTP and others. This is a great feature since your server and email can be hacked easier than cloud storage services.
Keeping a copy of your site in multiple locations can also help ensure you won’t be caught between a rock and hard place if you’re not able to get to your one and only backup.
There are many other great backup plugins so why is BackupBuddy make the list? VaultPress is another popular solution for creating backups and quick restores, but what can often be overlooked is that VaultPress doesn’t backup all your files and database tables.
Core files and custom files and tables that VaultPress doesn’t recognize as being WordPress related doesn’t get saved. Not backing up core files isn’t a horrible issue since you can recover those easily by downloading another copy off of WordPress.org.
The problem here is that some customizations you make to the CMS may not make it to your backup. When you restore your site, it could turn out like a mess, and that’s just not cool.
There’s also Snapshot Pro which can handle full backups, restores, scheduling and can save your backups to many cloud services as well as FTP, your email account and server. While Snapshot Pro can handle site migrations, that’s not technically why it was built. Although, Snapshot Pro does have the advantage of being able to partition your backup into segments as it works to save your site so your server doesn’t become overloaded.
All three of these plugins are solid and well-built. The one you choose depends on your needs, although, BuddyPress backs up all your files and database tables and is built with site migration in mind.
Just as important as backing up your site is setting up a security plugin. The WordPress framework already has this as a top priority with security updates rolling out frequently, but there are many steps you can take to ensure your site is as secure as possible.
If one exploit doesn’t yield results, hacks just come up with different ideas and ways to infiltrate sites all over the world. It’s difficult to keep up with the latest security tips and tricks so installing a plugin that’s backed by a strong team to do the work for you and keeps your site safe is paramount.
Security plugins like Wordfence take care of spam, backdoor exploits, malware, brute force attacks and a whole lot more. Wordfence can even scan files outside your WordPress install to ensure your site and server are in tip-top shape.
There’s a huge mountain high list of features that Wordfence provides that most other security plugins don’t include. For example, while plugins such as iThemes Security and VaultPress are great, Wordfence protects your site in a lot more ways than the alternatives and it works efficiently.
To give you a better idea of the protection Wordfence can bring to your site, take a look at our review: Securing Your WordPress Site: Wordfence Security Review. We also have a review of iThemes security you can check out as well: Securing Your WordPress Site: iThemes Free Security Plugin Review.
If you’re in need of a cost-effective solution, Wordfence does have a free version of their plugin. While it doesn’t include advanced features, it still does an excellent job of protecting your site.
With CustomPress, you can make just about any custom post type you could ever want and imagine.
It’s easy to set up and use and you can:
- Assign custom taxonomies
- Custom labels
- Custom menu icons
- Add a WordPress dash icon
- Custom post UI
- Shortcode integration
- Hide custom types
- Add custom fields
- Smooth theme integration
- Theme files for each custom post type
- Create archives
- Export option
- Easy field organization
- And tons more
It’s a powerful plugin that creates robust and über professional results. Everything you need is included along with expert support.
CustomPress can indeed be called the best of the best, even with free options out there. Custom Post Type UI is a popular free option, but while it can create great custom post types and taxonomy, it can only register them and can’t display them. It leaves much to be desired, but on the plus side, it is updated regularly.
The Gravity Forms plugin can quickly create – yes, you guessed it – forms for your WordPress site.
Depending on the type of premium package you select, you could create powerful forms that are virtually limitless all the way up to forms that accept payments and credit cards securely.
Here are only a handful of the powerful options that are available in this plugin:
- Multi-page forms
- Form settings
- Limit entries
- Advanced fields
- Schedule forms
- Conditional logic
- Standard fields
- Post fields
- Pricing fields
- Email verification
- Progress bar
- Oodles more
From simple contact forms to advanced forms such as posting to the front-end or placing orders, Gravity Forms pretty much has you covered for just about anything.
There are so many (free) form builders out there, but Gravity Forms dominates the market and for good reason. It’s packed with features and has an easy to use drag-and-drop user interface (UI). Gravity Forms is a clear winner.
For a walkthrough and example of how much power is behind Gravity Forms, check out one of our other posts called Rock Your WordPress Forms with Gravity Forms Conditional Logic.
WP PRO Advertising System
WP Pro Advertising System is a plugin that helps you with placing and tracking ads on your WordPress site.
It provides so many advanced features, it’s difficult to count them all:
- Google Analytics integration
- Device metrics
- Ad scheduling
- Background Ads
- Fly-in and pop-up ads
- Sidebar, in-post, header ads
- Over 18 pre-defined ad positions
- Fully responsive
- Custom ads by device
- MailChimp integration
- Control ads for entire network
- AdBlock detection
- Visual Composer Compatible
- Chalk-full of more features
It’s easy to use and managing ads, campaigns, and advertisers is a piece of cake.
There are many other advertising plugins out there, but none quite like WP Pro Advertising System. It includes all the features you need for a modest price. It works well and is well-liked among its users.
If you’re going to spend your hard earned money on some plugins, these are the best ones to grab for your WordPress site or network. They’re well-maintained and built, and are the best plugins in their class. They’re also the plugins that most people need when setting up a new site.
For more tips on managing your WordPress site(s), check out some of our other posts: Best Practices for Managing Your WordPress Site: The Ultimate Guide and Manage Your Self-Hosted Sites on WordPress.com with JetPack Manage (and the Pros and Cons).
What do you think? Do you agree with this list? Have the best been omitted? Let me know in the comments below.
Originally posted on wpmudev