Since I’ve started blogging and trying to “master” the online world, one of my most challenging experiences was understanding WordPress. And not only understanding, but really using WordPress to its’ full potential! This led me to hunt for the best free plugins I could use to boost my blog and business.

It took me a while (and a lot of trial-and-error!) to grasp how important WordPress plugins are for optimizing your website and improving SEO.

There are more plugins on WordPress than you can even imagine- like literally, there is a plugin for EVERYTHING.

By the way, for anyone who may be starting a new blog or website, plugins are basically little pieces of software that can be added to your site to increase functionality.

You can add images, icons, increase page speed, decrease spam, optimize SEO or improve your “comment” area. The list is endless!

The problem I faced was knowing WHICH plugins to use and how many I actually needed.

A lot of this decision comes down to your personal preference and how you want your site to look, but after researching and doing some testing myself, I have discovered the BEST free plugins for my blog, and (I believe) for everyone else’s! Of course there are a TON of available plugins, so keep in mind this an essentials bare-bones list, just like your wardrobe staples!

Some of these you may have heard of or probably already have, but there may be some gems you haven’t discovered yet. Before we get started, let’s cover some basic plugin rules.

1. You should use a maximum of 7-12 plugins at a time and delete the ones you’re not using to ensure quick load times.

2. Use plugins that are tested with your version of WordPress. If they aren’t tested, they could cause other features on your site to stop working!

So, without further adieu, let’s review the best free plugins you can download today!

1. Yoast

Yoast is a fabulous plugin that works to improve your search engine optimization and create your XML sitemap for Google.

For a free plugin, Yoast certainly doesn’t disappoint! It gives  you both a “readability” score and “SEO” score for each post by analyzing elements like use of keywords, paragraph length, word count, and meta descriptions.

You can also view a snippet preview of how your post will appear on Google. Another cool feature is that you can set specific Facebook and Twitter images and titles for each blog post to ensure your content looks awesome across all social media platforms.

All of this (plus the fact that it’s ridiculously easy to use) make Yoast a staple for any blogger!

2. Ultimate Social Media Plus

Social share buttons are incredibly important to have on your site if you want to grow your blog! I’ve been through a few different plugins but my favorite is definitely Ultimate Social Media Plus.

This plugin goes pretty in depth with the share buttons you can choose, the way they look and behave, and where you can place them on your site. You can have them hover, scroll along with the reader, or stay in one place on your sidebar or header. It’s really easy to use as well as add links to your site, and has a good combination of button designs to match your blog’s style.

3. MailChimp

MailChimp is an email subscription/opt-in program for your site. Like everyone always says, your email list is GOLD, so MailChimp is probably the single most important plugin to have! There are other options for opt-in setup, but for me, MailChimp has been the easiest to set up, and if you’re just getting started, it’s free for less than 2000 subscribers.

Using MailChimp allows you to capture readers by designing your own opt-in forms and manage the emails that sign up. You can set up an auto-responder, drip campaign, or design special promotional emails to blast to your list. When downloading your plugins, don’t miss this- it’s the surest way to turn your blog into a business!

4. Anti-Spam

I really like Anti-Spam mainly because of its’ simplicity! Some people swear by Askimet, which works well, but I found the setup process to be more time consuming, and frankly, I’m just as happy with the Anti-Spam plugin.

The main appeal is that there is no settings page to fiddle with once you download the plugin. You just activate it and forget it! Also, Anti-Spam is unique in that it doesn’t use captcha which can be very annoying for users. It puts the burden on the bots to prove they are human rather than having people jump through hoops and moderation to prove they are not bots. Definitely a good idea to have!

5. Simple Custom CSS

Simple Custom CSS allows users to input custom code into their WordPress site without messing with the main theme coding. Most WordPress users know that unless you pay someone to design your site, or buy a premium theme, there is some tweaking needed to have your site look the way you want!

Whether it’s changing font sizes and colors, or adding features to a certain page of your site, Custom CSS allows you to easily input your custom code without having to worry about “damaging” another area of your site. It’s basically a worry-free option for coding customization!

6. CommentLuv

This plugin is all about sharing the love and building a community with your blog! It’s so so SO  important to build a solid readership and get a dialogue going about your content. Other readers and bloggers will start to share your posts and you will be able to grow organically at a much faster rate.

CommentLuv is the perfect way to reward your readers for leaving comments! The plugin will find the site of the comment writer and offer to post a link to their last blog post in their comment. It’s a win-win for bloggers! You will increase shares and build your community while allowing your loyal readers the ability to do a little self promotion.

*** Just a little bonus note… there is another plugin called Comment Reply Notification. It’s also an awesome way to build community by sending readers an email letting them know you have responded to their comments on your blog. This not only shows people that you’re engaged, but it makes readers more likely to come back and comment in the future.

7. WP-Optimize

WP-Optimize does exactly what the name suggests! It cleans up your WordPress site to optimize the speed and overall experience for your customers! You can delete unapproved comments, spam, old post revisions, auto drafts and pingbacks to keep your site from getting bogged down.

The nice thing is that if you forget to run your WP cleaning, you can set it to auto-clean however often you’d like. It’s a super simple, set-it-and-forget-it plugin!

I hope you guys find this list of the best free plugins helpful! Have I missed anything? Let me know and I’ll show you some CommentLuv!! 🙂