Popular WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are applications installed on your WordPress website that add new functions and features. The big plugin community is the heart of what people mean when they say you can do anything with WordPress. But how do you tell which popular WordPress plugins are credible and won’t hack your site? Do the popular plugins actually work?

For this post I’m referring to Popular WordPress Plugins on WordPress.org. The first thing to note is these change periodically and are not curated or selected. It’s totally a popularity contest.

Since most plugins currently on the page have at least 1 million active installs, we know that number is the big factor in ranking them. But star rating and reviews may also play a role. But still, how reliable are these rankings?

The star rating and the number of active installs together are actually a fairly good way to judge a plugin. If the community rates a plugin highly AND the plugin is widely accepted, demonstrated by the number of installs, then it’s worth a look.

Since these are the most popular plugins, they also represent some of the core functions most desired by people across the globe for their websites. Your specific plugin need might end up being met by a plugin with only a few hundred installations. In that case, you have to rely on star ratings and reviews to make a judgement.

5 Things to Think About

I’ve actually worked with the majority of these popular WordPress plugins, so I hope to give you a little extra insight to consider as you work on your own WordPress website.

As I roll through these popular plugins, I’ll have a few notes about each.

  • What’s it good for?
  • What’s it rated?
  • How many installs?
  • Should I use it?

And Best alternative plugin in case you need something different.

To start with, I’ve taken a screenshot of the Popular page as it appears to me today. Like I said before, this screen does tend to change for each person, so these may not be the same for you every time.

Got a good peep of those plugins? Great! Let’s get started with the reviews! 

Contact Form 7

What’s it good for? – This is the OG free form builder for WordPress. The same formula’s worked for nearly a decade.

Rating – 4.5

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – Best for simple contact forms (Name, Email, Your Message) on personal blogs. Small businesses outgrow it quickly.

Best alternative plugin – For more robust form options, try a paid plugin like Gravity Forms.

Akismet

What’s it good for? – Akismet is another classic plugin installed on millions of sites. It prevents spam in your comments and contact form submissions from most form builders.

Rating – 5

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – Absolutely. This is a core plugin. Free for personal use, commercial users should pony up to support this critical service.

Best alternative plugin – Akismet is the easiest to use. Alternatives require more specialized knowledge to manage. Try out Anti-spam for another option. https://wordpress.org/plugins/anti-spam/

Yoast SEO

What’s it good for? – Yoast SEO is the gold standard for search-engine-optimization plugins. Use it customize SEO title and meta descriptions on every page and post.

Rating – 5

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – Get it and then get help if you need. This plugin requires a little background knowledge to make the most of, but it’s the polished, professional tool you need to follow recommended SEO practices for your site.

Best alternative plugin – All in One SEO Pack (see listing below)

Jetpack by WordPress.com

What’s it good for? – Install Jetpack to get a bundle of great features, like a free image CDN, security features and user-friendly web traffic reports.

Rating – 4

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – Jetpack started as a bundle of 20+ great add-ons. Many of these have been rolled into the core WordPress operating system over the years. It’s worth checking out if you’re a big Automattic fan and want to be tied in to the bigger WordPress product ecosystem they’re building. If not, you can get the same features elsewhere. The super-easy Site Stats tracking is still a great reason to keep Jetpack though.

Best alternative plugin – Jetpack stands alone as a plugin bundle built by the internal WordPress development team. Many of the bundled features can be replicated by other stand-alone plugins though.

WordPress Importer

What’s it good for? – WordPress has a built-in export feature that spits out a specialized file used to import your site’s page and posts into another WordPress installation. This plugin reads the specialized file and does the import.

Rating – 3

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – No. There’s so much more to transferring website content from one site to another. This plugin isn’t a stand-alone solution and I find that it never brings my blog post images in, despite having a checkbox to tell it to do so.

Best alternative plugin – Depending on your individual circumstances, you may actually need a backup plugin like UpDraftPlus that will take a snapshot of your site so you can move the whole thing in one.

All in One SEO Pack

What’s it good for? – This is a competitor of Yoast SEO. Both have long histories and millions of installs. You can customize your own SEO as much has you want, or they claim it works out-of-the-box to improve your site.

Rating – 4.5

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – It compares well to Yoast and there’s been a thousand blog posts asking which one to use. I’ve had a better user experience with Yoast. Read WPBeginner for a super-in-depth comparison. http://www.wpbeginner.com/opinion/yoast-seo-vs-all-in-one-seo-pack-which-is-the-best-wordpress-seo-plugin/

Best alternative plugin – Yoast SEO

WooCommerce

What’s it good for? – Build your own DIY e-commerce site. Sell anything! For those who live like Jon Bon Jovi quoting Frank Sinatra and want to say “I did it my way.”

Rating -4.5

How many installs? – 3+ million

Should I use it? – Going with WooCommerce is liking buying the starter kit for building your own KITT replica. Beginners will stumble and find unexpected costs, but experts with prior knowledge can set it up quickly.

Best alternative plugin – Beginners might be better off with a paid-for, out-of-the-box shopping cart page by PayPal, Square or Shopify.

Intermission!

Intermission

After WooCommerce, the number of installs drops from 3 million to 1 million! Tragic, really. The plugins that follow (though wildly successful and exceptionally well known) would probably like to jump that gap. At least get to 2 million. It seems like they need help becoming truly… popular. And you know, I think I feel a song coming on…

I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start
‘Cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go…

I just have to let it out sometimes, you know? Onward! 

Google XML Sitemaps

What’s it good for? – Making fine-tuned customizations to your website’s sitemaps.

Rating – 5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – Everything this plugin does is already in WordPress core and Yoast SEO. If you’re already using Yoast, you don’t need this. But there are a few more options for sitemap nerds in Google XML Sitemaps. Read WinningWP for an in-depth discussion. https://winningwp.com/google-xml-sitemaps-vs-wordpress-seo-by-yoast-plugin/

Best alternative plugin – Yoast SEO is perfectly good for this.

Limit Login Attempts

What’s it good for? – Protects against brute-force hacking attacks by limiting the number of website login attempts users at a particular location can try.

Rating – 4.5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – This is one of those features you can effectively get in Jetpack. If you don’t have Jetpack for some reason, then this is a great, basic protective measure.

Best alternative plugin – Jetpack by WordPress.com

Tiny MCE Advanced

What’s it good for? – The WordPress Visual Editor has options for most basic ways you’d want to format a page or post. But if you want to add an Excel-like table or manually set font-family and font sizes, then you need this plugin to add in that functionality.

Rating – 4.5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – I think it’s an unnecessary complication to the Visual Editor. You shouldn’t use the editor to work on font settings since those should controlled by your overall theme settings.

Best alternative plugin – There’s nothing as big as TinyMCE for this, but if you find that you keep wishing for more control and more customization for your pages and posts, I’d recommend redesigning your site work with a page-builder theme like Divi. It’s a big step but I use Divi every day and love the results.

Wordfence Security

What’s it good for? – This security scan plugin looks at your website’s files and checks them against secure versions to see if they’re vulnerable or hacked.

Rating – 5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – If you’re a DIYer running a website out of a server in your closet, Wordfence is a big help. But most consumer-friendly website hosting services actually cover many of the same security offerings pre-configured to work with WordPress. Choose a good host that includes security services in your monthly bill and you won’t need Wordfence.

Best alternative plugin – Another option is Sucuri Security. Both Wordfence and Sucuri are in the “freemium” category. Basic options are free, but full-features require payment. Sucuri was actually acquired by GoDaddy recently, meaning Sucuri features may make their way into GoDaddy website hosting packages.

WP Super Cache

What’s it good for? – WordPress often gets slammed for being “slow” compared to other web design platforms. WP Super Cache will compress your pages into static files that can be delivered a bit faster. Caching is a common tool for website optimizers.

Rating – 4.5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – Absolutely. But your web designer should install this for you. It’s the first step toward nerd-tastically fast page loads. There’s a lot more you can do to speed up your site. Read WP Engine for a 15-step speed-tester’s checklist. https://wpengine.com/blog/site-speed-make-wordpress-lightning-fast/

Best alternative plugin – In caching conversations, W3 Total Cache is the bigger player.

Duplicate Post

What’s it good for? – Duplicate Post does exactly what the title says. Your All Pages and All Posts screens now include a handy “Duplicate Post” function to instantly create a perfect copy of the selected item!

Rating – 5

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – This is a highly specialized plugin that you may never use or use very infrequently. But if you ever need this one specific function, it’s perfect.

Best alternative plugin – It’s such a simple function that a thousand copy cats exist. But I can’t think of a reason not to just use this one.

Google Analytics for WordPress by Monster Insights

What’s it good for? – Quickly and simply add Google Analytics tracking code to your website, along with website traffic graphs and dashboard modules for easy access.

Rating – 4

How many installs? – 1+ million

Should I use it? – Totally. This is my preferred solution for adding Google Analytics tracking code. It’s easy to set up and works perfectly.

Best alternative plugin – Google Analytics Dashboard for WP is rated a little higher and does not bug you about premium, paid features. However, I still prefer Google Analytics for WordPress.

Got it? What plugins do you love? Any you absolutely hate? Got a question? Leave a comment or catch me on Twitter: @pwolfgram with questions. Happy web designing!