Since 2003, WordPress has helped build and run over 72 million sites worldwide with their simple yet incredibly powerful platform. You can create a blog in minutes and fill it with the content you want, or you could spend hours finding the perfect theme and plugins to make your site work exactly the way you want. WordPress powers everything from minimist blogs that focus on writing and photography to advanced sites that use it as full-featured CMS, and everything in-between.
With thousands of free and paid plugins available for WordPress, there’s likely dozens that you might like to use on your site but have never heard of. Our reader Ash Beardmore rounded up 10 of his favorite WordPress plugins that you might not have ever heard of. Whether you want to send email newsletters straight from WordPress, monitor file downloads from your site, or more, keep reading to see if these plugins are what your WordPress site is needing.
There are a few different ways in which you can create a WordPress blog or website, and few will take more than 15 minutes. If you’ve already got a WordPress site, feel free to jump ahead and start digging through the plugins we’ve rounded up. Otherwise, there’s a number of ways you can quickly get started with WordPress.
One of the first ways most people might think of getting started with WordPress is with a WordPress.com account. WordPress.com is a free way to get started with WordPress, and it’s powered by Automattic, the company behind WordPress itself. However, it’s really only good if you want a basic blog, as you can’t install your own plugins or themes.
For this article, it’s best to use WordPress directly on your own server or hosting account. You can setup a free hosting account from services like x10hosting, or create a paid hosting account at a number of different hosting companies. Many, including those recommended by WordPress, include a 1-click WordPress installation option, but even installing WordPress directly is famously easy on a standard server. And if you really want to go all out, you could even setup WordPress on Amazon’s EC2 service for the ultimate scalable site.
WordPress is easy to use, and the latest version make it an especially nice way to build a powerful site. Now that you’ve got a WordPress site, here’s some unique free plugins to try out on your site, beyond the standard ones you always hear about. You can download and install the plugins from the links below, or search and install them directly from the Plugins directory in WordPress.
Enhancing Your Site: The Plugins
This plugin changes the default WordPress login page and turns it into a proper page in your site, effectively embedding your login and sign up sections into a page that looks identical to your other pages. It also customises the users dashboard as well, taking it from the WordPress back-end style and placing it onto what looks like another one of your pages.
The change may not appear too different in the picture above, but it fits in with the template of our website perfectly. The background of the form is the same as the background of the website, which is why ours is white. Since it puts your login into a normal WordPress page, though, it’ll look just like your normal WordPress pages in your theme.
You can further customise the plugin from the WordPress back-end, with options to let users sign-up for accounts with a customized form, as well as customized auto responders for new accounts. This plugin helps with the branding of your website by making it unique and making it less obvious that it was built on a WordPress system
This plugin is designed to allow you to have more than one type of user to signup for your site. For example, you can have a site which allows different access for students and teachers, or perhaps for paid and free subscribers, and then use this plugin to create a different registration place for each. You can use standard WordPress pages as user signup forms for each of your user types in just a few seconds.
Adding a new user form is super easy. All you need to do it type [register] into your WordPress page edit field on a new WordPress page on your site. You can then further enhance this by selecting the type of role you want the user of the form to go into such as [register role=”staff”], assuming that the role permissions have already been set up in your WordPress settings. This now gives that user all the rights a ‘staff ‘ member has. You can also customise the confirmation text that each type of user receives. There are more specific instructions on this plugin page in your WP dashboard.
This plugin will add a newsletter sign up form to the sidebar on your site. You need to create a free account at MadMimi, which is an online email distribution manager. It’s similar to MailChimp, which also works great with WordPress, but is simple to use and a service I find useful. Their plugin logs the email and contact in your MadMimi account where you can manage and distribute the emails directly. This can be helpful if you plan to update your users freequently or if your website or service is likely to have offers or service updates you want to warn your users about.
This plugin creates a bubble at the top of your pages or posts that you select, with a tip or announcement you want to share with your readers. Some great features include the ability to make the ‘tip’ a poll which users can participate in without leaving the page. This is a great idea if you want people to vote on new features that you may make available to the site. Another bonus is that it could be used as ‘Service Update’ announcements and messages.
Users with knowledge of CSS can edit the style and design of the popups through the back-end side to WordPress. The plugin also lets you set other options, so you can only allow logged in members to use respond to polls, decide whether users are allowed to hide the tip or not, and add an option to change the responses within polls.
Q&A is a fantastic plugin that allows you to create a small knowledgebase down the sidebar of your site. Users can sign into the Q&A section, which is saved as a separate login from your standard WordPress accounts, and then post questions which you can answer. It includes extensive features, letting you being able to moderate the questions posted and decide whether or not they should be placed onto the site. To get the plugin installed, you will need to create a free account and register your plugin through Degree3. The system will emails once each day if you have any new questions that need to be answered. If you would rather, you have the option to embed the plugin into a page, effectively creating a native Q&A section to your site.
The is an amazing plugin for displaying videos inside your site pages and posts. It automatically creates preview thumbnails from either randomly within the video or at a specified time point. The plugin renders them all into Flash as default, but if the uploaded video type is not supported by Flash then it will be displayed with HTML 5. Further features of the plugin options to choose what type of encoding you want the videos to have, such as Mobile/H.264, WebM and OGV, and also the option to automatically create a download link below the thumbnail so that people can easily download your video.
- Encoding the video, along with other settings
Wp Portfolio allows you to show off your work, the simple back-end system allows you to create your entries in seconds. It will automatically generate the thumbnails unless you specify your own image to upload. Adding the portfolio to one of your pages is simple. Simply type the code [wp-portfolio] into any post or page’s editor, and you’re done. Those who feel confident enough can style the page further by editing the portfolio HTML and CSS.
Create some beautiful pricing tables with this plugin. With two theme colours, green and grey, you can match it up with what best fits with your theme. As you can see in the picture below, you can set a featured price option which makes one box slightly bigger, and alos adds the red corner ribbon. The plugin allows you to have unlimited options, and allows you to drag their order around to easily create the pricing table you need.
Download Monitor lets you add downloadable files to your site that are available to your users, a great extra feature to go along with the previous pricing table plugin. The Download Monitor offers analytics such as download hits which can be viewed from the plugin settings section. You can select what level of membership a user needs to be for them to have access to the downloads, or you could let everyone have access if you want. The plugin also creates its own downloads section page, giving each download a description, hit counter and link, and also lets users search for more downloads and view licences (if applicable).
This event calendar will act as your site personal assistant as it displays detail information down the sidebar of your site about upcoming events. Scheduled events can be added from the back-end through the smooth but detailed system. The plugin also creates a public calendar so anyone can view the events you want to share. It gives you the option to create event categories and customise their color, making it easy for readers to distinguish different types of events.
In this post we’ve only touched on a few of the thousands of amazing plugins available that will help you to advance your site and make them stand out in the crowd, as well as make your users much experience better. You can find even more plugins WordPress’ own free Plugin Directory.
Do you have a favorite WordPress plugin that most people wouldn’t know of automatically? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!