The Best Free WordPress Plugins for Niche Websites & Blogs
It’s kind of sad that most of the blog posts you read today (that cover WordPress plugins) only seem to highlight premium plugins (generally, because the blogger gets an affiliate commission). Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of great premium plugins, and I use many of them myself. However, I wanted to come up with a detailed list of free WordPress plugins that I think are helpful for niche websites and blogs.
You certainly don’t need every one of these plugins for every single niche site you create, but I thought it would be helpful to compile a list that you can reference whenever you’re creating a site, or for a site you already have and want to improve. These plugins are not listed in any particular order.
The Best Free WordPress Plugins (Especially for “Niche Sites”)
Note: Although I am linking to the websites of the below plugins, you can also find these plugins within your WordPress dashboard (go to Plugins >> Add New and then search for the name of the plugin).
This plugin is a must-have for every WordPress blog, because of its basic (yet essential) features that allow you to put your site in the best position to be found and ranked higher by Google and other search engines. The feature I use most is the “title” field, which allows you to set the title seen by the search engines. This can be customized not only for the main website page, but also for individual blog posts. Most people will agree that (besides the URL of your site) this is the most important on-page element of your site’s SEO.
There are a lot of contact forms out there that can probably get the job done, but I like this one for its simplicity. Maybe you need more advanced features, in which case, you may want to check out a more advanced contact plugin.
Facebook has practically trained us to “Like” things online – in fact, it’s rare that you’ll find a place where you can’t “like” something. Therefore, I think it makes sense to include this “Like” button on blog posts or any other content you’re producing online. This plugin makes it simple to do.
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog. Sometimes when search engines crawl your website, they don’t see everything. This simple plugin helps guide them. The thing I like about this plugin is that it automatically rebuilds your sitemap every time you create a new page or post.
5) Pretty Link
This is easily one of my favorite plugins. Essentially, it allows you mask a URL, or customize it with your domain. This has a lot of purposes, but one of the primary uses is for affiliate links. Sometimes your affiliate link may look something like: www.blahblahblah.com/product/sales/page/refid=00433634 (no, this isn’t an actual site), which looks really messy.
Even worse, it gives someone the opportunity to cheat you out of a commission by removing your affiliate ID from the URL. You could use a free URL shortner like bit.ly to mask the URL, but I think bit.ly links sometimes look spammy. Pretty Link would allow me to make the URL look like this: www.my4hrworkweek.com/blah. Much cleaner.
No, this isn’t the most exciting plugin, but it serves an important purpose. Basically, it allows you to control which of your site pages the search engines will index, and on which pages links will be followed (or nofollowed). While you may think this doesn’t matter, there are certain pages you might not want indexed, such as your admin login page and your site’s search results (from the internal search tool). You can read more about what the plugin does on the plugin’s website.
7) RSS Footer
This plugin is best for blogs, where you are more likely to gain RSS subscribers. It’s an additional way to reach out to your audience. For example, you can include a note about opting into your newsletter, or following you on Twitter. If you subscribe to my RSS feed, you’ll see I use it for both!
[Note: This plugin has been succeeded by the WordPress SEO Plugin, by the same developer. I haven’t tried the new plugin yet, but it seems to combine the functions of many other plugins. It’s worth checking out, but keep in mind that it’s still in a beta testing phase as of right now.]
These are the sharing/bookmarking buttons that I use on my blog, which you’ll see at the bottom of each post. I think it’s a clean, cool way to present these sharing buttons, and you can customize it to include or exclude just about any social bookmarking/networking site you can think of. This is probably more useful on blogs, or sites with regularly updated content (vs. static niche sites).
Honestly, I think there are several Google Analytics plugins out there that can get the job done, but this is the one I use and can attest to the fact that it makes it really easy to set up your WordPress site to work with Google Analytics. Regardless of which plugin you use, you should definitely be using Google Analytics for all of your sites. The data gathered is very valuable (and checking your stats can be addictive).
One important on-page SEO factor for a website is how interconnected each page is. When you link your different pages and posts together, it helps search engines find everything. This plugin helps that interconnectedness, and also helps to keep visitors on your site longer by telling them about posts that may be related to what they’re reading.
For niche sites that use Adsense ads, I love this plugin because it saves me a lot of time when it comes to adding AdSense ads. There are a ton of customization options, including ad size, colors, number of ads per page/post, and ad positioning. The are also other options to include or exclude ads on certain pages.
My favorite feature of this plugin is the ability to set your ad positioning to “random,” which will cause the ad to appear at different places in your blog posts each time the page is refreshed. What this does is keeps people from becoming blind to your ads, by always changing their position. This plugin also supports the Yahoo Publishing Network (with which I’m not very familiar).
12) Theme Tester
When you have a niche site that’s up and running and hopefully earning you money, you can’t afford downtime while you play around with new themes. While you have the plugin activated and you’re logged in, you will see everything as if you’ve changed the theme. To prove that the theme hasn’t actually changed for your visitors, you can log out and go back to your site, and see the the original theme remains active.
Warning: This theme will also eat up your time as you get carried away with testing out new themes!
While many WordPress themes have the 125×125 ad blocks built-in, many don’t. This plugin allows you to create those ad blocks on your sidebars, and offers several other nice features. For example, if you’re selling ad space, you can set a time limit (e.g. 30 days) for the ad, so that it automatically comes down after 30 days.
There are other features worth checking out too, if you’re interested in adding advertisements to your site.
Tip: You don’t actually need to sell this ad space – you can simply use it to display ads for your affiliate products!
I’ll preface this by saying: I haven’t used this plugin yet, but I’ve heard great things. Basically, it allows you to add a membership element to your site (or parts of your site), by integration with PayPal. When it comes to niche sites, I can see a lot of uses for this plugin as a way to monetize a site effectively. You would expect a plugin like this to cost money, but sure enough, it’s free.
That’s all! Hopefully there’s at least one plugin here that can help out your site. Unfortunately, I’m sure I missed a lot of great free plugins that are out there, but I really wanted to share with you the ones that I know have helped my sites and others’ sites.
What are your favorite plugins? Please share them in the comments!
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