The best free WordPress plugins for October 2014
Good news, everyone! We’re back with another list of small but useful utilities, plugins that can completely transform the purpose of a WordPress install, and others that introduce slightly experimental concepts to the workflow. Have a look, tell us which are your favorites, and as always, let us know if we missed any other great plugins in the comments. Without further ado, here is this month’s selection:
WordPress has a function that has causes both joy and suffering, depending on what you happen to be doing at the time. This function is called
wpautop, and it is responsible for putting paragraph tags (
etc. It might not happen, but if it does, install this plugin, and wrap your shortcode in an extra pair of brackets (“”). That’s it! All shortcodes wrapped in the extra brackets will be processed before
wpautop, saving you a world of trouble.
Simple Content Experiments
Content Experiments are a method of using Google Analytics to help you set up A/B testing. (ie. You can test two different calls to action, to see if one gets more clicks than the other.) Simple Content Experiments allows you to define sections of content in any page, post, or custom post type via the use of shortcodes. To get started, install Google Analytics on your site, create a Content Experiment in your Analytics dashboard, and grab the Experiment ID, you’ll need it. Then put in a shortcode that looks something like this:
[experiment id="EXPERIMENT ID"] [ex_variant] content for first variation [/ex_variant] [ex_variant] content for second variation [/ex_variant] [/experiment]
Advanced Advertising System
Ads. Love’em or hate’em, they make the web go ’round. For now… In the meantime, it never hurts to have a simple way to manage your ad zones, advertisers, campaigns, the ads themselves, and, of course, the means to figure out how much your advertisers owe you. Advanced Advertising System does all of that in an interface that is simple, clean, and easy to use. There seem to be occasional slip-ups in the English phrasing used in the back end, but otherwise, it’s a solid offering.
wp custom lists
This is one of those plugins that does one small thing with a huge number of potential use cases. Simply put, it’s all in the title. wp custom lists makes lists, and allows you to edit each list item as if it were its own post. These lists can then be inserted anywhere on your site or in your template by means of a shortcode. That’s it. My only complaints are that it does not, by default, come with support for featured images, nor does it use any of the appropriate HTML5 markup for lists, such as unordered lists, ordered lists, or even definition lists.
Do you ever wish you could see how the HTML elements of your post nest inside each other as you write? Well it looks like someone with programming skills wished for the same thing, so you’re in luck. TinyMCE VisualBlocks puts a light gray dashed border around each block-level element in the post and page editing screens, allowing you to see how they relate to each other. It’s not a perfect system, but anyone who knows a bit of HTML will be able to see when elements are nested that shouldn’t be, and that’ll save some time checking how it looks on the front end.
Want to run an online course, free or paid, or several, through WordPress? This is the plugin to do it with. It comes with a huge amount of functionality that makes it easy to create courses, add other people as instructors, discuss course material, and more. It’s a complete solution, as long as you configure the front-end yourself, and don’t want to run more than two courses. Yup, there’s a Pro version, which includes a WordPress theme that makes out-of-the-box setup possible. Still, even for a free version, this plugin packs in a lot of stuff. If running a course is something you’d like to try, the free version should do what you need.
I know I’ve previously mentioned at least one plugin with similar functionality, but Staffer impressed me with its attention to detail. Basically, it’s for those companies/non-profits/organizations which like to feature their staff and/or volunteers in a grid on their website. As with most of these plugins, it creates a custom post type for individual staff members. In addition, it includes options for editing the HTML that is generated, and a field for custom CSS, in case you’d rather not modify your existing theme. Where the last plugin I mentioned was a drop-in solution, this one is all about the customization.
Custom NextpageThis plugin
allows you to break up any post or page into multiple pages, with pagination, of course. You can use it to break up those really, really long posts into multiple pages for easier navigation. Or, you could break up your listicle to make one page per paragraph in a shameless attempt to technically increase your page views. You monster.
Guest Post SimplifiedThis plugin
creates a simple shortcode allows you to place a customizable guest posting form anywhere on your site. Guest-submitted posts can be set to appear in the admin interface only as drafts. The post form includes TinyMCE, which, incidentally, seems to work with the VisualBlocks plugin I mentioned earlier. Guest posters can, of course, set the categories, tags, and so on. I only wish there was a CAPTCHA or some other anti-SPAM technology included, because I could see people abusing the heck out of this.
Experimental: NoSSL — protect your websiteThis plugin
is the WordPress implementation of NoSSL, which is designed to encrypt the information for all login and contact forms as it travels from the user’s browser to the server. There’s no configuration, just install and go. As it’s still in beta, it comes with no guarantees. As a non-hacker, I have no idea where’d I’d even begin looking for exploits, so I cannot personally vouch for its security. It is also not intended to be a replacement for SSL, but rather a solution for those who can’t, for whatever reason, use SSL on their website. Think of it as a project to watch, as its creators themselves state that it should not yet be used on production sites.
Experimental: Customize Inline Editing
Still in development, Customize Inline Editing is designed to let you edit text strings on your website right in the Customizer, visually and inline. That is, you type your changes right in the preview, and you don’t even need the left panel. It currently only supports the easy stuff, like the site title and the slogan, but you can make any theme compatible with this Plugin easily enough. Just include a bit of PHP around any text that you want to make editable, and you’re good to go.
Experimental: Customize Posts
Where the plugin above is designed to edit text in your theme, this one is designed for editing posts. Once installed, you can use the WordPress customizer to edit your post’s metadata, change the featured image and the template. You can also edit the content, though in the tiny text box provided, this is an unwieldy proposition. Still, the changes you make are updated live (with some delay) in the preview, and that makes me giddy. The whole plugin is an example of what can be done with WordPress, and it’s getting me excited. In fact, the guys who made this plugin are collaborating on a re-write of the WordPress Front-end Editor, which I hope to review for you all soon.
Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he\‘s not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy.