How to Find the Best Free WordPress Plugins (Hint: It’s Not WordPress.org)
How to Find the Best Free WordPress Plugins (Hint: It’s Not WordPress.org)
According to WordPress.org, there are currently more than 40,000 plugins out there jostling for your attention.
The official WordPress Plugin Directory is the obvious first place to search for the solution that’s right for you, whether you’re after a simple spam plugin for something more advanced for caching, but the results on offer can be disappointing.
Sifting through thousands of mediocre plugins looking for the rare gem that actually solves your problem is a chore, and the interface of the official plugin directory leaves much to be desired.
In this article we’ll take a look at one of the most useful alternative resources for finding great free plugins: WP Plugin Directory.
We’ll cover what makes it an essential resource for any WordPress user and provide comprehensive instructions on how to get the most out of it.
Let’s start though with a brief note on the official directory.
The Problem with the WordPress Plugins Directory
While it may seem helpful that WordPress’ very own directory offers users the opportunity to search through its entire library of plugins, this isn’t really ideal. Anyone searching for something very specific may have to sift through thousands of plugins that are outdated or badly reviewed.
WordPress also doesn’t offer much in the way of search filters. At the time of writing, the directory only enables users to search by keyword, tag, or author. The plugin results are listed according to how recently they were updated, with no other option to sort them by rating, downloads, or any other criteria.
With nothing but a basic search function and a few of the most popular tags listed in the far left column of each plugin page, users are pretty much stuck with having to try different keywords or tags and skimming through the endless number of plugin results that come up.
How the Unofficial WordPress Directory Can Help
WPPluginDirectory.org (WPD) is an unofficial directory that offers a lot more options for plugin search and discovery than WordPress.org currently does. According to the developers, the directory is an attempt to include “only functional, active, efficient, and up-to-date plugins.”
Only the best of the best out of all 40,000+ plugins from WordPress.org are handpicked to be included in WPD.
Let’s look at how you can get started with using this incredible resource for finding the best free – and curated – plugins available in as little time as possible.
Creating Your WPD Account
Although this step is optional, it’s recommended that you create an account with WPD so that you can take advantage of the Plugins List feature, which we’ll get to later in the article. Having an account will also allow you to contribute feedback to the WPD community by rating and voting for plugins you’ve used.
To create your account, in the top right corner, click the Login / Sign Up button to create your account by either social sign-in (Facebook, Twitter, or Google+) or email.
Browsing Through the “All Plugins” Home Page for What’s New and Popular
Similar to the WordPress.org Plugin Directory page, WPD’s main page (the All Plugins tab) lists some of the best and most popular plugins currently available. Each listed plugin features a thumbnail image, description summary, category, subcategory, rating, votes, the latest update time, and number of downloads.
Right above the main list of plugins, you should see a green bar indicating how many plugins are currently listed on WPD. At the time of writing, there are 3,320 out of a total of over 40,000 WordPress plugins listed. That may not seem like very many, but keep in mind that WPD is focused on featuring only the best plugins actually worth using.
If you’re not interested in using the big search bar at the very top, you can browse through what’s featured on the All Plugins tab by playing around with the dropdown filtering options, All Categories and Sort by. Simply choose a category or a subcategory, and then you can sort them by Highest Rated, Most Voted, Last Updated or Most Downloaded.
WordPress.org limits you to navigating plugins by Featured, Popular, Your Favorites, and Beta Testing. WPD, on the other hand, does a substantially better job at keeping plugins organized neatly according to their specific features and uses.
Finding Free Plugins by Category
Given the official directory has tens of thousands of plugins, it’s a little surprising that there’s such an extreme lack of filtering options for searching through them. WPD, by contrast, not only has over 20 categories to search through but also includes subcategories for each main category to help you further narrow your search.
In the vertical menu to the left of the site, you’ll notice a Categories option right beneath All (which also happens to be the home page of the site). Click this to see links to all categories and the number of plugins currently contained in them.
To the left of each category, there’s a small plus sign button you can click which expands a list of new subcategory options. For example, the Access & Security category can be broken down even further into Antivirus & Anti-Malware, Firewall, Monitoring, Overall Security, Redirect, and Site Access:
When you click on a category or a subcategory, you’ll be shown a list of plugins in a similar layout to that described above. You’ll also see a handy subcategory menu directly above the plugins list for easier navigation.
To the right of the screen, there’s a sidebar with recommended and recently reviewed plugins broken out by the category or subcategory you’re browsing. They include the top three plugins with their ratings out of five, plus the number of downloads they have.
An added convenience of category and subcategory pages is that you can subscribe to any one you want via RSS. Look for the RSS icon beside the category or subcategory name in the green bar at the top.
Finding Free Plugins by Tag
If you take a look back at the lefthand menu, you’ll see a Tags option listed beneath Categories. Clicking that will bring you to a page listing all tags alphabetically with the number of plugins in each clearly displayed.
While categories and subcategories are useful for grouping plugins together more broadly, tags allow for more detailed labelling. You’ll notice there are a lot more tags than categories on WPD, many of which contain less than ten plugins:
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Clicking on a tag will bring you to its list of plugins, along with recommended suggestions in the right sidebar if there are any. You can also subscribe to a tag page via RSS just as with category and subcategory pages.
Using Category and Multi Tag Search Together
Having access to all these plugin categories and tags is great but not everyone has time to browse through them all individually. That’s where the Multi Tag search function in the search bar at the top of every page really comes in handy.
The search bar enables you to search by keywords in the plugin title, or by multiple tags in specific categories and even their subcategories. Choosing Multi Tag search instead of the default Search in Title option will show a category dropdown menu in the search bar. You can leave this at its default of including all categories or choose the category/subcategory you wish to search.
Next, you can move on to typing out your tags. As an example, let’s say we want to look for a good comment subscription plugin. We simply add two tags: comments and subscribe. We’ll also set the category to Comments.
Hit search to see your results. You’re free to keep playing around with as many tag combinations as you want to see what comes up and it’s a great way of narrowing down your search.
Checking Out the Reviewed Plugins
Beneath the Tags option in the left-hand menu, there’s an option labeled Reviewed. The plugins included here have been thoroughly reviewed and recommended by WPD, with information regarding their features, statistics, and support.
Reviewed plugins also include their respective rating information from other users, a download link, and stats in the right sidebar. In addition, you can view their description and screenshot tabs right here without having to navigate away from the review page.
As of right now, there are only 42 out of 3,320 plugins that have been reviewed on WPD. That certainly isn’t many, but it gives you at least a handful of top notch plugins you may not have otherwise discovered to try out on your own WordPress site.
Viewing a Plugin’s Details and Downloading It
You can click on any plugin to name to view all of its details and download it, similar to how you would on WordPress.org. WPD lets you switch between two main tabs: the plugin Description and the Screenshots. You may also see a Review tab or a Listed In tab if the plugin has been added to any user-created Plugin Lists.
Since WPD has its own rating and review system, you won’t see the same ratings and reviews as you see on WordPress.org. Only WPD users can rate and review plugins listed on WPD and, as pictured below, these are visible in the right sidebar for each plugin page.
There’s also a direct download link to the plugin ZIP file so you don’t have to navigate away from WPD to download it. Directly beneath the download button, you’ll see a summary of the plugin stats, including the number of ratings, votes, downloads, when it was last updated, and when it was first published.
Another added bonus of looking at plugin details on WPD is the list of related plugins (along with their ratings) you can see when you scroll down to the bottom of the listing. You won’t find this on WordPress.org.
One downside of viewing plugin details on WPD is that they only include tabs for the description and screenshots, whereas WordPress.org has additional tabs for Installation, FAQ, Other Notes, Changelog, Stats, Support, and Developers. Many plugins listed on WPD are also lacking ratings and reviews.
A nice touch here is that if WPD doesn’t give you enough information about a plugin you want to know more about, you can simply scroll down to the bottom of the description (before the related plugins list) and click the gray Read More button to be taken to the plugin’s respective WordPress.org page.
Creating a Plugin List
Remember our suggestion to create an account at the very beginning of the article? Well, now it’s time to use it.
The last option in the left-hand menu is labeled Plugin Lists. This is where you can see all sorts of different curated lists of plugins from other WPD users. You can sort them to view lists by how recently they were created and those with the most or least votes.
As long as you’re logged into your account, you’re free to create your own Plugin List by clicking the big gray button in the right sidebar labeled Create a Plugin List. You have the option of keeping it private for your own viewing or making it publicly accessible to all WPD users.
Once you’ve created a new list, you can visit any plugin’s detail page and use the Add to List option. If you have multiple lists, you’ll be able to choose which list where you want to add it.
The comparable feature on WordPress.org is the Favorites tab. When you sign in to your WordPress account and view a plugin’s detail page, you should see a heart icon and an option labeled Favorite beneath the Download button.
Any plugin you decide to favorite on WordPress.org will be added to your Favorites tab, which you can access by clicking on My Favorites in the top right corner beside your username. Unlike WPD, however, WordPress.org does not allow users to curate multiple lists of plugins that can be private or publicly shared.
Overall, the unofficial WP Plugin Directory has a much more complete and helpful set of options for users to search by than its official counterpart. It’s a wonderful resource for all WordPress users. I’m a big fan.
Hopefully, its inventory will grow over time as many excellent plugins must be missing from the 3,320 options currently available. You’ve also got the option of suggesting plugins via the Submit a Plugin link in the site’s footer.
WPD could really benefit from a larger and more active community so we encourage you to check it out – their ratings and reviews are massively helpful.
We’re curious to hear how you find new plugins. Are you already exploring WPD or sticking to WordPress.org for now? What’s your biggest pet peeve about finding the best free WordPress plugins? Let us know by leaving a comment below.