11 Free must-have WordPress plugins that make client customizations super simple

Fellow WordPress designers and developers:

Doesn’t it just make your day (week) when you find the handiest new plugin?*

  • Something vetted by someone who has used it before.
  • Something that wraps up a handful of hacked-together plugins into one sweet bundle.
  • Something that will improve your efficiency and speed on at least 3 of your clients’ websites just off the top of your head.

*Not sure what all this plugin-talk means for you? Check out this post and this post to better understand WordPress and if you should be learning it.

Okay, I admit it: I revel in the little things.

But seriously, great plugins are amazing, and great FREE ones are even better.

So today I’m sharing my list of must-haves and go-tos of free WordPress plugins to make common (and not so common) client customizations super simple.

Because it sucks to install, test, and delete 12 different SEO plugins before you find the one that works like it should. (Been there, done that.)

Got your favorites? Share ’em in the comments.

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WordPress SEO by Yoast

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: You’ve got tons of control over both site-wide SEO and individual posts and pages, and they provide awesome help snippets of information to go with each setting.

I also love their page analysis: they give you a color-coded rating for each page’s keyword and show you a page analysis of how they arrived at your rating…and how to fix it.

Oh, and you can also set it to automatically create XML sitemaps (including images) and notify Google and Bing of their existence (great for their crawlers).


(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: You can forget about spam. This plugin works invisibly with no captcha, no moderation queues, and no options. Because bots should have to prove they’re not bots, not the other way around.

Note: there’s also a more powerful and extended Pro version for sites that need extra protection or advanced options. (I’ve yet to need it.)

WP Google Fonts

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: You have Google’s entire free font directory at your disposal, all with a super-simple interface. Quickly and easily set multiple fonts for different aspects of the site, each with their own custom CSS box for when you need to override existing font styles.

Simple Custom CSS

(Check it out here.)

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Why it rocks: Change the color scheme, font size, line height, footer colors and other pesky “simple” changes that often aren’t allowed in WYSIWYG editors. It’s also plug ‘n play and overrides both theme and plugin default styles.

One-Click Child Theme

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: For those times where just updating the CSS using the plugin above isn’t quite going to cut it, this plugin makes creating a child theme effortless…well, one-click. (Awesome.) This is especially great when you don’t have access to the FTP information for the site — because your client doesn’t know it (that never happens, right?).

Custom Sidebars

(Check it out here.)

You’re probably thinking this is kind of obscure…why would you want different sidebars on each page?

True story: one of my clients has an informational section, an ecommerce section, and an online courses section of their website (and yes, it’s been quite a learning curve to make it work harmoniously). For each section of the website, they wanted different sidebars, and this plugin makes it all pretty effortless.

Why it rocks: Creating, organizing, and setting multiple custom sidebars for one website has never been easier. Not only can you set and override defaults on each page individually, you can also set default sidebars for a group of posts or pages (such as post-type, category, search results, etc.)

Testimonials Widget

(Check it out here.)

We all know recommendations and reviews are gold (see this post and this post for further proof). So a testimonials widget, especially one this easy to customize, is key to creating trust for both your clients’ and your own websites.

Why it rocks: The list of features is pretty awesome. List random reviews or have them slide with a variety of slide transitions. Filter by category, tags, or post IDs. Insert testimonials via shortcode or widget. Include a video slideshow. And, of course, super-simple to use.


(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: Super-easy to integrate one or multiple responsive slideshows into every facet of your page: on the sidebar, mid-content, in the footer. Slides can be text, images, or YouTube videos, and you have customization options when it comes to animations and handling. And there’s no cap on the number of slideshows or slides per site.

Bonus: it’s been translated into like 20 languages.

Lightbox Gallery

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: Some themes don’t handle viewing full-size images particularly well, especially if they are multiple different sizes. This allows the audience to view them all in a beautiful format as well as scroll through them in the full-size lightbox instead of opening and closing each individual picture.

Bonus: also multi-language.

Contact Form 7

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: You can update everything surrounding it in one screen: form contents, user messages, email messages, etc. For more complex sites, you can create multiple forms with more advanced field types and field requirements. Simple but flexible, and translated in a zillion languages.

Duplicate Post

(Check it out here.)

Why it rocks: Create a clone of a post or page, or edit it as a new draft, all from the Edit Post or Pages screens. Especially useful for pages that you’d like formatted exactly the same, such as products, services, or team member highlights.

I also use this plugin to help my clients manage their own sites once the initial build is complete. This way they can clone an existing page to add content without having to know how to format the page to match the others.

Honorable Mentions

The following plugins are incredibly useful but aren’t necessary for the majority of client sites.

Members: allows you to create new user types and adjust their capabilities site-wide. It also allows you to show a custom message in the event someone attempts to view a page or post they don’t have permission to see.

Import Users from CSV: allows you to import user data fields, role, and metadata via a comma-separated values (CSV) file, with the option of sending email notifications to the imported users.

All In One Favicon: in case your theme doesn’t allow you to change these, customize the site and admin site favicons.

SB Welcome Email: want to customize the welcome email for new users? This one makes it simple, and you can even add an attachment.

Share your favorite plugins!

Did I forget your favorite, or do you have a favorite to challenge my favorites? Drop a note in the comments telling us why it’s a must-have.

PS – Got a question about these plugins? Just leave it here and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Millo Articles by April Greer

April is a freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy.
Read more from April.

  1. Much of this plugin functionality is easier and better to do in code. Things like SEO, Security, AntiSPAM, Web Forms, Event Calendars, E-Commerce, etc. are great places for a plugin. But a plugin just to make a sidebar or add some CSS or a child theme or fonts? And really, the last thing I want is for a client to have hundreds of fonts to choose from 🙂

  2. Wow! Really a great plugin list! Using WordPress for my site, I do use SEO plugin and Contact Form 7 myself – and they are great! Judging from the short summaries, all other are also worth a try – will certainly check them out

  3. David Tendrich says:

    SEO by Yoast is #ridiculous.

    We use it even when the site we’re building isn’t WordPress. We have a pw-protected WP install on an old server and just copy / paste in the content, run it through Yoast’s SEO test, and keep optimizing until we get the green light.

    Great list!

    1. April Greer says:

      Awesome tactic! 🙂 It is super-sweet and so flexible with a great interface. Even when I first started with SEO and really didn’t understand a lot of it, I didn’t feel like I needed to be an expert to use it.

      Now that I’m more proficient, I love the options it gives me!

  4. Vasil Ivanov says:

    This was really helpful. Thanks for the article.

  5. I consistently use a few mentioned above (especially WordPress SEO by Yoast), but will definitely check out the others.

    In addition, I always use “Custom Login” to custom design the login page for my clients. It makes a great entrance for them! And, if I’m working on several sites at once, it helps to keep them straight 🙂

    I also like “Cyclone Slider 2” for very easy slideshows. Many of my clients have sliders that need to be changed up frequently. This allows easy movement of the photo placement within the slideshow.

    “Google Calendar Events” is a super easy plugin that ties a site to my client’s google calendar they already are using. No duplicate work for them, a shortcode for you, and…voíla!

    Finally, in the last couple months, I’ve been installing “WP Statistics”. The results and client feedback has been amazing, especially enabling the geo! A great find!

    1. April Greer says:


      Thanks for adding to the list! Love the Google Calendar Events, as it’s a pet peeve of mine when I have to duplicate calendar entries from one location to another.

      I usually use Jetpack, but I’ll also check out WP Statistics – I also plan on a post like this that details stats & analytics plugins.

      Thanks for sharing!

  6. I’m a huge fan of Visual Composer, mainly because once you’ve got the site designed and put together, it makes the backend super simple for the client to make their updates once the site has launched. I’ve had a ton of positive feedback from past clients on how easy it made things for them. Definitely a plus in my books!

    1. April Greer says:

      Visual Composer is *almost* great for me. I do like it, but it can be super-frustrating when you can’t get the plus sign to show up in the right spot, and then you have to switch from front-end to back-end or into classic mode, and then the script errs, and you’ve lost everything. (Just happened last week.)

      BUT, WSIWYGs are getting better and better, so I look forward to improvements and updates for it!

      Thanks for sharing — it is much easier for clients to update by themselves (when it works correctly).

  7. Mohamed Atef says:

    well, thanks for sharing your list and i hope to write about some security plugins in the future.
    I already have some like ( Limit Login attempts – Google authenticator) but if you have more i will be happy to read about.
    thanks 🙂

    1. April Greer says:


      I’ll add that to the “ideas” board!

      Thanks for sharing!

  8. Most of these plugins are pretty outdated.

    1. April Greer says:

      Many of them have been updated recently and have also been shown to work seamlessly with the latest version of WordPress. Which ones would you use instead?

  9. Great list!
    In terms of developing or editing themes from a designers point of view, Advanced Custom Fields is absolutely incredible. It’s easy to implement and is SO powerful in making the backend dumb&dumber for the client (especially those ones who tend to break the CMS with one click of the Publish button).

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