It seems like there’s so many companies out there providing paid subscriptions to the most basic features these days, many of which don’t provide a lot of value for the typical site. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of awesome services out there as well that are well worth their price, but we shouldn’t overlook the many totally free ones that are super helpful and maybe should be included on all sites that we manage.
I wanted to provide at least an overview into different tools that I’ve used and continue to use with much success that are offered for free. Many of these provide a basic plan that is free but also offer paid plans for those that want to get more features. I found that the basic plans are actually sufficient for many sites. And, if I’m already using the free plan with success, so it has proven its value to me, moving up to a paid plan later as needed doesn’t seem like much of a risk.
Some of the services I will cover are intended for WordPress, but many can be used with a wide variety of CMSs, static sites, and pretty much anything that gets served over the web, such as an API an admin portal or intranet.
They offer a free plan, that gives you SSL, but it’s very limited. It doesn’t allow you to have a custom domain, and it injects ads to your site. It’s still free, and their $4 Personal Plan removes both of those limitations. You also get their JetPack suite of plugins with all plans, including the free one.
I use them to proxy all my public sites primarily for security and performance. I won’t get into all the features and setup here, but you do get a lot for free. They also do have paid features, which can cost quite a bit, but I haven’t had the need to use that on most of the sites I managed so far.
This is a PayPal service that is free to use, comes with a free WordPress plugin, and has pretty low charges per transaction of 2.59% + $0.49.
Also no monthly fee, but the transaction cost is a bit higher than Braintree of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. If you’re running WordPress, you can use WooCommerce along with the Stripe payment gateway add-on, both for free. You can find them here.
While you can use your own server to send mail without much (or any) setup, this doesn’t work on all hosting environments, and on those that it does, it isn’t always reliable. If you notice issues on yours and/or want to try a separate SMTP server, there are some free and cheap options:
Owned by Twilio, SendGrid has a free plan that allows you to send up to 100 emails a day using their SMTP API service.
CMSs, such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla all provide local search options. The services I’m listing here might give you a step up if out-of-the-box options and plugins don’t meet your needs. Take note that the options I list below will most likely require custom development to integrate the search service into your site.
They offer a free plan for doing up to 10,000 search requests.
WordPress (requires custom programming)
Google Programmable Search
Unfortunately, there appears to currently only be one plugin available to incorporate the search into WordPress, and it’s outdated. I personally haven’t tried it recently to know if it works with the current version of WordPress, but I may do a trial in a later post. It should be fairly straightforward to add the code Google provides into your theme with some coding. One way to do that might be overriding
searchform.php and creating a custom widget.
WordPress Plugin (may no longer be maintained)
SEO and Analytics
So, this one is probably more obvious than anything else in this article, so I won’t spend a lot of time writing about it but instead list some of the individual services that Google provides:
- Search Console - once Google verifies ownership of your domain, it’ll provide tools to help you test and tweak how Google sees your site’s web presence
- Google Analytics - add a script to your site, and Google will track all kinds of information about your visitors that you can then monitor in the GA web or mobile dashboard. Provides additional integrations to allow deeper data gathering on things like specific user triggered events.
- Google Tag Manager - add a few basic scripts onto your site, and you can use GTM’s admin panels to have a lot of control over what is integrated, including 3rd party services, analytics, advertisements, and even functional augmentations. This is powerful stuff, and it can all be managed through the GTM web panels.
Entirely free tool with an individual image size limit of 5MB.
Ewww Image Optimzer
The company Exactly WWW makes both the free WordPress plugin and paid cloud service. So, using the plugin, images can be optimized for free without any set size or quantity limits by getting processed locally on your server, which is the highlight of this plugin. If you choose to use their cloud service, each plan they have is paid, although not very expensive
ShortPixel Image Optimizer
100 images per month are free. The plan to do more is pretty cheap, however, at $4.99 for 7,000 (up from 5,000 that they offered previously) images. It’s even cheaper if you do a yearly plan.
Some others considered but not recommended:
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