Here’s a fact that not everyone tells you about WordPress:
While the software itself is free, many of the features that you’ll want on your WordPress site aren’t.
Even beyond hosting, the cost of premium themes and plugins to add cool functionality to your site can quickly add up.
In a way – I blame plugin developers. They keep making so many cool plugins – we can’t help but buy them!
But not everyone has a big budget for those awesome premium plugins. And that’s what this post is about:
Finding viable free alternatives to popular premium WordPress plugins.
I definitely don’t want to devalue the work of those developers – most premium plugins are absolutely worth the cost, and developers deserve to be rewarded for the work they put into plugins.
But…sometimes that’s not an option, and you need something free! If you find yourself in that situation, keep reading for some great free alternatives to some of the best premium WordPress plugins.
What I’m Doing In This Post
In this post, I’m going to look at 9+ premium plugins (or sometimes a pair of premium plugins that offer similar functionality). I’ll tell you why I think the plugin(s) is so popular. Then, I’ll try to give you the free alternative that best approximates the functionality in the original plugin.
Note – I’m not guaranteeing a perfect 1:1 swap. That would be impossible.
But I am trying to find free solutions that can at least work almost as well, even if they don’t capture the full feature list of the original plugin.
Before I get started, here’s a quick table outlining your options. Or, you can keep reading for even more detail:
If you like…
Slider Revolution / Layer Slider
Page Builder Framework + Elementor
Social Warfare / Easy Social Share Buttons
Kiwi Social Share
OptinMonster / Thrive Leads
1. Slider Revolution and Layer Slider
Slider Revolution and Layer Slider are two massively popular slider plugins for sale at Code Canyon. In fact, the two rank second and fourth, respectively, on the best-selling plugins of all time at Code Canyon. Combined, they have almost 300,000 sales.
Part of their popularity has to do with the fact that the two are bundled with a huge number of themes. But, that doesn’t change the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of users who love these two premium plugins.
Slider Revolution and Layer Slider Core Features
Here’s what I think the main advantages of Slider Revolution and Layer Slider are:
- Visual editors that let you build gorgeous sliders without needing to know how to code
- Cool animation effects
- Pre-built templates
- Responsive design so sliders look great on all devices
Smart Slider Pros
Smart Slider is a great Slider Revolution alternative because it not only offers many of the premium features in its free version, but I also think the Smart Slider interface is just plain better anyway.
Here’s what you get with Smart Slider:
- Visual slide builder that functions similarly to a page builder
- Slide library with pre-made slide designs
- Dynamic slides based on WordPress posts
- Neat animations
- Responsive design plus the ability to enable responsive previews right from the slide builder interface
Smart Slider Cons
While I think the free version of Smart Slider is incredibly feature rich (and its amazing reviews mean I’m not the only one), there are a few things you still might miss:
- Smart Slider free doesn’t allow layer animations – only background animations
- The slide library on the free version is quite limited
- There are only 9 background animations in the free version
- You’re limited WordPress posts for dynamic slides in the free version
These are all things that can be remedied by purchasing Smart Slider Pro…but then it’s not really a free alternative, is it?
2. VaultPress / Jetpack Premium
While there are plenty of Jetpack premium features, I’m most interested in VaultPress for this alternative.
VaultPress creates automatic backups of your WordPress site and automatically stores those backups in an offsite “vault”. Beyond that, it makes it easy to migrate or restore your site, as well as adding security features in the form of scanning and file repairs.
VaultPress Core Features
VaultPress’ main draw is that it puts a huge chunk of your WordPress site’s maintenance on autopilot. Backups and security are massively important, and VaultPress automates much of those processes.
I like UpdraftPlus as a VaultPress alternative because it also lets you automate your backups…but for free. That is, you can create a backup schedule and UpdraftPlus will automatically execute it.
While the free version doesn’t provide its own cloud backup storage, you can easily back up directly to third-party cloud services like:
- Google Drive
- Amazon S3
Also, UpdraftPlus can help you restore your site from any of the backups it creates.
There are still some things the free version of VaultPress doesn’t do:
- The free version doesn’t let you migrate your site, though it’s not too difficult to do manually
- UpdraftPlus doesn’t do security scanning, but you can use the free version of Wordfence for that.
3. Envira Gallery
Part of Syed Balkhi’s WordPress empire, Envira Gallery is a popular WordPress gallery plugin. While it does have a free version, the free version is fairly limited in comparison to the various tiers of Envira Gallery Pro.
Envira Gallery Core Features
At this point, I’ve used a large number of WordPress gallery plugins and I think the benefits of Envira Gallery come down to these:
- Well-designed interface that’s easy for beginners and advanced webmasters to use
- Good-looking gallery templates
- Shortcodes so that you can easily insert galleries anywhere on your site.
- In the higher Pro tiers, it has tons of advanced features for developers
While there are a number of other helpful features with niche uses, I think those are the core drivers behind Envira Gallery’s success.
Modula Gallery Pros
I like Modula Gallery as a free Envira Gallery alternative because it best approximates Envira Gallery’s super intuitive, easy to use interface.
Even in the free version, Modula Gallery can go toe-to-toe with Envira Gallery’s interface.
Plus, Modula Gallery creates equally beautiful galleries and has a more affordable premium option (if you do decide to go the premium route).
Modula Gallery Cons
The free version of Modula Gallery is great for creating regular galleries, but don’t expect it to match the more advanced features of Envira Gallery Pro.
I’m talking about things like:
- WooCommerce add-on
- Lightroom add-on
Like I said, Modula Gallery Pro does offer many of these features for a lower price tag, but this post is about free solutions!
Ok, Divi is technically a WordPress theme…so I’m cheating a bit here. I fully recognize that! But, Divi is also massively popular, so I’m sure there are plenty of people looking for a free Divi alternative.
Divi Core Features
Divi is so popular because it makes it easy for people to build a beautiful website without needing to know any code. It does that by:
- Building in the powerful Divi Builder page builder
- Offering a variety of theme customization options via the theme settings and WordPress Customizer
- Having a massive third-party community that makes it easy to find code snippets, add-ons, and help
Page Builder Framework + Elementor Pros
There are two parts to Divi:
- The flexible theme
- The Divi Builder
So if you want to approximate the Divi Theme’s functionality with free tools, you’re going to also need two parts.
To cover the theme part, I recommend Page Builder Framework. It’s a lightweight theme designed to function as the foundation for WordPress page builders.
To replace the Divi Builder with a free tool, I like Elementor. The free version of Elementor doesn’t have everything you need from the Divi Builder, but it’s about as close as you’ll get.
Page Builder Framework + Elementor Cons
Many of these problems can be solved by purchasing the Pro version of Elementor (which still comes out cheaper than Divi). But…that’s cheating. So here’s what you’ll miss if you go the 100% free route:
- No dynamic post grids to showcase your latest posts on the homepage. You’ll have to use the normal blog index page or find another way to showcase your latest posts on your homepage.
- A limited set of elements in general. The free version of Elementor just doesn’t compete with Divi Builder on that front.
- How closely theme and builder are linked. While Page Builder Framework is designed to work well with Elementor, it’s still not like Divi where both products were built by the same team specifically to work with each other.
5. Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is one of the most popular premium WordPress form plugins. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most expensive form plugins, depending on the specific features that you need.
Gravity Forms Core Features
Gravity Forms is a massive hit with developers and casual users alike because it’s so dang flexible.
I actually don’t think it has the best interface (I like WPForms in terms of interface design) – but there’s no denying how powerful Gravity Forms is.
With the right knowledge (and possibly add-ons), you can create forms that do…pretty much anything.
Caldera Forms Pros
Ok – let’s get one thing out of the way. There’s no such thing as a 100% free Gravity Forms alternative. You just won’t find it because of how detailed and popular Gravity Forms is with developers.
But…Caldera Forms has a free version that’s about as close as it gets, in my opinion.
Caldera Forms offers a number of features in its free version that pretty much all other WordPress form plugins, including Gravity Forms, lock behind their Pro versions.
Notably, those are:
- Conditional logic
- Multi-page forms
- Front-end post submissions
Caldera Forms Cons
Again, the free version of Caldera Forms is not a perfect alternative to Gravity Forms. But it is the best you’ll get.
With that being said, if you need some of the more niche Gravity Forms features, I encourage you to check the exact feature list. There are too many small differences to list.
Even if you are missing a feature, you might be able to save some money by going with one of Caldera Forms’ paid extensions instead of jumping straight to Gravity Forms.
6. Visual Composer
Visual Composer is the best-selling plugin of all time at Code Canyon. In addition to being a nice page builder in its own right, Visual Composer’s popularity has also spawned a massive industry of third-party add-ons.
Visual Composer Core Features
Ok, there’s no denying that part of Visual Composer’s success is the fact that, like Slider Revolution, it’s bundled with a ton of themes sold at ThemeForest.
But that doesn’t change the fact that there are huge numbers of people using Visual Composer. Here’s why I think people love it:
- It’s a visual drag and drop page builder
- You don’t need to know any code to build a beautiful page
- Tons of other plugins integrate into Visual Composer
- There’s a huge third-party extension marketplace
I like Elementor as a Visual Composer alternative because it’s a visual page builder that’s a joy to use. It also has the best free version of any page builder, in my opinion.
You’ll be able to:
- Drag and drop elements to build your design
- Build full pages
- Design pages from pre-made templates
- Edit elements to create a truly custom page
Unfortunately, the one thing that Elementor can’t replicate is the huge community of third-party add-ons. If you like having access to those add-ons, you might be disappointed by parts of Elementor.
Additionally, the free version of Elementor has a comparatively limited element list, though you can remedy this by purchasing Elementor Pro.
WPML is the gold standard when it comes to WordPress translation plugins. It allows you to translate your site into multiple languages and comes packed with tons of helpful features.
WPML Core Features
Here’s why I think people love WPML:
- You can translate 100% of your site – even theme texts
- It’s widely compatible
- It lets you manually translate your site or outsource to a translation service
- Tons of smaller features (these are the hardest to replicate in a free version!)
I like Polylang as a WPML alternative because it comes close to getting many of the core WPML features for free. You definitely don’t get everything – but it’s closer than many other plugins.
That means you can:
- Use unlimited languages
- Translate posts, pages, media, tags, menus, widgets, and custom post types.
- Use a language code in the domain name or use a separate subdomain
- Use a professional translation service by installing the Lingotek Translation plugin as an add-on.
Again, Polylang is not a perfect replica – it’s just a good free WPML alternative. You’re still missing some potentially important features like:
- Ability to translate URL slugs
- WooCommerce support
- Translation support for page builders
Additionally, you’ll miss helpful WPML features like the ability to crowd-source translations.
8. Social Warfare / Easy Social Share Buttons
Social Warfare and Easy Social Share Buttons are two popular WordPress social sharing plugins. Unfortunately, though, Easy Social Share Buttons doesn’t offer a free version, and Social Warfare’s free version is incredibly limited.
Social Warfare / Easy Social Share Buttons Core Features
Here’s why I think people like these two social share plugins:
- Stylish social share button designs
- They don’t slow down your site
- Accurate share counts
Both also offer smaller features that some webmasters find helpful – but those three are the core features I’ll try to replicate with my free solution.
Kiwi Social Share Pros
I like Kiwi Social Share as a free Easy Social Share Buttons and Social Warfare alternative because it meets all those core features…for free!
You can display stylish icons for all of the popular social networks. The free version includes four different skins for you to choose from, and you can also choose where to position your buttons.
Additionally, you can toggle on or off share counts as needed.
Kiwi Social Share Cons
I don’t think you’ll miss any core features, but you might find yourself missing out on some of the more niche features offered by the two plugins.
A few examples of features that you’ll no longer have access to:
- Dedicated Pinterest images
- Minimum share counts in order to display share counts
- Top social posts list
- After share actions
Still, if you just want quality social share buttons, Kiwi Social Share is a solid free alternative.
9. OptinMonster / Thrive Leads
If you want to build an email list on WordPress, two of the most popular list building plugins/tools are OptinMonster and Thrive Leads. Both are great tools that give you a bunch of different ways to grow your list.
But…both are pricey, especially when it comes to OptinMonster.
OptinMonster and Thrive Leads Core Features
Here’s why OptinMonster and Thrive Leads are so effective:
- They give you a variety of different opt-in form types
- You can easily offer content upgrades and lead magnets
- Both have intuitive, WYSIWYG form builders
- Both offer A/B testing
If you want a free Thrive Leads or OptinMonster alternative, Sumo is about as good as you’re going to get.
Like OptinMonster and Thrive Leads, it lets you:
- Create a variety of different form types
- Use a form builder (though it’s not quite as flexible)
- Deliver content upgrades (that Sumo will host for you)
As I mentioned, one thing that you might miss is how flexible OptinMonster and Thrive Leads’ form builders are.
Additionally, the free Sumo plan requires that you display Sumo branding on all of your opt-ins, which may or may not be a dealbreaker.
Wrapping Things Up
I hope you enjoyed these free alternatives for popular WordPress plugins! Again, you can’t always get the exact same functionality in a free plugin. But oftentimes, you can get pretty close.
If you know of a great free alternative to a plugin that wasn’t on my list, I’d love if you shared it with me in the comments!