Shortcodes are one of the best methods to insert custom content into your WordPress site, and they’re still useful even as we move into the Gutenberg (block editor) era.
In this article: The best Shortcode plugins for WordPress (most are free). We’ll cover several different categories of plugins, including ones that will let you easily create custom Shortcodes of your own.
In this article
Shortcodes are small code snippets that allow non-coders to insert complex components or designs pretty much anywhere on the WordPress front-end.
But WordPress only ships with a handful of built-in Shortcodes. So to get access to more advanced or customized Shortcodes, you’ll need a plugin.
Note: Some themes also ship with built-in Shortcodes, but don’t like to use theme Shortcodes inside posts and pages in order to avoid theme lock-in.
All-Purpose Shortcode Plugins
These are bulky (but useful) plugins that will add multiple shortcodes to your site. Typically these are component-based, letting you add advanced UX components to your site.
This includes things like:
- Tabs / Accordions
- Galleries / Lightboxes
- Social Widgets
- and more…
In general, I recommend only installing one (maybe two) of these chunkier plugins on your site. Then you can fill in any gaps with Gutenberg blocks or smaller, more-focused plugins.
Shortcodes Ultimate is hands-down the best Shortcode plugin in the history of WordPress. And it’s completely free (though there are pro extensions available).
The free version includes more than 40 different shortcode types. And they’re all well-coded with a nice UI that makes it easy to insert Shortcodes visually instead of memorizing attributes & options.
Most of the built-in shortcodes are excellent but the posts shortcode is truly fantastic. It’s a fantastic tool for anyone with a bit of CSS ability.
There are also 3 pro extensions which are all sold as a lifetime license (great deal). The extensions are:
- Custom Shortcode Creator – This is awesome. I use it frequently and wrote a full tutorial.
- Additional Shortcodes – 15 pro-only shortcodes including content sliders, popups, vector icons, progress bars & testimonial blocks. See the demo for the rest.
- Additional Skins – Pre-built styles & designs for the included shortcodes. This is the weakest addon in my opinion and the skins are rather dated.
Shortcodes Ultimate is actively maintained by a devoted developer, Vladimir Anokhin. You get frequent updates and improvements. For example, I really appreciate the focus on speed and the fact that the plugin loads only assets needed for each specific shortcode.
CSS Igniter Shortcodes
CSS Igniter Shortcodes isn’t quite as well known as Shortcodes Ultimate, but it’s excellent nonetheless. It includes more than a dozen commonly used components like tabs, accordions, buttons, separators, sliders and icon lists.
And it has a unique grid-layout shortcode that lets you achieve complex layouts, even in the classic editor or simple text widgets.
UiX Shortcodes is a newer plugin that was actually released post-gutenberg. It includes a number of powerful components, with several built-in styling options.
It goes well beyond simple boxes, buttons and headings, including things like progress bars, testimonials, maps, icon callouts, audio embeds, share icons and more.
In fact, it could almost function as a shortcode-based page builder for those of you still using the Classic Editor.
Shortcode Utility & Customization plugins
Not all shortcode plugins are for injecting content. These are a few of my favorite shortcode plugins that focus on making Shortcodes easier to use and customize.
- Shortcodes Finder – UI to access all registered shortcodes on your site
- Shortcoder – Easily create custom shortcodes without PHP code
- Shortcode Creator (SU addon) – Create custom shortcodes
Shortcodes Finder is a shortcode utility plugin, and not everyone needs it. But if you ever want to track down broken or unused shortcodes on your site, this is the plugin you want.
What it does: Shortcodes Finder searches your site for all registered shortcodes. It can also show you which specific posts (or pages) a specific shortcode is used in. This is really handy for tracking down broken shortcodes after you deactivate a plugin.
- List all available shortcodes
- See which posts/pages use a shortcode
- Find broken shortcodes
- Test shortcodes without creating a dummy post
Shortcoder is one of the best plugins to create custom shortcodes without php (the other is SU Shortcode Creator).
If you know a bit of CSS and HTML, you can easily create and use custom code snippets and turn them into shortcodes. You can also access built-in WordPress fields like the_title(), the_excerpt() and even custom meta fields.
It’s perfect for creating branded content boxes, product callouts, or even fully custom components.
That said, I prefer the Shortcodes Creator addon for Shortcodes Ultimate, but Shortcoder has one clear advantage. It’s completely free.
Shortcode Creator Add-on (Shortcodes Ultimate)
Shortcode Creator is paid add-on for the excellent Shortcodes Ultimate plugin. It’s my preferred tool for creating custom shortcodes, and I install it on every site.
It’s easier to use than Shortcoder, lets you choose HTML or PHP templates, and even supports custom CSS that will be enqueued only when your Shortcode is used.
I also love the handy insertion UI that is accessible from several Gutenberg block types (paragraph, classic, shortcode, heading) which makes it really easy to find and add your shortcodes to posts without memorizing the syntax.
Pricing: all licenses include lifetime updates. Prices start at $49 for a single site, or $99 for unlimited.
Insert Pages is an unbelievably handy plugin once you realize how flexible it is. It does one thing and does it well.
Simply put, Insert Pages allows you to pull the content from any page, post, or custom post type and insert it anywhere else on your site with a simple shortcode.
Here are some creative ways to use it:
- Inject custom content into your archive pages before the post loop
- Insert Elementor Templates via shortcode (Elementor Free version)
- Insert a woocommerce product listing
- and anything else you can dream up
Not every plugin needs to be loaded with dozens of shortcodes and components. Quite often, you might only want to add specific function or components to your site. This keeps your back-end clean and your front-end lean and fast.
Here are a few of the best one-off shortcode plugins for specific needs:
Display Posts is one of the most powerful and useful free plugins in the WordPress repository, but you’ll likely need some CSS skills to harness its full power.
It’s user-friendly API to build custom queries and display lists of posts filtered by nearly any criteria you can imagine. The only thing it doesn’t include is styling. You have to provide your own CSS (or borrow it from a tutorial).
Shortcodes Ultimate (mentioned above) also has a fantasic posts shortcode built-in, and a handy UI that makes it even easier to use then Display Posts.
Maxbuttons lets you design and insert a vast array of stylish buttons, without every touching CSS code. The basic version is completely free and perfect if you’re just starting out.
The pro version adds more button presets as well as a visual button designer to create completely custom buttons, which you then insert via shortcode (or block).
Even more shortcodes
- Tabby Responsive Tabs – Tabby is a 5-star free plugin to add tabbed content to your site. Includes several designs and the shortcode is really easy to use. It works great in both the classic and block editor.
- Tablepress (tables) – visually create custom data tables in wordpress and insert them with a shortcode. There’s even sorting & filtering built-in. Don’t miss our TablePress CSS tutorial.
- Grid Shortcodes – Create CSS-Grid layouts in the classic editor.
- Columns Shortcodes – Easily create custom column layouts (including nested)
- Add to Any Share Buttons – Insert customized social sharing buttons anywhere in your content.
Are Shortcodes still the right tool?
WordPress has fully committed to the new Gutenberg block editor. It’s the default editor for all new WP installs, and even works inside widget areas and sidebars. The next step is full-size editing which will let you edit any template in your theme with blocks.
So this begs the question: where do shortcodes fit in all this. Are they still even useful?
Shortcodes vs. Blocks
Shortcodes have been a part of the WordPress core basically since the beginning. And support isn’t going away any time soon (they’ll likely be supported forever).
But with so many excellent block plugins available now, it’s important to know when to choose blocks over shortcodes (or vice versa).
Advantages of Shortcodes
Advantages of blocks
When to use Shortcodes instead of blocks
You’re still using the Classic editor
The most obvious use-case for shortcodes is for those of you still writing posts with the classic editor. Personally I understand the reluctance to switch, and I resisted for almost a year. But I’d never go back now. The block editor is far superior.
You have the shortcode installed already
If you have a plugin like Shortcodes Ultimate installed, it’s often better to use a shortcode to insert a component you already have (e.g. an accordion) rather than install a new block plugin to get similar functionality. This is especially true if you only need the component on just a few posts.
If you have the skills to create your own shortcodes via PHP or one of these excellent plugins, Shortcodes can be the perfect method to insert custom components or designs into your posts.
By coding it yourself, you avoid installing yet another plugin. This saves load time, file space, and sometimes even backend performance.
Using Shortcodes in the Block Editor
Here are a few tips to help you use Shortcodes more effectively inside the block editor:
Shortcodes work in almost any block-type, but they’re best used in one of these blocks:
- Shortcode block
- Paragraph block
- Heading block
- Classic block
When using nested shortcodes (multiple shortcodes inside each other) you’re probably better off using the classic block rather than the shortcode block (which only supports single shortcodes).
By using the classic block, you can easily organize your nested shortcodes and even insert detailed inner-content.
Gutenberg Blocks inside Shortcodes
The moment I realized you could use blocks inside shortcodes was a gamechanger for me. That’s when I knew Gutenberg was future.
Here’s the trick to use blocks inside any Shortcode that accepts inner content:
- Put the opening shortcode in a shortcode block
- Add as many blocks as you want under the opening shortcode
- Put the closing shortcode in it’s own block after the inner-blocks
It looks like this:
Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble inserting a block between the two shortcode blocks, select the 3-dot icon from the first block’s toolbar and select ‘insert after’ which will add a new block in-between.
Shortcodes are still an essential tool for WordPress development and I suspect they’ll be part of the core forever.
Whether you’re still using the classic editor, or just like the simplicity and flexibility of shortcodes, there are dozens of plugins to add new shortcode-based components to your site.
Top Pick: My #1 recommended shortcode plugin is Shortcodes Ultimate. Make sure to pick up the shortcode creator (pro) addon to build custom shortcodes yourself.
What’s your favorite shortcodes plugin? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.