Chances are that if you’ve been using WordPress for a while then you’ve heard of something called a shortcode. Ok, that might be an understatement. If you’ve been using WordPress for a month then chances are you’ve already been using shortcodes left and right.
It’s become common practice for shortcodes to be included as major selling points in themes on sites like Envato (among others). Any time a plugin does something requiring a complex function, they tend to offer a shortcode that drastically simplifies the process. So like I said, you’re undoubtedly familiar with them.
However, just because you may be familiar with the shortcode use cases you’ve come across so far, that doesn’t mean you’ve learned how to unlock their full potential. Furthermore, because of their ease of use they are sometimes deployed in ways that are not ideal for users over the long term.
In order to help all of the Elegant Themes’ readers get the absolute most out of WordPress shortcodes, I’ve decided to take us back to the basics (briefly), discuss why theme specific shortcodes can be problematic, and finally provide you with a short list of the very best WordPress Shortcode Plugins around.
To begin, we need to ask the most obvious question.
What are WordPress Shortcodes?
Simply put, a shortcode is a bracketed tag that allows WordPress users to easily deploy predefined functionality into any shortcode enabled area of their site. Such as posts, pages, widgets, and hooks.
For example, a basic shortcode for a gallery looks like this:
The Five Standard WordPress Shortcodes
What many users may not know is that WordPress actually come with the ability to execute five shortcodes right out of the box:
I’ve linked each of the shortcodes above to their corresponding pages in the WordPress Codex. For those interested, those pages will help you get the most out of the five standard shortcodes WordPress offers. These pages are a great resource for beginners and even seasoned users may find or rediscover some useful best practices.
Shortcode Plugins vs. Theme Specific Shortcodes
Now it’s time to tackle what is probably the biggest misconception about shortcodes in general. Regardless of what a theme author may say in his or her promotional text, shortcodes should not be tied to a specific theme. Shortcodes should come as part of a separate plugin so that regardless of the theme you are using your shortcode functionality will not break.
This is something that all decent theme authors understand. However, I continue to see this practice all over the place. Theme authors using shortcodes that only work with their theme as a major selling point. Often luring in customers who do not know better. Because they are ignorant of how themes and plugins work, they do not understand that a year or so down the road when they want to change their theme, they can’t. Why? Because they built their business on functionality that cannot be ported from one theme to another. That’s why the best vehicle for custom short codes is via a separate plugin, either by the theme author themselves or a third party.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the best shortcode bundle plugins available today.
The Best Shortcode Bundle Plugins Around
When you search for shortcode plugins you’re bound to find a massive amount that use them. But the ones I’ve chosen to focus on for this post are those plugins that provide shortcode bundles. A lot of plugins will use a shortcode to execute their primary function or one feature they offer, but these plugins provide a large number of useful shorcodes (sometimes 100+) with their own useful functions. And of course they’re all designed to work with any theme.
While perhaps not as comprehensive or powerful as some of the other plugins on this list, it may be the natural choice for many reading this post. As no doubt the majority of you are already Elegant Theme Members and as such, get this plugin for free.
In all there are sixteen different shortcodes. Some with variations; such as “buttons” which come in small, big, and icon. The full sixteen are listed below and the demo link will show you what each one looks like in action.
- Content Boxes
- Toggled Content
- Tabbed Content
- Image Slider
- Easy Tooltips
- Social Media
- Password Protect Your Content
- Author Info
- Custom Icon Lists
- Corporate Pricing Tables
For anyone who wants a top notch shortcode bundle that is probably more powerful, extensive, and well designed than a free plugin has any right being–this is the plugin for you. Honestly, it’s rare that I come across a free plugin this well done. I’ve used thousands and reviewed hundreds over the years and this is by far one of the best. There are about 1 million users who agree with me. As well as 1,588 five star ratings on the WordPress Plugin Directory.
This plugin boasts 50+ shortcodes (the image above is slightly outdated), a shortcode generator, modern responsive design, custom CSS editor with syntax highlight, a special widget, rich API, and an incredible UX.
- YouTube (and other platforms)
- And many, many more…
I’ve included the following video so you can see this plugin in action. If you like it, give it a whirl! You can download the current version (at the time of this posting) from the download link below.
The Styles with Shortcodes plugin is our first premium shortcodes plugin. It’s got a great buyer rating on CodeCanyon with thousands of sales and positive comments. The goal of this plugin is to make styling various elements of your site easy for non-coders.
It comes with over 100 built in shortcodes, just a few of which are listed below, and the ability to your own shortocodes. It also comes with support for custom post types, easy import/export, new responsive columns, and more.
- Code (syntax highlighter)
- Colored Boxes
- Social Buttons
- Picture Frames
- And much more
This plugin (along with the GT Shortcodes below) has the best looking design element–such as great buttons, icons, lists and progress bars. I Quality wise I’m pretty sure all of the premium options here are on par, perhaps with some variations in support and the pure volume of features. But for most people (unless you’re looking to do something very specific) any one of them will get the job done. It’s a matter of how they stand out from the others. In the case of Vision, it stands out in terms of modern design with good color choices.
- Accordions and Tabs
- Circle Loaders
- Circle Loaders (icons)
- Content and Alert Boxes
- Animated Features List
- Image Icons
- Number Counters
- Pricing Boxes
- Progress Bars
- Pull Quotes
- and much more.
GT is another strong showing with great design. A bit lighter on the quantity than the others, but I think it shows that they take care to craft each element quite nicely. All of their elements are responsive, clean/flat design, and lightweight. I was particularly impressed with their charts.
- Lazy Load Images
- Font Awesome Icons
- Progress Bars
- Banner Ads
- and more
Our last and final shortcode plugin is actually much more than just shortcodes. I debated on whether or not to include it, because in all it becomes more of a website building system and a simple shortcode bundle, but it does include a really great set of shortcodes…and if you happen to like the other stuff then it’s a really great find.
Intense Shortcodes includes over 100 shortcodes, 17 custom post types (including books, movies, recipes, and more), a template engine, reusable code snippets, responsive design, and more.
- Hover Box
- Image Compare
- Post Meta Data
- Recent Books
- Recent Locations
- Recent Projects
- And many more
Shortcodes are the ultimate solution for easy deployment of complex functions within a WordPress site. Or, for that matter, even the slightly inconvenient functions. The plugins I covered in this post are a great (and I think affordable) resource for anyone looking to get the absolute most out of WordPress shortcodes.
However, some of the more code savvy of you may wish to cut to the chase and only implement the shortcodes you want–without all the extra fluff of a massive shortcode bundle. Fair enough. I have just the bit of further reading for you. It’s a post our contributor Kevin Muldoon authored earlier this year called How to Create Shortcodes in WordPress. Give it a look!
As for everyone else, what did you think of the bundle options in this post? Did I miss any crucial ones? Let us know in the comments below.
Article Thumbnail by yod67 / Shutterstock.com