WordPress plugins are tools used to boost the functionality of a WordPress website. It offers functions and features that users can customize to meet specific needs for their site.
With more than 30,000 plugins available on WordPress, users are spoilt for choice for just about any function they want to add to their site. Some plugins are intended to monitor a site’s security, such as Wordfence and others can enhance how images on your site are viewed (e.g. Responsive Lightbox).
Since WordPress plugins are open source, not all of them are optimized for security and performance. Be extra cautious when adding plugins as some might actually be the cause of your website being slow. Speed and performance are two critical issues for those browsing from mobile or with a moderate Internet connection.
This article will give you a primer on all things you need to know before installing plugins to your WordPress site. Be sure to comment below if there are things that we missed and we’ll make sure to update it right away.
Plugins vs. Themes
You might have come across similar features found between plugins and themes. While differences between the two are somewhat easy to spot, their functionalities might leave some, especially newbies, confused. Keep in mind:
- Plugins are add-ons that can enhance or modify the functionality of a website.
- Themes control the visual presentation of a website — its design, layout, color, tone, etc.
Think of plugins as crucial extensions to a website. For example, a core WordPress software doesn’t have the functionality to let visitors share blog posts on their Facebook account. You can only do that if you add a custom code. However, plugins like Shareaholic allows visitors to share your posts to their social media accounts.
Essentially, themes combine all the information from your website (headers, footers, sidebars, posts, etc.) and controls how these information are displayed to visitors. Here are some of the best themes that can complement any WordPress site:
Sometimes, plugins and themes will crossover. You will find plugins that can alter the website’s visual appearance. There are themes that can manipulate a website’s functionality.
This happens when developers bundle their plugins and themes together. A great example is the Design Palette Pro plugin that customizes the look of a Genesis-themed website.
When changing themes, users must understand the consequences, as doing so will lose their access to certain functionalities. Ideally, you would want to find a theme that allows you to change the look on your website without losing its functionality.
Different Types of Plugins
Depending on what you want to do with your website, there are different types of plugins for just about any purpose. Here are some of them:
- Security plugins – they keep your website free from spams, malwares and protects it from unauthorized access to your server.
- Backup plugins – With just a few clicks, you can backup, restore, duplicate or migrate your files to another website.
- SEO plugins – help analyze content to optimize for humans and search engines.
- Contact form plugins – this provides a simple contact form where visitors can contact you.
- Caching plugins – makes it easy to cache content in memory which can significantly speed up your site’s performance.
How to Search for WordPress Plugins
There are two ways to search for WordPress plugins. You can either go to:
- WordPress admin (visit Plugins, click “Add New”, enter the plugin keyword)
- WordPress Plugin Directory
Plugins on the WordPress Plugin Directory are free but you can also purchase from an outside source. Make sure that you research these premium plugins well as they may not observe the guidelines set by the WordPress Foundation. Below are tips when screening plugins before adding them to your website.
- Version – check if it has the latest software version
- Author – click on the author’s name to browse their website.
- Last Updated – The more recently it is updated, the better.
- No. of Active Installs (or downloads) – If it has thousands of decent downloads, this means that many users trust this plugin.
- Compatibility – check if this plugin is compatible with your website.
- Average Ratings – its five-star rating system will tell you how other users rate this plugin.
- Reviews – read the reviews carefully. Take each review with a grain of salt as some users might only leave reviews when the plugin has issues. Otherwise, they won’t bother leaving a review when it actually works.
How to Install a Plugin
As a rule of thumb, you should do a full website backup before installing any plugins. This is because some plugins might disable some functionalities on your site. Read this article on how to backup a WordPress site:
Here are steps to follow when installing a plugin:
- WordPress Plugins Directory – from the plugin page, click ‘Install Now’ button.
- Zip File – zip file downloads are available for plugins purchased outside of WordPress.
* Download the plugin as a .zip file from the download page.
* Save to your computer desktop.
* From the WordPress Dashboard menu, go to Plugins.
* Click ‘Add New’.
* Click ‘Upload Plugin’ button on top.
* Click ‘Choose File’ button and choose the .zip file from your desktop.
* Click ‘Install Now’, then ‘Activate’ once done.
How to View and Manage Plugins
To view installed WordPress plugins, hover on the Plugins menu, click on ‘Installed Plugins’. It lists down all your installed plugins and descriptions of their features.
Under each plugin, there are different options available:
- Settings – this will customize the settings.
- Deactivate – if you want to remove the plugin permanently from your server.
- Edit – for advanced users who know how to tweak the codes.
- View Details – opens to a popup window that summarizes everything about the plugin (description, installation, screenshots, changelog, etc.)
- Publisher – if you want to know more about the publisher, click on this click.
Updating a Plugin
Every now and then, plugin publishers will issue a new update on plugins. Make sure to update it as soon as the new version is available. WordPress plugins are constantly updated to provide users with improved features and the latest security patches.
When a Plugin is Broken
If a plugin doesn’t work or gives out an error, then you might want to know if it conflicts with other plugins. So, deactivate the rest of the plugins and activate the WordPress theme. Then test the plugin.
If it still won’t work, it’s best to start a new thread on the plugin’s Support forum. Here’s how:
- On the WordPress Plugin Directory, visit the plugin page, enter your WordPress logins.
- Go to specific plugin’s ‘Support’ tab. Check if no one has started a thread with a similar issue. If not, create a new thread describing what your situation is.
Note however that there are no guarantees that plugin publishers will answer your questions, especially for free WordPress plugins. But, most of them will do their best to help resolve your issues whenever they can. Just be patient and ask them nicely.
We hope that you find this WordPress plugin guide helpful before you install one. If you think we should add more tips, please feel free to share your tips in the comments below.