WordPress is the most popular website builder in the world. It powers over 43% of the websites on the internet, with websites ranging from small business blogs to eCommerce stores and massive corporate websites.
You can attribute much of this WordPress growth to plugins that make it a flexible, easy-to-use and feature-rich content management system (CMS). Using a variety of plugins, anyone can build a website with the required functionalities to meet their business goals.
But what are plugins? We’ll cover that and more in this guide to WordPress plugins.
What is a WordPress plugin?
A WordPress plugin is a tool that “plugs into” a WordPress website to add new functionality or enhance existing functionality without coding.
Depending on its features, a plugin can make massive changes or minor tweaks to your website. For example, a plugin like WooCommerce can transform a simple WordPress site into a fully-functional eCommerce store. On the other hand, a plugin like Disable Comments will do just that — disable comments — and require no more action from you.
Typically, WordPress plugins only work with self-hosted WordPress websites, and it’s not possible to install plugins on hosted versions like WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org).
For instance, WordPress.com only allows plugin installation in WordPress.com Business, which costs $300 per year. The more affordable plans — Personal and Premium — don’t support plugins.
In the case of self-hosted WordPress websites, you sign up with a third-party WordPress hosting service like Bluehost and install the WordPress software. After that, you can add as many plugins as you need to build and improve your website.
How and when to use WordPress plugins?
While it’s not obligatory to employ plugins when constructing a WordPress website, you’ll likely desire additional features and functionalities that the default platform doesn’t provide. There are various compelling reasons to integrate plugins into your WordPress site. For instance, you might aim to enhance your site’s user experience by optimizing its performance, boosting its visibility through SEO, or ensuring the utmost security.
Nearly every WordPress site can derive some advantages from incorporating at least a few plugins. The WordPress Plugin Directory is an excellent starting point, offering a wealth of free plugins, complete with reviews and updated records.
How to choose the right plugins for your WordPress website
Choosing the right plugin may be overwhelming since the WordPress Plugin Directory has over 60,000 paid and free plugins.
You can look for the plugins you need by deciding on functionalities you need in your website. Typically, we recommend getting plugins that:
1. Improve your SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) makes your website more visible to search engines like Google, which means more traffic and more chances to convert visitors into customers.
According to Conductor, 82% of marketers said SEO positively impacted their goals and marketing performance in 2022.
If you want your website to reap similar benefits from SEO, you need an SEO plugin. Using an SEO plugin, you can improve your on-page SEO and drive more organic traffic to your website.
At Bluehost, we recommend Yoast SEO.
The Yoast SEO plugin helps you optimize almost every SEO aspect of your website.
Once you install and activate the plugin, it’ll provide tools to customize SEO functions, including custom URLs, title tags and meta descriptions.
Yoast also creates and updates an XML sitemap automatically for better indexing. You also have the option to turn off indexing for specific pages or pause it temporarily when your website is under construction.
You can install the free version of Yoast SEO from the WordPress Plugin Directory, which offers almost all the essential SEO features.
For advanced SEO functionalities, you can turn to Yoast SEO Premium, which costs $99 per year. It includes additional features like showing content quality and link suggestions as you write and previews for sharing on social media (Twitter and Facebook).
2. Add essential security features
With data breaches, malware and many other security threats on the internet, website security should be a key priority for all businesses.
According to Wordfence, about 800,000 IP addresses tried to guess username and password combinations of different WordPress websites on a daily basis in 2022. Such attacks, if successful, can jeopardize your customers’ data and damage your brand’s reputation and integrity.
To keep your website secure, we recommend Wordfence, which offers a firewall and protects your website from malware, viruses and hacking.
The Wordfence Threat Intelligence Team monitors vulnerabilities in the WordPress core, themes and plugins and regularly releases new firewall rules to protect your website against these threats.
Wordfence also maintains a massive WordPress-specific malware database. As a result, it produces signatures to detect malicious activity, prevent intrusion attempts and offer robust security for your WordPress website.
Other Wordfence features include:
- Two-factor authentication
- Brute force protection
- 24/7 continuous security monitoring
With the free version of Wordfence, you get all the basic tools you need to keep your website safe. Alternatively, you may opt for the paid version of Wordfence if your website requires continuous security monitoring. Premium plans of Wordfence start at $119 per year.
3. Speed up website loading time
Your site speed significantly impacts your conversion rates.
Portent shares that a B2C eCommerce website loading in one second has a 2.5x higher conversion rate than a website that loads in five seconds.
Such stats show how crucial it is to make your website pages fast, especially for webpages with high consumer-intent traffic, such as the homepage, checkout and login pages.
To that end, we recommend WP Rocket to improve your site’s performance.
WP Rocket doesn’t offer a free or trial version. The paid plans start at $59 per year.
4. Streamline your workflow
You can also use plugins to add new functionality or improve the existing functionality of your WordPress website.
Another plugin like MonsterInsights lets you view the data from Google Analytics on your WordPress admin.
MonsterInsights tracks traffic, visitor statistics, clicks and more without you having to set up Google Analytics manually. As a result, you can monitor how well your website is doing right on your WordPress dashboard.
A contact form plugin like WPForms helps you design various pop-ups and forms to help you build an email list for lead generation. It offers spam protection and can easily integrate with email marketing apps like Mailchimp.
You can also try an “all in one” solution like Jetpack that provides website statistics, social media sharing and website security.
As you can see, different WordPress plugins boast different features and functionalities. Together, they make your website efficient, streamline your workflows and boost the user experience.
5. Add the features you need to achieve your website’s goals
While plugins play a key role in making WordPress an excellent CMS, you shouldn’t try to collect all the plugins there are — 60,000 of them.
Instead, you should choose a plugin based on your business goals and the functionality you’re looking for.
For example, if you want to turn your WordPress blog into an online store, WooCommerce would do the trick.
WooCommerce lets you create landing pages, category pages and product pages to set up your eCommerce store. It also provides a shopping cart and payment functions. As a result, you can sell physical and digital products, run affiliate websites and handle dropshipping for custom items.
Alternatively, if you’re a professional who wants to monetize your skill, you can install a plugin like LearnDash, a learning management system that helps you create engaging, professional courses.
LearnDash offers a drag-and-drop course builder and pre-built templates to help you create different courses. It also provides certificates, assignments and quizzes to keep learners engaged.
Now that we’ve looked at the factors to consider when choosing the plugins, let’s see how to install them.
How to install a WordPress plugin on your website
You can find and install plugins from your WordPress dashboard:
- Go to Plugins > Add New.
- In the search field in the top right, enter [name of plugin].
- Click the Install Now button to the right of the plugin.
In our case, we will install WooCommerce:
- Wait a few seconds for WordPress to install the plugin.
- Click the Activate button to activate the plugin.
That’s it. You’ll find your new plugin in Plugins > Installed Plugins:
That’s the typical process for installing most WordPress plugins. However, you’ll need to upload plugin files from your computer for some premium WordPress plugins, such as WP Rocket.
Let’s now look at how to update the plugins you’ve already installed.
How to update your WordPress plugins
When plugin developers update the features of their plugins, you’ll receive a notification in your WordPress admin sidebar.
Once you get these notifications, go to the plugins that need to be updated and click the Update Now link to update them:
WordPress will automatically download the plugin’s most recent version and install it.
If you need to update multiple plugins simultaneously, you can do so by following these steps:
- Click Update Available to only list plugins with available updates.
- Expand the drop-down list of bulk actions and select Update.
- Click Apply to bulk update all the plugins.
Updating your plugins keeps them functioning properly and makes them compatible with the latest version of WordPress. It also closes loopholes for security threats since using outdated plugins can cause security vulnerabilities.
Are WordPress plugins safe?
Guaranteed safety is a concept that doesn’t exist in the realm of website plugins. Some plugins may suffer from poor design, and others might not play nicely with each other or your chosen theme. The risk of potential issues on a website arises when hackers exploit inadequately constructed WordPress plugins.
This underscores the paramount importance of exclusively relying on plugins sourced from reputable plugin repositories or trusted third-party developers.
The good news is that you can acquire substantial insights about a plugin before integrating it into your website. In the subsequent section, we outline key factors to consider when making your plugin selection.
To bolster your website’s security, you can also employ a WordPress security plugin like Sucuri, which conducts in-depth analyses of numerous websites, swiftly identifying security issues related to plugins, and overall safeguarding your website.
If you’re concerned about the prospect of slowing down your website due to an excessive number of plugins, please refer to our advice on determining how many WordPress plugins to install. We explain how plugins impact your website and offer guidance on selecting the most effective combination of plugins.
What types of WordPress plugins are there?
- Security plugins: These are essential for safeguarding your website against malicious attacks, spam, and vulnerabilities. They provide features like firewall protection, login attempt monitoring, and malware scanning.
- Website optimization plugins: Optimization is crucial for improving website performance. These plugins focus on tasks like image compression, code minification, and database cleanup to ensure your site loads quickly and efficiently.
- Contact forms plugins: These plugins make it easy to create and manage contact forms on your website, allowing visitors to get in touch with you. They often offer customization options and spam protection.
- Caching plugins: Caching plugins create and serve cached versions of your web pages, reducing server load and speeding up page loading times. They are instrumental in improving the user experience.
- Booking plugins: Ideal for businesses that require appointment scheduling, booking plugins enable clients to book services or appointments directly from your website. They often include calendars and reminders.
- Google Analytics plugins: These plugins integrate Google Analytics with your WordPress site, offering valuable insights into visitor behavior, traffic sources, and other essential data to help you make informed decisions.
- SEO plugins: Search Engine Optimization plugins help you optimize your content for search engines. They provide tools for on-page SEO, meta tags, XML sitemaps, and more to improve your website’s visibility in search results.
- Pop-up plugins: Pop-ups can be used for various purposes, from capturing email leads to displaying promotions. Pop-up plugins enable you to design and manage pop-up messages on your site.
- Image optimization plugins: Images play a vital role in web design, but they can slow down your site if not optimized. These plugins automatically compress and resize images to reduce loading times while maintaining quality.
Final thoughts: Beginner’s guide to WordPress plugins
The best WordPress plugins give you the control to enhance your website performance and appearance. With thousands of plugins available, you can tailor-make your website to meet your specific needs.
While plugins offer many functionalities, they also increase your website’s hosting needs and requirements. You may need to turn to a performance-optimized host to support such a website.
FAQs regarding WordPress plugins
Developers write WordPress plugins in PHP, the same programming language WordPress is written in. As a result, plugins leverage the existing WordPress code structure to offer extra functionality to your website.
There’s no limit to how many plugins you can install on your WordPress website. However, it’s best to stick to high-quality plugins that offer the features your website needs. Too many plugins can slow down your website, hamper load times and pose a security threat.
The safety of a WordPress plugin depends on how it’s coded. Poorly-coded plugins may conflict with other plugins or themes. They can also cause a security threat by exposing your website to hackers who exploit the flaws in code to attack your website. That’s why it’s crucial to always use plugins from reputable and trustworthy third-party creators or plugin repositories and update them regularly.
A plugin adds features that bring new or enhanced functionality to your website. Meanwhile, WordPress themes modify the appearance of your website pages.
Theoretically, yes. But practically, no. Using WordPress without installing plugins can be challenging since they’re integral components of the entire WordPress experience. They help you create a functional, interactive website that keeps visitors interested and enables you to achieve your business goals.