How to Use WordPress Plugins

WordPress powers more websites around the world than any other site-building software. WordPress websites range from small blogs and indie startups to large corporate sites, each with its own unique functionality and features. The core WordPress code provides the framework for building a basic WordPress website, but plugins provide the tools for customizing that site to meet a user’s specific needs and goals.

There are thousands of WordPress plugins available from both WordPress itself and a worldwide community of developers. These independent pieces of code can be integrated into any self-hosted WordPress site – no coding or web development experience required.

What Can You Do with Plugins?

Plugins are separate pieces of code designed to add an array of features and functions to WordPress sites. They’re written in PHP, the programming language used to create the WordPress core itself, so they can be seamlessly inserted into the core code of your WordPress website. Some plugins add general functions to make your site secure and searchable, while others provide features for specific needs, such as product pages, social media buttons, and shopping carts for an eCommerce site.

Both free and premium plugins can make your site look better, run faster, and attract more traffic. They can protect your site from hacking and malware, streamline your workflow, and connect your site to other social media platforms. The plugins you choose to install on your WordPress site will depend on factors including your site’s specific needs and your budget. But you can typically install and use both free and premium plugins with just a few clicks of a mouse. Whether you’re looking for security plugins to protect your website against hackers or you’re in need of a WordPress newsletter plugin to alert your customers of new products, you can find a whole list of the best WordPress plugins right on The Plugin Directory.

Get the Plugins You Need

There are more than 55,000 WordPress plugins currently available, so it’s important to take stock of your site’s needs to determine which ones you a necessity. Although there is virtually no limit to the number of plugins you can add to your site, a backlog of unused or outdated plugins can make your site run slower and create potential security risks.

Consider what you want your site to do. With that in mind, locate and install quality plugins for just those functions. In general, your plugin list should include plugins that offer WordPress security features, site performance, and search engine optimization. Then, consider the functions your specific website should have. For example, a blog site might need different plugins than a designer’s portfolio or an online store. With a clear idea of what your site needs, it’s time to go plugin shopping.

Get Plugins from the WordPress Directory

Every installation of WordPress includes access to the official WordPress Plugin Directory right from the site’s dashboard. The directory contains hundreds of free plugins for all kinds of functions, some free with a premium option, and some available only on premium plans. To install WordPress plugins from the Directory, click “Add New” from the Plugins tab on your site dashboard. Browse plugins for WordPress or search for the kind of plugin you need.

The Plugin Directory includes a description and key information about each plugin, such as user ratings, number of downloads, and whether a plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress. Click “Install” to add a selected plugin to your site. Once the plugin is successfully installed, click “Activate” to begin using or configuring it.

Get Plugins From Other Sources

Because WordPress is a free and open-source software, anyone with programming skills can design plugins. There are many free plugins available or for purchase from digital asset marketplaces, theme and plugin developers, or independent users. If you choose to buy or download a plugin from one of these third-party sources, it’s important to make sure the plugin comes from a quality developer and is compatible with your version of WordPress. Poorly designed or incompatible plugins can introduce bad code or malware to your site.

Plugins typically come in a compressed .zip file. To install these plugins, click “Add New” on your site’s plugin manager. When prompted, upload the plugin .zip file and click “Install.” After installation, click “Activate.” Plugins can also be uploaded and installed manually to your site’s WordPress files via File Transfer Protocol, or FTP.

Activate and Configure Your Plugins

All installed plugins are listed under your site’s plugin folder or tab. From there, you can perform a variety of actions to configure and customize them. Plugins can also appear in your site’s main dashboard menu, and their settings can include options for editing the plugin’s code for additional customizing. To configure the plugin, click its settings options. Some plugins are configured from the developer site or require an API key. Other plugins integrate your site with an external platform, so you may need to create an account there as well.

Although there’s no real limit to the number of plugins you can install, it’s important to stick to quality plugins that provide the features you need. If a plugin isn’t appropriate or no longer needed, it can be deactivated or deleted. Deactivated plugins remain available and can be activated again if needed later. Deleting a plugin completely will remove all its files from your WordPress installation, and that could affect other aspects of your site that were connected to the plugin.

How to Use WordPress Plugins

Plugins require different levels of interactivity and ongoing maintenance. Many plugins work immediately upon activation. For example, the “Disable Comments,” plugin does exactly that, with no more actions required. But some plugins have more complex functions and need user input. The Yoast SEO plugin monitors your content for search engine optimization, but users must provide keywords for checking and make specific changes to improve searchability. Form creator plugins provide templates, but users need to customize them, add content, and indicate where the form is to be displayed. Plugins with more complex functions may come with tutorials and other resources for support.

Keep Plugins Updated

To work properly, plugins for WordPress need to be maintained. Just as WordPress itself releases periodic updates, plugin developers regularly update their plugins to resolve bugs and add new features. Your plugins page posts notifications of available updates and allows you to update all plugins at once or choose the updates you want. Keeping plugins updated ensures they’re compatible with your version of WordPress and other plugins you’re using, and also helps to keep your site secure. Outdated and inactive plugins can provide avenues for security risks, so managing your plugins should be a part of ongoing site maintenance.

Plugins give WordPress site runners virtually unlimited control over all aspects of a site’s performance and appearance. With the help of thousands of plugins from a worldwide pool of developers, WordPress users of all skill levels can add the features and functions they need to create a unique, fully functioning WordPress site. To get started in building your website or choosing a web hosting plan, contact our team of experts at Bluehost today.

Machielle Thomas
Machielle Thomas | Content Manager
Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

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