What Are WordPress Plugins?

When you create your WordPress website there are more than 55,000 WordPress plugins available to install on your site. There are plugins for photography, eCommerce stores, newsletters and any other aspect that will help your site run more efficiently. Whether you’re a completely new user or a seasoned developer, plugins for WordPress provide the functions and features you need to completely customize your site.

What Are WordPress Plugins and How Do They Work?

Plugins are pieces of software that are designed to perform a specific set of functions or add a specific kind of feature, to any self-hosted WordPress site. WordPress plugins work only with self-hosted WordPress sites. Hosted versions such as WordPress.com typically offer theme options for customizing sites, but it isn’t possible to install plugins freely to customize sites on these platforms.

WordPress plugins are written in PHP, the programming language for WordPress itself. When using WordPress plugins, you can easily install or “plugin” the one you want to an existing WordPress website with no knowledge of code required. WordPress can run sites ranging from small personal blogs and professional portfolios to the websites of large corporations and eCommerce stores. The power of plugins makes it possible to extend the functionality of WordPress sites while creating sites that are completely unique.

The core WordPress code provides an essential framework for building a basic website. Some specialized functions can be added by choosing certain WordPress themes, but those features usually relate to customizing the structure of the site itself. For example, a theme designed for photographers might include options for a gallery or slideshow, and an eCommerce theme might have basic functionality for setting up product pages. Plugins incorporate a fully developed set of functions into your WordPress site and can include options for customization and configuration.

Where Can You Get Plugins?

WordPress is open-source software that is free for everyone. Every new installation of WordPress comes with access to the official WordPress Plugin Directory, which contains hundreds of plugins for all kinds of functions. Plugins from the directory can be installed into your WordPress site directly from the admin dashboard simply by clicking “Add New Plugin,” making your selection from the directory, and clicking “Install.”

Many plugins are also available from third-party developers – plugin designers who are members of the WordPress community and write PHP code targeted to specific needs. These plugins come in both free and paid forms that have more features and support. Plugins purchased from outside the WordPress Plugin Directory can be uploaded to your WordPress site and installed from your plugins screen, or they can be added manually via File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. If you have web developing skills, you can also design your own plugins to meet a need that’s specific to your site.

What Can Plugins Do?

Plugins make it easy to convert a basic WordPress site into a fully functioning online storefront, a membership site, a blog, or a website capable of handling the complex professional needs of a multinational corporation. Generally, plugins can add essential functions that are useful for any WordPress site, as well as features for specific needs.

Plugins can enhance your WordPress site by:

  • Improving user experience. Plugins can add features to help users navigate the site, find content, leave comments, subscribe for updates, and contact site administrators.
  • Adding essential security features. The core WordPress install comes with basic security features, but plugins can add sophisticated firewalls, alerts, user verifications, and spam blockers for greater site security.
  • Speeding up site loading time. Plugins can speed up a WordPress site by enabling caching and optimizing images.
  • Streamlining your workflow. They can help optimize your site for searchability, add editorial calendars, schedule posts, and manage social media sharing and email lists.
  • Improving the site’s appearance. Plugins can add designer fonts, galleries, sliders, and media players to your site. Some themes require certain plugins to perform properly.
  • Adding needed features for your site’s goals. Plugins can add features like product pages and shopping carts to eCommerce sites, landing pages, paywalls, and a long list of other features to support the site’s intended purpose.

Choosing the Best Plugins for Your Site

Many quality plugins for WordPress from the plugin directory are completely free. There are also other options available in both a stripped-down, free version or a fuller-featured premium version that offers ongoing support, tutorials, and upgrades. Not all sites need these features and you can typically install the free version for a test run to determine whether a premium plugin is for you.

Whatever plugins you choose to install, it’s important to check for compatibility with your version of WordPress. Some may include code that’s incompatible with the WordPress version you’re running, or with other plugins installed on your site. WordPress typically notifies users when updates to installed plugins are available. It is important to accept these upgrades in order to keep all parts of the site working smoothly together and avoid security issues that could open the door to malware and viruses.
WordPress is the world’s most popular site-building software, and much of its appeal derives from the virtually endless possibilities for tailoring a self-hosted WordPress site to meet specific needs.

With thousands of options to choose from, WordPress plugins allow you to add all the features and functions you need to build a unique, fully customized WordPress site. To learn how to install WordPress plugins or to get started with a shared hosting plan, contact our experts at Bluehost today.

Desiree Johnson
Desiree Johnson | Content Specialist
Desiree Johnson is a Content Specialist at Bluehost where she writes helpful guides and articles, teaches webinars and assists with other marketing and WordPress community work.

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