Quick & Easy Guide To: What Are WordPress Plugins?

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Are you new to WordPress? Then you might have heard of the massive benefits of WordPress plugins. But what are WordPress plugins exactly? And how do they work?

What are WordPress plugins? Is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot we can learn about them. More than just what they are. Which we will cover here, below. So you can learn quickly and easily what are WordPress plugins. And how they can best help you, take your WordPress blog or website to the next level.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

Disclaimer: WordPress plugins are primarily a WordPress.org feature. If you are not sure what this means then you should check out the differences between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org.

What Are WordPress Plugins?

A WordPress plugin is like an app on your Smartphone. It’s code that an independent developer has written for a platform. To create the ability to achieve certain tasks.

For example, on a Smartphone, you may look for an app to make using social media networks easier. Such as an app for Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

From a WordPress perspective, you might look for WordPress plugins that will make sharing your blog post to social media networks quick and easy for your readers.

The plugin could do this by adding floating share buttons on the top of all your post pages. And the best part? You could do this with as little effort as installing the plugin. Which you’ll see just how easy it is later on below! Even if you have 100’s of pages, it takes seconds to set up. And you won’t have to touch a single line of code!

Sounds ridiculously easy, right? Well, that’s because it is. With WordPress plugins making your dream blog or website can be a piece of cake!

The complete fundamentals of how to use WordPress plugins. This in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know

Where Do I Find WordPress Plugins?

If the idea of using WordPress plugins sounds exciting. You might be wondering where do you get them from. And how do you find what you need?

This library of plugins can be accessed from the plugins webpage or by logging into your WordPress dashboard. Then through the left-hand menu selecting Plugins > Add New. Both places offer a search bar to help you find plugins.

WordPress plugins repository of 56,284 plugins ready for installing on WordPress.org
WordPress plugins search bar within the WordPress.org dashboard

If you look at the Add Plugins page in the screenshot above. You might have also noticed a few other buttons. Such as Featured, Popular, Recommended, Favourites and Premium. These all give you plugins selected based on different criteria.

Spend some time to explore these extra buttons as it will give you ideas on what WordPress plugins you might like on your own WordPress blog.

What Does A WordPress Plugin Do?

So far, you know what are WordPress plugins and where you can find them. But what does a WordPress plugin do?

Well, as you might have noticed so far WordPress plugins can vary a lot. Depending on what the developer set out to do. Every WordPress plugin will add extra code and features to the base WordPress platform to enhance it.

Beyond that, it gets difficult to say what a WordPress plugin actually does. Since there are over 56,000 and they all behave differently. Even if they aim to do similar tasks.

The best way to tell what each individual WordPress plugin does. Is to click on the name, logo or More Details button of the plugin. While browsing through the plugins within the WordPress dashboard. Here you can get a longer description of the features, FAQ, reviews etc. This is what comes up if I click on the Akismet WordPress spam plugin.

All the information of the WordPress plugins that shows up when you click on More Details

What Types Of WordPress Plugins Are There?

Whilst it is difficult to define every plugin. Here are some ideas of what types of plugins there are. Which people often add to their WordPress blogs.

  • Social Media plugins can add sharing buttons to your blog and help make them more shareable.
  • SEO plugins help to optimize your blog and page rank in Google. Whilst it won’t do everything for you, popular plugins like Yoast SEO will make maintaining SEO much easier.
  • Security plugins can help keep your hard work even safer by adding extra features to scan for malware, block dangerous IPs and add a Firewall. You can even add Akismet WordPress spam plugin to block spam comments.
  • If you’ve read my post about WordPress.com vs WordPress.org then you may remember the lack of automatic backups. Well, there are plugins to save and restore WordPress from backup too!
  • WordPress Image compression plugins are also another important part of SEO. With WordPress plugins, you can automatically compress all your uploaded images to save on space and bandwidth.
  • Cache plugins, whilst you might not know exactly what a cache is. It is a vital method for improving page load speeds. Because slow page speeds result in readers abandoning your blog before it finishes loading.

These are just a taste of what plugins can offer you to boost your blog. For more specific WordPress plugins you should consider checking out these 5 best WordPress plugins for new bloggers.

WordPress beginners ultimate guide to WordPress plugins. Everything you need to know to master using plugins for your blog

Are Plugins Free On WordPress?

In general, it doesn’t cost anything extra to be able to use plugins on your WordPress.org blog. However, not all plugins are free!

WordPress plugins tend to fit into 3 categories. They are either, completely free, free with certain features locked behind a payment, or can only be used when paid for.

But, you shouldn’t let this stop you from trying out plugins for yourself from the WordPress.org repository. Plugins will not suddenly start charging you unless you provide payment details. So long as you keep this in mind, you won’t need to worry about running up a massive bill with WordPress plugins!

Can You Add Plugins To Free WordPress?

If you are considering or already use the Free WordPress.com plan. And you haven’t checked out the WordPress.com vs WordPress.org guide. Then you should know that you cannot add any WordPress plugins to your blog. The only plugins included are Jetpacks essential features.

The only way to be able to add plugins to a WordPress.com website is to be on their Business plan ($25/month, billed yearly).

The different plans on WordPress.com that don't allow WordPress plugins unless you pay for the business plan

How Do I Install A Plugin On WordPress?

Ok, so let’s say you’ve found WordPress plugins you want to install to your blog. How do you install it? Well, there are two ways to install WordPress plugins.

Install WordPress Plugins Using The Dashboard

This first method is the simple and easy way. When signed into your WordPress website. The dashboard should have a menu on the left-hand side. To install new plugins you need to go to Plugins > Add new. Search for the plugin you want to start with.

In the top right corner of the plugin box, will be an Install Now button. Click it to install.

What WordPress plugins look like before you click Install Now

Once the install completes. The button will change to Activate, click this to activate and finish installing the plugin on your WordPress blog.

What WordPress plugins look like after clicking Install Now but before clicking Activate

And that’s all there is to installing a WordPress plugin from the dashboard!

Install WordPress Plugins Using A Download

The second option is a bit more complex but not by much. Whilst I recommend using the method above. It is useful to know this method in case you have difficulty locating a plugin within the dashboard. As some premium plugins, require you to pay and then download the plugin. Which you then need to upload into WordPress.

So, let’s say you’ve gone to the WordPress.org repository and downloaded a plugin from there. It should be in a .zip file. You will need to log into your WordPress website again to access the dashboard.

Click on Plugins > Add New from the main left-hand menu. Once the page loads there will be an Upload Plugin button to the right of the page title Add Plugins.

Where to find the WordPress plugins button to upload a plugin that was downloaded outside the WordPress dashboard

Click it and you will get another screen.

This screen comes up after clicking to upload WordPress plugins

Browse… and select the zip file you downloaded. You can then click the Install Now button.

Once complete, you will also need to click Activate Plugin, just like you would through the WordPress dashboard. The plugin will be ready to use after this step.

After installing WordPress plugins from a zip file it still has to be activated on this screen.

How Do I Use A WordPress Plugin?

At this point you know, what are WordPress plugins, where to find them, what types of plugins you can expect and how to install them. The next important step is to know how to use them.

Access Your Settings Through The Installed Plugins Page

Whilst all plugins are unique, they will usually behave in predictable ways. If you have just installed and activated a WordPress plugin then you should start by checking Plugins > Installed Plugins through the WordPress dashboard.

Here you will find a list of all your installed plugins. Including the option to deactivate and delete plugins.

Find the plugin you installed. Most plugins will have a Settings option under them. If your plugin does have this. Then you should explore these to get the most out of the plugin.

Use Plugins Through The Left-Side Dashboard Menu

However, not all plugins have a Settings button in this screen. So, what do you do when this happens? Sometimes all the settings are within the plugin menu that appears in the left-hand dashboard menu. So if you cannot find any Settings button try checking there. Try to spot if there are any new buttons related to your plugin. I found this to be true for plugins like WP Fastest Cache and WP Notification Bars.

What are WordPress plugins? master plugins and start building a dream blog today!

Plugins Can Add Themselves To The Top Toolbar

The third place where plugins can appear, so that you can interact with them and their settings. Is in the top toolbar in the WordPress dashboard. This is particularly true for plugins that just display stats, such as Query monitor. There isn’t any other way to see the details of this plugin without clicking on the summary stats it shows in the top toolbar.

Some Plugins Like To Hide Within Submenus

Lastly, if the above still doesn’t help you locate your plugin to use it. There’s one last sneaky place they can end up. Sometimes plugins like to add their menu button within another menu that already exists. The main suspects are usually the Tools and Settings menus, from the left-hand dashboard menu.

But there are some WordPress plugins which like to combine themselves together. Like the Akismet WordPress spam plugin combines into the Jetpack plugin menu. Or any Genesis Framework related plugins like to add themselves, all to the same Genesis menu.

Whilst this makes sense in theory. It’s horribly unclear if you are new to WordPress. Even if you are more familiar, it can still take a few moments to find new plugins. Hopefully, knowing these 4 key locations to search for new plugin menus will help speed up the process for you. Plus, save you some frustration and time!

Quick Recap Of WordPress Plugins!

By now, you should have a clear understanding of WordPress plugins. Including:-

  • What are WordPress plugins?
  • Where to find them.
  • How to install them
  • Ideas on the features you are likely to find
  • Who can use them
  • How to find them within the WordPress dashboard so you can start using them

What Should I Do Next?

Now that we’ve covered everything. What you should do next, is let me know if there is anything that is still unclear in the comments!

What you should also do, if you have your WordPress.org dashboard setup with your web hosting. Is to get stuck in and try finding plugins, installing them and using them. The best way to get familiar with WordPress plugins is to use them first-hand!

Finally, if you are still not sure where to start and would like some plugin suggestions to start with. Then why not start with these 5 best WordPress plugins for new blogs or install the Jetpack plugin with its most important settings. You could also start with one of the most vital plugins that every blog needs. And get your automatic backups setup with this guide on how to restore WordPress from backup.

Quick and easy guide to what are WordPress plugins?

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