On WordPress Plugins dashboard, you’ll surely find hundreds of thousands of plugins for just about any purpose. Some of these plugins can help with your SEO, check broken links, block data breaches, do website backups and so much more.
Since WordPress is an open source project, not all plugins may be optimised for speed and security. However, all WordPress plugins undergo vetting by the WordPress team before they can be downloaded and installed by users. This is the reason why we encourage all website owners to be extra cautious when installing anything on their site since some may have compatibility issues.
With that being said, the Vodien team would like to offer you an ultimate guide to WordPress plugins. We encourage you to read, bookmark for future reference and share this with your team to ensure that everyone fully understands how plugins work.
What’s the Difference between Plugins and Themes?
For the uninitiated, plugins and themes might look similar on the surface. But they are actually two different entities that enhance the functionality of a website. Their differences are easy to spot on. Just remember:
- Plugins – they are essentially add-ons or extensions that improve the functionalities of a website. There are plugins for: image optimization (Lightbox), email opt-in (Mailchimp), firewall (NinjaFirewall), social media automation (Social Media Feather), etc.
- Themes – it controls the look and feel of a website. It’s primarily responsible for a site’s design, color, font, tone, user experience, etc. Examples of theme designs are: Magazine News (magazine themes), Blogera (blog theme), ecommerce theme (JStore), etc.
Think of plugins as an extension that works on the background so it can enhance a site’s functionality.
On the other hand, themes integrate all site’s visual components (headers, footers, posts, pages, sidebars, categories, etc) and control how these information are shown to visitors.
Now that it’s out of the way, we’re going to discuss further the types of plugins that you can use to complement your website.
Different Types of Plugins
Regardless of the kind of functionality you want for your site, there are a few types of plugins that are highly recommended. Make sure to only install plugins that you actually need. This is to ensure that your site will always be feature-rich and fast. Installing unnecessary plugins will only weigh down your site and make web pages load slow.
- Backup plugins – This plugin allows you to do backups, restoration and migration for all your website files (text, images, videos, etc). Backup plugins can be accessed straight from your WordPress dashboard with just a few clicks.
- Security plugins – Since WordPress is open source, you will want to install security plugins to protect your site against spam, viruses, malware and cyber hacking.
- SEO plugins – This plugin can assist in your site’s ranking as it helps you to conform to known SEO best practices.
- Editorial calendar plugins – it helps schedule content, keep track of content strategy, auto-post on social media profiles.
- Contact Form plugins – Allows visitors to contact you via contact form.
- Ecommerce plugins – If you want to sell and take payments for your products or services, then it’s a must to add this plugin.
- Sitemap plugins – Generate an XML sitemap so search engines like Google can find and index your website.
- Caching plugins – It creates static HTML files from a dynamic WordPress site. Your web server will serve these files instead of processing heavier PHP scripts. It improves site performance and speed while reducing download time.
- Image Compression plugins – From the name itself, it compresses or reduces image file sizes and optimises it to improve speed and increase SEO ranking.
- Google Analytics plugins – If you use Google Analytics to monitor and analyze each of your posts, then this one’s for you.
Depending on the type of website you want to achieve, there will be other plugins to serve your need. In summary, you can customise and add functions to a website just by adding and configuring plugins for your site.
Browsing for WordPress Plugins
There are two routes you can go when searching for WordPress plugins.
- From WordPress Plugins Directory – open a browser, go to https://wordpress.org/plugins/ and enter plugin keyword.
- From WordPress Dashboard – hover to “Plugins”, click “Add New”, enter plugin keyword on search bar.
Generally, plugins on WordPress Plugin Directory are free to download but you can also purchase from a third party plugins developer from their own site.
Just because it’s paid, it doesn’t automatically mean that all premium plugins are the best there is. Certain plugins allow you to test out its basic functions while subscribing to its premium versions will provide you with enhanced functionalities and bonus features.
It’s important for website owners to research to see if these plugins follow guidelines established by WordPress Foundation. Here’s how to check if a plugin is worth it or not:
- Last Updated – Of course, the most recent it is, the better.
- Version – See if it has the latest version.
- Author – Know more about the developer behind the plugin–their websites and social media profiles.
- Compatibility – WordPress will automatically tell you if a certain plugin is compatible to your WordPress version or not.
- No. of Active Installs – A great indicator of its popularity that determine if many users are downloading this plugin or not.
- Ave. Rating – Every WordPress plugin is rated based on a five-star rating, with 1 as the lowest and 5 as the highest.
- Reviews – Read reviews carefully. Some users might leave poor reviews for minor issues or not leave positive reviews when it works fine. Use your best judgement when assessing reviews.
How to Install a Plugin
- From WordPress Dashboard
– visit ‘Plugins’ on WordPress Dashboard
– add ‘New’
– enter plugin name on search field
– click ‘Install Now’ button.
– wait for welcome message.
- From WordPress.org
– visit https://wordpress.org/plugins/
– enter plugin name on search field
– click ‘Download’ button
– save zip file to your computer folder
– hover back to WordPress Plugins dashboard
– click ‘Add New’
– click ‘Upload Plugin’ on top
– click ‘Choose File’ button
– upload the plugin zip file
– click ‘Install Now’
– click ‘Activate’
– wait for welcome message.
Viewing and Managing Plugins
To view installed plugins, go to ‘Plugins’ menu, click on ‘Installed Plugins’. It lists down all active and deactivated plugins. Deactivated plugins can still be viewed here but they won’t function anymore.
To delete plugins completely from your plugins list, make sure to click ‘Deactivate’ and click ‘delete’. Deleting a plugin will completely erase all codes associated with that plugin.
On the Plugin column, here are the main options:
- Settings – to edit settings.
- Deactivate – to deactivate or remove a plugin from server.
- Edit – recommended for users with advanced knowledge on editing codes.
Underneath the Description column, you will find these options:
- View Details – a window will pop up that summarizes what the plugin is about
- Publisher Name – get to know more about the developer who made this plugin.
Update Plugins when New Version is Available
Plugin publishers will update their plugins to its newest version regularly. It’s important to update it as soon as it’s available. Updating a plugin assures users of updated features and may correct some problematic security or compatibility issues in the past.
Note: We highly recommend users to create a full backup of their website before updating any plugins.
What to Do when a Plugin is Broken
From time to time, you might run into some problems with your plugins. It doesn’t always happen but when it does, here’s what you can do.
- Again, do a full backup of your website.
- Deactivate the rest of the plugins. Don’t delete.
- Then activate WordPress theme.
- Test if the plugin works again.
If it still doesn’t work, here’s what to do:
- Go to the plugin’s ‘Support’ tab.
- See if someone already opened a similar thread in the forum.
- Create a new thread describing your situation.
Opening a new forum thread won’t guarantee that plugin publishers will answer them. This is true especially for free WordPress plugins since they don’t offer customer support.
Most of them will try to answer as soon as they can. So, please be patient and ask nicely. Sometimes, other advanced users might give their two cents on your issue. Just be careful with which advice you’re following. In that case, your best move is to just wait for the publishers to answer.
On a Final Note
We couldn’t stress it more how important it is to install the right type of plugin for your site. Any plugin can make or break a website so please choose wisely. Check on the plugin details, reviews and ratings and compatibility before installing one. We hope this comprehensive article can help you find the right WordPress plugin for site.
So, are you using any plugins right now? What are they? Let us know in the comments below.