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WordPress Plugins: An Introduction and Guide to Installing Them

This article is part of a series on using WordPress plugins for your online business.

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  1. WordPress Plugins: An Introduction and Guide to Installing Them
  2. How to Pick the Right WordPress Plugin
  3. How Much Does a Custom WordPress Plugin Cost?

One of the reasons why WordPress is such a powerful and popular platform for building websites is the plugins available for it. In the context of WordPress, plugins are small pieces of code that add a specific feature to your site.

The features and functionality covered by plugins ranges from adding a contact form to your site, to increasing how quickly your pages load, to turning your site into a fully-featured eCommerce store.

The selection of plugins available for WordPress is vast: almost any feature you can think of can be added to your website with an existing plugin, and if not a custom one can be created.

In this article we will be covering where to find plugins for WordPress, and how to add them to your site.

Where to Find Plugins?

There are two main types of plugins available for WordPress: free and premium. The largest source of plugins is the Official WordPress Plugins Repository which contains only free plugins and currently includes over 29,000 of them. Anyone is free to make a plugin for WordPress, so the plugins held in the repository are made by a range of people, not just those who are part of the WordPress development team.

Although the plugins in this repository are free, some of them are free versions of premium plugins, allowing you to use the basic features of the premium version, with the option to pay to upgrade to the full commercial version.

Premium plugins range in price and can often have more features than a free plugin, or cater to a more specific market. When it comes to finding premium plugins, there is no one central repository as there is with the free options. They can usually either be purchased directly from the creator’s website or via a plugin marketplace such as Code Canyon.

When it comes to finding a premium plugin, the best approach is to do a web search including the features you would like to add to your site, such as “best contact form plugin for WordPress.” This will show both the free and premium versions available, and hopefully also some reviews of the various options to help you make a decision.

How to Install a WordPress Plugin

There are a few different ways to install a WordPress plugin. One option is to install it directly from your WordPress site using the “search” function to look for a plugin. The search is limited to the free plugins in the official repository, but still gives you access to over 29,000 plugins.

Another option is to upload the plugin file to your WordPress site. This approach is usually reserved for plugins not held in the repository, such as premium or custom made plugins, although the free plugins can be downloaded from the repository and uploaded in this way.

Auto-Installing a Free Plugin from the Repository

To install a plugin from the official WordPress.org plugin repository, log into your site (add /wp-login.php to the end of your site’s address e.g. www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php). Then click on “Plugins” and then “Add New” from the sidebar menu.

Plugins 01 Add New

From that page you can search the free plugin repository, and install the plugins directly from the search results. You can also browse the plugins using the popular tags listed on the same page.

Once you have performed a search, you can view the results, and then either find out more information by clicking on the “Details” link or click the “Install Now” link to add it to your site.

Plugins 01 Search

Once the plugin is installed, click on the “Activate Plugin” link to turn it on. Depending on the plugin, there may be some extra steps involved in the setup process.

The settings page for the plugin can usually be found under the “Settings” menu on the sidebar menu.

Plugins 01 Settings

Alternatively, the plugin might create a new top-level menu item on the sidebar menu. This is all dependent on the choices the developer made when creating the plugin, with some plugins not having any settings pages at all.

Plugins 01 Settings 02

If at any point you want to deactivate or delete a plugin, this can be done from the “Plugins” page, found under “Installed Plugins” on the “Plugins” menu.

Plugins 01 Installed

From that page you can also see which plugins have been installed and whether they are active or not.

How to Manually Upload a Plugin into WordPress

Another option for adding a plugin to your site is to upload the plugin files yourself. This mainly applies to free plugins that aren’t stored in the WordPress plugin repository, or premium plugins that have been purchased elsewhere.

The plugins are usually distributed as a zip file, which can then be uploaded directly to your site through the WordPress admin dashboard. Alternatively the zip file can be extracted on your computer and then uploaded using a FTP client such as FileZilla.

The first method is the more straightforward of the two and can be completed in a few steps. Once logged into your WordPress site, click on the “Add New” item from the “Plugins” menu.

Plugins 01 Add New

This time, instead of searching for a plugin, click on the “Upload” link at the top of the page.

Plugins 01 Upload

Then click the “Choose File” button and locate the zip file for the plugin on your computer. Hit “Open” and then “Install Now.” Once the plugin is installed, click “Activate Plugin” to set it live.

Then depending on the plugin, locate the settings page for it by checking the “Settings” menu, or looking for a new top-level menu item for the plugin. However, not all plugins have a settings page so don’t worry if you don’t find one.

Uploading via FTP is slightly more complicated. By using an FTP client, the extracted plugin zip file can be uploaded to your server and then activated from the ‘Plugins’ page on your admin dashboard.

If you do use this approach, ensure the plugin files are uploaded in their containing folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory on the server where your site is hosted.

Plugins 01 FTP

Once the files are uploaded, the plugin should be listed on the “Plugins” page where it can then be activated. For a more detailed guide on installing plugins using FTP, please read this page.

Summary

Hopefully you should now have a better understanding of what WordPress plugins are and how they can help enhance your website. By taking a quick look at the WordPress plugin repository you can get a good idea of what sort of features can be added to your site with a plugin.

The instructions in this article also cover how to install a plugin, so whether you choose to install a plugin directly from the repository, or download one from elsewhere, you can follow these steps to easily add it to your site.

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5 Responses to WordPress Plugins: An Introduction and Guide to Installing Them

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