WordPress is an incredibly flexible platform. This flexibility is the reason it can be used to build massive sites like TechCrunch and The New Yorker, all the way down to brand new blogs with nothing more than a handful of posts.
WordPress is versatile and can be used to build any style of website you desire. The key to this flexibility and customization lies in your theme choice and plugin selection. Your theme sits on top of the WordPress CMS and will provide you with your initial set of customization options.
You use WordPress plugins for further customization and to add new features to your site.
Below you’ll learn about the ins and outs of WordPress plugins, and how to tell if a plugin is high-quality (and worth installing). Finally, we’ll walk you through a few different ways you can install WordPress plugins on your site.
What Is a WordPress Plugin?
Essentially, a plugin is a piece of software that you can add to your WordPress site. There are thousands of different plugins you can choose from. Some add new features, while others help with designing your website, adding social sharing functions, improving SEO, integrating your email list, and a lot more.
Plugins are written in the same code that powers WordPress, so they integrate seamlessly with your site. This makes it incredibly easy to add new features to your site without having to touch a single line of code.
There are thousands of free plugins for you to choose from, and hundreds of premium plugins that can take this functionality even further. You can probably get by with a handful of free plugins, but premium plugins will usually come with additional advanced features, high-level support, and a lot more.
When installing a plugin on your site, you should always ask if it’s essential. By installing too many low-quality plugins, you run the risk of slowing down your site and leaving it open to security holes. We cover this more in-depth below.
How to Find WordPress Plugins
A simple Google search of “WordPress plugins” will give you millions of results to search through. But going through plugin overwhelm isn’t fun for anyone. Instead, use the tips below to quickly find the exact kind of plugin you’re looking for, every time.
1. Use the WordPress Plugin Repository
The WordPress plugin repository is the holy grail of WordPress plugins. No matter what kind of plugin you’re looking for you’ll find it listed here.
All you have to do is search for the type of plugin you’re looking for, and you’ll have a wealth of options to choose between. For example, here are the results when we search for “SEO”:
You can also search for plugins by keyword, top downloads, ratings, and more. Keep in mind when looking for plugins here, the higher the star rating and the more websites it’s installed on, the better. This means that it’s currently functioning great across a high volume of sites.
However, don’t let this be your sole metric to judge the quality of a plugin, as you might pass up some incredible plugins that are brand new.
2. Look Through Plugin Roundups
When looking for plugins, Google can be your best friend. The key is to get specific with your search.
For example, let’s say you’re a photographer who’s looking for the best plugins to install on your site. Head over to Google and type in “best WordPress plugins for photographers,” and you’ll see results like this:
By combing through a few search results, you’ll have a handful of quality plugins you can install on your site.
If you’re looking for a more basic list, then go for popular WordPress plugins. This will help to lay a solid foundation for your site, which you can then build on with niche-specific plugins.
The resources below are a great place to start:
- 24 Must Have WordPress Plugins for Business Websites in 2019
- 50 Best WordPress Plugins For 2019 (Across 10 Different Categories)
- The Top 15 Most Popular WordPress Plugins
You’ll even find a handful of specific WordPress plugin roundups here on the HostGator blog:
3. Use High-Quality Plugin Marketplaces
Beyond the official WordPress plugin repository, you can also search for plugins on several quality plugin marketplaces. This is a great way to find premium WordPress plugins.
One of the biggest is CodeCanyon. They currently have over 7000 different premium WordPress plugins. If you’re looking for a premium plugin, then this is a great place to begin your search.
It operates similar to the WordPress plugin repository. You can filter by category, price, stars, reviews, and a lot more.
Beyond looking through marketplaces, you can also use quality sources as a vetting mechanism. For example, since WordPress is so popular, there are many sites dedicated to helping you get the most out of WordPress.
Just like searching for plugin roundups in the tip above, we can use the search function at WordPress-related sites to find what we’re looking for.
For example, head over to WP Beginner and search for “SEO plugins”, this will give us a few posts we can look at which will provide us with some plugins to consider installing:
Many WordPress theme developers share their own plugin recommendations, including Elegant Themes, StudioPress, ThemeGrill, and Themify. If you’re using a WordPress theme from one of these providers, check out their blog for suggested plugins they’ve tested and confirmed will work well with your theme.
How to Ensure You’re Only Installing Quality WordPress Plugins
If you’ve gone through all of the resources above, then you probably have a ton of WordPress plugins you’re thinking of installing. But, keep in mind that when installing WordPress plugins, quality matters more than anything. The number of plugins you install won’t impact your site, as long as they’re all high-quality.
For the sake of example, we’re going to be using the plugin data from the WordPress plugin repository. However, you can use the same general principles when evaluating plugins from other sources.
Here are a few factors to compare when you’re considering installing a plugin:
1. Plugin Rating
On the right-hand sidebar of the plugin page, you’ll find the star ratings. Five stars are the highest, and one star is the lowest. This will give you a consensus of what people think of the plugin.
The more stars a plugin has, the better, but some plugins are so new that people might not have had the chance to rate the plugin yet.
2. Plugin Reviews
You can view individual reviews of the plugin by clicking on the respective star rating. For example, when you click on the five-star section, you’ll get reviews of everyone who rated the plugin five stars, as shown below:
It can be helpful here to check out the negative reviews as this might tell you issues that others have had with the plugin. However, take the negative reviews with a grain of salt as some people might not have been able to get the plugin to work on their site.
3. Updates and Number of Installs
Other useful information you’ll find on the right-hand sidebar includes the total number of installs and how frequently the plugin is updated.
The total number of installs will tell you how popular the plugin is. If a large number of people have the plugin installed on their site, you can bet that it’s a quality plugin.
Also, make sure that the plugin is updated frequently. The WordPress core is updated consistently, which means your plugins need to be updated as well. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving open security holes and having plugins that don’t work correctly with your site.
In the plugin description, look for additional walkthrough, tutorial, and FAQ information. This information will help you set up the plugin correctly and answer any questions you might have.
If a plugin doesn’t have this information, you might want to pass on the plugin. Otherwise, if you run into any issues with the plugin, you’ll be left on your own.
5. Support Team
On the right-hand side, you’ll also be able to view the level of support offered by the plugin’s developer. You’ll be able to see the support threads and how frequently the support requests are resolved.
Ideally, you’ll be looking for a plugin where the developer is active in the support threads. For premium plugins, dedicated support is typically provided via other means.
How to Install WordPress Plugins
Now that you have a list of quality of plugins that you’re ready to install it’s time to show you how you can install them. Like most things WordPress, there are multiple ways to complete a task, so below, you’ll find two different methods for installing a plugin on your site.
1. Install From Your WordPress Dashboard
The simplest way to install a plugin on your site is by using the search feature within your WordPress dashboard. However, keep in mind that this only works for free plugins that are currently listed in the WordPress plugin repository.
First, you’ll need to login to your WordPress admin area. If you’ve never done this before, then you’ll need to login via a link that’ll look like this, https://yoursite.com/wp-admin. Then, enter your username and password. You should have received this once WordPress was installed on your site.
Your WordPress dashboard should look similar to the image below:
Now, navigate to Plugins>Add New on the left-hand sidebar. On the next screen, you can search for plugins by typing the name of the plugin into the search bar, or type in a keyword to get a list of plugins to browse through:
Now, we’re going to install a SEO plugin. We want to install Yoast SEO, so we’re going to click ‘Install Now.’
Once the plugin is installed, the button will change to ‘Activate,’ click this, and now the plugin will be active on your site. You’ve installed your very first WordPress plugin, congratulations!
2. Download and Upload to Your Site
This second method is for plugins that aren’t listed in the WordPress plugin repository. But, don’t worry, the approach is just as simple.
The first thing you’ll need to do is download the plugin. This will be a zip file like ‘pluginname.zip.’ Make sure you don’t unzip the file you’re going to be uploading the plugin as-is.
Now, head over to the same plugin screen via Plugins>Add New. At the top of the screen, you’ll see a button at the top titled ‘Upload Plugin,’ click this.
Now, all you have to do is select the plugin that you downloaded, click ‘Install Now’, and WordPress will install the plugin for you.
Your final step is to click ‘Activate Plugin’ once it has finished uploading, and that’s it!
Now you’ve mastered two ways to install any WordPress plugin to your site. These two approaches will let you install any WordPress plugin on your site, from free to premium plugins.
There are a few additional methods of installing a WordPress plugin on your site, like using WP-CLI and uploading plugins via FTP. However, these approaches are much more technical and won’t be used by most people, unless you’re managing multiple WordPress sites at once.
The two methods highlighted above will be more than enough for 99% of website owners.
Ready to Install Your WordPress Plugins?
Hopefully, by now, you know exactly how to install WordPress plugins on your site. Once plugins are installed, you’ll be able to configure them and modify the settings. This will be different depending on the plugin you’ve installed.
Some will create a menu item on the left-hand side of your WordPress dashboard while others will be listed under existing menu items like Settings or Appearance.
Finally, remember only to install quality WordPress plugins on your site, and keep them up to date. Regularly log in to your WordPress dashboard to ensure your plugins, theme, and WordPress core are always running on the latest version.