When you first sign in to your new WordPress website, it will be pretty basic. WordPress will most likely encourage you to add your first blog post. When you start writing, you’ll notice the background is bland with not much of a design.

Your next step will be to select a WordPress theme. Choosing a WordPress theme will dress up your website, give it a basic design with some color, and provide a structure for your website.

choose wordpress theme

You’ll notice that even though you have activated a theme and your website looks slightly better than a blank page, it’s still pretty bland and lacks functionality. 

You may be wondering how you get your site to do all the cool things you want it to do? For example, how do you add social sharing buttons? How do you add your Google Analytics tracking code? How do you make it easier to optimize your upcoming blog posts for search? 

The answer is you install WordPress plugins.

This post will cover what WordPress plugins are, what WordPress plugins can do, how WordPress plugins work, and how to install a WordPress plugin.

What is a WordPress plugin?

WordPress plugins are pre-coded apps that integrate with your WordPress site. WordPress plugins provide functionality to your website without you ever having to touch a single line of code.

There are nearly 50K free plugins available to WordPress website owners. You can install these plugins within your WordPress website by navigating to the plugin page and searching. 

Alternatively, you can access these plugins on the WordPress plugin directory, download the plugin .zip file, and then upload it on the plugin page of your individual WordPress account.

In addition to the free plugins, there are loads of premium WordPress plugins from developers and companies. These paid plugins usually provide advanced capabilities to your website with the click of a few buttons. 

In short, WordPress plugins are what make your WordPress site more than a simple blog or bare-bones website. Plugins allow you to enhance your website, customize it to your liking, and provide an excellent user experience to your website visitors.

What can WordPress plugins do?

Saying WordPress plugins provide functionality to your website sounds a bit vague, but it’s the best all-encompassing way to describe what plugins do.

If you can dream up a function you want your website to perform, there is probably a WordPress plugin that can help you accomplish your goals.

You’ve heard the phrase, “there’s an app for that.” The same sentiment applies to WordPress. If you want your website to do something fun, then…there’s a plugin for that.

More concretely, here are some of the most popular things WordPress plugins can do. A plugin will:

  • Provide security, back up, speed, and the ability to scale.
  • Allow you to optimize your blog posts correctly for search.
  • Protect your site from spam.
  • Help you connect your email service provider account with your newsletter subscription form.
  • Let you set up an eCommerce store.
  • Give you access to social sharing icons.
  • Install Google Analytics on your website to help you track your traffic.
  • Make it easy for you to create different types of forms.
  • Create a knowledge base.
  • Display your podcast episodes on your blog.
  • Integrate videos on different pages.
  • And more!

These are just a few of the things WordPress plugins can do for you. Developers even make strange WordPress plugins, including a plugin that makes unicorns appear on your website (awesome), a plugin that enhances the size of a user’s cursor, and even a plugin that will slow down the load time of your page. 

Like I said, if you can dream it on WordPress, you can probably do it.

How do WordPress plugins work?

WordPress is an open-source platform. This means developers can add their own code to the platform, which modifies or adds functionality to the WordPress platform.

When you install a WordPress plugin on your site, the plugin code is registered in your WordPress database. Then, you have the option to activate or deactivate the plugin as you please. 

When you activate a WordPress plugin and follow the setup instructions properly, WordPress will recognize the plugin code and perform the proper plugin function.

How to install a WordPress plugin

Here is a quick overview of how you can install a WordPress plugin:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Turn your attention to the left dashboard and click on “Plugins,” which will take you to the plugins page.
  3. From the plugins page, press “Add New.” WordPress will direct you to the plugin library. 
  4. You’ll see a search bar on the right side of the plugins screen where you can search for your desired plugin.
  5. Find the plugin you want to install and press “Install Now.”
  6. Then, press “Activate.”

Once you activate the plugin, WordPress will redirect you to your personal list of plugins. From here, find the plugin you just installed, press “Settings” under the plugin name, and follow the instructions. 

Remember, the setup instructions will be different for every plugin, but WordPress will guide you through the process step-by-step.

Another way to install a plugin is to upload the .zip file of the plugin into WordPress. You will follow this process if you download a plugin from a third-party website or WordPress.org. Here is how to install a .zip file of a plugin:

  1. Download the plugin from another website and save the .zip file to your desktop.
  2. Navigate to the left dashboard and press “Plugin.”
  3. Click “Upload” at the top of the screen.
  4. Choose the file you just downloaded and saved to your desktop and press “Install Now.”
  5. WordPress will redirect you to a page that tells you whether or not the plugin was installed, and shows an “Activate” button.
  6. Press “Activate.”

Once you press “Activate,” WordPress will send you to your individual plugin page where you can finish setting up your plugin.

Getting Started with WordPress Plugins

As a new WordPress website owner, WordPress plugins will become your new best friend. Instead of learning how to code, you can simply check out the WordPress plugin library and install a plugin on your website.

As soon as you activate your plugin and follow the set-up instructions, your website will have enhanced functionality.

Ready to get started with WordPress plugins? Check out our ultimate list of the 50+ best WordPress plugins.

Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.