The Concise and Complete Introduction to WordPress Plugins

However you intend to use WordPress, there are several plugins that I believe should be installed as a matter of course. You can read through that list in my essential plugins for WordPress article.

First let’s run through some important points about plugins.

Only install the plugins that you really need. With so many plugins available, it’s easy for site owners to get carried away and install things that they really don’t need.

Plugins can slow down a WordPress site, hence the advice that you should only install plugins that you need. However, just because plugins can slow a site down, it doesn’t mean that every plugin does slow a site down.

Some people will suggest that you shouldn’t install more than X number of plugins. On one hand that’s good advice as it encourages site owners to think carefully about which plugins they will install.

On the other hand, the number of plugins you need to install depends on what you need your site to do. If you need to install 49 plugins to get all the functionality that you need in your site, then install 49 plugins.

That said, be deliberate about your plugin choices. We’re going to take a look at how to install plugins in a moment, so you’ll see the interface from the screenshot below in more detail then. These details about a plugin contains some important information that should help you assess whether a plugin is one you should consider for your site.

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  • The Last Updated entry lets you know whether the plugin is actively maintained. If a plugin hasn’t been updated for more than a year, in most cases I would be reluctant to install it. I would make an exception if the plugin is doing a very simple job, but for plugins doing more complex jobs, it’s not desirable to rely on a plugin that isn’t being updated. This could lead to problems if a WordPress update changes functionality that the plugin relies on.
  • The Active Installations entry shows how popular a plugin is. While no guarantee of quality, the greater the number of sites using a plugin, the more confidence you can have in it doing what it’s meant to do without causing problems. If you have the choice between two similar plugins, one installed on 10,000 sites and one on 1,000 sites, I’d advise you to select the one with the higher number of installs.
  • The Average Rating is arguably the most important of these three indicators. These ratings are left by other site owners and should give you a realistic indication of how happy other users are with the plugin. You can also see more in depth feedback from other users in the Reviews section. Generally favor a plugin with a significantly higher rating than a similar plugin less well reviewed. You may also notice a big difference between the number of reviews that a plugin has compared to other similar plugins. This is probably because some authors are very proactive about chasing reviews, often displaying notices in WordPress admin with a link to review the plugin. That’s likely to skew their feedback in a positive way because, unprompted, users are more likely to complain rather than praise a plugin. When prompted, the principle of reciprocity means that more satisfied users will take a moment to leave a positive review.

How to install plugins

There are a couple of ways to install plugins and we’ll take a quick look at each.

From the plugin repository

WordPress maintains a Plugin Repository that you can view at https://wordpress.org/plugins/. All of these plugins are free to install and use on your site. When you view plugins on the Repository, you’ll see that there is a download button on each. You don’t need to download plugins from here though, as you can also view the Repository from within your WordPress site.

Under the Plugins menu, click the Add New submenu item. On this screen, you can enter a search term into the search field and you’ll see results update as you type.

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You can search by KeywordAuthor and Tag, but if you don’t know the name of the plugin you want to install, my advice is to search on Google for the type of plugin you’re looking for. For example search for “wordpress ecommerce plugin” and use the results to choose which plugin looks like the best option for your site.

While WordPress is great at so many things, the plugins search functionality isn’t its strongest point. In fairness, the front end search isn’t its strongest point either.

When you’ve located the plugin you want to install, you can click the More Details link on a plugin result to get more information. When you’re happy with your choice, click the Install Now button. It will take a few moments for the plugin to be installed on your site and then the button will change into an Activate button. Click that button to activate the plugin and you’ll be redirected to the Plugins page.

Upload a plugin

Sometimes you may receive a plugin from a source other than the repository. In this case you’ll need to upload the plugin to your site.

You should be very careful when uploading plugins from other sources. It would be very easy for a developer to include code in a plugin that would allow them to take control of your site, so only install plugins from sources you trust.

As with the other method, click on Add New in the Plugins menu, then click on the Upload Plugin button to reveal the upload form. Now you can click the Choose File button and select the plugin from your computer and click Install Now to start the upload. Make sure you install the ZIP file.

When the upload completes, you’re redirected to a new screen and clicking the Activate Plugin button activates the plugin for you.

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If the install process fails, it may be worth expanding the ZIP file to check that there isn’t another ZIP file saved inside. If there is, try uploading the second ZIP.

How to remove plugins

WordPress comes with two plugins installed but not activated by default.

Akismet Anti-Spam is designed to identify spam comments made on your site. If you’re not enabling comments on your site, you should remove this. If you are enabling comments, you are required to buy a license to use Akismet on a commercial site.

Hello Dolly is a rather pointless plugin that will display lyrics from the song in the admin pages of your site. Whether you’re a fan of the song or not, delete this as it serves no purpose.

In the Plugins page, under each inactive plugin’s name is a Delete link. Active plugins have a Deactivate link that you need to click to deactivate the plugin first in order to display the Delete link. Click the Delete link to remove the plugin permanently from the site.

You can also check the checkbox in the left column of multiple plugins, set one of the Bulk Actions dropdown controls to Delete and click the Apply button. That will remove multiple plugins in one go.

The Bulk Actions controls also allow you to Activate, Deactivate and Update plugins.