If you’re brand new to WordPress, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of plugins.
In the following post, we’ll discuss WordPress plugins in depth. We’ll cover what they are, what the difference between free and premium plugins are, and we’ll offer a few tips to help you select the best free plugin to suit your needs.
We’ll also show you three different methods that you can add a plugin to your WordPress website, including a step by step guide to each.
A Beginners Guide to WordPress Plugins
In the following section, we’ll cover a few popular topics that’ll help introduce the concept of WordPress plugins.
One important thing to note is that plugins (in the form that they’ll be discussed today) cannot be added to WordPress.com websites unless a premier package is used on WordPress.com. WordPress.com is an all-inclusive platform that bundles together hosting, web design, themes plugins and much more, whereas WordPress.org is more of a free, DIY approach. You can read more about the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, but for the purpose of this post, know that that free plugins cannot be added to a WordPress.com site.
What is a Plugin?
While WordPress is a great platform, in its bare bones state, it is rather limited. To enhance the framework, WordPress users rely on the inclusion of additional pieces of software in the form plugins.
A plugin is a tool or application that can be installed on a WordPress website to give it extra, advanced functionality. Plugins can satisfy a spectrum of needs. These can range from enhancing a website’s aesthetics, such as adding contact forms, sliders etc., or changing the website’s form and function such as adding various plugins to assist with performance, security, search health and much, much more.
Free vs Premium WordPress Plugins
WordPress plugins come in two forms: free and premium.
WordPress is built using open source software, meaning that anyone can add to, adapt or extend the framework. In the case of free plugins, a developer can create a plugin and make it available for download from the WordPress repository. For WordPress users, accessing these plugins is as simple as visiting the repository, searching for a plugin and downloading it to install to their WordPress website at a later stage.
Premium plugins come at a price. They cannot be downloaded from the repository and will need to be purchased from the respective plugin developer or agency website.
There are also freemium plugins available. Here, a simplified version of the plugin is available for free, with advanced features and special functions up for purchase in either a paid version of the plugin or in the form of add-ons.
While there’s no right or wrong when it comes to selecting either free or premium plugins, we recommend trying out free plugins before going premium. This way, you’ll be able to keep overall web development costs down in the long run.
Depending on the plugin and the website’s needs requirement, a price tag doesn’t necessarily indicate better quality. In fact, there are some incredible plugins that are 100% free and always will be. Premium plugins will generally come with dedicated support, something that free plugins often lack.
While free plugins can be downloaded from the repository, premium plugins will more often come directly from the plugin developer or agency. In the case of Divi Space, our customers will log into their accounts and download the plugins directly from their account dashboard.
Selecting a Free Plugin
When selecting a plugin for use form the WordPress repository be sure to take your time reading all of the plugin info and researching other options.
First, make sure that you go through all of the information present in the main tabs. Here, you’ll find all of the core plugin info, reviews, installation guides and links to the support forum.
Next, make have a look at the info present in the plugin sidebar. Here, you’ll be able to see other vital information such as the number of active installs, number of five-star reviews etc.
There are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision.
- Last updated: Plugins need to be kept up to date with the latest WordPress software. Make sure that the plugin you’re selecting is compatible with your version of WordPress.
- Reviews: Nothing says ‘this product is credible’ like a five-star review. When selecting a plugin, have a look at the number of great reviews and the feedback that accompanies it.
- Support: Support for free plugins is a bit tricky as it’s not guaranteed across the board. You’ll need to spend a bit of time investigating some of the questions and answers in the support forum. This will give you a good idea as to what you can expect should you decide to use the plugin, and also, it’ll help you make sure that the plugin developer is communicative with their plugin users.
How to Install a Plugin on Your WordPress Website
The following guide will take you through the process of installing a plugin onto your WordPress website.
While plugins are all installed in just about the same way, they’ll each have unique set up options and configuration settings so be sure to follow the respective guides or documentation notes offered by the various plugin developers or agencies.
Another thing to note is that plugins will install in different locations around your WordPress site. Sometimes, they’ll create their own menu item, or they can sit in the Appearance or Settings menu. If need be, search around through various sections of your WordPress dashboard.
Install a Plugin from the WordPress Plugin Search
The easiest way to install a plugin onto your WordPress website is to use the plugin search function. For this, navigate to Plugins > Add New and look for the search bar.
In the search bar, type in the name of the plugin, or the function that you’d like the plugin to achieve. For this demonstration, I’ll install Caldera Forms – a contact form plugin that offers incredible functionality within the free version.
Once you have searched for and found the desired plugin, click on the Install button to begin the installation process.
Once the installation process has run its course, click on the blueActivate button. Note, you must click Activate, otherwise, the plugin won’t work.
Once activated, the plugin is ready to go. Some may have set up and configuration options that’ll need to be executed before you can start using them so be sure to check out the plugin documentation.
In the example of Caldera Forms, the plugin creates its own unique menu. If the plugin you’ve installed and activated doesn’t create its own menu, search around in the Settings, Plugins, Appearance menus to locate the plugin.
Install a Plugin Using the Admin Upload Plugin Function
Another easy way to add a plugin is to use the Admin Upload Plugin function. For this, you’ll need to have the plugin files at hand, previously downloaded from the WordPress repository, ready to upload.
Head over to the WordPress Repository and search for a desired plugin. Remember to check out the plugin stats (i.e. the number of active installs, reviews, last update date etc.). You can also find key information here, such as the plugin’s documentation, support forum, installation information and much more.
Once you’ve found a plugin (for example, Yoast) click the Download button (a download will start automatically).
Once complete, you’ll find a .zip file in your computer’s Downloads folder.
WordPress uses a .zip file format to add its themes and plugins. The .zip file that would have just finished downloading is the correct file that needs to be uploaded. You don’t need to do anything to this file at all. If you decide to open and unzip the .zip file, keep in mind that only the .zip file will be accepted.
In the Plugins > Add New menu, click on the Upload Plugin button.
Then, click on Choose File and browse through your recent downloads to locate the plugin. Select the plugin’s .zip file and click Install Now.
Now, let the installation run its course, and, once complete, remember toclick Activate.
Again, if there are specific configuration settings, as is the case with Yoast SEO, refer to the individual plugin guide.
Manually Installing a Plugin Using FTP
Almost all of the time, the first two plugin upload methods will suffice, but in some cases, such as when certain hosting service providers impose file restrictions, you may experience a problem with uploading a plugin. For these such cases, manually uploading the plugin will work.
Note, this method is rather complicated and isn’t recommended for beginners, but luckily the first two upload methods should work almost all of the time. Before continuing, make a backup of the site.
For this demonstration, I’ll use one of the Divi Space products, Testify.
Just like the free plugins, premium plugins will ship in a .zip file structure, ready to be uploaded. To use the FTP method, you’ll need to unzip the .zip file and expose the file structure. This is the only plugin upload method that requires the unzipping of the .zip file. To unzip the file, simply double click on the .zip file and after a moment or two, a folder with the same name will appear. In the case of manually FTPing the plugin to the server use the extracted folder, not the .zip file.
To begin, open up your FTP client (I’m using Filezilla) and begin a new connection to the server of the desired website. If you’re not sure what your login details are you’ll need to contact your hosting service provider.
Once you have logged into the server you’ll see two panels: the Local Site and the Remote Site.
The left-hand side, called the Local Site, is your computer. Here, you’re able to see all of the files and folders on your own computer.
The right-hand side, called the Remote Site, is the server of the website you’re trying to add a plugin to.
Depending on the server set up, you’ll either land directly in the public_html folder or you’ll be able to select it. The public_html file is also referred to as the Root folder. This folder is the core folder that contains all of the files associated with your website.
To begin the upload process you need to find the unzipped plugin folder on your computer. Typically, this will be in your Downloads folder. Navigate to the left-hand panel (Local Site) and search for the plugin folder on your computer.
Once you have found the unzipped plugin folder, navigate to the right-hand panel (Remote Site). Here, you’ll need to find the Plugin folder in your site files. The path will be: public_html/wp-content/plugins. Be very careful as you navigate in this space as tinkering in the wrong place could result in breaking the website.
Once you have found the plugin folder on the Remote Site simply drag the plugin folder from the left hand panel (Local Site) across and wait for the installation to run. Once complete, you’ll see a success message.
Now, return to your WordPress website and navigate to the Plugins menu. Here, you’ll see that the plugin has been successfully installed. At this point, you need to click Activate to start using the plugin.
Again, if there are any specific configuration settings, refer to the respective plugin guide.
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