There are literally tens of thousands of plugins available for your WordPress website and, to cite an even more impressive statistic, there have been over one biiillion (little pinky in side of mouth) downloads of these plugins.
Good to know, but what exactly are WordPress Plugins?
When WordPress was originally developed in the early ’00’s it was made as a lightweight blogging platform. Lightweight meant WordPress websites would load very quickly making them attractive to end users as well as website owners. However this did mean less built-in functionality.
In a very clever move the WordPress community decided that additional functionality should be added to the platform through the use of Plugins. People managing a website could just load the plugins they needed, keeping their website as light as possible but with the functionality required.
So, WordPress Plugins add specific features and functionality to a website.
You can see which plugins are in use on your website by clicking on Plugins in the left hand WordPress menu. All installed plugins are listed along with their version number, whether they need updating and so on.
TIP: Sometimes the settings that you need to configure for a plugin will be accessible from a link under the plugin name on the Plugins page. But other times you will have to go to either Settings>Plugin name, or Tools>Plugin name to get to the plugin settings. In rare cases a plugin will install itself on the root WordPress menu (the one running down the left hand side of the page). In other words, you might have to look around a bit to find plugin settings, but they will be in one of these three places.
Here are some plugins that we regularly install and use on the websites we build for others and for ourselves:
- Contact Form 7 (by Takayuki Miyoshi): Create simple or complicated contact forms to use on your Contact page or elsewhere.
- Anti-Spam (by Webvitaly): A very smart way of stopping spam comments from being submitted to the website.
- All in One SEO (by Michael Torbert): A great SEO tool that is simple but powerful.
- Google XML Sitemap (by Arne Brachhold): A proper sitemap tells Google all about the website. This is crucial for good SEO.
- WooCommerce (by WooThemes): This is a very powerful eCommerce shopping cart and payment system that lets you take payments through your website.
- UpdraftPlus Backup (by UpdraftPlus): Taking backups of your website is something you must get used to doing, particularly if your website changes regularly.
WordPress Plugins perform a similar function to iPhone or Android Apps and, like smart phone apps, they are most often free to use but have paid upgrade paths if you want premium functionality. The plugins listed above are all free.
It’s can be fun to browse through the available plugins just to see what’s out there. It can stimulate you to imagine new functionality for your website.
A couple of words of warning though:
- Adding plugins to your website adds files and code to the website. This impacts the speed at which a website will load.
- Some plugins can have poorly written code that, in the worst case scenario, conflicts with WordPress or other plugins. The plugin might seem to be working okay but there will be aspects of the website or plugins that don’t work properly.
TIP: The more plugins you add to your site, the more likely these negatives will become an issue for you. Try to keep the number of plugins you use to a minimum and delete plugins you no longer use.
Before installing a new plugin you should check the following information that is shown with each plugin at the download site in the plugins page of your website:
- How many installs have there been. A low number doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad plugin, but very high numbers usually mean it’s pretty safe.
- When was the plugin last updated. Plugins with simple functionality may not need updating that often, but as a rule a plugin that hasn’t been updated for, say, more than a year, is looking a bit dodgy. Why is the developer not continuing to improve their plugin?
- Is the plugin compatible with the latest version of WordPress. It takes plugins a little while to be updated for new versions of WordPress. That’s because the plugin developers often don’t get the new version of WordPress until it’s actually released. So give the plugin developers some grace. Weeks, months perhaps. But if a plugin is not compatible with the latest version of WordPress you should be careful.
- Go to the WordPress Plugins page (the link is at the top of this post) and check out even more information about the plugin including Installation, Reviews and Support.
After you have installed a new plugin take some time to check that the functionality on your website is working properly. Reconfigure the plugin if you need to. If you keep having issues you might be better off using a different plugin.
Enjoy! And let us know if you find any plugins that work particularly well for you.