The Only Guide You Need to WordPress Plugins: How to Choose and Use Them

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WordPress is one of the oldest and best website creation and hosting platforms on the market. As of May 27, 2021, if WordPress were a person, it would be old enough to vote at 18 years old. It’s no wonder that this titan in the web-hosting field has so many plugins and customizable options to make each website you construct through their service feel truly unique.

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However, navigating the minefield that is WordPress plugins to find the ones which work best for your site, niche, and needs can be difficult, even for seasoned users. Thankfully, our guide is here to take some mystery out of finding the best WordPress plugins for any size or industry.

What Are WordPress Plugins?

Before we delve into which WordPress plugins will work best for any site you create, let’s define some terms. What are WordPress plugins?

In programming terms, a plugin is a software add-on that can be installed on a program. This software add-on enhances or alters the program’s capabilities but does not alter the source code itself. This allows plugins to get swapped in and out as needed to keep your website running smoothly.

What Do Plugins Do, Exactly?

Anything the coder wants them to. No, really. Plugins for WordPress can range from simple bug fixes to massive overhauls of how the base site works. You can make your site multilingual, add and enhance payment options for products, or automate administrative tasks on the back end, so you don’t have to finagle with as much coding.

The limits on what plugins can do for your website only exist in your imagination. Your imagination or conflicting coding between two plugins, but we’ll discuss that in more depth later.

Who Has Access to WordPress Plugins?

Anyone who uses self-hosted WordPress.org has access to all WordPress plugins from the moment of sign-up. However, for those who use WordPress.com, you will have to use their business package to unlock plugin use. The basic version, sadly, does not offer this functionality.

How Do You Install WordPress Plugins?

The process for installing plugins on WordPress is simple itself. There are three different install methods, and we discuss the steps for each below:

Uploading a Plugin

If you hired a coder to write a WordPress plugin for you or purchased a paid plugin from elsewhere, you’d have to upload said plugin to WordPress to use it. To accomplish that, you’ll need to download the plugin or compile it into .zip format. Then, head to the WordPress Admin area.

From there, click Plugins, then Add New. After that, you’ll click Upload Plugin, which is at the top of the page. Select Choose File to get the plugin from your computer, and then click on Install Now. From there, WordPress uploads and installs the plugin.

Once installation completes, you’ll be taken to a screen confirming the installation. However, your plugin will not be active until you click the Activate Plugin button. After that, your plugin will be ready to use.

Manually Installing a Plugin With FTP

In most cases, you will not have to know how to do this. However, if your WordPress hosting provider limits your access to the Admin page, this workaround will let you install the plugin manually. This process is not the most user-friendly, but don’t despair. We’ll take you through the steps.

  • Download the source plugin as a .zip file
  • Extract the contents of the .zip file using 7Zip, WinRAR, or something similar
  • Visit your File Transfer Protocol (FTP) manager.
  • Open the FTP client, log in, and search for the folder labeled /wp-content/plugins/
  • Upload the extracted plugin’s folder into the /wp-content/plugins/ folder
  • After uploading, the plugin should be visible in the admin area
  • Then, activate the plugin to start using it

It doesn’t seem very easy at first. In truth, the most difficult part will likely be getting the FTP client’s login information from your hosting provider. The rest is simple after that.

Installing a Plugin With WordPress Search

This is, by far, the easiest method to install WordPress plugins. We saved it for last because you may need to know how to do the others later, and we wanted to save you an additional search to know how to do it the long way.

There are limits to WordPress Plugin Search, as it only includes plugins in WordPress’s official directory. This limits your options to free plugins only. However, even with that limitation in mind, there’s plenty that the free plugins can accomplish for your website.

As with the Upload method, you’ll need to visit the Admin Page, then click Plugins and Add New. Then, type either the plugin’s name or the function you want to perform in the search bar. Find the one you’re looking for, then click ‘Install Now.

WordPress handles the download and installation processes for you. After those are done, the Install Now button will change into the Activate button. Click Activate, configure your plugin, and you’re good to go!

What Does Configuring Your Plugin Mean?

Configuring, in a programming sense, refers to adjusting the plugin’s settings and parameters so that it has the effects that you want. Whether it’s for WordPress or Google Chrome, Pretty much any plugin has configurable settings that affect how it runs.

Each plugin has different configuration settings, so we won’t understand how to configure the commonly used ones here. You’ll need to check the installation documentation or programmer’s help guides to sort out what settings will help you best.

The Best WordPress Plugins Every Site Needs to Have

WordPress has a wide variety of plugins with functions suited for every kind of website known to man. Whether you’re searching for the best WordPress donation plugin or something to optimize your blog’s SEO, you can find what you need. Below, we have a list of the WordPress plugins that nearly every site on the web can benefit from having.

SEO

Without Search Engine Optimization, your website has no visibility, no visitors, and no traffic. Without traffic, your business dies. Fortunately, there are a host of WordPress plugins designed to help you with your SEO needs. Some of the most popular include:

  • YoastSEO: This beast of a plugin lets you add site redirects, meta tags and sync your site with the Google Search Console
  • SEMRush: This plugin serves as an all-in-one SEO suite, allowing you to conduct keyword research, audit backlinks, and much more
  • All in One SEO: With an easy setup process and a smart tag generator, you can automate much of the process of updating your SEO tags with this plugin

With these three plugins alone, you have a powerful SEO suite that will allow your site to sweep right past all of your competitors.

Looking Closer At Your Analytics

Want to know who’s visiting your site, for how long, and how they find you? Tracking your site’s analytics will give you key insights into your user experience and help you make adjustments on the fly to account for changing needs. With that in mind, these are the analytics plugins that every WordPress site could use:

  • MonsterInsights: This plugin connects your website to Google Analytics and shows you the stats that truly matter right in your WordPress Dashboard
  • Google Analytics: As expected by the release from Google itself, this free plugin offers loads of insights and an easy installation process
  • Heap: As much a benefit for e-commerce sites as other blogs, Heap shows you data on every swipe, page view, click, and conversion

By tracking this data from visitors to your website, you’ll be able to update your site for changing consumer needs.

Security and Disaster Prevention

No one wants to think about it, but the risk of hacking looms over every website existing today. If your website gets hacked, not only can you lose up to years of your hard work, but your customers’ data could be exposed and endangered. Getting your website hacked also reduces user trust, which will damage your business over time.

That’s why finding plugins to improve security and back up your website in the event of a disaster is so important. Here are two of the best options on the market:

  • Sucuri: This key plugin offers some of the best protection you can find on the web, from brute force attacks to malware protection
  • UpdraftPlus: The most popular WordPress backup plugin available, offering automatic backups stored in remote locations so that you can quickly get your site back online

With these two plugins working in concert, you’ll be protected from most threats and able to recover if one manages to get through.

Aesthetic Customization for Non-Coders

WordPress is a wonderful platform, but its standard themes can something to be desired. However, you don’t have to be a coding whiz to get a custom-looking website. These plugins will do all the heavy lifting for you and let you focus on the creative side of the process:

  • SeedProd: With drag and drop simplicity, you can customize your website and how your pages look without a line of coding on your end
  • CSS Hero: A simple point-and-click interface will let you use WordPress’s default themes but bring the absolute best out in them
  • PageBuilder: A basic drag and drop interface allows you to customize your webpages along a grid

Not everyone who starts a website is a coder, and with the plugins listed above, you don’t have to be to get the best-looking website for your business and niche.

Plugins for Sellers and Merchants

Whether they sell products or services, those who run online stores will need certain plugins to let WordPress accommodate their business. The plugins listed below are standard-issue add-ons for most online merchants:

  • WooCommerce: The big boy of the lot, WooCommerce has all the features you need for an online store compiled in one place
  • LearnDash: When you want to create and sell online courses à la Udemy and SkillShare, this plugin’s drag and drop course creator should be your first go-to
  • WP-Chatbot: No matter what you sell, having a chatbot on your website can help users find their way to your products and services faster or request assistance if they need it
  • Easy Digital Downloads: If your product or service is digital in nature, then this is your best bet to manage your online sales process

With the above plugins in hand, you won’t need to break the bank hiring a coder to make a safe, secure, and fun online shopping experience for your customers.

Troubleshooting Your Plugins

Technology is fantastic when it works. Sadly, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do. When your plugins don’t work, figuring out the cause is crucial to help your site get back online and functioning. Here are some common reasons why your plugins may not be working as they should:

Did You Activate It?

We know this question is in the vein of “Did you turn it off and back on again?” but stay with us for a moment. In a rush to install new plugins, it’s easy to forget to activate a new one. Check to make sure you did, and if so, try deactivating and reactivating it to ‘reset’ it.

Conflicting Code

Not every plugin plays nice with one another. This holds especially true when two or more plugins alter the same core functions of a site. Try selectively deactivating plugins to see if it’s a compatibility issue.

Check for Updates

If WordPress recently updated, but the plugin hasn’t done the same, that could be the source of your problem. Check and see when your plugins were last updated, and install any ready updates. This should improve your performance.

Back to Basics: How WordPress Plugins Help You

Installing, configuring, and using WordPress plugins can add many custom functions to your website. However, you must ensure they get installed properly and don’t conflict with one another. If you do that, then you’ll be able to make your site do whatever you want it to do.

If you’re a WordPress-based business and want some more tips and tricks on improving your website’s performance, look at the Blogger and Computer sections of our website for more content like this!