WordPress Plugins Explained

This tutorial explains what WordPress plugins are, how plugins work and how plugins help WordPress users extend their website’s functionality. 

Using WP Plugins To Expand Your Web Site's FeaturesOne of the most unique benefits of the WordPress content publishing platform is the ability to quickly enhance your WordPress site’s functionality using plugins.

About WordPress Plugins

No doubt, you most likely own a cell phone. What do you do when you would like access to something new on your phone like a new software or a business tool?

You download and install an app!

An app is a little piece of software that is very easy to install and instantly adds new features to your mobile device.

A Guide To WP Plugins

(Just as there are social sharing apps for smart phones …)

A WordPress plugin is like an app. You download and install a software that provides new functionality to your website …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

(… there are also social sharing plugins for WP sites!)

Almost always, if you plan to expand the functionality of your site, additional cost is involved. Depending on how complex the features or enhancements are, this could get quite expensive, especially if website developers have to create new code or edit programs or develop scripts that integrate into your current site.

This also applies to setting up a new web site. Organizations often spend up front on features and customizations they may never need.

For sound, strategic business planning reasons, we recommend using a cost-effective approach to developing a website and WordPress plugins are ideal for doing this.

Imagine if you could:

1) Start simply and inexpensively. Get your website up and running quickly, then …

2) As new features and functionality become necessary, add new software modules with only a couple of clicks of the mouse directly from within your admin panel, to give your web site an entirely new and expanded range of useful capabilities, and also …

3) Cost not one dollar more to add to your web site?

Well, that’s precisely what a plugin enables you to do!

Benefits & Advantages Of Plugins

I began this blog post by comparing WP plugins with apps. In a similar way that many apps are free to download and some may cost a little money, so do WordPress plugins.

In fact, loads of plugins are available at no cost to users.

WordPress plugins that cost money are referred to as “Premium” plugins. The good news, is that when you compare these to the price of investing in web development services to get the same features and functionality on your site, most Premium plugins are generally quite inexpensive.

Also, because WordPress is an Open Source application, anybody can create, modify and customize any portion of the code. This has enabled many professional software development professionals to create more new tools that expand the WordPress platform than you can imagine.

  • Plugins allow you to get started simply with a simple web presence and add new features and enhancements to your site when required.
  • Plugins let you add practically endless features to your web presence quickly and very cheaply.
  • WP plugins give you almost unlimited expansion capabilities.
  • WordPress plugins allow ”non-techies” to own a website that they can fully manage.
  • Most plugins will normally work “right out of the box” and only require installation and activation to provide your website with immediate enhancements and features.
  • Some plugins are slightly more advanced and may need some initial configuration.

Plugins – Powerful, Flexible … And (Often) Completely FREE!

Like WordPress themes, loads of great plugins are available to WordPress users … often at no cost!

You can download thousands of plugins from the Free WordPress Plugin Repository

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

As mentioned earlier, you will find WP plugins that can do just about everything you could imagine.

Plugin categories cover:

  • Website Management
  • Content Management
  • Online Traffic Generation
  • Visitor Engagement
  • Social Engagement
  • Media Management Automation
  • Improving Sales Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data & System Analysis Applications
  • Securing Your WP Site

For example, you can add features to a website with plugins such as:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • Social contests
  • Managing banners
  • E-commerce (from managing single ordering with PayPal buttons, to complete e-commerce with online shopping carts, invoicing, recurring billing, coupon codes, etc …)
  • Social sharing buttons
  • Private Membership sites
  • List-building opt-in forms
  • Sales funnels
  • Mobile conversion
  • Improving your site’s SEO
  • Image galleries (with rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User feedback forms
  • Language translation (e.g. you can instantly change your website’s content from English to French)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation menus
  • Customer interactivity – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Media integration
  • Making pages load faster
  • Event management
  • Niche directories
  • Automatically sell and manage spots on your blog
  • Set appointments and reminders
  • Help customers make reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks on your pages and email you reports
  • Redirect users from broken pages to other pages on your site or other sites
  • Monitor social signals
  • Make your pages available for printing or downloading as PDF
  • Add sitemaps
  • Exclude specific from showing on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Protect page content sections
  • Import content from non-WordPress platforms
  • Search and replace data
  • Block SPAM
  • Customize guest discussions (e.g. display Facebook posts)
  • Inserting HTML and script elements into your posts, pages and sidebar menus
  • Add formatted tables
  • Display animated graphics and advanced text formatting options
  • Add and manage QR codes
  • Improve Google search results
  • Add a map
  • Post your posts automatically on social pages like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon and others
  • Display countdown timers (for special offers, coupons, etc …)
  • Display personal greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so much more!

As it’s clear to see, WordPress plugins give you practically limitless possibilities. If you plan to build a website or blog for your business, or your existing site isn’t powered by WordPress, then consider getting a WP site or blog built on your domain, or you will be missing out on some serious features.

In case you’re still wondering about the power and flexibility of using WordPress plugins, let’s take a look at how you can benefit by adding a plugin to your site.

For example, if you want to protect your content, you can use plugins to make a section of your page inaccessible, or create a full membership site with separate login details for each user …

A Non-Technical User's Guide To WordPress Plugins

As mentioned before, you can use free plugins to improve your web site in so many different ways. From installing functionality that can enhance your business, your visitors’ experience and your understanding of what is taking place on your site …

A Beginner's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

To increasing your site’s visibility across a number of social media and search engines …

A Basic Guide To WP Plugins

You can also add advanced features to your site using relatively inexpensive paid plugins. For example, you can download plugins that integrate and automate features on your pages like user feedback and event registrations management …

A Basic Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

And also set up a custom-branded bookings and reservations system on your site … all for a tiny fraction of the cost of paying software developers to code similar applications for you …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

Additionally, you can take advantage of native WP commenting features and plugins that will make your site even more interactive …

A Practical Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

For example, your visitors can easily:

  • Leave comments on your blog posts (which can turn into online discussions) using either the built-in WP commenting feature, or integrated Facebook comments (which are then displayed throughout your visitors’ Facebook pages, giving your site increased exposure).
  • Bookmark your content on social networking sites.
  • Contact you via contact forms
  • Engage in online discussions with other members using forums or even set up a private online community on your own domain.
  • Engage with members of your team using live chats
  • Call your business directly from their cellphones while visiting your site
  • Get support via a user support helpdesk
  • And so much more …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also integrate sophisticated “back end” applications within a WordPress “front end”. This lets you manage your business marketing, while the third-party application handles the technical aspects …

A Beginner's Guide To WP Plugins

WP Plugins – Some Useful Tips

  • There are lots of plugins available. Be careful not to overload your site with too many plugins, as this will begin to affect your website’s performance and site loading speed. It can also create more maintenance work for you resulting from potential errors.
  • Install only those plugins that you really use. Delete inactive plugins from your site, as these also utilize resources.
  • Many free plugins typically receive very little to no support from the plugin developer. When choosing paid plugins, make sure you check some reviews online and understand what kind of reputation the plugin developer has when it comes to providing support, updates, new improvements, etc. Be sure to check the plugin reviews we publish on this site for more expert information.
  • If you see that a plugin has not been updated for a while (e.g. two years), then think carefully before using it on your site. The WordPress platform changes regularly and older plugins that have not been updated can create issues.
  • Make sure that you always maintain all plugins up-to-date. Outdated plugin not only can cause errors, they could also contain security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers and malicious users.

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

As you can see, plugins are an integral part of WordPress and contribute to making WordPress the most preferred website management application in the world. Plugins also provide WordPress users with an easy, simple and inexpensive way to add new functionality to their web presence without spending thousands of dollars on web development costs.

One last thing on the subject of WP plugins:

Whatever feature or functionality you want for your web site, you can guarantee that a plugin probably exists that will do what you need, and that it can either be downloaded at no cost, or if it’s a premium plugin, that the cost will be reasonable.

Whatever you need done, there's a WordPress plugin for that!

(Whatever you need done, there’s a WordPress plugin for that!)

And, if by any chance this WordPress plugin has not been created yet, then a custom plugin that does just what you would like it to do can probably be coded for you for a very reasonable price.

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of WP plugins – what they are and how they can enhance the functionality of your website. See our related posts section to learn about more popular plugins that we recommend using.


"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)


Originally published as WordPress Plugins Explained.