WordPress Plugins Explained

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

Add New Functionality To Your Website With PluginsOne of the main benefits of WordPress is the ability to quickly and easily expand your WP web site’s functionality using inexpensive (and often 100% free) software called ’plugins’.

What Are Plugins?

Like most people, you probably own a device like a mobile phone. What happens when you want access to something new on your device like a new application, software or a tool?

Why, simple … you download and install an app!

An app is a little software application that is really easy to install and immediately integrates new features and functionality into a smart device.

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

(Just as you will find social sharing apps for smart devices …)

A WordPress plugin is quite similar to an app. You install and activate a software application that provides new functionality to your WP site …

A Basic Guide To WP Plugins

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

Generally, if you plan to expand the functionality of an already-built web site, additional cost is involved. Depending on the complexity of the feature or enhancement, this cost can be significant, particularly if website developers need to add new code or modify code or install programs to integrate into your existing site.

This also applies when developing a new website. Business owners often invest up-front in features or customizations they probably will never need.

To save money and keep costs low, we suggest a sustainable strategy when setting up a website and WP plugins are ideal for helping you achieve this.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could:

1) Start simply and inexpensively. Get your business web presence up and running fast, then …

2) As the need becomes apparent, install new applications with a couple of mouse clicks directly from your WordPress administration panel, giving your website or blog an entirely new range of practical functionality, and …

3) Cost not a single cent more to install on your website?

Well, this is exactly what WP plugins allow you to do!

Benefits & Advantages Of Plugins

I started this article by comparing WP plugins with apps. Just like many apps are free to download and some apps may cost a little money, so do plugins.

In fact, loads of fantastic plugins can be downloaded and installed on your sites.

Plugins that you buy are referred to as Premium plugins. The good news, is that when you compare it to the price of hiring a professional web developer to add similar features and functionality on your site, most Premium plugins are typically very inexpensive.

Also, because WordPress distributes its software as an Open Source application, anybody can create, edit and customize any portion of the code. This has enabled many professional web development companies to create more tools that add new functionality to the WordPress platform than you can probably imagine.

  • WP plugins let you get started with a basic site and then add new features and enhancements to your site if necessary.
  • Plugins allow you to add almost unlimited features to any site easily and inexpensively.
  • Plugins give your web site virtually unlimited expanding capabilities.
  • Plugins allow ”non-techies” to own a site that they can self-manage.
  • Most plugins normally work “right out of the box” and only require installation and activation to give your web site new capabilities, enhancements and functionality.
  • Some plugins can be slightly more advanced and could require some initial configuring.

Plugins – Powerful, Flexible … And (Many Of Them Are) Completely FREE!

Just like themes, thousands of great plugins are currently available to WP users … often at no cost!

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

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

As mentioned earlier, you will find plugins that will do almost everything you can imagine.

There are plugins for:

  • Blog Administration
  • Content Distribution
  • Driving Web Traffic
  • Visitor Engagement
  • Social Connectivity
  • Media Utilities Automation
  • Increasing Website Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data & System Reporting Applications
  • Site SEO

You can add features to your WordPress site with plugins such as:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • User Surveys
  • Rotating ad banners
  • E-commerce (from setting up single-item ordering with PayPal buttons, to full e-commerce with shopping carts, payment processing, recurring billing, coupons, etc …)
  • Social sharing buttons
  • Private Membership sites
  • List-building opt-in forms
  • Sales workflow
  • Mobile conversion
  • Improving your site’s Search Engine Optimization
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User testimonial forms
  • Language translation (e.g. you can instantly change your website’s content from English to Norwegian)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation
  • Customer interactivity – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Offline storage integration
  • Making pages load faster
  • Managing events
  • Business directories
  • Automatically sell and manage spots on your blog
  • Set client appointments and reminders
  • Set up reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks on your pages and email you reports
  • Redirect web links
  • Monitor social signals
  • Make your pages available for printing or downloading as PDF
  • Add sitemaps
  • Exclude pages from displaying on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Hide page content sections
  • Migrate information from non-WordPress platforms
  • Perform bulk data replacements
  • Prevent SPAM
  • Customize visitor discussions (e.g. display Facebook comments)
  • Insert scripts and code elements into your pages
  • Add and format tables
  • Add animated graphics and advanced content formatting options
  • Add and manage QR codes
  • Improve your local search listings on Google
  • Add a map of your business location
  • Post your content automatically on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and many others
  • Show countdown timers (for expiring offers, coupons, etc …)
  • Display personalized greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And hundreds of other features!

As it’s clear to see, WP plugins give you virtually endless possibilities. If you are currently planning to build a website, or your existing website isn’t powered by WordPress, then consider getting one built on your domain, or you will be missing out on some serious features.

If you’re still wondering just how powerful and flexible plugins are, let me show you how you can benefit instantly by adding an inexpensive plugin to your website.

For example, if you need to protect your content, you can use plugins to make an area of your post or page inaccessible, or transform your WordPress site into a full membership site with separate login details for users …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

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

A Useful Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

To increasing your business reach across social media and search engines …

A Basic Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also add sophisticated features to your website using relatively inexpensive paid WordPress plugins. For example, you can purchase plugins that integrate and automate processes on your pages such as customer feedback and event registrations management …

A Practical Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

And even set up a complete bookings and reservations system on your site … all for a tiny fraction of the cost of hiring software developers to code the same functionality for you …

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

Additionally, you can take advantage of native WP commenting features and plugins that can increase user engagement …

A Practical Guide To WP Plugins

For example, your web visitors can easily:

  • Leave comments on your site (which can turn into online discussions) using either the native WP commenting feature, or integrated Facebook comments (which then get shared throughout a visitors’ Facebook pages, providing you with additional exposure).
  • Bookmark your posts on social networking sites.
  • Contact you using contact forms
  • Engage online directly with other customers using online forums or even set up an online social network on your site.
  • Engage with members of your team via live video chats
  • Call your business directly from their smart phones when browsing your pages
  • Get support via a user support helpdesk
  • And so much more …

A Basic Guide To WordPress Plugins

You can even integrate sophisticated enterprise-level applications within a WordPress “front end”. This lets you control your business sales and marketing, while the third-party application handles the technical aspects …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

Useful Things You Should Know About WordPress Plugins

  • There are many WordPress plugins available. Be careful of overloading your site with too many plugins, as this can begin to affect your website’s resources and site loading times. It can also create more maintenance work for you as a consequence of potential conflicts and errors.
  • Install only the plugins you really plan to use. Delete any plugins you don’t use from your site, as these use resources.
  • Many free plugins normally receive little to no support from the plugin developer. When choosing premium WP plugins, ensure that you do a little research first to see what kind of reputation the developer has when it comes to providing support, upgrades, new features, etc. Be sure to check some of our WordPress plugin recommendations for more information.
  • If you see that a plugin has not been updated for a very long time (e.g. two years), then think twice before using it. WordPress is updated frequently and outdated WP plugins can cause errors.
  • Always keep all plugins up-to-date. Outdated plugins not only can create errors, they may also contain vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers and malware.

A Guide To WP Plugins

As you can see, WP plugins are an important aspect of WordPress and contribute to making WordPress the most downloaded content management solution in the world. Plugins also provide WordPress users with an easy, simple and inexpensive way to expand without having to spend thousands of dollars on outsourced web development costs.

One last thing regarding WP plugins:

If there is any feature or functionality you need for your web site, you can be sure that a someone has probably already authored one that will do just what you want it to do, and that this plugin will either be available at no cost, or if it’s a premium plugin, that the price to buy it 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 chance this plugin does not exist, then a custom plugin that does precisely what you would like it to do can probably be written for you at a reasonable cost.

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of WP plugins – what plugins are and how they can help improve your business blog. See our related posts to learn about more popular plugins that we recommend using.

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"I was absolutely amazed at the scope and breadth of these tutorials! The most in-depth training I have ever received on any subject!" - Myke O'Neill, DailyGreenPost.com

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Plugins Explained.