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 Extend Your Web Site's FunctionalityOne of the most useful advantages of using WordPress is the ability to quickly and easily enhance your WordPress web site’s functionality using plugins.

What Are Plugins?

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

You download and install an app!

An app is a software that is really simple and easy to install and instantly integrates new features and functionality into a mobile device.

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

(Just like you will find social sharing apps …)

A WP plugin is like an app. You download and install an application that adds new functionality to your website or blog …

A Newbie's Guide To WP Plugins

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

Generally, expanding the functionality of an already-built website involves additional cost. Depending on how complex the feature or enhancement is, this cost can be fairly significant, especially if it requires website development.

This also applies when creating a new website. Many business owners will often pay up front for features they probably will never need.

For sound, strategic business planning reasons, we recommend a sustainable approach when developing a web presence presence and WP plugins are ideal for doing this.

Imagine if you could:

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

2) As more features or functionality become necessary, add new applications with just a couple of clicks of the mouse that integrate seamlessly with your existing web site, giving your website or blog an entirely new and expanded range of useful capabilities, and …

3) Cost not one dollar extra to install on your web site?

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

Plugins – Benefits And Advantages

Earlier, we compared WordPress plugins with ’apps’. In a similar way that some apps are free to download and some may cost a little money, so do WordPress plugins.

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

Plugins that you purchase are referred to as Premium plugins. The good news, is that when compared to the price of hiring a professional web developer to get similar functionality on your site, most Premium (i.e. paid) plugins cost very little.

Also, since WordPress is an Open Source application, anybody can create, rewrite and customize any portion of the code. This has allowed thousands of third-party software development companies to build more tools that expand the WordPress software than you can imagine.

  • Plugins let you get started with just a basic yet professional online business presence and then add new features and enhancements to your site if required.
  • WP plugins let you add practically endless functionality to any site quickly and really inexpensively.
  • WordPress plugins give you practically unlimited expanding capabilities.
  • Plugins allow business owners to own a website that they can self-manage.
  • Most plugins typically work “right out of the box” and only require to be installed and activated to provide your site with new capabilities and enhancements.
  • Some plugins can be slightly more complex and may require some initial configuring.

Plugins – Powerful, Flexible … And (Many Of Them Are) 100% FREE!

Like many themes, loads of plugins are currently available to WP users … and many of these great plugins are 100% FREE!

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

A Beginner's Guide To WP Plugins

As mentioned earlier, you can find plugins that can do almost everything you could think of.

Plugin categories cover:

  • Site Administration
  • Content Syndication
  • Driving Web Visitors
  • User Interactivity
  • Social Connectivity
  • Media Utilities Automation
  • Improving Website Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data Analysis Tools
  • WordPress Optimization

For example, you can expand a website with plugins such as:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • Social contests
  • Display banners
  • E-commerce (from managing single ordering with PayPal buttons, to complete e-commerce with online shopping carts, payment processing, recurring payments, discount codes, etc …)
  • Social media integration
  • Private Membership sites
  • List-building subscription forms
  • Sales funnels
  • Mobile integration
  • Improving your site’s SEO
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User feedback forms
  • Language translation plugins (e.g. you can instantly change your website’s content from English to Portuguese)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation
  • Customer interactivity – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Offline storage management
  • Faster page loading
  • Managing events & bookings
  • Business listing directories
  • Automatically sell and manage spots on your site
  • Set up appointments and appointment reminders
  • Manage reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks on your pages and email you reports
  • Redirect visitors from certain pages to other pages on your site or other sites
  • Monitor social conversations
  • Make your pages available for printing or downloading as PDF
  • Add sitemaps
  • Exclude certain from showing on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Hide content on your pages and posts
  • Import data from non-WordPress platforms
  • Perform bulk content edits
  • Block SPAM
  • Customize guest commenting (e.g. display Facebook posts)
  • Inserting code and code elements into your site’s header and footer
  • Add tables
  • Display animated graphic elements and advanced font display formatting options
  • Create and manage QR codes
  • Improve your local search listings on Google
  • Add a map
  • Distribute your content automatically on social pages like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon and others
  • Show countdown timers (for expiring offers, discount coupons, etc …)
  • Display personalized greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so much more!

As you can clearly see, WordPress plugins give you practically endless possibilities. If you plan to build a web site for your business, or your existing site wasn’t built with WordPress, then consider getting a WordPress site or blog 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’s take a look at some practical uses of adding an inexpensive plugin to your web site.

For example, if you need to publish content which is only accessible to some but not all users, you can install plugins to make just a couple of paragraphs on your post or page inaccessible, or transform your WordPress site into a full membership site with separate login details for users …

A Practical Guide To WordPress Plugins

As mentioned before, free plugins can be used to improve your website in lots of ways. From installing new features that enhance your business, your visitors’ experience and your ability to review visitor data …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

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

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also add sophisticated features to your website using relatively inexpensive paid plugins. For example, you can purchase plugins that automate functions on your site like displaying customer testimonials and event bookings …

A Useful Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

And also set up a complete bookings and reservations system online … all for a tiny fraction of the cost of hiring software developers to design custom functionality for you …

A Practical Guide To WP Plugins

Additionally, you can take advantage of built-in WP commenting features and plugins that can enhance visitor engagement …

A Basic Guide To WordPress Plugins

For example, your web visitors can easily:

  • Leave comments on your blog posts (which can grow into online discussions) using either the built-in WP commenting function, or integrated Facebook comments (which then get displayed throughout your visitors’ Facebook pages, giving your site added exposure).
  • Share your posts with other web visitors on bookmarking sites.
  • Contact you using contact forms
  • Engage in online discussions with your team members using forums or even set up a private social network on your own site.
  • Engage with your support team using live chats
  • Call your business from their smart phones while visiting your pages
  • Open a support ticket
  • And so much more …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

Finally you, can even integrate sophisticated “back end” solutions using a WordPress “front end”. This lets you manage the content that your visitors will see on your website, while your third-party application handles the technical side of things …

A Useful Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

WP Plugins – Some Useful Tips

  • There are loads of plugins to choose from. Be careful of overloading your server with an excessive amount of plugins, as this will inevitably affect your website’s performance and page loading speed. It can also mean more maintenance work for you as a result of possible errors.
  • Only keep those plugins that you really need to use. Delete any plugins you don’t need from your site, as these use server resources.
  • Many free plugins normally come with very little to no support from the plugin author. When considering paid plugins, ensure that you do a little research first to understand what kind of reputation the plugin developer has when it comes to providing support, updates, new features, etc. Be sure to check some of our WordPress plugin reviews for more information.
  • If you see that an unsupported plugin has not been updated for a very long time (e.g. two or more years), then think twice before installing it on your site. The WordPress platform changes regularly and older plugins that have not been updated can create issues.
  • Always upgrade your plugins. Older plugin not only can create errors and conflicts, they could also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and malicious users.

A Useful Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

As you can see, WP plugins are an integral part of WordPress and contribute to making WordPress the most powerful, flexible and scalable content management system in the world. Plugins also provide WordPress users with easy, simple and inexpensive ways to expand quickly without spending thousands of dollars on web developers.

One last thing about WP plugins:

Whatever feature you need for your website, you can guarantee that a someone has probably already developed one that will do exactly what you want it to do, and that this plugin will either be available at no cost, or if it’s a paid plugin, that the cost will be very 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 such a plugin is not available, then one can probably be created for you for a reasonable price.

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of plugins – what they are and how they can to improve your web site. See our published posts to learn about more useful WordPress 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.