WordPress Plugins Explained

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

Adding New Functionality To Your Website With PluginsOne of the most powerful benefits of building a website with WordPress is the ability to quickly enhance your WP website or blog’s functionality using plugins.

What Are Plugins?

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

You download and install an app!

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

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

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

A WordPress plugin is very similar to an app. You simply install an application that provides new functionality to your WordPress web site …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

(… you can also find social sharing plugins for WordPress sites!)

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

This also applies when setting up a web site. Businesses sometimes invest money on added features they probably will never need.

As part of sound strategic business planning, we recommend a sustainable strategy when setting up your web site and WordPress plugins are ideal for helping you achieve this.

Imagine if you could:

1) Start simply and inexpensively. Get a basic, professional business website up and running quickly, then …

2) As new features and functionality become necessary, simply install new software modules with a few clicks of the mouse directly from your WordPress administration area, giving your web site a completely new and expanded range of possibilities, and …

3) Cost not a single dollar extra to download and install on your website?

Well, that’s just what WP plugins allow you to do!

WP Plugins – Benefits And Advantages

Earlier, we compared plugins with apps. In a similar way that some apps are free to download and some apps cost a little money, the same applies with plugins.

In fact, thousands of great plugins can be downloaded to your website at no cost.

WordPress plugins that you buy are referred to as “Premium” plugins. The good news, is that when compared to the price of hiring a professional web developer to get the same functionality on your site, most Premium plugins are generally quite inexpensive.

Also, since WordPress is an Open Source application, any web developer can create, rewrite and customize any part of the WP code. This has enabled many third-party software development companies to create more new plugins that integrate with the WordPress application than you can probably imagine.

  • Plugins let you get started with a simple site and expand only if necessary.
  • Plugins let you add almost unlimited features to your online business presence easily, quickly and cheaply.
  • Plugins give your website virtually endless expanding capabilities.
  • Plugins allow anyone to own a website that they can manage themselves.
  • Most plugins normally work “right out of the box” and only require installation and activation to provide your website or blog with immediate enhancements and functionality.
  • Some plugins are slightly more advanced and may require some initial configuring.

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

Like many WP themes, tens of thousands of WordPress plugins are made available for WP users … and many of these great plugins are 100% FREE!

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

A Beginner's Guide To WP Plugins

As mentioned earlier, you will find plugins that will do just about everything you can think of.

Plugin categories cover:

  • User Administration
  • Content Syndication
  • Online Traffic Generation
  • User Engagement
  • Social Media
  • Media Utilities Automation
  • Increasing Website Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data And System Monitoring & Reporting Applications
  • Blog Security

You can enhance a website with plugins like the following:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • Social contests
  • Display banners
  • E-commerce (from setting up single sales with PayPal buttons, to full e-commerce stores with shopping carts, invoicing, recurring payments, discount codes, etc …)
  • Social sharing buttons
  • Membership sites
  • Newsletter subscription forms
  • Sales funnels
  • Mobile integration
  • Improving your site’s SEO
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • Customer feedback forms
  • Automatic language translation (e.g. you can instantly change your site’s content from English to Portuguese)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation
  • Customer engagement – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Media management
  • Faster page loading
  • Event management
  • Niche directories
  • Automatically sell advertising on your blog
  • Set client appointments and reminders
  • Automate reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks on your pages and send you reports
  • Redirect URLs
  • Monitor social signals
  • Make your pages printable or downloadable as a PDF file
  • Add a site map
  • Exclude certain from showing on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Protect content on your pages and posts
  • Import data from non-WordPress applications
  • Search and replace content
  • Block SPAM
  • Customize guest comment displays (e.g. displaying Facebook discussions)
  • Insert scripts and code elements into your site’s header and footer
  • Add tables
  • Add animated graphics and advanced content formatting options
  • Add and manage QR codes
  • Improve your local search listings on Google
  • Add location maps
  • Publicize your content automatically on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and others
  • Show countdown timers (for special offers, discount coupons, etc …)
  • Display personal greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so much more!

As you can clearly see, WP plugins give you virtually limitless possibilities. If you are currently planning to build a website or blog for your business, or your existing website isn’t powered by WordPress, then consider using it in the future.

In case you’re still wondering just how powerful and flexible WP plugins are, let’s take a look at some practical advantages of adding an inexpensive plugin to your web site.

For example, if you want content protection, you can install plugins to make a section of a post inaccessible, or transform your WordPress site into a complete membership site with personal login details for all users …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

As mentioned before, you can use free plugins to enhance your web site in lots of ways. From adding features that enhance your business, your site’s user experience and your ability to analyze website metrics …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

To extending your site’s reach across social sites and search engines …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

You can also add complex functionality to your site using inexpensive premium WordPress plugins. For example, you can purchase plugins that integrate and automate processes on your website such as managing customer testimonials and booking events …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

And even set up a custom-branded bookings and reservations system online … all for a tiny fraction of the cost of paying programmers to design these functionality for you …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

You can also take advantage of native WordPress commenting features and plugins that will allow you to engage even more with visitors, clients and registered site members …

A Practical Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

For example, your web visitors can:

  • Leave comments on your site (which can grow into online discussions) using either the built-in WordPress commenting feature, or integrated Facebook comments (which are then shared throughout a visitors’ Facebook pages, giving your site increased exposure).
  • Share your content with other online visitors on bookmarking sites.
  • Contact you via contact forms
  • Engage online with your team members through online forums or even set up a private online social network on your own site.
  • Engage with your staff through live chats
  • Call your business directly from their smart phones when visiting your pages
  • Open a support ticket
  • And so much more …

A Basic Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

You can also integrate complex 3rd-party applications using a WordPress “front end”. This enables you to control the content that your visitors will see on your website, while the third-party application handles the technical side of things …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

Some Useful Information About WordPress Plugins

  • There are lots of plugins available. Be careful of overloading your server with an excessive amount of plugins, as this will affect your site’s performance and page loading times. It can also create more maintenance work for you resulting from potential conflicts.
  • Install only those plugins that you really use. Delete all unnecessary plugins from your site, as these utilize server resources.
  • Many free plugins typically receive very little to no support from the plugin developer. When considering premium WordPress plugins, ensure that you do a little research first to understand what kind of reputation the developer has when it comes to offering support, upgrades, new features, etc. Be sure to check our plugin reviews for additional expert information.
  • If you see that an unsupported plugin has not been updated for a while (e.g. two or more years), then think twice before using it. WordPress changes regularly and older plugins that have not been updated can cause issues.
  • Ensure to always upgrade your plugins. Outdated plugin not only can cause errors and conflicts, they may also contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and malware.

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

As you can see, WordPress plugins are an important component of WordPress and contribute to making WordPress the most popular content management system in the world. Plugins also provide WordPress users with easy, simple and inexpensive ways to add instant features to their website without having to spend thousands of dollars on outsourced web developers.

One last thing about WP plugins:

Whatever functionality you need for your web presence, you can be sure that a someone has probably already created one that will do what you want it to do, and that this plugin will either be available for FREE, or if it’s a paid plugin, that it will be reasonably affordable.

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 such a WP plugin has not been created yet, then one can most certainly be coded for you at a reasonable cost.

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of WP plugins – what they are and how they can significantly enhance the functionality of your blog. See our related posts to learn more about usingplugins.

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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 detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Plugins Explained.