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 - The Easy Way To Enhance Your Website's CapabilityOne of the main benefits of choosing WordPress is that you can easily expand your WP site’s functionality using plugins.

Understanding Plugins

Like most people, you most likely use a device like a smart phone. What happens when you want to access something new on your device like a new game or business tool?

You download and install an app!

An app is a software that is really easy to install and instantly adds new features and functionality to any smart phone.

A Basic Guide To WP Plugins

(Just as there are social sharing apps …)

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

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

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

Typically, expanding the functionality of a web site involves additional cost. Depending on the complexity of the feature or enhancement, this cost can be fairly significant, particularly if it involves website development.

This also applies when setting up a website or business blog. Companies tend to pay money in advance for added components they probably will never need.

For sound, strategic business planning reasons, we suggest using a sustainable strategy to growing your web presence presence and WP plugins are ideal for doing this.

Imagine if you could:

1) Start simply with minimal expense involved. Get a web presence up and running quickly, then …

2) As you need more features and functionality, simply install new applications with just a few clicks of the mouse directly from within your WordPress dashboard section, to give your website a whole new and expanded range of capabilities and functionality, and …

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

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

Benefits And Advantages Of Using WordPress Plugins

We started this blog post by comparing WordPress plugins with smartphone apps. Just like some apps are free to download and some may cost a little bit of money, the same is true of WP plugins.

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

WP plugins that you have to buy are referred to as ’Premium’ plugins. The good news, is that when you compare the cost of purchasing a Premium plugin to the price of hiring a professional web developer to get similar features and functionality on your site, most Premium (i.e. paid) plugins are generally quite inexpensive.

Also, since WordPress is an Open Source application, anyone can create, modify and customize any portion of the code. This has enabled thousands of professional software development professionals to build more new plugins that “plug into” WordPress than you can probably imagine.

  • Plugins allow you to get started with only a basic site and then expand only as required.
  • WordPress plugins let you add almost endless functionality to your site easily and very inexpensively.
  • WordPress plugins give you almost endless expanding capabilities.
  • Plugins allow business owners to own a web presence that they can fully manage.
  • Most plugins will work “right out of the box” and only require installation and activation to give your site new capabilities and functionality.
  • Some plugins can be slightly more complex and require some initial configuring.

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

Just like themes, tens of thousands of WP plugins are available to WP users … and many of these great plugins are 100% FREE!

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

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

As previously mentioned, you will find WP plugins that can do just about everything you need your site to do.

WP plugin categories cover:

  • User Management
  • Content Distribution
  • Increasing Site Visitors
  • Visitor Engagement
  • Social Engagement
  • Inserting Media – Videocasts, Graphics, Podcasts, Multimedia, etc.
  • e-Commerce And Online Sales Automation
  • Increasing Sales & Opt-In Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data Reporting Tools
  • Site SEO

You can enhance a website with plugins like the following:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • Surveys
  • Rotating banners
  • E-commerce (from managing single-item sales with PayPal buttons, to full scale e-commerce with online shopping carts, invoicing, recurring billing, discount codes, etc …)
  • Social media integration
  • Membership sites
  • Newsletter opt-in forms
  • Sales workflow
  • Mobile conversion
  • Improving your site’s SEO
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User testimonials
  • Language translation (e.g. you can instantly change your site’s content from English to Spanish)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation menus
  • Customer interactivity – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Offline storage management
  • Making pages load faster
  • Event management
  • Business directories
  • Automatically sell and manage advertising on your blog
  • Set appointments and reminders
  • Help customers make reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks and email you reports
  • Redirect URLs
  • Monitor social signals
  • Make your pages available for printing or downloading as PDF
  • Add a site map
  • Hide specific from displaying on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Hide content on your pages and posts
  • Import content from other publishing platforms
  • Search and replace data
  • Fight SPAM
  • Customize guest discussions (e.g. display Facebook discussions)
  • Insert HTML and code elements into your site’s header and footer
  • Add and format tables
  • Display animated graphic elements and advanced content formatting options
  • Add and manage QR codes
  • Improve Google local search
  • Add a map of your business location
  • Post your content automatically on social pages like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and many others
  • Show countdown timers (for expiring offers, discount coupons, etc …)
  • Display personalized greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so much more!

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

In case you’re still wondering about the power and flexibility of using plugins, let me show you how you can benefit by adding a plugin to your website.

For example, if you need to publish private content, you can use plugins to make a section of a page or post inaccessible, or transform your WordPress site into a complete paid membership site with customized login details for each user …

A Basic Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

As mentioned before, you can use free plugins to improve your website in so many different ways. From installing functionality that improve your business, your web users’ experience and your ability to review visitor metrics …

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

To extending your business visibility across social media and search engines …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also add advanced features to your site using inexpensive paid plugins. For example, you can purchase plugins that integrate and automate functionality on your website like managing customer testimonials and event registration details …

A Useful Guide To WP Plugins

And also run a custom-branded bookings and reservations system online … all for a tiny fraction of the cost of hiring software developers to design these functionality for you …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also take advantage of native WordPress commenting features and plugins that will increase your site’s interactivity …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

For example, your visitors can:

  • Post comments on your site (which can grow into online discussions) using either the native WP commenting feature, or integrated Facebook comments (which then get displayed throughout your visitors’ Facebook pages, providing you with increased exposure).
  • Share your content with other web users on social networking sites.
  • Contact you via contact forms
  • Engage in online discussions with other customers through online forums or even set up an online social network on your domain.
  • Engage with your team through live webcam conferencing and chatroom facilities
  • Dial your business from their cellphones while visiting your pages
  • Open a support ticket
  • And much more …

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

You can even integrate complex enterprise applications with a WP “front end”. This allows you to control your business sales and marketing, while your 3rd-party application handles the technical aspects …

A Non-Technical Guide To WordPress Plugins

WordPress Plugins – Some Useful Tips

  • There are lots of great WordPress plugins available. Be careful not to overload your site with an excessive amount of plugins, as this can start to affect your website’s performance and page loading speed. It can also create more maintenance work for you as a result of potential conflicts.
  • Only keep those plugins that you really plan to use. Delete any plugins from your site, as these utilize server resources.
  • Many free plugins typically come with very little to no support from the plugin author. When choosing premium WP plugins, ensure that you check some reviews online and see what kind of reputation the developer has when it comes to providing support, updates, new features, etc. Be sure to check our plugin recommendations for additional information.
  • If you see that a plugin has not been updated for a very long time (e.g. two or more years), then think carefully before using it on your website or blog. WordPress changes on a regular basis and older plugins that have not been updated can create problems.
  • Ensure to always upgrade your plugins. Older plugin not only can create errors and conflicts, they may also contain vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers and malicious software.

A Basic Guide To WordPress Plugins

As you can see, plugins are an integral part of WordPress and contribute to making WordPress the most downloaded content management system available. Plugins also provide WordPress users with easy, simple and inexpensive ways to expand without spending thousands of dollars on outsourced web development costs.

One last thing regarding plugins:

If there is a feature you want for your web presence, you can guarantee that a WP plugin currently exists that will do what you want, and that it can either be accessed at no cost, or if it’s a premium plugin, that the price 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 such a plugin does not exist, then it can probably be coded for you for a very reasonable price.

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of WordPress plugins – what plugins are and how they can expand your web site. See our published posts to learn about more useful WP plugins that we recommend using.

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"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the owner of WPCompendium.org and the author of The WordPress User Manual. 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.