WordPress Plugins Explained

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

WordPress Plugins - The Easy Way To Enhance Your Blog's Features And FunctionalityOne of the main benefits of the WordPress software is the ability to easily increase your WP site’s functionality using applications called plugins.

Understanding Plugins

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

You download and install an app!

An app is a little piece of software that is easy to install and adds new functionality to any mobile phone.

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

(Just like you will find social sharing apps for mobile phones …)

A WordPress plugin is like an app. You install a little piece of software that provides new functionality to your WordPress site …

A Basic Guide To WP Plugins

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

Generally, adding new features to an already-built web site involves additional cost. Depending on the complexity of the feature or enhancement, this could get fairly expensive, particularly if it involves modifying code.

This also applies to developing a website or business blog. Companies will often invest in components they probably will never need.

As part of sound strategic business planning, we suggest using a sustainable approach when growing a digital presence presence and WP plugins are ideal for helping you achieve this.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could:

1) Start simply and inexpensively. Get a professional web site up and running quickly, then …

2) As you need more features, just install new applications with only a couple of mouse clicks that integrate seamlessly with your current website, giving your web site a whole new range of possibilities, and also …

3) Cost not a single cent extra to download and install on your web site?

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

WP Plugins – Benefits And Advantages

We started this article by comparing WP plugins with smartphone apps. In a similar way that many apps are free to download and some cost a little money, the same is true for WordPress plugins.

In fact, loads of useful plugins are freely available for WP users.

Plugins that you buy are referred to as Premium plugins. The good news, is that when compared to the cost of paying for web development services to add similar functionality on your site, most Premium plugins cost very little.

Also, as WordPress distributes its software as an Open Source application, anybody can create, rewrite and customize any portion of the code. This has enabled thousands of third-party web development companies to create more tools that “plug into” WordPress than you can possibly imagine.

  • Plugins let you start simply with just a basic website and then add new features and enhancements to your site only if necessary.
  • Plugins allow you to add almost endless functionality to your web site quickly and quite inexpensively.
  • Plugins give your site virtually unlimited expansion capabilities.
  • WP plugins allow business owners to have a digital presence that they can manage themselves.
  • Most plugins will typically work “right out of the box” and only require installation and activation to provide your website with immediate capabilities and enhancements.
  • Some plugins offer more extensive features and may need some configuration.

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

Like many themes, tens of thousands of great WordPress plugins are available for WordPress users … for FREE!

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

A Guide To WP Plugins

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

Plugin categories cover:

  • Site Management
  • Content Management
  • Web Traffic Generation
  • Visitor Interactivity
  • Social Sharing
  • Uploading Media – Videocasts, Graphics & Images, Podcasts, Multimedia, etc.
  • e-Commerce And Online Sales Automation
  • Increasing Sales And Opt-In Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data & System Monitoring & Reporting
  • Optimizing Your WordPress Web Site

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

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • User Surveys
  • Managing banners
  • E-commerce (from setting up single-item sales with PayPal buttons, to enterprise scale e-commerce stores with online shopping carts, invoicing, recurring payments, coupon codes, etc …)
  • Social media integration
  • Membership sites
  • Newsletter opt-in forms
  • Sales funnels
  • Mobile conversion
  • Improving your website’s SEO
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User feedback forms
  • Language translation plugins (e.g. you can instantly change all content on your pages from English to Spanish)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation
  • Customer engagement – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Media management
  • Making pages load faster
  • Event management
  • Niche directories
  • Automatically sell advertising on your blog
  • Set appointments and reminders
  • Help customers make reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken hyperlinks and email you reports
  • Redirect web pages
  • Monitor social conversations
  • Make your pages printable or downloadable as a PDF file
  • Add sitemaps
  • Hide specific from showing on areas of your site (e.g. site maps, feeds, etc.)
  • Protect content on your posts and pages
  • Import data from non-WP applications
  • Perform bulk data edits
  • Block SPAM commenting
  • Customize guest commenting (e.g. displaying Facebook discussions)
  • Insert scripts and code elements into your content
  • Add and format tables
  • Add animated graphic elements and advanced font display formatting options
  • Create and manage QR codes
  • Improve Google local search
  • Add business location maps
  • Distribute your content automatically on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many others
  • Display countdown timers (for scarcity offers, discount coupons, etc …)
  • Display custom greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so many other features!

As it’s clear to see, plugins give you practically limitless business flexibility. If you plan to build a website or blog for your business, or your existing site isn’t powered by WordPress, then consider choosing WordPress in the future.

In case you’re still wondering about the power and flexibility of using plugins, let’s take a look at some practical advantages of installing an inexpensive plugin on your site.

For example, if you need to publish content which is only accessible to some users, you can install plugins to make just a couple of paragraphs on a post inaccessible, or transform your WordPress site into a professional paid membership site with separate login details for every member …

A Guide To WP Plugins

As mentioned before, free plugins can be used to enhance your web site in so many ways. From installing functionality that can improve your business, your visitors’ experience and your ability to review site data …

A Newbie's Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

To increasing your site’s reach across a number of social networks and search engines …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also add sophisticated features to your website using relatively inexpensive premium WordPress plugins. For example, you can buy plugins that automate functionality on your website like user testimonial and event registration management …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

And also set up a custom-branded bookings and reservations system on your site … all for a small fraction of the cost of paying programmers to code these functionality for you …

A Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

Additionally, you can take advantage of native WP commenting features and plugins that will enhance your site’s interactivity …

A Beginner's Guide To WordPress Plugins

For example, your visitors can easily:

  • Post comments on your site (which can turn into online discussions) using either the built-in WP commenting feature, or integrated Facebook comments (which are then shared throughout a visitors’ Facebook pages, providing you with increased exposure).
  • Share your content with other web users on social networks.
  • Contact you using contact forms
  • Engage online with other customers through online forums or even set up a private online community on your own site.
  • Engage with members of your team using live webcam conferencing and chatrooms
  • Call your business from their smart phones while browsing your website
  • Get help via a customer support helpdesk
  • And so much more …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

Finally you, can even integrate sophisticated “back end” solutions within a WP “front end”. This allows you to control the content that your visitors see on your web site, while your 3rd-party application handles the technological functions …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

Useful Things You Should Know About Plugins

  • There are many great WordPress plugins to choose from. Be careful not to overload your site with too many plugins, as this will start to affect your website’s performance and page loading speed. It also means more maintenance issues for you resulting from potential conflicts and errors.
  • Install only the plugins you really need. Delete inactive plugins from your site, as these utilize resources.
  • Many free plugins normally receive little to no support from the plugin author. When considering paid plugins, we recommend that you check some reviews online and see what kind of reputation the plugin developer has when it comes to providing support, upgrades, new improvements, etc. Be sure to check our plugin reviews for additional helpful information.
  • If you see that a plugin has not been updated for a while (e.g. two years), then think twice before installing it. WordPress updates frequently and older plugins that have not been updated can create errors.
  • Ensure that you always update your plugins to their latest version. Older plugins not only can create problems, they could also have security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and malicious software.

A Useful Guide To WP Plugins

As you can see, plugins are an integral part of WordPress and contribute to making it the most preferred digital content open source platform in the world. Plugins also provide WordPress users with an easy, simple and inexpensive way to expand quickly without spending thousands of dollars on web development costs.

One last thing on the subject of plugins:

If there is any feature or functionality you want for your web site, you can guarantee that a plugin probably exists 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 cost to buy it will be quite 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 any chance such a plugin is not available, then it can probably be written for you at a reasonable cost.

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

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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.