WordPress Plugins Explained

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

WP Plugins Extend Your Web Site's Features And FunctionalityOne of the most useful advantages of building a website using the WordPress content publishing platform is the ability to easily increase your WordPress website’s functionality using plugins.

What Are WP Plugins?

No doubt, you probably use a device like a mobile phone. What happens when you want to access something new on your device like a new software or productivity tool?

Why, simple … you download and install an app!

An app is a little piece of software that is really easy to install and adds new features to your mobile device.

A Practical Guide To WP Plugins

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

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

A Basic Guide To Understanding WP Plugins

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

Generally, if you plan to add new features to your web site, additional cost is involved. Depending on the complexity of the features or enhancement, things can get fairly expensive, especially if website developers need to add new code or edit code or develop scripts to integrate with your current set up.

This is also applicable when creating a new web site. Organizations will often invest money in advance in components they may never need.

For this reason, we suggest a sustainable strategy to developing your website and WP plugins are ideal for doing this.

Imagine being able to:

1) Start simply and with minimal expense involved. Get a basic, professional-looking website up and running quickly, then …

2) As the need for new capabilities arises, just add new applications with a couple of mouse clicks directly from your WordPress administration section, and give your website or blog a completely new range of useful functionality, and …

3) Cost not one cent extra to add to your web site?

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

Plugins – Benefits

Earlier, we compared plugins with smartphone apps. In a similar way that many apps are free to download and some apps cost a little bit of money, the same is true with WP plugins.

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

WordPress plugins that you have to pay for are called ’Premium’ plugins. The good news, is that when you compare these to the price of investing in professional web development services to add the same functionality on your site, most Premium (i.e. ”paid”) plugins cost very little.

Also, because WordPress is an Open Source application, anybody can create, rewrite and customize any part of the code. This has enabled thousands of third-party web developers to build more applications that plug seamlessly into WordPress than you can imagine.

  • WordPress plugins let you get started with a simple website and then add new features and enhancements to your site only when necessary.
  • Plugins let you add almost endless features to your web site quickly and cheaply.
  • Plugins give you practically unlimited expanding capabilities.
  • Plugins allow non-technical website owners to have a site that they can self-manage.
  • Most plugins typically work “right out of the box” and only require to be installed and activated to give your website or blog new capabilities, enhancements and functionality.
  • Some plugins offer more extensive options and may require some initial configuration.

WordPress Plugins – Powerful, Flexible … And (Often) 100% FREE!

Like many themes, tens of thousands of great WP plugins are made 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 Guide To WP Plugins

As previously mentioned, you will find plugins that can do almost anything you could think of.

Plugin categories cover:

  • User Administration
  • Content Management
  • Web Traffic Generation
  • Visitor Interactivity
  • Social Sharing
  • Inserting Media Files – Video, Graphics, Podcasts, Multimedia, etc.
  • e-Commerce And Online Sales And Marketing Automation
  • Increasing Sales Conversions And Lead Generation
  • Data Analysis Tools
  • Blog SEO

You can expand your business online presence with plugins like the following:

  • Contact forms
  • Quizzes and polls
  • User Surveys
  • Rotating advertising banners
  • E-commerce (from managing single ordering with PayPal buttons, to complete e-commerce stores with shopping carts, invoicing, recurring billing, coupon codes, etc …)
  • Social media integration
  • Private Membership sites
  • Newsletter subscription forms
  • Sales workflow
  • Mobile conversion
  • Improving your site’s SEO
  • Image galleries (including rotating images, lightboxes, etc.)
  • User testimonial forms
  • Language translation plugins (e.g. you can instantly change all content on your site from English to Italian)
  • Statistical reporting (e.g. number of visitors, pages visited, keywords searched, etc.)
  • Custom navigation menus
  • Customer interactivity – contest, live chat, currency conversion, etc.
  • Cloud storage integration
  • Making pages load faster
  • Managing events & bookings
  • Business directories
  • Automatically sell and manage advertising on your blog
  • Set up appointments and reminders
  • Automate reservations and bookings
  • Detect broken links on your pages and email you reports
  • Redirect visitors from certain pages to other areas on your site or other sites
  • Monitor social signals
  • Make your pages available for printing or downloading as PDF
  • Add sitemaps
  • Hide pages from displaying on areas of your site (e.g. sitemaps, feeds, etc.)
  • Hide content on your pages and posts
  • Migrate content from different CMS platforms
  • Perform bulk data edits
  • Block SPAM commenting
  • Customize visitor discussions (e.g. displaying Facebook comments)
  • Insert scripts and code elements into your posts
  • Add tables
  • Add animated graphics and advanced text formatting options
  • Add and manage QR codes
  • Improve Google search listings
  • Add business location maps
  • Publicize your content automatically on social pages like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon and others
  • Show countdown timers (for expiring offers, coupons, etc …)
  • Display personalized greetings, timed offers, etc …
  • And so much more!

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

In case you’re still wondering about the power and flexibility of using WordPress plugins, let’s take a look at some practical advantages of adding a plugin to your website.

For example, if you want to protect your content, you can use plugins to make just a couple of paragraphs on your post or page inaccessible, or create a professional paid membership site with separate login details for users …

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

As mentioned before, you can use free plugins to enhance your website in so many ways. From adding functionality that will improve your business, your site’s user experience and your understanding of what is happening on your site …

A Non-Technical Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

To extending your business reach across a number of social networks and search engines …

A Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also add advanced functionality to your site using relatively inexpensive premium WordPress plugins. For example, you can buy plugins that integrate and automate processes on your site like customer feedback and event registration management …

A Guide To WP Plugins

And even run a complete bookings and reservations system online … all for a small fraction of the cost of paying web developers to design these applications for you …

A Beginner's Guide To Understanding WordPress Plugins

You can also take advantage of built-in WordPress commenting features and plugins that will allow you to engage better with your visitors, customers and registered site members …

A Useful Guide To WordPress Plugins

For example, your visitors can:

  • Post comments on your blog posts (which can turn into online discussions) using either the native WordPress commenting function, or integrated Facebook comments (which are then displayed throughout your 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 forums or even set up an online community on your own site.
  • Engage with members of your team via live video chats
  • Call your business directly from their smart phones while visiting your website
  • Open a support ticket
  • And much more …

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

You can even integrate complex third-party applications using a WP “front end”. This enables you to manage the content that your visitors see on your website, while your third-party application handles the technological aspects …

A Non-Technical User's Guide To WP Plugins

Useful Things You Should Know About Plugins

  • There are loads of great WordPress plugins available. Be careful of overloading your server with an excessive amount of plugins, as this will affect your website’s resources and site loading speed. It can also mean more maintenance issues for you resulting from potential errors.
  • Only keep those plugins that you really need. Delete inactive plugins from your site, as these also consume resources.
  • Many free plugins normally receive very little to no support from the plugin author. When choosing premium plugins, ensure that you check some reviews online and see what kind of reputation the developer has when it comes to offering support, updates, new improvements, etc. Be sure to check some of our WP plugin reviews for more helpful information.
  • If you see that an unsupported plugin has not been updated for a very long time (e.g. two years), then think carefully before using it on your site. WordPress updates regularly and older plugins that have not been updated can cause problems.
  • Make sure that you always keep all plugins upgraded to the latest software version. Older plugin not only can create issues, they could also have security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and malicious users.

A Guide To WordPress Plugins

As you can see, plugins are an integral part of WordPress and contribute to making it the most used 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 outsourced web development.

One last thing on the topic of plugins:

Whatever feature you want for your website, you can be sure that a someone has probably already authored one that will do what you want it to do, and that it will either be available at no cost, or if it’s a paid plugin, that it will be surprisingly inexpensive.

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 this plugin is not available, then a custom plugin that does exactly what you would like it to do can certainly be written for your business for a very reasonable price.

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of WordPress plugins – what they are and how they can significantly enhance the functionality of your blog. See our published posts to learn about more popular plugins that we recommend using.

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"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now

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For a whitelabel version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Plugins Explained.