All About Plugins
Plugins are optional add-ons for WordPress. They add extra abilities so you don’t have to write the code yourself. Almost all WordPress websites have at least one plugin installed, and some have dozens. Plugins are free, but some have paid upgrades, like the WordPress themes.
Plugins can add neat features to your website, make your life easier, or connect to other online services. There’s a plugin for everything. Just to give you a feel for what’s out there, here are the 10 most used plugins worldwide, at the time of writing:
- Yoast SEO – Make your website easier to find on Google. Helps you figure out the best way to write your content and organize your website.
- Akismet – Protects your website from spam comments. Comes preinstalled with WordPress, but you have to activate it to use it.
- Jetpack – A all-in-one plugin. Offers a dozen little features to make yodur website work better. Tends to slow down websites and doesn’t play nice with other plugins.
- Contact Form 7 – An excellent way for visitors to your website to email you, without telling them your email address.
- Wordfence Security – Beef up your website’s security.
- WooCommerce – An eCommerce shopping cart. It lets visitors buy products. Core product is free, but there are lots of paid add-ons.
- All in One SEO Pack – Like #1 above.
- Google Analytics for WordPress – Connects your website to Google Analytics, a free way to track how many people visited your website, and more. If you are starting a business, seriously consider this one.
- WP Super Cache – “Caching” is a technical term for remembering. Helps your website load faster, automatically. Can cause problems when you change the website.
- WordPress Importer – Want to move a WordPress website from one hosting company to another? Try this guy!
Whether you use them or not is up to you. Keep in mind that every plugin slows down your website a tiny bit, and poorly made plugins can create security issues. When you hear about a WordPress security problem in the news, it’s a plugin creating the problem.
You can download plugins from the WordPress plugin search, or, from inside the WordPress admin screen. I would recommend sticking with the WordPress admin screen way, it’s easier, safer, and they are all free.
How to Install a Plugin
- In the WordPress admin screen, click on Plugins in the sidebar.
- On the next page, you will see a list of all installed plugins, if any.
- Click Add Plugin at the top.
- Browse or search for the plugin you want.
- Click the Install Now button on a plugin you want.
- Wait a few seconds.
- In that same spot where you clicked the Install Now button, there is now an Activate button. Click Activate.
Your plugin is now running on your website. Often (but not always) a plugin will add a new link to the admin screen sidebar, sometimes under Settings or Tools. Most plugins need to be set up in order to work. If you need help with a plugin, search for the plugin on the WordPress plugin search, and find the support tab. There, you can ask the person/company who made the plugin anything you want. This is a free service, so support quality varies.
I recommend sticking with plugins that have more than 100 active installs (meaning at least 100 other people are using that plugin right now). There are also paid plugins found across the internet.
How to Remove a Plugin
If you need to remove a plugin for any reason, it’s simple to do. You can also temporarily disable a plugin as well. When you visit your plugin page for the first time, you will notice a few preinstalled plugins. For example, the Hello Dolly plugin, which, when activated, will randomly put a lyric from Hello, Dolly in the upper right of your admin screen. Huh.
The Hello Dolly plugin isn’t very useful, but you can practice removing a plugin with it.
Please note: you can delete or deactivate a plugin. Deactivating a plugin turns it off, so it is no longer doing anything on your website. You can re-activate a plugin anytime by clicking the Activate link on the plugin.
Deleting a plugin permanently removes it from your website. There is no way to undelete a plugin, so if you want it back, you will need to install it again. Also, any settings you created will also be deleted. You have to deactivate a plugin before deleting it.
How to Delete a Plugin
- In the WordPress admin screen, click on Plugins in the sidebar.
- On the next page, you will see a list of all installed plugins, find the want you want to remove.
- Click Deactivate on the plugin.
- Wait a second.
- Find the plugin again from the list, and you will see it’s been deactivated. There is now a Delete option. Click Delete.
- When the plugin has been deleted, you will see a confirmation at the top of the page.
How to Update Plugins (and WordPress)
One of the biggest security issues with WordPress is outdated plugins. Even if you aren’t making changes to your website, you should log in at least once a month to see if any plugins need updating. Just like your computer, updates add new features and make the code more secure. But unlike your computer, it only takes a few seconds to update plugins, and they can be updated all at once.
Even more important that up-to-date plugins, is up-to-date WordPress. Keeping WordPress updated is the most important security step you can make. Luckily, you can update both WordPress and your plugins for free, on the same page.
Always Back Up First!
Before you do any updating, it is a good idea to back up your website, in case something goes wrong. I use Duplicator to do this. You can install the free version through the WordPress admin screen (on the Plugins page), or you can buy the Pro version, which allows you to automatically schedule updates, and automatically send the files to Dropbox or another online file storage service.
Steps to Update Plugins and WordPress
- On your WordPress admin screen, look on the top bar, just to the right of your website’s name.
- If you have any updates pending, you will see two tiny arrows making a circle (like the recycling symbol) with a number next to them. That number is how many plugins need updating.
- Click on that icon, and you will be taken to the update page.
- At the top, if WordPress needs to be updated, it will say “An updated version of WordPress is available”. Click the Update Now button, and wait a moment while WordPress updates. Don’t do anything while it’s updating. It shouldn’t take more than a minute. When it’s done, a new page will come up telling you about the new features of WordPress.
- Go back to the updates page.
- Further down the page, any plugins that need to be updated will be listed. Check the checkbox on the ones you want to update, and click the Update Plugins button.
- It shouldn’t take more than a minute, depending on how many plugins you are updating. It will show you the progress on the page. When all the plugins are done updating, nothing will happen. So scroll to the bottom of the page, and look for the words “All updates have been completed”. Once you see that, you are all done!
Here are a few plugins that I like:
Wordfence – Protects your website, and sends you a notice if anything strange happens. Needs a lot of fiddling, but you can rest easy knowing you have a security guard watching your website.
Classic Editor – WordPress has a new feature called Gutenberg, which changed the way you write posts and pages. It creates a bunch of “blocks” where you can put text, video, images, etc. Many people prefer a more standard page editor (more like Microsoft Word). The Classic Editor replaces Gutenberg with the older-style editor. This is only for editing pages and posts, it doesn’t change the way your website looks. Also, if you want a few more options in the Classic Editor, check out TinyMCE Advanced. The Classic Editor is not compatible with any WYSIWYGs (see next section).
Duplicator – Makes a complete backup of your website. Download the files to your computer before making changes, and if anything goes wrong, follow their instructions to restore your website. Get the Pro version if you want automatic daily or weekly backups that can magically get added to Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage platforms. Your hosting makes a backup as well, but this one is easier to use, and it can also be used to move your website to another hosting company.
If you have ever used alternatives to WordPress, like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or Shopify, you have used a WYSIWYG editor.
WYSIWYGs allow you to add “blocks” of content to your website, similar to the regular WordPress page editor, but super-charged. For example, you could have a block with some big header text, then below, a block for a video, then below that, a block for paragraph text.
No coding, easy to edit and rearrange, and you can see exactly what it will look like on the page. Sounds awesome, right?
Clients who have tried a WYSIWYG plugin sometimes found them infuriating. I know how to code websites, and I struggle with them. The promise of easy editing seems great at first, but as you try to fine tune your blocks, you are confronted with an endless sea of options, many of which don’t make sense unless you understand CSS, the language that controls how a website looks.
But, other people find them intuitive and easy to use, so maybe give it a try, and if it’s not for you, you can just remove the plugin.
The advantage is WYSIWYGs give you the exact layout you want, instead of just putting up with how your theme does layout. If you want to customize your layout, give one of these a try. I would also recommend doing a little reading on the CSS box model, which is the format the blocks in a WYSIWYG follow. Just understanding this one part of CSS will make using a WYSIWYG much easier.
Recommended WYSIWYG Plugins
These are fancy plugins, but they are still plugins. Use the How to Install a Plugin section above to install them from the Plugin page on the admin screen.
They are all free, but for more than just basic tools, you’ll have to pay for the pro version, which might be worth it for time saved. I’ll leave that up to you.
- Elementor – Great place to start, and get a feel for how WYSIWYGs work.
- Divi – Also has a theme called “Divi” (which is quite good). For the WYSIWYG, your looking for the “page builder”
- Brizy – I like the layout of this one, and they also offer themes to get you started faster
A notice about links in this course
Some links in this course are "affiliate links". This means if you click on the link and purchase the thing, I get a commission for purchases made through links in this post. It costs you nothing extra, and enables me to work toward my dream of making a garden program to help kids and people with anxiety and depression learn and heal by interacting with the natural world. Thank you for making this dream a reality!