Plugins are awesome utilities that add functionality to your WordPress website.
There are plugins for every imaginable function you want to have in your website, such as media playing, graphics, SEO, caching, and social media integration.
Thousands of plugins are available for you to choose and install. But not all of them are installed in the same way.
Learn the various types of plugins in WordPress, how they work, and how are they installed in this post.
What Exactly are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress evolved from being a blog-only content platform to a full-fledged content management system, largely thanks to plugins.
Plugins are small applications added to WordPress websites to enhance functionality or appearance. They are embedded on the site and run simultaneously with WordPress’s platform.
Plugins allow users to extend WordPress’s site builder capability by creating all kinds of websites, not just limited to blogs.
Plugins can be small, offering mini-features such as adding sidebar images. They can also be large, as if they’re acting within their own platforms with several features to boot.
An example of a large plugin is WordPress eCommerce plugin.
You can do lots of things when you embed plugins on your WordPress site. Some of the feature-enhancing plugins in WordPress work by:
- Creating galleries
- Embedding media players
- Adding social media integrations
- Enabling podcasts
- Improving SEO rankings
- Boosting performance through site caching
- Creating forms
- Running security scans
- Creating site backups
In short, you can do almost anything with plugins. There’s sure to be a plugin for any site functionality you didn’t see in WordPress’s conventional site builder.
To date, there are more than 45,000 available plugins in WordPress’s free directory alone.
Include the premium paid plugins created by third-party developers and that makes for a plethora of plugins for you to choose from.
Types of WordPress Plugins
There are two basic types of plugins in WordPress. We’ll discuss each one briefly below:
These plugins are completely free to use and are exclusively listed on WordPress’s Plugin Directory. Plugins of these types are the easiest to install in your website.
A downside to using these plugins is that not all of them are reliable and working correctly. You must sift through the thousands of plugins in the WordPress directory to find the right free plugin that works for your site’s needs.
Examples of free WordPress plugins include the following:
- Google XML Sitemaps
- W3 Total Cache
- Lazy Load by WP Rocket
- Sucuri Security
- Shortcodes Ultimate
Third-party developers often create their own WordPress-compatible plugins and sell them as Premium Plugins. These are paid ones that are not listed on WordPress’s Plugin Directory. You have to manually buy them from developers’ sites.
Some premium plugins start out as free and become paid as users upgrade their functionality. Others already have fixed functions and set prices from the start.
Premium plugins are downloadable as a zip file.
Examples of premium WordPress plugins include the following:
- Thrive Leads
- Envira Gallery
Methods of Installing WordPress Plugins
Installing free and premium plugins require different methods. WordPress offers three ways to install these plugins:
- Installing via WordPress Plugin Search
- Installing via Plugin Upload
- Manual Installation via FTP
We’ll look through each method thoroughly now.
WordPress Plugin Search Method
This plugin installation method works for free plugins listed under the WordPress Plugin Directory. This is the easiest way of installing WordPress plugins.
You must do some research first to know the name of the exact plugin you wish to install. That way, it’ll be easier for you to find said plugin on the WordPress Plugin Directory.
But no worries if you aren’t sure of the plugin name. You can search for the plugin within the WordPress Dashboard itself.
Follow these steps to install free WordPress plugins using the Search Method:
- Open your website’s WordPress Dashboard.
- Click on Plugins on the sidebar menu.
- Select Add New. Add Plugins screen will appear on your dashboard.
- Go to the search box on the upper right-hand portion of the screen. Type in your desired plugin’s name there and hit the Enter key.
- Results of your search will be readily displayed on the screen.
- Choose your desired free plugin and click on the Install Now button on the upper right side of the plugin’s search result box.
- WordPress will then start downloading and installing the plugin. You’ll see a message box indicating a successful installation afterwards.
- After installation, you should activate the plugin to make it work within your site. To do this, click on the Activate Plugin link found inside the message box previously mentioned here.
Your plugin is now installed and activated. You may proceed to configure its personal settings or leave it as it is for now.
Plugin Upload Method
This method works for installing plugins that are not found under the WordPress Plugin Directory.
Premium paid plugins are usually the ones beings installed using this technique, since they don’t get listed in the directory and have to be manually downloaded as zip files from third-party developers.
Here are the steps in installing premium plugins using the Plugin Upload Method:
- Download your premium plugin from your chosen developer. Ensure that you save the zip file in a suitable place on your computer.
- Navigate to your website’s WordPress Dashboard.
- Click on Plugins on the sidebar menu, then choose Add New.
- Add Plugins screen will appear. Click on the Upload Plugin button located just beside the Add Plugins screen label.
- The Plugin Upload page will appear. Click the Choose File button and select your premium plugin’s zip file.
- Hit the Install Now
- WordPress will then start uploading the zip file from your computer. It will automatically proceed to installation as well.
- A message box will appear afterwards indicating successful installation. Click on the Activate Plugin link to enable your new plugin.
Your new premium plugin is now ready for use. Again, you can start configuring its settings or you may choose to come back to it later.
Manual Installation via FTP
Notice that the two previous methods both work within the WordPress Dashboard area.
But there might be times when your web hosting service provider sets file limits that prevent you from installing plugins via your WordPress Dashboard. If that is your dilemma, you can use FTP software to manually install plugins to your site.
FTP software is used to transfer and download large files in between computers or systems. Your hosting provider usually gives you access to your own FTP software.
If not, contact your provider and ask for your FTP username and password.
Upon ensuring that you have access to your FTP software provider, follow these steps to proceed in installing your plugin manually:
- Download your plugin’s zip file from your chosen third-party developer or from the WordPress Plugin Directory.
- Unzip said file on your computer. This will create a new folder bearing the same name as your original zip file.
- Open your FTP software and login to your website using your username and password.
- Locate the path /wp-content/plugins/ under Remote Site.
- Open the location of your plugin’s folder under the Local Site. Right-click on the filename and select Upload.
- Once the upload finishes, open your WordPress Dashboard and select Plugins from the sidebar menu.
- You should see your newly-uploaded plugin on the list.
- Click on the Activate link under your new plugin to start using it in your website.
- Once that’s done, you can manually set configuration settings for your plugin.
Plugin installation via FTP software might seem overwhelming for newbies and non-technical WordPress users at first.
But it’s a useful way of installing if you get server restrictions for installation of themes and plugins via your WordPress Dashboard.
Reminders on Plugin Installations
There are some things to keep in mind about installing plugins to your WordPress site:
- Ensure that you are using WordPress.org as your website builder first. If you’re using WordPress.com, you can’t install them there. A quick reminder: WordPress.com is different from WordPress.org.
WordPress.com is the basic platform which is perfect for simple blog websites only. Sites built using this platform has lots of limitations, including plugin use.
On the other hand, WordPress.org is the advanced platform which carries all the powerful features WordPress can do. It’s the platform that’s best used for any kind of website building.
There are no limits to plugin use in WordPress.org.
If you are using WordPress.com but want to use plugins for your blog site, it is recommended that you migrate your website first to a new self-hosted WordPress.org site.
- Read your plugin’s documentation first before installing it. Ensure that your plugin is updated and compatible with the WordPress version you are currently using. You’ll find information about free plugins when you click on the More Details link that appears in search results in your Add Plugins page. You can also obtain information from third-party developers if you’re using a premium plugin.
- Downloaded plugins must always be in a zip file format. WordPress will not accept plugins that are presented in other file formats. Keep this in mind when you shop around for premium plugins.
- Your WordPress dashboard has a plugins folder to help you manage all your website’s installed plugins. You can navigate to this folder to activate or deactivate your plugins easily.
- Some plugins may cause problems or may not work properly on your site after you’ve installed, activated, and configured their settings. There might be incompatibility between the plugin and your current version of WordPress. You may uninstall the plugin to avoid further problems. To do so, you may deactivate your plugin through your dashboard or via your FTP client.
Summing it All Up
WordPress plugins are an amazing way to add functionality to your website. You can choose from thousands of free and premium paid plugins within WordPress and from third-party developers.
You can install plugins in three ways:
- Via Plugin Search
- Via Plugin Upload
- Via an FTP Software
Plugin Search method is the easiest way to install free plugins. Plugin Upload is best suited for premium paid plugins downloaded in a zip file format.
FTP Software method is a manual technique used if your hosting provider imposes certain server restrictions.
All three methods of installing WordPress plugins are safe, secured, and easy to use.
FTP method might seem overwhelming, but it’s actually as easy as the other two if you get the hang of it.
So go ahead and choose the plugins that will work to enhance your website.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with plugins to make your WordPress site livelier. You have three ways to install these plugins, why not utilize them all and see which one fits your needs best.