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What Is A WordPress Plugin? (A Beginner’s Guide)

You’ve probably heard the words WordPress and plugins in the same sentence. But what exactly is a plugin?

Well, it’s just one of many cool features that makes WordPress—the internet’s largest CMS (content management system) – so powerful. Read on to learn about what plugins can do, why you might need one, and how to install a WordPress plugin on your site.

What Is A WordPress Plugin?

A plugin is a small piece of software that you install (i.e., plug in) to WordPress that adds functionality. These plugins can be used for a wide range of things, such as the following:

  • Adding social media buttons
  • Automatically adjusting image sizes (for optimization, etc.)
  • Adding a spam filter
  • Beefing up your website’s security

There are more than 60,000 plugins available on the official WordPress Plugin Directory, and others that aren’t listed there as well!

Plugins can be installed directly from the WordPress admin dashboard, or they can be downloaded (sometimes for a fee) from a third-party website, such as Github, and manually uploaded to your site.

When you install a plugin on your WordPress site, the new features and functionalities that it adds can be accessed via the “Plugins” menu in your WordPress dashboard.

Wordpress plugin in dashboard
The plugins that you’ve downloaded can be accessed via the Plugins menu (the red rectangle) in your dashboard. From this menu, you can also click on Add New to install more plugins.

Why You Might Need A WordPress Plugin

If you’re new to WordPress, plugins are a great way to extend and add to the features of your site without making a huge effort (e.g., coding and troubleshooting any new features and functions).

They can make it easier for you to optimize e-commerce product pages, create a more professional-looking website via custom themes and page layouts, or even boost your site’s search engine rankings!

Here are some of WordPress’s most popular plugins and how they can help your budding website:

1. Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO analyzes your site’s SEO (search engine optimization) and points out what you can improve, such as meta tags, readability, and load times, helping you bring in more site visitors to buy your goods, click on your ads, read your blog, and so on.

2. WooCommerce

WooCommerce touts itself as “the world’s most popular open-source e-commerce solution” and boasts a wide selection of themes, an optimized shopping cart experience, and modular product blocks that can help you customize product pages in minutes, among many other features.

3. Bookly

Bookly is a WordPress booking plugin that helps customers make automated appointments on your site, letting you manage your calendar, services, and client base via just one plugin.

4. SeedProd

SeedProd is a plugin that lets you easily build customized or templated themes, pages, and layouts for your site, helping it stand out from others that just use ready-made, run-of-the-mill themes.

5. Jetpack

Jetpack offers a comprehensive suite of solutions to enhance your site’s security, performance, and content management and is one of WordPress’s most popular security plugins.

Its free version protects against spam and malware and brute-force logins, while its paid versions are highly customizable, letting you pick and choose which security features you want and helping you save some cash.

How To Install A WordPress Plugin

Once you’ve found the right plugin(s) for your site, you’ll need to install them before they work. There are a couple ways to install a WordPress plugin:

Install WordPress plugin via the dashboard

First, you can install most plugins via your WordPress dashboard. In these examples, we’ll be downloading the Bookly plugin to help make automated appointments and calendars for us.

To do this, log in to your dashboard, and then click on “Plugins”, and then on “Add New.”

add new plugin via WordPress dashboard
Click on Plugins (1) and then Add New (2) and start choosing from the available plugins.

Then, you can use the search bar on the top right to search for whichever plugin you want. In this case, we’ll type “Bookly” into the search bar and then press “Enter” on the keyboard. Once the search results pop up, click on the “Install Now” button next to Bookly, and then on “Activate.”

install and activate wordpress plugin
Type in your desired plugin’s name, and then hit Enter (1). After that, click on Install Now and then Activate (2).

Once you’ve done this, you’re good to go! You can click on the Bookly plugin on the left of your screen to set up your company, inputting any relevant details as you proceed with the initial setup.

Bookly plugin set up in wordpress
Click on Bookly (1) on the left side of the dashboard, and then type in your company’s details into the text boxes (2) on the right.

Install WordPress plugin via FTP

One other option to install plugins involves manually downloading plugins and then installing them via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). To do this, first install an FTP client, such as FileZilla, and then download a ZIP file of a plugin, such as those that you can get from WordPress.org.

Extract this file into a folder, and keep in mind that the extracted plugin file folder will be the one you need to upload through the FTP client.

install Bookly plugin via ftp file
For this example, we’ve downloaded Bookly’s ZIP file (1) from WordPress.org and then extracted the plugin file folder (2).

The instructions for FTP uploads vary based on your hosting provider, so configure your FTP client accordingly.

However, if you signed up with Hostinger — one of the best web hosts that we’ve found—you’re in luck: You can simply access the “Files” menu on hPanel and then click on “FTP Accounts.”

access Hostinger FTP account
Click on Files (1) and then on FTP Accounts (2).

Once you’re connected, access your FTP client (e.g., FileZilla) and then input your login credentials and click the “Quickconnect” button. Next, navigate to the “Remote Site” panel and locate the wp-content/plugins/ folder.

installing wordpress plugin using Filezilla
Navigate to wp-content (1) and to the plugins folder (2).

On the “Local Site” panel, upload the extracted plugin folder (in this case, the Bookly folder that you extracted from the ZIP file) from your computer to the wp-content/plugins/ folder on your server. Once the upload is complete, the plugin will be installed on your site.

To activate the plugin, just follow the instructions for the dashboard-based install that we mentioned above: Go to “Plugins,” then “Installed Plugins,” and then click on “Activate” next to the Bookly plugin.

install WordPress plugin via FTP
Navigate to Plugins (1), click on Installed Plugins (2), and then hit Activate (3).

Then, set up your business, and you’re good to go!

Remember To Always Check For Plugin Updates

Now that you’ve installed all of the plugins that you want, what’s next? Well, not a lot. From now on, you should just update your plugins regularly.

It’s important to keep your plugins up-to-date to ensure that your site is secure and operating efficiently and that all of the features included in each plugin work properly. These updates usually patch out security vulnerabilities and squash any unwanted bugs that your plugins may have.

To do this, simply navigate once again to “Plugins” and then click on “Installed Plugins.” Once you’ve done this, you can simply click on the “update now” link next to any outdated plugins or click on “Enable auto-updates” to never worry about manually updating your plugins ever again!

enable plugins auto-update

However, bear in mind that automatic updates may not always be a good idea: Some may introduce incompatibilities with other plugins, which can cause issues for your site. Just to be safe, you can back up your site before updating your plugins to ensure that you don’t lose out on any of your work.

Big Benefits Come From Small WordPress Plugins!

Now that you have a better understanding of what WordPress plugins are and how these handy little programs work, it’s time for you to start using them! They’ll help take your site to the next level, whether it’s SEO-, security-, or appearance-wise.

Just remember to always check for plugin updates and make sure that your site is protected from security threats.

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