What are WordPress plugins?

By now you know how to write posts and pages, and you might have chosen the perfect theme, but what about adding different features and functionality to your site? Things like email sign-up forms, galleries and back-up tools?

This is where plugins come into play.

A plugin is a piece of software/code that can be used to extend the functionality of WordPress beyond the standard install.

Why does WordPress need this you might ask?

A standard WordPress install has been designed to be lightweight and bloat-free, meaning it doesn’t come bundled with lots of functionality you might not need. WordPress leaves it up to you to choose the type of plugins your website needs.

Wordpress Plugins

A plugin can perform almost any function you could imagine. Popular plugins include…

  • SEO plugins – to help optimise your content and pages to rank well in the Google search results.
  • Security plugins – to stop hackers from gaining access to your website.
  • Contact forms – so visitors can email you via a form on your site.
  • Gallery plugin – to help you effortlessly create a stylish gallery for your site.
  • Back up plugins – an automated plugin to perform backups for your site in case you ever need to restore a previous version of your website.

That’s just a few examples – there are literally thousands of plugins available via the official WordPress Plugin Directory.

A selection of plugins as shown in the “Plugins” area of the WordPress dashboard

A selection of plugins as shown in the “Plugins” area of the WordPress dashboard

If you can think of something you want, chances are there’s a plugin that does it for you.

Like themes, there are free plugins and premium plugins.

The pros and cons of each are the same as free vs premium themes.

Free plugins cost nothing to try out, and if downloaded from the official WordPress Plugin Directory, they would’ve been vetted by WordPress.

Premium plugins will nearly always offer an excellent level of support and tend to be more consistently updated.

The best course of action to take when looking for a plugin is to check when it was last updated, and find some recent reviews and ratings for it.

A plugin with thousands of downloads, but a poor rating is not likely to be worth your time, so look for an alternative that does the same thing.

Always thoroughly research a plugin before adding it to your website

Plugins sound great, are there any negatives?

They are great, and they are a big reason as to why WordPress is so universally popular. But with everything popular and well-used, there are some draw backs too.

Here are a few things you need to know when installing plugins…


Does the plugin work with my version of WordPress?

When downloading a plugin from the WordPress Plugin Directory you can check to see if it works with your version of WordPress.

Just click on the plugin within the directory and you’ll see the “Compatible up to” information on the right hand side.

Analytics Plugin

You can also see when the plugin was last updated and how many active installs it currently has. This will give you some insight as to how popular and well-supported the plugin is.


Keep your plugins up to date!

Update PLugins

This is a big one. Out-of-date plugins is a very common reason why WordPress websites get targeted by hackers so frequently.

Plugins are not perfect, and very often (like any software), may contain flaws that malicious hackers can exploit. Regular updates often fix these security holes.

Not only that, but updates also contain many improvements to plugins, such as feature and performance enhancements.

So, make sure to keep your plugins updated to keep your site protected and make the best of all the functionality they offer.


Plugins may clash with each other

Plugins are designed to work with WordPress – but not necessarily to work with each other.

It’s fairly rare, but two plugins can cause a conflict which can create an impressive array of problems. Issues as simple as one plugin not working since you installed another, right up to breaking your entire site!

The good news is these issues are usually quite easy to detect and avoid by simply deactivating all of your plugins until you work out which one is the culprit.

Plugin Clash

Out of date plugins are a common reason why WordPress sites get hacked

Adding a plugin

Adding a plugin is very similar to adding a theme. Just look for the “Plugins” link on your WordPress dashboard. From here you‘ll see a list of plugins you already have installed – here you can activate/deactivate, amend the settings, or delete a plugin.

Also on this page, towards the top, you’ll see the “Add New” button.

Adding a Plugin

Upon clicking “Add new” you’ll be directed to a page where you can add a new plugin in two different ways…


  1. Add a plugin from the official WordPress Directory

    On this page you’ll see a list of plugins from the official WordPress Directory, which you can view by “Featured”, “Popular” and “Recommended” filters. If you can’t find what you’re looking within these filters, you can simple search for a suitable plugin via the “Search Plugins” box.

    Installing via WordPress

    When you find the plugin you’re after, just hit the “Install Now” button.

    Your plugin will automatically install in a few seconds, at which point you’ll need to revisit the “Plugins” overview page to activate – remember, just because a plugin is installed, it doesn’t mean it’s active.

    Activate Plugin
  2. Upload a plugin

    If you’ve bought a premium plugin, or just downloaded one you’ve found online (after confirming it’s safe of course!), you can upload a plugin manually.

    When you download any plugin to your computer, it will be in a .zip file format.

    To upload this plugin, simply navigate to the “Add New” area of the “Plugins” section of your dashboard and then click the “Upload Plugin” button (near the top of the page).

    Upload a Plugin

    From here, select the “choose file” button to select your plugin (.zip file on your computer) and then hit the “Install Now” button. Job done!

    Choose a file

    Remember, you can manage your plugins (deactivate, delete and adjusting individual plugin settings) at any time via the “Plugins” section of your dashboard.

    Whilst some plugin settings can be found in this area, others create their own separate administration areas that can be found in the left hand side dashboard menu (this is entirely up to the plugin developer).

    Plugin Settings

    As the example above shows, these two particular plugins can be managed directly via their own respective links within the dashboard menu.

Remember to activate your plugin once you have installed it

Pre-installed plugins

When you setup your WordPress hosting with LCN, you’ll find that there are already a few plugins pre-installed.

In total there are six different plugins – all handpicked by us for a very particular purpose. Here’s a quick rundown of what they are and what they do…

Akismet

Akismet

A security plugin that stops spammers and bots leaving spam comments on your blog posts.

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO

The all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress. Allows you to easily optimise your posts and pages for Google.

Wordfence

Wordfence

The number one security plugin. Prevents hackers, malicious bots and brute force attacks.

WP Smush

WP Smush

Automatically compresses images to make these file sizes smaller, which in turn helps your site to load faster.

WP Maintenance Mode

WP Maintenance Mode

A simple tool to create an “under construction page” for your visitors to see, whilst you work on your site behind the scenes.

UpdraftPlus Backup

UpdraftPlus Backup

Super-simple backup and restoration tool. A must-have if you make a mistake and need to go back to a previous version, or are unfortunate enough to get hacked.

Combining all these plugins together means your site should be well optimised for search engines, be like a virtual Fort Knox to hackers, and run nice and fast for your site visitors.

Of course you can add any other plugins your need yourself, but we’d recommend trying to keep the amount of plugins to as few as possible.

A site with 20+ plugins all working at the same time is likely to significantly slow down your page load times – a disaster for your visitors who probably won’t hang around waiting for slow pages to load.

Here’s a brief outline of how to get up and running with our pre-installed plugins:


Akismet

Unfortunately spam comments are a real problem in the world of WordPress. Spammers and automated bots trawl the web looking for unsecured comments sections of WordPress sites, so they can leave adverts and links to irrelevant websites.

Akismet checks every comment you receive on your WordPress posts to see if they look like spam – and it’s hugely effective at doing so.

To get Akismet up and running on your site you’ll need create and activate an Akismet account.

When logging into your WordPress dashboard you’ll see this message at the top of almost every page.

Activate Akismet

Just follow the link and you’ll be asked to sign up to Akismet to get an API key – this is required to get Akismet to work. Don’t worry about the technical terminology, just follow the simple steps and you’ll be set up in minutes.

Just sign up to the free “Basic” Akismet plan to get started. However, you may need to consider one of their other plans if you’re using Akismet for commercial purposes.

Activate Akismet

Once signed-up, you’ll be given an API key (a long code). Then return to the Akismet page on your WordPress dashboard (“Settings” >> “Akismet”) and enter the API key.

That’s it. Akismet is now active and will protect your site against spam comments.

All comments can be found in the “Comments” section of your WordPress dashboard.

By hovering over an individual comment and clicking “history”, you’ll be able to see if Akismet has either cleared or marked that particular comment as spam.

Akismet Edit Comment

To learn more about this plugin, check out the Akismet site for detailed guides.


Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO plugin is a complete one-stop-shop for optimising your entire website and its individual posts and pages.

To get started we’d recommend taking the Introduction Tour. This can be found by clicking on the “SEO” link within your WordPress dashboard, and hitting the “General” tab within the plugin.

Yoast SEO

The tour will take you through some of the main sections of Yoast and the key actions you should complete first.

The dashboard will also give you a list of problems and recommended improvements which you can make. Anything critical can usually be found here, alongside tips on how to resolve these issues.

Yoast Dashboard

Yoast will also appear when you create posts and pages, usually below the rich text editor. From this panel you can use the “Snippet editor” where you can edit your SEO title, meta description, as well as previewing what it will look like when displayed in Google.

Check out our Guide to Title Tags and Meta Descriptions over at our blog.

Yoast Dashboard

You’ll also get scores on the post/page readability, and a keyword analysis. All this takes the guesswork out of optimising your content.

Yoast can look fairly complex at first view, but understanding the basics of SEO will give you a much greater appreciation for what it can do for your site.

We recommend checking out our Beginners Guide to SEO, and familiarising yourself with best practices and terminology. Yoast excels because it makes implementing these practices so simple.

As Yoast is universally popular, it comes with a feast of support guides readily available. When you’re ready to get into the nitty gritty of what Yoast can do, check out the Knowledge Base.


Wordfence

WordPress in many ways is a victim of its own popularity, and this is partly why it gets hacked so often.

So much so in fact, using WordPress and various plugins without considering security is a sure fire way to get your site hacked – not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually the chances are you’ll be targeted.

So best be prepared right? This is why we have bundled Wordfence in with our WordPress hosting.

Wordfence is one of the most popular security plugins around.

You can find Wordfence on the left hand side of your WordPress dashboard, and again we’d recommend taking the tour to help you understand all the different areas

Wordfence Tour

As the tour suggests, it’s best to start with a scan. The scan will take a few minutes to run (depending on your site), and it’ll check the entire WordPress install for any malicious files or viruses, as well as any vulnerabilities that need attention.

Some things will be fixed automatically, and some will need your intervention.

Anything that needs action will be showing in the “New Issues” panel further down the page.

Wordfence Issues

As well as a detailed description of what the problem is, you’ll usually be given instructions to fix it (often with just a few clicks of your mouse).

Making sure you have an extremely secure password, running the scan, and fixing any subsequent issues will go a very long way to ensuring you are never hacked.

For the most part Wordfence will run happily in the background without the need for constant tweaking. However, Wordfence goes a lot deeper and offers a wealth of different options too.

Find out what else Wordfence can do with these two official resources…


WP Smush

One of the most common reasons for slow-loading pages is massive image sizes.

Digital cameras and camera phones produce extremely high-quality photos which are great for print, but completely over-the-top for web use.

WP Smush simply optimises and compresses every image you upload to your WordPress site to ensure it’s suitable for the web.

It strips any hidden bulky information included in your image file, as well as compressing the image, to create a much smaller file size.

WP Smush

WP Smush is automatically installed in your WordPress and there’s no set up required. Just upload images to your posts and pages as you go, and WP Smush will automatically optimise them.


WP Maintenance Mode

This plugin allows you to quickly create a holding page (“under construction”) to inform any potential site visitors that your new website is coming soon.

WP Maintenance Mode allows you to easy add text, logos, background images, as well add embed email forms, social media icons and a countdown timer.

Maintenance Mode can be found in the “Settings” section of your WordPress dashboard.

WP Maintenance Mode

When done creating your holding page, make sure you select the “Activated” status and hit “Save settings”.

It’s important to note that only visitors to your site who are not logged into the WordPress dashboard will see your holding page.

So if you’re logged in making changes, you won’t see the holding page. You’ll see your pages and posts as they normally look – which is perfect for when you are mid-design.

Here’s one we made in just a couple of minutes…

WP Maintenance Mode

UpdraftPlus Backup

Backing up any kind of data is always a smart move – even more so if it’s a business critical website.

WordPress makes it pretty easy to back up your entire site with a variety of different plugins, and UpdraftPlus is our pick of the bunch.

Updraft will safely zip all your data (files, images, database, etc.) and back it up to a location of your choice.

Your WordPress hosting is set up to send UpdraftPlus backups to a backup slot on our own servers, however you can also choose to backup to Dropbox, Google Drive, Email, and any other server using FTP.

You can find UpdraftPlus in the “Settings” section of your WordPress dashboard.

UpdraftPlus Backup

Backing up is as simple as it looks; just hit the big blue “Backup Now” button.

And if you ever need to restore… you can probably work out how ☺

A great feature of UpdraftPlus is the ability to run scheduled backups. Under the “Settings” tab of the UpdraftPlus dashboard you’ll find the scheduled backup tool.

UpdraftPlus Settings

From here you can select how often you want to create a scheduled backup, and how many of these backups you should retain at any one time. We recommend retaining no more than five backups – if your site is quite large, more than five backup might cause your backup location to run out of space pretty fast!

Remember to configure scheduled backups for both your files and your database (as shown above).

To learn more about UpdraftPlus; these are the links you’ll need…

If you don’t want to use our pre-installed plugins you can delete them and install your own

Got a question? Get in touch

Remember, if you get stuck with any of the above just get in touch – all of our support team have a good working knowledge of all six plugins.

We can offer support on how to use them all to a basic degree. However, since plugins are a third party product, if there is something wrong with the plugin itself it would need to be taken up with the plugin developer.

Until then, that’s about all you need to know about plugins to unleash the full potential of your WordPress site.

Got a question?

Want to learn more?

Now you know the basics of WordPress – not too taxing right?

But there’s still so much more to learn (you know, if you want to – no pressure!).

When you’re good and ready, come back here and check out some of the best WordPress guides and learning resources the web has to offer.

Learn More

Ultimate WordPress guide for beginners

Take a look at our very own monster 8,500+ word guide on setting up WordPress from top to bottom. This including the basic install process, setting up pages and posts, content creation, SEO, social media marketing, and pretty much anything else you can and can’t think of.

Using WordPress to create a site (not a blog)

Find out how to set up WordPress as a static site and get rid of the “blog” element. Perfect for business websites.

Migrating WordPress to a new host or domain name

Moving your WordPress site to a new host? This guide will tell you everything you need to know, and even how to move your site to a new domain name.

Official WordPress support forum

The undisputed master of WordPress support communities. Here you’ll find tonnes of super-informed WordPress geeks who love nothing more than to help each other out. Theme and plugin developers also frequent the forums to answer questions about their software.

WPBeginner guides

The number one place on the web for unofficial WordPress resources and guides – all aimed at beginners.

The ultimate mega guide to speeding up WordPress

That’s right, not just the ultimate guide, but the ultimate MEGA guide. This resource will take you through pretty much everything possible you can do to speed up the performance and load-time of your WordPress site.

How to add Google Analytics to your WordPress site

Our guide on how to add Google Analytics to your WordPress site using the GA MonsterInsights plugin.

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