WordPress plugins are the best thing about the self-hosted WordPress community. Just about anything you might want to do with your website can be accomplished by using a plugin that someone else has already created.
Because WordPress is an Open Source project, anyone can access and contribute to the codebase. This allows WordPress developers to build new features and programs that are compatible with the WordPress code. These add-ons are then made available to other users via either the WordPress plugins repository or through third party developer websites that distribute their plugins freely or for a small charge.
WordPress plugins will dramatically increase the power of your small business website, but it’s important to be careful about the plugins you install.
What are WordPress Plugins?
A plugin is a piece of software created by a developer to extend the functionality of a WordPress website. There are thousands of plugins available that can do anything from optimizing images to tracking visitor statistics to creating dynamic maps or chat rooms.
How to Install WordPress Plugins
Most plugins are easy to install. Thousands of free plugins are hosted in the WordPress repository which can be found in the WordPress Admin Panel in your backend dashboard. These same plugins can also be downloaded directly in a .zip file from wordpress.org/plugins.
If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for in the free plugin repository, head to Google and do a search. Chances are you’ll find an answer here, though these WordPress plugins might require a purchase from the plugin author.
Most paid plugins are very reasonable considering the power they bring to your website. Developers spend many hours writing lots of code to create these things, and they deserve to be compensated for it. Personally, I have no problem forking over a few bucks in exchange for the custom software. Totally worth it!
One thing I will mention here is that only self-hosted websites using wordpress.org have access to plugins. The free version at wordpress.com does not include this added functionality. Just one more reason why it’s worth it to go self-hosted, even if it means hiring someone to manage your hosting. Check out our comparison of the two options for more help making that decision.
There are a few WordPress plugins we recommend installing on every website. All of our clients’ sites automatically come with:
1. Jetpack: Adds dozens of features to your website including visitor statistics, image optimization, and social sharing buttons.
2. Akismet: A must-have plugin for reducing spam on your website. Unfortunately, there are bad people out there and we have to combat them.
3. Yoast SEO: This is a great all-in-one solution for jumpstarting a search engine optimization (SEO) plan. It’s not an all-inclusive answer, but it really helps you get started managing SEO for your website.
4. W3 Total Cache: A pretty overwhelming plugin at first, but suffice to say it makes your website load and run faster. It can take a long time to explore all of the settings. Start simple and learn as you go.
5. WP Smush: If you plan to add images to your website (and you should), you need to optimize them for browser delivery. One of the best ways to slow down a site is to add lots of huge image files. WP Smush helps compress your files, thereby making your website faster and maximizing the experience for your visitors.
This is just a start. We install all of these WordPress plugins for free on client sites and then consult with them regularly to determine which other plugins would be useful for their specific needs.
A Word of Caution about WordPress Plugins
One last thing to mention about plugins. While most of them are amazing tools for increasing your website’s functionality, some can cause serious problems or even wreck your site. It’s important to always do your research before installing a new plugin. Read reviews, examine screenshots, and check the “last updated” date.
If you see any red flags, it’s better to move on to the next–especially if you’re doing a DIY job and you don’t understand PHP and/or have direct server access. One bad plugin can knock your site offline in an instant, so be careful or hire someone to help.
WordPress plugins are by far the coolest thing about the WordPress community. A good plugin can add huge value to your website and greatly improve the experience of your visitors. Some plugins even allow you to monetize the site with ads or an online store. I encourage you to check out the resources available and give me a holler if I can help in any way!