Wordpress Beginners: What is a Wordpress Plugin?

Written by Tom Greenwood - May 18, 2012

One of the best things about WordPress is that it is so flexible.  Although WordPress in its standard form is a simple system for publishing and editing web pages, it can also do a huge amount more.

You can add extra features to your website using Plugins, which are extensions that can be installed on your website.  As the name suggests, they are very simple to install.  You just plug them in by going to Plugins > Add New inside your WordPress control panel.

You can search for plugins in the WordPress library from this part of the control panel, or you can upload a plugin that you got from somewhere else (maybe you bought it or had it developed for you)

What can plugins do?

The WordPress community offers over 18,000 individual plugins that can do anything from add a Facebook Like button to you pages to tracking statistics or adding photo galleries.   There are also many plugins that help improve the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your website and evem plugins that enable you to sell your products online through your WordPress website.

Since nearly all plugins are free, they provide a fantastic way to add advanced functionality to your website without spending a huge amount of money.

How do I know if a plugin is good?

Before installing a plugin on your website, do some basic checks to see if it is likely to meet your needs:

  1. Read the description carefully
  2. Check a demo of the plugin or screenshots if there are any
  3. Check the user ratings.  Plugins in the WordPress directory have a start rating, which gives a good indication of whether it is as good as it claims
  4. Does it seem to be from a trusted source.  Most plugins can be downloaded from the WordPress plguins library, but if you find one somewhere else, search for reviews and use your judgement as to whether it looks trustworthy or not

Of course, after that you’ll have to just install it and try it for yourself.  If it doesn’t work the way that you expected, then you can always remove it and try another one.

Are all plugins free?

No.  While the vast majority of plugins can be downloaded for free from the WordPress plugins library, there are some Premium Plugins that you have to buy from the companies that developed them.  In most cases that will be a free alternative that will do what you want, but sometimes the premium plugins offer more sophisticated functions and also a higher level of technical support, since free plugins naturally do not always offer support.

A couple of premium plugins worth looking at are Gravity Forms, which is the most advanced contact form builder for WordPress, and BackupBuddy, which provides a really simple and easy way to backup, restore and migrate your WordPress website.

Can plugins harm my website?

The majority of plugins are pretty harmless, but there are some occasions when they can present a risk to the performance or security of your website. For example:

  1. A plugin conflicts with the code in your WordPress theme or another plugin that you have installed
  2. A plugin has a security hole in it (keeping plugins updated will help avoid this – see screenshot below)
  3. You install so many plugins that they slow down your web server and increase your sites loading times

Try for yourself

If you’ve got a WordPress website and you’re not familiar with plugins, then I strongly urge you to try installing a few plugins on your website to see for yourself how easy they are to find and install, and how quickly they can add really cool new features to your website.

If you’re not sold on WordPress already, take some plugins for a test drive and you soon will be.

If you have any questions about how to get the most out of WordPress, feel free to ask.