It’s a question we’ve all asked at one stage or another – “What is a WordPress plugin?”
And here’s the answer…
A plugin is a script or program you add to the core files to make WordPress do something it wouldn’t normally do.
For example, SEO.
Getting traffic from search engines is the goal for most of us. But the built-in SEO features of WordPress are limited. Which is why you need a plugin.
You will also need to install a WordPress plugin for:
- Adding one or more contact forms
- Adding social sharing buttons so people can share your articles on social media
- Creating a membership site or area
- Selling stuff
- Managing multiple authors and restricting what they can and cannot do
- Backing up your website
- Stopping comment spam
- Getting people to sign up to your mailing list
- Increasing security
- And a whole load of other things too…
Don’t worry, most basic plugins are free and available from the WordPress plugin directory or through the admin area of your WordPress site (the easiest route).
However, there’s a growing market of premium plugins – these are ones you pay for. More on these in a moment or two.
The biggest issue is choosing which ones to use and which to avoid.
Free WordPress Plugins
At the time of writing this post there are 36,342 plugins in the official WordPress plugins directory, and the amount increases every day.
As you can imagine, thousands of these plugins get lost in the noise, but there are some most WordPress users consider ‘essential’.
They perform tasks every site needs, such as:
- Catching spam comments
- Helping with SEO
- Creating contact forms
- Backing up the database
- Social sharing
- Displaying Google Analytics data without logging into Google
- Managing multiple authors
After that, your essential list’ depends upon the goals of your blog and what you use it for.
A word of warning: sometimes plugins break. They just stop working for no clear reason.
Why would a plugin suddenly stop working? The most likely cause is an update in WordPress (which typically happens every three months or so) that conflicts with the plugin’s code.
If it happens to a plugin you use and the author’s abandoned the project, you could ask somebody to try to fix it for you (try the WordPress forum) or look for an alternative.
Premium WordPress Plugins
A ‘premium’ plugin is one you buy. Some are cheap, some are expensive.
Before you dismiss the idea of paying for a plugin, consider how much extra it brings to your site and how much time it saves you.
In the past I’ve wasted hours trying to find a free plugin for a particular task, only to eventually end up paying a few dollars for one that was quick and easy to set up.
The main advantages of buying a plugin is support and quality.
Because you’ve paid for it, you can pretty much guarantee there will be at least a good level of support should things go wrong.
And because you’ve paid for it, you can usually expect a high standard of coding and ease of setup.
Essential WordPress Plugins
There are a few plugins every site should use. They’re useful for optimising your blog so your pages rank in the search engines, helping Google crawl and index your pages, making your site run faster and general housekeeping.
(This is by no means a definitive list.)
- Akismet – Spam catcher; included in WordPress by default
- All in One SEO Pack or WordPress SEO by Yoast – Surprisingly, WordPress has no SEO features built-in. These are two of the best SEO plugins around.
- Broken Link Checker – Good for housekeeping your site
- Contact Form 7 – Contact form plugin, there are others but this is one of the easiest to use
- Digg Digg – Social media buttons to share your content
- Google XML Sitemap – Helps Google index your site
- WP Super Cache – Creates static versions of your pages to enable faster loading
All WordPress sites need plugins. Even the smallest and most simple.
I’ve used WordPress since 2006 and tend to stick to using the plugins I know and trust. I don’t see the point in looking for an alternative when something is working well.
That said, there are two types of plugin that I’ve swapped and changed. The first is for social sharing and the second is for backing up my sites.
Which ones you choose to use depends upon what you want to do, but I hope this post has given you enough of an insight into what a plugin is and what it does for a WordPress site?
If you need help or advice, please ask in the comments or send me an email and I’ll do my best to help you.