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How to Use WordPress Plugins

How to use WordPress Plugins? For the unversed, here’s a quick summary of what plugins are: Plugins enhance, and in some cases, even create new WordPress capabilities, so as to allow site owners to efficiently perform, update, and modify default functionalities of a typical WordPress website. For example, there is a plugin to redirect URLs, or, there is a plugin to create Contact us Forms.

If that explanation didn’t make sense, think of plugins as being tantamount to your browser extensions. As of 2019, it was believed that there were more than 50k WP compatible plugins. Why so many? It’s simply because of the pervasive prevalence of WP websites globally. Tons of renowned and famous organizations and brands have their online presence on WordPress.

What Are the Benefits of Plugins?

Plainly put, plugins can do whatever you want your WP website to do. You just have to find the correct one, based on your needs. Specifically:
1. Plugins save time.
2. They’re especially useful to non-developers and coders. For instance, I wouldn’t even know how to backup & restore my entire WordPress site, in case something goes wrong. However, I don’t let that rattle me, as there is an easy to use plugin for it.
3. Lastly, as mentioned, their entire purpose is to amplify your existing site functionalities and create new ones.

What Are the Disadvantages of Plugins?

While fantastic for what they are, in my opinion, two of the biggest disadvantages of plugins are:
1. They can slow your site down.
2. Every plugin is just another opportunity for your site to get under attack, or for a hacker to exploit its vulnerabilities. For this reason, it’s critical to always keep your plugins up to date.
My general rules of thumb are the following, when it comes to deciding whether to use plugins:
1. If something is super easy, takes maybe 4-5 lines of code, don’t use a plugin for it. Go in, and code it yourself. Just make sure to have all the necessary backups in place. Although, if you’re super confident about coding advanced things in too, go for it! It will always work in your favor if you don’t use a plugin.
2. If there is a plugin that you really want, but is extremely heavy, conduct more research to see if there are other light-weight alternatives.
3. For Analytics (such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc.), I know that it’s convenient to have all your data within your WP dashboard; however, you’ll likely have to connect a plugin to those services for you to be able to make it work. I’d rather prefer that you separately log into your analytics platforms, than the expediency of having everything in one place. Why? Because it’s unnecessary. You’re installing plugins — and as discussed, with each one you use, you’re adding extra code to your site, which means, extra security risks, and not to mention, less than ideal site speeds.

How to Use WordPress Plugins

Technically speaking, there are 3 methods through which you can use and install plugins; however, this post will only cover the 2 out of the 3, since in most of the cases, those two will suffice.

Method 1: Installing & Using Plugins via the Default (or Rather, the Most Common Practice)

From the two methods we’ll discuss, this one is, in all likelihood, is the most used form of installing and using WordPress plugins.

To get started, within your WP dashboard, you’d have to:

  1. Navigate to “Plugins” > “Add New.”
  2. Then, from the windowpane on the right, you either search for a plugin you know you want, or explore the default choices given to you. Depending on your WP plan, you might even get some tabs to explore.
  3. Eventually, once you’ve singled out your choice, you’d have to install that plugin. If the goal is to do so for more than one, you’d repeat the process.
installing wp plugins via the default method
Either search for the plugin you need, or explore some tabs that may be offered by your WP plan, such as, “popular.”
  1. Lastly, once you install it, you’d also have to “Activate” the plugin to be able to use it.
activating a wp plugin
Unless you Activate a plugin, you won’t be able to use it.

Side Note: We touched on the total number of WP plugins at the beginning of this post. What’s interesting is that WP itself will tell you how many there are, if you don’t search for anything. See the image below for reference.

total number of free wp plugins
Unsearched,” WP will tell you the total number of plugins available.

Side Note 2: This method is only suitable for using free WP plugins. For installing and using Premium WP plugins, usually, the plugin provider will have instructions for it, or typically, you’d have to use the “upload method.”

Method 2: Installing & Using Premium WP Plugins via the Upload Method

Almost similar to the first method, here, you’d need to manually upload a zip file that’s provided by the plugin provider.

Going back to the step where you search for a plugin, or explore default options, you’d need to click on “Upload Plugin.”

installing wp premium plugins with the upload method
Once you choose to click on “upload plugin,” follow the straightforward instructions. In most instances, your plugin file will be in a .zip format. Lastly, be sure to “activate” your plugin at the end.

Side note (if you’re curious): Touching the discussion on the total number of WP plugins again, I believe WordPress doesn’t account for the premium ones.

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Tweaking & Configuring Your Plugins

Installing the plugin is only part of the process. Next comes the tweaking and configuring part. Once again, there are two methods of doing so.

Method 1: Plugin Settings

After you’ve got all the plugins you’ve required, you can individually tweak & further configure them by going to their settings.

In most situations, the settings option would be available to you under installed plugins (as referenced in the screen capture above) section. However, some plugins will end up occupying a separate space in your WP dashboard, or, within your “General” settings. Image below, for reference.

other plugin settings
Notice how “Smush Pro” has its own thing. Or, notice how “WPS Hide Login” is under the general site settings.

Method 2: Plugin Editor

If you prefer to code things out, WP gives you the flexibility for it. Like the method above, under the main “plugins” section, you should see “plugin editor.” (Screenshot to follow).

Once you’re in, you can tweak the code to your liking.

plugin editor
Select the plugin you want to modify the code for, as demonstrated in the top right corner, and once done, hit “update file.” (Not shown in this screenshot, but if you scroll down, you’ll see that button.)

Note that it is not recommended to update the code for “active” plugins. WP even issues such a warning.

do not make code updates to active plugins

Conclusion

WP Plugins are quintessential to an ideal Content Management System. They’re there when you need them, and not there (when de-activated, or deleted) when you don’t.

In fact, the robustness and the competence of plugins is what continues to make WordPress an indispensable & an ideal choice for many marketers, organizations, and bloggers.