Course: Introduction to Plugins

In this course we’ll show you how to select, install, and configure plugins on your WordPress website. Once you have completed this course, you’ll understand:

  1. Essential plugins for every site
  2. Finding and selecting plugins
  3. Installing and configuring plugins

Essential Plugins for Every Site

In this lesson, we’re going to show you the essential plugins you should include on all of your sites. We’ll cover the following topics:

  • Plugins: definition and function
  • Essential plugins for every site

Let’s get started!

Plugins: definition and function

The definition of plugins

Plugins are an essential part of any WordPress website. If you’ve never worked with WordPress before, let’s start with a definition:

Definition: Plugin


plural noun: plugins

(Computing): A plug-in module or plug-in software.

The function of plugins

In WordPress, plugins add functionality. And because WordPress is an open-source platform, anyone can create a plugin. There are literally tens of thousands of available plugins on the market today, and the number keeps growing. And the vast majority are free.

Whenever you want to add functionality to one of your WordPress websites, plugins are always a good place to start. Here are some examples of the type of functionality you can add with plugins:

  • Backup
  • SEO
  • Contact form
  • Social Media
  • eCommerce
  • Live calendar
  • Store locator
  • Restaurant menu manager
  • Sitemap

And this list is just scratching the surface. If you need any type of specific functionality for your website, chances are there’s a plugin that can do the job.

Essential plugins for every site

While it’s always your call as to which plugins you decide to use on your websites, there are a few that we believe are essential. Here are our recommendations:

1. Backup

In our experience, WordPress is a rock-solid platform. Nonetheless, it’s always a good idea to put a backup process in place, just in case. This will give you and your clients peace of mind, and avert a disaster in case something goes wrong. We recommend the following plugins for backup:

  • UpdraftPlus (free). UpdraftPlus is the best free backup plugin we’ve found. It provides backup to numerous locations, including Amazon S3, Dropbox, Rackspace Cloud Files, Google Drive, Google Cloud Storage, DreamHost DreamObjects, FTP, and email. It also allows you to select the backup frequency and number of backups stored. It does not back up your WordPress installation, so you will need to reinstall WordPress in the event of a restore.
  • BackupBuddy ($80.00+/year). We recommend BackupBuddy if you’re looking for a “set it and forget it” backup option. BackupBuddy allows for backup to numerous locations and flexible scheduling. It also features a one-click restore, which means that you can just point and click if you ever need to restore your site. BackupBuddy also backs up your WordPress installation.

2. SEO

WordPress is one of the most SEO-friendly platforms available today. But if you’re serious about offering SEO as part of your services, you’ll want a more comprehensive solution. We recommend the following plugin for SEO:

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast (free – $89.00+/year). WordPress SEO by Yoast is the “gold standard” of SEO plugins. The free version includes features such as content keyword analysis, page analysis, WordPress SEO settings optimization, XML sitemaps, and much more. The premium version includes some additional features and, most importantly, premium support. We recommend you start with the free version, and only upgrade to the premium version if you feel it’s necessary.

3. Security

Once you’ve developed a healthy volume of traffic to your client’s site, you may experience issues with comment spam if you allow visitors to comment. We recommend the following plugin for controlling comment spam:

  • Akismet (free – $5.00/month) Akismet is the flagship anti-spam plugin for WordPress, and it’s so popular that it comes preinstalled with WordPress. Akismet is easy to configure and use, and it will save you a lot of time if you start to experience comment spam on your client’s site.

Congratulations on completing Lesson 1! You should now know:

  1. The definition and function of plugins
  2. Which plugins are essential for your websites

Finding and Selecting Plugins

In this lesson, we’re going to show you how to find and select the plugins you need for your websites. We’ll cover the following topics:

  • How to find plugins for your websites
  • How to select plugins for your websites

Let’s get started!

How to find plugins for your websites

The easiest way to find a plugin for your site is within the WordPress Dashboard. The Dashboard has a dedicated ‘Plugins’ panel, and you can use it to gather a lot of information before deciding to install.

Start by logging in to your Dashboard, and then clicking on the ‘Plugins’ panel:

WordPress Dashboard Plugins panel

The Plugins panel in the WordPress Dashboard

This will take you to the Plugins page, where you’ll see a list of your installed plugins. You can click on the ‘Add New’ link at the top of the page, or below ‘Plugins’ in the left panel:

Plugins page Add New links

Tip: Redundant Links in WordPress

The ‘Add New’ plugin functionality is a good example of redundancy in WordPress. There are typically multiple areas where you can select an action, and this makes workflow much more efficient. As you gain experience in WordPress, you’ll naturally develop the workflow that works best for you.

Clicking on the ‘Add New’ link takes you to the Plugins Search page by default. Here you can enter a search term and then click on the ‘Search Plugins’ button:

Plugins Search page

The Plugins Search page

Tip: Uploading Plugins

If you look at the previous screenshot, you’ll see an ‘Upload’ link right next to ‘Search’ at the top of the page. You would use this link to upload a plugin that you’ve downloaded to your computer. This process is identical to uploading a theme, which we covered in a previous lesson.

The most common scenario for downloading and then uploading a plugin would be if you’ve purchased a premium plugin.

Once you’ve clicked on the ‘Search Plugins’ button, you’ll get a list of related plugins:

SEO-related plugins list

A list of SEO-related plugins

How to select plugins for your websites

As you can see, there are 1,259 plugins related to SEO! We already know that we want to install WordPress SEO by Yoast. But if we didn’t, we could use some of the features on this page to select our plugin.

The first is the rating, which is indicated by the five stars to the right of the plugin name:

Plugin rating

This rating is generated by users who have rated the plugin. This rating can be deceptive, however: If only three people have rated the plugin, and they all gave it five stars, it will appear as a five-star rating. It’s a good idea to look for plugins that both have a high rating and have been rated by a large number of users.

We can also learn more about a plugin by clicking on the ‘Details’ link that appears under the plugin name:

Plugins list Details link

The Details link in the Plugins list

This generates a popup with details on the plugin. It defaults to the ‘Description’ tab, but there are also ‘Installation’ and ‘FAQ’ tabs at the top of the page:

Plugin Description Details box

The Plugin Description in the Details box

We can see that this plugin is compatible with the most recent version of WordPress, and that it was last updated one month ago. These are good signs that the plugin is current and is being maintained by the developer. We can also see how many times it’s been downloaded, and how many users have rated it.

But we know we want WordPress SEO by Yoast, so we can scroll down the list until we find it:

WordPress SEO by Yoast

The WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin

We can see right away that this plugin has a higher rating than the one at the top of the list. And we can again click on the ‘Details’ link to get more information:

WordPress SEO by Yoast Details box

The Details box for WordPress SEO by Yoast

When comparing the details for this plugin with the first one we reviewed, we can see that this one has vastly superior numbers. In particular, the number of times it’s been downloaded, and the number of users who have rated it are much, much higher.

We will cover all of these steps with video, along with how to install and activate a plugin, in the next lesson.

Resources: WordPress Plugins Page and Web Search

In addition to the plugin search functionality built into WordPress, there are two other ways to find plugins suitable for your website:

1. WordPress Plugins page. You can go to the WordPress Plugins page to search for plugins, as well. If you can’t find what you’re looking for within WordPress, you may be able to gather more information on this page.

2. Web Search. You can also use a basic web search to find WordPress plugins. For example, if you’re looking for an seo plugin, you could use the search term ‘wordpress seo plugin’. This approach may also provide additional information on plugins.

Congratulations on completing Lesson 2! You should now know:

  1. How to find plugins for your websites
  2. How to select plugins for your websites

Installing and Activating Plugins

In this lesson, we’re going to show you how to install and activate a plugin on your website. We’ll cover all the steps in two ways:

  • With text and screenshots
  • With video

Let’s get started!

Installing and activating a plugin: Text and screenshots

Continuing on from the last lesson, our next steps are to install and activate the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. In order to install this plugin, we can simply click on the ‘Install Now’ button in the Details box:

Plugin Details box Install Now button

The ‘Install Now’ button in the Plugin Details box

This takes us to the installation page, where we can see the plugin being installed in real time. Once it’s completed, we can click on the ‘Activate Plugin’ link to activate it:

Plugin Installation page Activate Plugin link

The ‘Activate Plugin’ link on the Plugin Installation page

Once the plugin is activated, we’re returned to the list of our installed plugins, and we can see that WordPress SEO by Yoast has been installed and activated:

Plugins page activated plugin

The activated plugin on the Plugins page

Finding, selecting, installing and activating a plugin: Video

Watch this video to see all of the steps we’ve covered in the last two lessons:

Congratulations on completing Lesson 3! You should now understand how to install and activate a plugin on your websites.

This concludes the Introduction to Plugins course. In our next course, we’ll show you how to add sitewide content.

Go to next Course: Configuring Sitewide Settings