An Introduction to WordPress Plugins

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The default WordPress site is basic. It’s a blank canvas for you to jazz up and make your own. Maybe this means turning your site into an ecommerce store or using a pre-designed template for your blog page. You could even start selling courses on your WordPress site. But, how do you do all of that? Plugins. 

  • What are plugins in WordPress?
  • How do they work?
  • Does it require coding?

We’ll talk about it all in this article. We’ll dive into all things plugins so you’re ready to build your site.

TL;DR: Plugins help beginners build their dream WordPress sites. But, there’s a small catch. They can cause your site to have bugs or…at its worst…crash. This is why you should back up your site with BlogVault first, so you always have insurance.

There is a plugin for every requirement. You can make a membership site with membership plugins like WooCommerce Memberships. You can start accepting payments with payment gateway plugins like Stripe or PayPal. You can start dropshipping with a great dropshipping plugin like AliDropship. Sounds great, right? So, let’s talk about plugins and how they work. 

What are plugins in WordPress?

A WordPress plug-in is a piece of software that add functionality to your WordPress site without the need to code. For example, a booking plugin like WooCommerce Bookings helps you add the ability to accept and manage bookings to your default WordPress site. They’re typically built by third-party developers and can be either free or cost a premium. You can either find them on the WordPress plugin directory or download them from developers’ websites.

Why do you need plugins?

There is a world of opportunity with plugins. If you can think of it, it’s probably made possible with a plugin. Here are some examples of what you can do and which plugins offer that functionality:

  • Add ecommerce functionality: The default WordPress site is perfect for blogs. But, you can’t sell products or services on it yet. The WooCommerce plugins adds an ecommerce functionality to your WordPress site. You can add products, accept payments via gateways, manage shipping, and all other aspects of operating a store. 
  • Offer SEO advice: An important goal of every website is to reach the right audience. SEO plugins like AIOSEO analyse your site’s content and offer advice on how to optimise it for a search engine. 
  • Improve security: Your site will have content, data, visitors, and much more. Apart from that, just by the virtue of existing, your site is attractive to hackers wanting to misuse it. Since you are going to build a site, you need to be aware of the importance of security. Installing a security plugin is integral for general site maintenance. MalCare, for example, makes scanning for and cleaning malware very easy. It only takes a few clicks and you can be set up in just a few minutes.
  • Help with design: SeedProd is one of many page builder plugins that helps site owners design their dream website. Every aspect of site design is made customisable and it doesn’t require coding. Page builder plugins are the shortcut to beautiful websites. 
  • Provide information about traffic: MonsterInsights is an amazing plugin that can track traffic on your site and show you what is working or isn’t working. MonsterInsights also pairs well with SEO plugins to help you rank better. 
  • Accept payments: Payment gateways like Stripe and PayPal have plugins that can be integrated to your WooCommerce site. These plugins then enable the actual payment gateway to handle transactions on your site, without any of the hassle of wrangling banks and compliances. 
  • Optimise speed: While content is a big part of SEO, speed is equally important. As you add more plugins, like a page builder for instance, you’ll see that your site becomes less than lightning fast. Unfortunately, this has consequences. A slow site is ranked lower by search engines. This is why a speed plugin like Airlift is very useful. It optimises the code, behind the scenes, to make your pages load faster. 
  • Create backup: Once you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to build your site, you want to protect it with a backup. Taking a backup should be as routine as brushing your teeth. It’s a great way to ensure that no matter what happens you will never lose your site data. BlogVault, a backup plugin, automatically takes backups without you having to move a finger. 

We recommend you checkout our list of must have plugins.

How does the WordPress plugin work

Third-party developers create code that performs a specific function when an event is triggered. This may sound like a lot, so let’s break it down with an example. Let’s imagine that a developer wanted to create code that adds “Hello World!” at the start of every blog post. In this example, the function is the task of adding “Hello World”. The event is when a blog post is written. So, when the event takes place, the function is triggered, or “Hello World!” appears at the beginning of the post.

To make the code into a plugin, the developer uses WordPress Plugin API hooks. A hook, in WordPress, is code that manipulates the way a site functions in real time.  Hooks are used extensively by plugins and by WordPress core itself. 

For you to start using this same plugin, you have to install it on your site. This essentially means adding the plugin’s code to your site files. We’ll discuss how to install a plugin in the next section. 

What are the pros and ons of plugins?

Let’s take a second to talk about the good, bad and the ugly of plugins. Can you live without them? What are the benefits of WordPress plugins?

Pros

  • Saves time: It saves you the time and effort it takes to do something. Developers across the world have developed code for a specific task and you don’t have to recreate that code if you want that same task to be performed.
  • Easy to use: They’re typically very easy to install, update or setup. Within minutes, you’ll be closer to your dream site. They also typically come with documentation and support if you’re looking for more help.
  • No coding: Doesn’t require any coding. It’s a great way for beginners to add new features and functionality to their WordPress sites. This makes it really good for beginners. But it’s also flexible code. So, exerts can make changes if they want.

Cons

  • Slows down site: Your site’s speed is dependent on how much space is left on your server . Each installed plugin takes up more space. Badly written plugins take up far more space than good ones. So, definitely download plugins that are made by reputable developers and use a performance plugin like Airlift. Airlift can optimise your site code to make it faster.
  • Vulnerabilities: Phishers or hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to crack the code and retrieve data from your site. Plugins are often an easy target. So, it’s important to find plugins that are frequently updated for bugs and security fixes. Additionally, we recommend installing MalCare, a security plugin that alerts you of vulnerabilities.
  • Compatibility: They can sometimes clash with other plugins or themes or even the WordPress version. These issues can cause your site to glitch or crash. This is why we recommend backing up your site first and installing plugins using a staging site.

How to install a WordPress plugin

There are a couple of different methods of adding plugins to your website. Here’s a complete guide to installing WordPress plugins. But in this section, we’ll discuss the easiest method:

Step 1: Find plugin – On the wp-admin panel, click Plugins in the sidebar. Then, click Add New. You can now search for a plugin using the search bar on the top right. Either search for the plugin name if you already know what you want to install, or you can look for functionality instead and look at the options. In our example, we’re going to install the MalCare plugin.

Step 2: Install plugin – Once you find the plugin, click Install. It might take a few minutes depending on the size of the plugin. This process is adding the plugin files to your site files. 

Step 3: Activate plugin – Click Activate when the install is done. You’re now ready to start using the plugin.

WP Add Plugins MalCare

Note: Not every plugin will be found in the plugin directory. So, if you are looking for a specific one and can’t find it, download the plugin from its developer site and then upload it to your site. In general, it is easier to manage updates when the plugin is on the WordPress repository, however that is a guideline not a rule. 

How to update a WordPress plugin safely

Great plugins are frequently updated because an update adds new features and removes bugs. You’ll get notified of an update being available on your dashboard or settings page. You can update the plugins from the wp-admin panel. However, updates are known to sometimes cause issues on your site, like design issues or even crashes. So tread carefully. The following steps outline the most straightforward way but you can checkout our guide to updating a plugin safely.

Step 1: Select plugin – Click Plugins in the sidebar and click Installed plugins. Scroll till you find the plugin you want to update. Check the corresponding box.

Step 2: Update plugin – Click Bulk Actions at the top. Pick Update from the dropdown.

How to deactivate or remove a WordPress plugin

Inactive plugins are frequently forgotten, and therefore are not regularly updated. This is a security risk for your site, so we recommend you uninstall the ones that you don’t use anymore. Other times, you may have moved on to a competitor. Whatever the reason for uninstalling a plugin, here are the steps to do so: 

Step 1: Find plugin – Click Plugins in the sidebar and then click Installed plugins. Scroll down till you find the one you want to uninstall.

Step 2: Deactivate plugin – Click Deactivate to stop the plugin from being active on your site.  

Step 3: Delete plugin – Click Delete to remove the plugin’s files from your site files. This officially uninstalls the plugin. 

Note: Depending on the plugin and what it does, uninstalling a plugin may affect your site. For example, if you’re uninstalling a page builder, your pages will not look like they used to. So be mindful about the effects of removing a plugin and, as we said in the update section, use a staging site to test out these changes first. 

What types of plugins are important?

We’ve talked about what plugins are and how to use them. But where do you start? Which categories of plugins are important for general site maintenance? This section will cover our top 4 plugin types:

  • Backup: A backup plugin is the first plugin we recommend you download. Backups act as insurance you can fall back on in the worst case scenario. BlogVault takes daily automated backups, or even takes them on demand. Additionally, BlogVault enables you to update plugins safely from the dashboard. Plus, backups come with a staging site thrown in for free.
  • Security: Security is of utmost importance. MalCare helps you clean your site of malware in minutes, and the firewall protects your site from potential attacks. It’s a very beginner-friendly yet powerful plugin. 
  • Performance: Having a slow site can cause you to lose traffic and positions in search engine rankings. This makes it important to have a performance plugin that optimises your site code to make it faster. Airlift does just that. Plus it is very cool to have a fast site. 
  • SEO: Another factor that affects traffic and rankings is SEO. This is why we recommend using an SEO plugin like AIOSEO. AIOSEO takes care of a lot of the technical SEO tasks and offers information on how to optimise your content. This makes it an important tool to soar in the search engine rankings. 

What to do if a plugin crashes your site

Plugins and their updates can make your site buggy or crash. This is why we recommend you backup your site before every change, including plugin installs and updates. This way, you’re always prepared for the worst case scenario. So, if your site crashes, we recommend you restore a backup with BlogVault first. If you don’t have a backup, don’t worry. All is not lost. Here are the steps to regain access to your site. 

  • Install an FTP client: You’ll need an FTP client like Cyberduck or Filezilla. The first step is to install it on your device. You can use an FTP client to connect to your server and site files, giving you behind the scenes access.
  • Connect to your server: To connect to your server, you will need FTP credentials. You can get these credentials from the hosting provider. I’m hosting my trial site on Cloudways and it’s in the Access details section. You need a public IP, username, and password. On Cyberduck, click Open Connection and add these details. Click Connect
  • Deactivate the faulty plugin: You’ll need to open your root folder. Typically, this is the public_html folder but may be different for your site. Open that and go to wp_content. Then go to the plugins folder and find the errant plugin. Rename its folder. You can rename it {plugin name}.off for example. This will cause the plugin to deactivate. 
  • Check the site: Go back to your browser and check if you’re able to access your wp-admin panel. If you are, go ahead to the next step. If not, repeat the previous step with every plugin you’ve got on your site, one by one, till your wp-admin panel is restored. Once it’s back, you’ve identified the problem plugin.
  • Reverse the issue: If it’s an update that caused the issue, install a rollback plugin and roll it back to an older version that worked better. If you had just installed the plugin, we recommend uninstalling it and finding a better alternative. It is not playing well with our site, server, another plugin, or a theme. Unless you are up for some extensive and time-consuming debugging, look for another option. Once you’re done, reactivate all the other plugins using FTP, by restoring the plugin folder names to the originals. 
  • Take a backup: Lastly, we recommend you take a backup of your site so you don’t have to go through all that work ever again. Connect to BlogVault and allow the auto-sync to take a backup. If this situation ever arises again, you can log into your BlogVault account, select the latest backup of your working site and restore it. Good as new in a few minutes, and no need to fidget with FTP at all. 

Final thoughts

Plugins are pieces of code that help you customise your site. We are very grateful for developers that make amazing plugins and make our lives easier. We hope you’ve found a new appreciation for them too.

But, like we’ve mentioned earlier, it can be a little tricky. It’s difficult to balance the risk of causing your site trouble and installing plugins that make your life easier. BlogVault helps you navigate that successfully, by taking out a lot of the risk. It takes daily automatic backups so you always have a functioning version of your site to revert to. 

FAQs

What are some examples of plugins?

SeedProd or its alternatives Elementor, Divi, WPBakery, and Beaver Builder are amazing page builder plugins. MonsterInsights can track traffic well. BlogVault, MalCare, and Airlift are great site essentials. There is a plugin for anything you’ll want to do with your site. 

What are the basic plugins for WordPress?
You need a backup plugin like BlogVault. A security plugin like MalCare is important too. Airlift is an essential speed plugin and you’ll need a page builder plugin like SeedProd. The MonsterInsights plugin helps you understand your audience and AIOSEO helps you rank better. Check out our list of essential plugins for more.

What is the use of a plugin?

Plugins can add functionality, influence the interface, and help you manage your site. All of it and more can be done without any coding required. This makes it a great tool for beginners, especially. 

Do you need to use plugins?

You don’t need to use plugins but they definitely make your life so much easier. They allow you change things on your site without needing to make changes to the site’s core files. They’re easy to install and use. They’re great for beginners.

How many plugins should a WordPress site have?

Install as many plugins as you need. There is no limit to installing plugins except for server space but lesser server space can affect page load speed. So, uninstall plugins you’re no longer using and install a speed plugin like Airlift.

Are WordPress plugins safe?

Well written WordPress plugins are safer than others. They’re being constantly updated for bugs and vulnerability fixes. They’re built with security in mind. But, as an added layer of protection, we recommend installing the MalCare plugin because it detects vulnerabilities.

How many plugins are there?

There are over 50,000 free plugins and an undetermined number of premium ones. Any third party developer can develop a plugin. IF you can think of it, you can probably find a plugin for it.

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