WordPress Plugins 101: What They are, How to Update Them & Which are Essential
What is a WordPress Plugin?
WordPress plugins extend your website beyond its core functionality, allowing you to create an online space that can do pretty much anything. WordPress on its own has tons of features, but plugins allow you to go beyond.
Here are some features you could have on your website through WordPress Plugins (this is by NO means everything, at all):
- A forum for your visitors
- An ecommerce shop
- Displaying social share buttons on your blog posts and pages
- Tracking your users, statistics and reports
Where can you find WordPress Plugins?
There are many places to find WordPress plugins across the internet, but the best place to start (and to find the free ones) is right within your WordPress dashboard!
Simply head to Plugins > Add New and you will find the WordPress plugin directory. Type in the search bar whatever it is you are trying to achieve with your website, and you will see tons and tons of plugin options appear.
You can also find plugins on external websites, sometimes free or paid. We typically start at https://wordpress.org/plugins/ and go from there, but a quickly google search will work, too. We definitely recommend making sure you look at the reviews for a plugin before you buy it or install it. A bad wordpress plugin could cause issues with your website you might not expect, yuck!
How do you install & activate WordPress Plugins?
If you’re inside the plugin directory within your WordPress dashboard, installing & activating wordpress plugins is as simple as clicking the “install” button then “activate” after it’s installed. Done!
If you found a plugin through an external source (maybe you paid for it, or you found it through another website), you’ll have a few extra steps.
Navigate to Plugins > Add New
Choose the .zip file provided by the plugin creator
Not too hard, right?
Note: It’s best practice to make a backup of your website before installing a new plugin. You can create a backup using a plugin such as Backup Buddy or through your host depending on which company your website is hosted with.
How do you update your WordPress Plugins?
Luckily, it’s just as easy to update your WordPress plugins as it is to install and activate them. When a plugin has a new update available (perhaps the plugin creator fixed a bug or added a new feature) you will see an update icon appear on your WordPress admin bar.
Click the Update icon.
Find the plugin you want to update.
Click “Update” and allow it to update.
Note: One thing we like to do is check the compatibility of the new plugin update with our current version of WordPress. You’ll see a note about it on the updates page.
- If it says “100% (according to its author,)” we typically go ahead and update.
- If it says “Unknown” we hold off for now.
Note #2: Make sure to create a backup of your website before doing updates!
How many WordPress Plugins should you have?
With so many great WordPress plugins to choose from, it can be really easy to go overboard really quickly. All of a sudden you have 50 plugins installed and activated on your site, which seems like a dream come true, but it’s definitely not.
Too many plugins can cause issues with speed & compatibility (occasionally,, one plugin’s code will conflict with another one, causing unintended consequences on your site).
There is no true “magic number” for how many wordpress plugins you should have, and it certainly depends on the goals of your website.
However, we have a reference for our clients!
- You have a basic website. You maybe have a blog, you want to share your social links, you have a place for people to learn about your business and services. At most, you’ll likely need between 4 and 6 plugins.
- You have a more advanced website. You might sell products on your website, have a community forum, etc. At most, you’re looking at maybe 10 or so plugins.
- You have a membership site. These are typically the most plugin-intensive websites. At most, you’ll have around 15 plugins.
Keep in mind, these aren’t hard and fast numbers or rules, merely guidelines! Less is more when it comes to wordpress plugins. If you aren’t using a particular plugin’s functionality, you don’t need it, so get rid of it and keep it clean!
What are the Best WordPress Plugins for Beginners?
When you’re just starting out, you might be wondering what wordpress plugins are essential. Here are the plugins we install on almost every website we create for clients.
All of these plugins can be found in the WordPress plugin directory & are free!
- Yoast SEO: You want people to find your website, right? One of the best ways is to make sure your website is Search Engine Optimized. Without a doubt, the easiest way to do this is to use the Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin. This plugin helps google find your website AND shows you an SEO rating (with a red, yellow or green light + valuable tips) for each page, post, product, etc.
- Pretty Links: We love the pretty links plugin. We even wrote an entire blog post about its power for website link tracking! Pretty links will allow you to shorten any link using your URL making it easy for someone to remember AND track those links and clicks.
- JetPack or Google Analytics: Visitor statistics & reports are incredibly important to collect on your website – you need to know how many people are visiting your website, what they’re clicking on, how long they’re staying, etc. Either the Jetpack or Google Analytics wordpress plugin will work for you – the Jetpack being super easy to set up for beginners and the google analytics one being a little more in-depth (but much more data intensive).
- Social Warfare: If you want to make it easy for a visitor to share out your content, blog posts or pages, this plugin works very well! You can choose where you share buttons appear, what they look like, and what social channels they connect to. This is our personal favorite, although there are plenty of wordpress plugins that do the same job, too.
- Monarch: If you are already utilizing Divi by Elegant Themes (affiliate link) you have access to Monarch which is an alternative plugin to Social Warfare. I’ve recently become enamored with this plugin for ALL of its customization (you can choose wherever you want it, what the social share buttons look like and more.)
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Sam is the CEO and lead web developer of Sam Munoz Consulting, LLC. Through years of coding, development & design experience - she is all about simplicity, minimalism & making websites that align with her client's business models & goals.
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