A brand new WordPress site can come with mixed feelings. On one hand, you’re starting a new journey online. On the other, the site looks and feels incredibly basic, and the amount of work it requires can seem overwhelming. How do you make the pages look better? How can you use your site to sell? Plugins are how you can do all of those things and more.
Plugins are extensions that are created by third-party developers to help you customize your site.
Want to redesign your site? A page builder plugin can do that.
Want to be able to track your traffic? The Google Analytics plugin is the way to go.
Want to accept payments? The Stripe plugin can offer that functionality.
Sounds amazing right? So how do you install plugins on WordPress site? This article will answer that question.
TL;DR: Plugins can be a great tool to help you build and manage a site correctly. But you have to traverse the waters safely. We recommend you backup your site with BlogVault first, before you add a plugin to WordPress. That way, you can test if the plugin will cause your site any problems and quickly restore your site in case they do.
Once you’ve installed and set up your first WordPress site, plugins are the next step forward. WordPress is known for democratizing publishing on the web, and that is largely accomplished by plugins and themes.
Plugins are designed to be plug-and-play, which means you can add functionality to your site without writing a line of code. Over the years, plugins have evolved to be more sophisticated, so with a few tweaks in the settings, you can get exactly what you want for your site with minimum effort.
As easy as plugins are, there are things to consider before installing them. In this article, we have broken down every aspect of WordPress plugins from a beginner’s perspective. By the end of the article, you’ll be able to confidently decide which plugins to add to your site.
How to install plugins on WordPress (4 Ways)
Let’s talk about how to add a plugin to a WordPress site. There are two parts to adding a plugin: installing and activating. Installing is the act of adding the plugin’s files to your collection of site files. Activating a plugin enables you to start using it. Additionally, there are four methods that we will discuss in this article. So, starting from the easiest, here is how you install a plugin:
How to Install plugins in WordPress via the dashboard
Most well written plugins with free versions can be found in the plugin directory. The easiest way to access your plugin directory is using the WordPress admin panel.
Find plugin: On your wp-admin panel, click Plugins in the sidebar. Then, click Add New. You can look up the plugin you want in the search bar.
Install and activate: Once you find the plugin, click Install. Give it a minute and the plugin will be installed on your website. Next, click Activate to start using the plugin.
How to manually install WordPress plugin from a ZIP file
Plugins that need to be paid for or plugins that can’t be found in the plugin directory can still be installed on your site. You just have to download the plugin’s zip files and upload them to your site.
Download folder: Go to the website or URL of the plugin. If you have to buy it, do that and then download the folder. If not, you can directly download the plugin. It will download to your device as a zipped folder.
Upload folder: Head back to your WordPress admin panel. Then, click Plugins in the sidebar and click Add New. Click Upload Plugin and Choose file. Choose the folder you just downloaded.
Install and activate the plugin: Finally, go ahead and click Install and then Activate. You’re now ready to start using the plugin.
How to manually install WordPress plugin via FTP
An FTP client helps you view your site’s folder structure, like you would files on your computer. It is a common way to access folders and files that you cannot see from your wp-admin, and it is a good skill to learn for when you become more adept at WordPress.
Having said that, using FTP is a manual process and comes with all the risks of human error. We recommend you backup your site with BlogVault, if you haven’t already. A backup provides a safety net to fall back on, in case you’ve accidentally made changes to core files.
Download the plugin folder: First, look up the plugin on WordPress’ plugin directory or on the developer’s website. Download the zip file that contains the plugin’s files. Extract the folder once it’s on your system.
Download Cyberduck: We’re using Cyberduck as our FTP client. There are plenty of other options like FileZilla that are equally popular. You can download whichever you’re comfortable with and install it on your device.
Connect to server: Open Cyberduck and click Open Connection. You need your application credentials to connect to your server. This means username, password, and public IP address. You can find this information with your host. We host our trial sites on Cloudways and these details are in the Access Details section. Once you’ve added those details, click Connect.
Open plugins folder: Next, find the wp-content folder in your root folder. Most times, the root folder is public_html. Once you’ve found it, look for the plugins folder. This is where you will upload your new plugin’s folder.
Upload folder: Right click and click Upload. Then choose the extracted folder. This will install the plugin to your site.
Activate the plugin: To activate the plugin, open the WordPress admin panel of your site. Click Plugins in the sidebar and Installed plugins. Then, find the plugin you just installed and hover over it. Click Activate.
Congratulations! You’ve installed a plugin using an FTP client.
How to add WordPress plugins via WP-CLI
WP-CLI is a command line tool used to control your site. Many developers find the command line interface quicker to operate, as they are accustomed to writing code. Having said that, WP-CLI is easy to use, but it can be daunting for someone with limited or no coding experience.
Note: When we talk about using WP-CLI being easy, we are speaking exclusively about the code and commands themselves. Installing and activating WP-CLI on a computer is a different beast altogether, and can be very time consuming and complicated, depending on the system.
For this article, it was a painstakingly long process and we don’t recommend it, especially for beginners. The amount of things you have to install and the long list of commands you have to get familiar with can be frustrating. But, if you’re ready to give it a shot, here are the steps:
Install WP-CLI: Before you install WP-CLI, you need to install command-line tools for your machine. Then install a package manager called Homebrew and install php. You’re then ready to finally be able to install WP-CLI.
Connect to your server: Open the terminal or command line prompt on your device. This will depend on the type of computer you are using. Then, use the following command to connect to your server:
Replace username and ipaddress with the username and public IP address of your site. You will then be asked for a password. These are usually the same credentials used for FTP clients, but they may well be different. Also, your host may not allow SSH connections at all. Please confirm these details with them before beginning.
Install plugin: Use the following command to install the plugin:
wp plugin install Plugin_Name
Plugin_Name needs to be replaced with the plugin’s actual name. The name is the slug. So, look for the plugin on a search engine and open the link to the WordPress directory link of the plugin. In the URL, the words after ‘/plugin/’ is the slug. For example:
The URL for BlogVault is: https://wordpress.org/plugins/blogvault-real-time-backup/
The slug in this case is blogvault-real-time-backup
So the command line would be:
wp plugin install blogvault-real-time-backup
Activate the plugin: To activate the plugin, add the following to the end of the last command line:
That’s it. You’ve installed the plugin. You can now check if it is installed by heading over to wp-admin and making sure that you can see it on the Plugins page.
How to use plugins on a WordPress site
Once you’ve installed and activated a plugin, how do you start using it? Using a plugin can mean different things depending on the plugin. In most cases, the best way to get familiar with the features of your newly installed plugin is to check out its settings. There are a couple of different ways to find a plugin’s settings page.
Often, you will find a new item in the sidebar of your wp-admin panel. Take a look at the image below. You’ll notice that the Dummy Data Generator plugin has appeared in the sidebar and you can click it to see its settings.
There are other plugins like Yoast SEO that affect blog posts or products. So, you will need to make changes to the product and blog posts.
If that doesn’t work, try the following steps:
Find the list of installed plugins: Click Plugins in the side bar and click Installed plugins. This is where all the plugins you’ve ever installed can be found. You can hover over different plugins and look for links to settings.
Open plugin’s settings: Hover over the plugin you’ve just installed and click Settings. This will open the plugin’s dashboard. This is where you can manipulate the plugin to meet your site’s requirements.
How to uninstall WordPress plugins
You now know how to install a plugin. It’s equally important to know how to uninstall a plugin.
A word of caution here: if you haven’t taken a backup yet, this is a critical time to do so. If you want to remove a plugin that has been on your site for a while, chances are that it is used in places you don’t expect. Therefore uninstalling a plugin can have unexpected consequences, like messing up the design or even breaking the site in some way. Taking a backup means that if something does go wrong, you can restore immediately and start afresh.
Deactivate plugin: On your WordPress admin panel, click Plugins in the sidebar. Then, click Installed Plugins and hover over the plugin you want to uninstall. Click Deactivate.
Delete plugin: Deactivating stops the plugin from working as normal but you still want to delete the plugin to remove it from your site files. So, hover over the deactivated plugin and click Delete.
It’s important to know that deactivating and deleting a plugin can affect the site. For example, if you’ve edited a page using Elementor, when you delete the plugin, the page will revert to a more basic version.
Why are plugins beneficial?
Plugins are a great way to make your site your own, easily. They require little to no coding, making it especially good for beginners.
Extend functionality: A default WordPress site is great for a blog. You can add posts and pages easily. But, you can’t sell from the default WordPress site. This is where the WooCommerce plugin comes to the rescue. Install WooCommerce to be able to sell products or services easily.
Reduces need for coding: Let’s take clearing malware as an example. The manual method of clearing malware involves comparing the code of a clean site and that of the affected site, and then removing it. Plus, you need to do this for the database as well, and all this providing you can actually spot malware in code. This is more prone to human error, time consuming, and extremely difficult, especially for beginners. A security plugin like MalCare can save you a tonne of trouble. It can clear your whole site of malware in just a few clicks.
Tools to improve site: SEO plugins like RankMath, for example, can analyse your site and offer recommendations on improving your site. They help you create content that rank better on search engines like Google. This, in turn, drives traffic to your site and who doesn’t want that?
Offers customisability: The basic WordPress editor, Gutenberg, can be a great tool to customise your page. But, page builders like Elementor and Divi offer additional customisability with easy drag-and-drop interfaces. You can use more fonts, make buttons dynamic, use pre-designed templates, and so much more.
Helps with site management: Maintaining a site involves a routine set of tasks that should be performed on a regular basis. Backing up your site is one of those important tasks. A backup is essentially a copy of your site that you can restore if it crashes. If you have to do it manually, you have to export the site files and database, save them to your device, and upload them to your server at restore. A backup plugin like BlogVault will take a backup automatically and you can restore the site in minutes.
How to choose the right plugins
Plugins is the magical spell that adds functionality to a plain WordPress site. There’s a lot you can accomplish with plugins and even themes, although that’s a separate article.
There are a couple of things to consider when using a plugin. Are all plugins compatible with each other? Are plugins a one-and-done thing or do they have to be maintained? Does it affect your site? We’ll answer these questions in this section.
Updates: We all know that WordPress is an open source software with code that can be manipulated to suit our needs. A plugin is a piece of code that is added to change the way we use the default WordPress code. In true technology fashion, hackers continue to find new ways to make a plugin vulnerable. So good plugin developers will constantly update their products to keep them secure. An update also reduces bugs and adds features to the existing plugin. This makes it important to keep your plugins updated and choose plugins with developers that haven’t abandoned their product. That being said, updates can also cause problems. Make sure to safely update your plugins using a staging site.
Compatibility: Sometimes a plugin (or a new update) can be incompatible with other plugins, themes, or WordPress versions. An incompatible plugin can either make the site function differently that it should or, worst case scenario, crash. This is why we recommend doing your research and check out reviews to understand what the plugin needs. It’s also important to create a backup of your site first with BlogVault. So, even if the site crashes, you have a backup to restore instantly.
Effect on site speed: We mentioned earlier that a plugin is a piece of code. More plugins mean more code is added to your site. While most plugins don’t take up a lot of space, they use server resources to run. A badly written plugin, or code that hasn’t been optimised, can hog up loads of memory and slow down your site. This is why it’s important to delete deactivated plugins and use a speed plugin like Airlift. Airlift optimises your site to make it faster.
The biggest danger is that a badly written or incompatible site plugin can be problematic. To reduce the risk, we recommend you backup your site with BlogVault first. To do this, head to the BlogVault site, then sign up for the free trial. You will then be sent an email with access to your BlogVault dashboard. Then add a site and allow auto-sync. This auto-sync will take a few minutes but it automatically creates a backup of your whole site.
Next, we recommend creating a staging site using BlogVault. A staging site is a duplicate of your site that you can test plugin installs on. You can merge your staging site with your live site, if all goes well.
Plugins can make a world of a difference to your experience as a site owner. It gives you more power to do things for your site, with no need for coding. But there’s a catch. Plugins can be badly written, be incompatible with other extensions on your site, or be abandoned. This makes it important for site owners to maintain regular backups and use staging sites to install or update plugins safely. In all cases, BlogVault is your solution.
Are plugins and extensions different?
In WordPress, specifically, plugins and extensions are often used interchangeably. Sometimes, you’ll notice that WooCommerce has plugins and extensions. In that case, an extension requires a subscription to work correctly. For example, the WooCommerce Subscriptions extension requires the WooCommerce plugin to be installed.
What are the best plugins to install?
BlogVault, MalCare, and Airlift are some of the best site essentials. BlogVault helps you backup and restore your site. MalCare offers security, and Airlift optimizes your site for speed. There are lots of other amazing plugins like Elementor and RankMath that are built by great developers and offer more customizability.
How do I add plugins in WordPress for free?
Not all plugins are free. But, if a plugin is free, you can download the zipped folder from the WordPress repository or the plugin’s website. Then go to your wp-admin panel and click Plugins in the sidebar. Then click Add New and Upload Plugin. Click Choose File and choose the zipped folder you downloaded and click Install. Once the install is completed, click Add New.
How many plugins can you install?
You can install as many plugins as your site needs, but you need to be aware that the more plugins you install, the slower your site will get. So, we recommend you keep it as lean as necessary and uninstall plugins that you are no longer using.
Why are plugins helpful?
Plugins can add functionality to your existing site. They’re pieces of code that are plugged-in to your site files and affect the way you manage or view your site. You can use plugins to take backups, make it more secure, make it faster, help you rank higher, or make your site look more beautiful.