In the previous post, we discussed the ease with which you can customize WordPress. Two factors that make this possible are 1) the availability of beautiful themes for WordPress and 2) the availability of premium WordPress plugins.
The WordPress community is so huge that both of the above can be obtained at no charge (FREE) or can be purchased for a small donation. It is not difficult to find plugins that create the perfect look and feel of your website.
Three simple ways to find them are:
- As with themes, you can also search for and add plugins through your WordPress Dashboard. Some of them come with an option to upgrade for even more features. You can either scroll through the entire list or search for a specific function. Some premium plugins must be downloaded to your computer from a different site and then, uploaded to your WordPress site via your dashboard – most of them come with step-by-step instructions. (Always upload the ZIP file – do not extract files first).
- Go to www.WordPress.org – click “plugins” and scan through the list to see what is available. As of this writing there are 31,243 plugins available.
- Do a Google search for “premium WordPress plugins” – There are many choices.
Before you buy a theme or download FREE themes or plugins – check the vendor to ensure they are well-known and legitimate. Most themes include some plugins which may give the theme its functions – be sure to review them. This is important so you do not install additional plugins that may work against them. One useless one that is almost always included is Hello Dolly – simply uninstall and delete.
Always install only one plugin at a time. Then, test your site and make sure it still works correctly. Sometimes a new plugin will cause problems. If you install them individually, you can catch issues immediately, rather than be forced to guess which one is problematic (which can happen if you install several all at once without checking your website in between installments).
The reality is that some plugins do not work well together. This is another reason why you should read the documentation and reviews on any plugin you are considering.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – This plugin is excellent. It allows you to improve the search engine optimization (SEO) of your WordPress site. There are some SEO built into WordPress, but this plugin enhances those features. For example, it helps you focus on a specific keyword within each blog post and more. It also gives you a “green light” when it is optimized.
- Google Sitemap Plugin – You can create and add a sitemap file to Google’s webmaster tools. The purpose is to help you with your Google ranking – a good thing – since Google continues to hold the top spot among search engines.
- Akismet – This plugin was already installed on WordPress when I built my websites – which is usually the case. Some say it is a “must have” – others don’t like it. Its purpose is to help you with spam comments. It must be activated by getting an Akismet.com API key. A small fee is required for business websites. Personal blogs are free. I personally did not find this very helpful. There are other options available like Comment Redlist, which you may want to explore.
- UpdraftPlus – This is a backup and restoration plugin. It is critical to have some kind of back up service for protection. If anything happens, with this type of plugin you can reactivate your site.
- VaultPress is a backup and security plugin that offers plans from $5/month per site. Services include daily backup, automated restore, 30-day backup archive, and support.
- W3 Total Cache improves server performance, reduces download times which keeps visitors happy. Works well and is a smart choice. Recommended by many of the hosting companies, e.g. GoDaddy and HostGator.
- Broken Link Checker – With a large site, it can be time consuming and cumbersome to manually check for broken links – and they will happen even on the best websites. This plugin helps prevent frustration of customers and loss of sales that result from them.
- Contact Form – People must be able to contact you and a form makes it easy for them – plus it cuts down on spam. There is not a lot of feedback on the site, but it’s free and worth a try; or you can choose to invest a little and get a better form maker through Gravity Forms. An annual license for three sites is $99.
- iThemes Security(Formerly Better WP Security) – This plugin is easy to use and will immediately improve the security of your WordPress site. The best part is that you do not have to understand how it works. However, be careful when you install it, read the directions carefully, or you can lock yourself out of your website. If you are going to pick only one on this list – this is the one. NOTE: iThemes Security recommends that you make a complete backup of your site before beginning the installation.
You can access each of the plugins by clicking on the link and downloading them into a plugin folder on your computer. Then, install them one at a time so can catch problems as they arise.
How to Install a Plugin from your Dashboard
Automatic Plugin Installation (Instructions from WordPress)
WordPress Plugins Panel
- On your Dashboard – click on the Plugin ICON (highlighted in blue on the left in the image below).
- The page below will appear.
- CLICK on “Add New” – the page below will appear
- In the SEARCH box, type in the name of the WordPress Plugin you are looking for.
- It will take you to the WordPress Plugin you wish to install.
- Click Details for more information about the Plugin and instructions you may wish to print or save to help setup the Plugin.
- Click Install Now to install the WordPress Plugin.
- A popup window will ask you to confirm your wish to install the Plugin.
- If this is the first time you’ve installed a WordPress Plugin, you may need to enter the FTP login credential information. If you’ve installed a Plugin before, it will still have the login information. This information is available through your web server host.
- Click Proceed to continue with the installation. The resulting installation screen will list the installation as successful or note any problems during the install.
- If successful, click Activate Plugin to activate it, or Return to Plugin Installer for further actions.
OR . . . . UPLOAD a premium Plugin that you have downloaded onto your computer from another website.
On the Install Plugins page shown above, click on “UPLOAD” instead of using the search box. This will bring up the following page:
Click on “Choose File” and select a downloaded ZIP file from your computer and click on “Install Now” – then, “Activate”
You can also find premium plugins by developers who will offer a free version on the WordPress.org site – and then on the dashboard you will be able to upgrade if you choose. It is a good idea to read reviews of plugins to make sure that developers are still supporting them (sometimes, they stop supporting them).
Things change so rapidly in the world of technology it should be noted that the plugins listed in this post may be out of date by the time you read this. But . . . you can still use the information as a guide regarding the types of plugins that you need – in the beginning. When you are a building your first website, making those decisions can be overwhelming. There are so many plugins available it is difficult to determine which ones are critical and which ones can wait (or you may never need).
Wrapping It Up
WordPress is a dynamic website building software that anyone can use. Yes, there is a learning curve, but one that you can easily handle when building your first website and blog. It can be more complicated if you want an ecommerce website with message boards, and more. But, WordPress works well for most people who want a professional-looking website for their business and do not have thousands of hours (or dollars) to make it happen. It is worth the time and effort to try it out.