Plugins are 'add-ons' that add new features and extend the functionality of a WordPress website. There are some 50,000 free and premium (paid) plugins created for different purposes.
Every modern WordPress website uses plugins for features such as contact forms, social sharing buttons, image compression and SEO.
However, do clog your WordPress website with dozens of plugins. Doing so will damage the site's performance. Keep your WordPress optimal by installing only essential plugins and keeping them updated with their latest versions.
Themes and plugins
What is the difference between a theme and a plugin? These is often alot of cross-over between features found in themes and plugins. However, best practices are:
- A theme controls the presentation of your content.
- A plugin controls the behavior and features of your website.
Installing a WordPress plugin
As with themes, you can add plugins by using the inbuilt WordPress installer. Here are the steps:
- In the vertical menu at the left of the screen, click the Plugins option and then Add new.
- On the next screen, at the top-right, click the Search plugins... field, and locate the plugin you want to install.
You can search for a plugin based on name, category, or function.
You are then shown the results from the official WordPress plugins directory.
- When you see the plugin you want, click its Add Now button and then the Activate button.
At any time, you can click the Plugins option in the vertical left menu to view active plugins, and to deactivate or delete plugins.
Managing WordPress plugins
Follow these steps to update your installed plugins:
- On the left side of the dashboard, click on the Plugins option and then Installed Plugins.
- Next, you will see a list of your installed WordPress plugins.
- Click the Update button on any plugin that is out of date.
WordPress will automatically download the most recent version of the plugin and install it. You can repeat this process if you need to update more plugins.
If you have a large number of plugins that need to be updated, you will find it easier to select all plugins. Then, under the bulk Actions menu, choose Update.
Popular WordPress plugins
Next, you will install some popular plugins that are considered essential for every WordPress website.
- Google XML Sitemaps: Generates site maps for better search engine optimization. It's easy to use and is updated regularly.
- MonsterInsights: The most popular Google Analytics plugin for WordPress. You will need to have a Google Analytics ID and to allow the plugin to access your Google Analytics account.
With MonsterInsights, you can view your Google Analytics reports directly from the WordPress dashboard.
- Yoast SEO: Probably the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. Yoast will help you create meta tags and guide you on writing the content of pages and posts.
- Contact Form 7: Enables you to design and create Simple contact and other forms for WordPress.
An alternative option is WPForms
- Smush: 100%-free image resizer and image compressor that will shorten the load time of pages and posts on your WordPress website.
- Wordfence Security: This plugin helps keep your WordPress website safe from hackers and viruses. It includes firewall and malware scanner modules.
- Broken Link Checker: This plugin monitors and tests all internal and external hyperlinks links on your website. Fixing broken links will improve SEO performance and user experience.
Visual page builders
A special category of plugins for WordPress are drag-and-drop page builders. These plugins help you create stylish pages using only a visual editor.
Page designs you create with these are (mostly) independent of your website's current theme.
Top three visual page builders
Here are the most popular visual page builder plugins.
- Elementor: This enables you to design stylish, professional-looking web pages. With a simple drag-and-drop interface, your can add effects such as background overlays, hover effects and animations.
The premium version includes a library of 150-plus templates and some 90 widgets to elements like fancy buttons, star ratings, and progress bars.
Once installed and activated, you can access the Elementor visual editor directly from the left side of your WordPress dashboard.
You can read a quick overview of Elementor on the HubSpot Blog website.
Elementor does have two drawbacks. One, creating all your pages with Elementor can slow down your website load time. Secondly, pages created with Elementor cannot be edited with the default WordPress editor.
- Beaver Builder: This easy-to-use page builder is a good choice for beginners and includes an inbuilt tour to get you quickly familiar with its interface. The free version offers 30 layout options.
- Divi Builder: One of its best features is that you get a live preview of all your web wage designs before publishing them. The free version provides 10 sample page layouts.
Divi Builder is a theme rather than a plugin. It replaces the standard WordPress post editor with a vastly moe powerful visual editor.
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