What are WordPress plugins and what do they do?

by Jun 15, 2022Getting Started, Plugins, WordPress

One of the best things about WordPress is its ability to become any kind of website you want. You can easily create an e-commerce store, a photography blog, or a business website. In most cases, this is done through the use of WordPress plugins.

If you’re new to the world of WordPress, you might be wondering what WordPress plugins are and how they work.

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A power plug on a green background with text: What are plugins? And what do they do?

What is a WordPress plugin?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you probably have a smartphone. (It’s a pretty big limb, considering over 80% of the population owns a smartphone!)

One of the great things about smartphones is the number of apps that can do almost anything you can imagine. You can get your emails straight to your phone with an app. You can edit photos with an app. You can play games on your phone with apps. You can read ebooks with an app.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already well aware of all the amazing things you can do with a smartphone and an app these days.

WordPress plugins work much the same way as apps do on a smartphone. When you first install WordPress on your website, it’s very basic. If you want it to do something specific you need to install a plugin.

Plugins enable beginners to change and add complex functionality to their website.

The best part? You don’t need to know any coding!

Maggie's Mildly Interesting but Ultimately Irrelevant Facts:

Apps on your smartphone are all created by third-party developers, not by Apple or Google. WordPress plugins are exactly the same. They are created by third-party developers, not WordPress itself.

Summary: WordPress plugins are like apps on a smartphone. They allow users to change or add website functions without needing to touch any code.

What can a plugin do?

If you can imagine it, there is a plugin that can do it! Here are some examples of what plugins can do:

    • Create simple or complex booking forms
    • Create contact forms
    • Add an e-commerce store, a shopping cart, or a payment processing system
    • Enhance website security
    • Increase SEO optimisation
    • Add Google Analytics
    • Insert pop-ups
    • Gather email sign-ups
    • …and way too many more to list!

Where do you find plugins?

It’s very easy to find a free plugin. WordPress has its own plugin library that is accessible from your WordPress Dashboard. You can search for a plugin, click the install button and activate it immediately. Voila, you have a contact form ready to go onto a page of your website!

Most of the time, a free plugin will be more than enough to cover your needs as a small business. But, in some circumstances, you will need to buy a premium plugin, for example, if you want to add a membership area.

Memberships take recurring monthly or yearly payments. A plugin like MemberPress or LearnDash will add this functionality to your website. They are premium plugins that cost money – but it’s well worth it when your membership site is bringing in recurring revenue!

Maggie's Super Useful Tips:

Whether you’re looking for a free or paid solution, I recommend doing an internet search for the type of plugin you need. For example, “calendar plugins for wordpress.”

You could even go a step further and look for free or paid plugins by adding that to the search: “free calendar plugins for wordpress.”

I’ve done this many times myself when looking for a new plugin!

Doing a quick search will often yield some great blog posts that compare the best plugins of that type. You can then choose which plugin will best fit your needs because not all plugins are created equal. Some will have more features, more customisation options, and more useful settings. It all depends on what you need it to do.

Summary: an internet search is a great way to find a plugin, but WordPress also has lots of free plugins available from the dashboard.

How many plugins can you use on your website?

Is there such a thing as too many plugins? Will your website crash and burn if you load it up with 50+ plugins?

You might have heard that the more plugins you have, the slower your website will run. This is true to an extent, but if a plugin is well-coded, it should have very little impact on the speed of your website.

That said, it is still best practice to only install the plugins that you need. Occasionally, plugins won’t play nicely with each other, causing issues that could break your website. It’s recommended that if you no longer need a plugin, deactivate and delete it.

How to choose the right plugin

Doing an internet search for the type of plugin you need is a great place to start. Always check that the plugin you’ve found is from a reputable developer or company. Reviews are a great way to confirm if a plugin works as intended.

The free plugin library within the WordPress dashboard has some handy info that can help with making a decision. Each plugin has the following statistics:

  • Active Installations – if this number is in the hundreds of thousands, it’s probably safe. After all, a lot of people are already using it without issue!
  • Reviews (out of 5 Stars) – these are from other WordPress users who have installed and used the plugin. You’ll get a good sense of how well the plugin works.
  • Last Updated – if the plugin has been updated in the last few months, the developers are still supporting the plugin. It’s also less likely that the plugin will cause issues on your website. If it hasn’t been updated in more than a year, maybe try a different plugin.
Image showing where to find the plugin statistics in WordPress

A bad plugin can cause website errors, pose security risks and slow down your website. There are even plugins that will intentionally install malicious code on your website.

Doing your homework and checking these stats can minimise the risk of getting a dodgy plugin.

Summary: only install plugins that are actually useful and check that they are from reputable developers or companies.

Want to know more about building your own website?

If you’re ready to get started, click here to download my free ebook. It walks you through the exact 9 steps you need to follow to build your perfect website.

I hope WordPress plugins are less of a mystery to you now. They are a fantastic way to make your website into anything you can imagine. And you can do it without needing to know any code!

If you have questions, problems, or just wanna say hi – let me know in the comments!

Maggie Duncan profile pic

Maggie Duncan

Self-taught WordPress web designer
I love to help others build their own perfect website by taking away the tech overwhelm and simplifying the industry jargon. As a self-taught web designer, I believe that anyone can learn to build their own website and it doesn't have to be difficult!

Who am I?

Hi! I'm Maggie and I've been building websites for others using WordPress for over 8 years. I'm a self-taught developer and truly believe that in this day and age, anyone can build an amazing website themselves.
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