Everything you need to know about WordPress Plugins

What are WordPress Plugins?

WordPress plugins are small add-on programs that increase WordPress functionality and enable it to have almost an unlimited number of ways to handle Web content. WordPress users are encouraged to choose any plugins that they need in order to expand their online possibilities, such as adding shopping cart functionality or a contact form to WordPress.

Plugins have the power to transform a WordPress installation into anything the user wants such as an online store or a social networking site. WordPress plugins range between the simple and the complex, depending on the user’s capabilities and needs. They can simply provide new features or else completely change the way the WordPress installation works. Plugins integrate effortlessly with the standard WordPress installation.

Core WordPress Plugins

A core plugin delivers a set of features which are useful to most WordPress users. These features are approved by the contributing developers at WordPress. Contrary to the rest of the plugins available within the WordPress Plugin Directory, core plugins are included with the standard WordPress software installation. Users are given the option to turn the core plugins on or off (like any other plugin). At the moment, only two core plugins are included in the WordPress software installation by default:

  • Akismet: A plugin essential to eliminating comment and trackback spam.
  • Hello Dolly: A plugin which adds some fun to your WordPress installation by greeting you with different lyrics from the song “Hello, Dolly!” every time. It is fundamentally a teaching tool for budding plugin developers.

WordPress Themes vs. WordPress Plugins

Whilst WordPress themes manage the look and feel (such as colours, fonts and layout) of your WordPress blog or website; plugins enable you to make the blog or website work the way you want it.

WordPress themes allow users to change the appearance of their WordPress site. A theme is a collection of template files that govern the design, layout and presentation of the site without affecting the WordPress software. Themes can be changed at any time without changing any of the features applied by WordPress plugins.

WordPress plugins create a program to extend the features and performance of the WordPress software. Plugins are downloaded to provide new features to the administrator or user of the site. Plugins are available for download from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Findings Free Plugins

You can find all the plugins that were approved to be used with WordPress in one central directory. This directory is accessible in two ways:

Installing Plugins through the WordPress Plugin Directory

Click on this link to direct you to the WordPress Plugin Directory

Browsing the WordPress plugin directory

Navigate to the search box and enter the name of a plugin (if you know of a specific one) or a feature you are looking for. Click on the ‘Search Plugins’ button. You can also find a plugin that interests you by going through the list of plugins on the right hand side of the page.

WPWhiteSecurity.com TIP: By selecting the button ‘Most Popular’ under the search box, you will get a list of the plugins which have the greatest number of users and which have been downloaded the most.

Installing Plugins through the WordPress dashboard

Navigate to the Plugins menu in your WordPress dashboard and click on ‘Add New’. This will load the ‘Install Plugins’ page. Use the Search option to search for plugins in the WordPress.org Plugin Directory.

Searching for new plugins in the WordPress dashboard

After you have chosen the plugin you want, click on its link to be able to view details about the plugin. At this point, a pop-up window opens with information about the plugin. The FYI box on the right provides the most important information about the plugin, including version, last update and compatible versions of WordPress. You can also find a rating section below the FYI box. This shows the average rating the plugin has received from its users. If you like the plugin you are reviewing, simply click on the ‘Install Now’ link to install the plugin.

Evaluating WordPress Plugins

The best foolproof method of checking the functionality of a plugin is by examining its source code. However, since not everyone has that kind of programming knowledge, we are offering some simple tips to evaluate a plugin through other means. These methods are quick yet will help you determine how successful the users of the particular WordPress plugin were:

  •  Plugin update: The plugin directory also includes the date when the particular plugin was last updated. Be careful if the plugin has not been updated in quite some time. This might mean that the plugin is no longer being maintained or that the developer stopped supporting it.
  • Plugin version: The WordPress community does not have a standard plugin version numbering. Nevertheless, the higher the version number the more developed the plugin is. If the plugin version states ‘alpha’ or ‘beta’ it means that the plugin is still being tested. Users may still download and use plugins which are in their testing stage, however keep in mind that these may contain bugs that could affect your website.
  • Plugin popularity: All plugins in the WordPress Plugin Directory show the number of times the plugin has been downloaded. Although this number does not show the number of satisfied users, it can be used as a rough measure. You must also take into consideration the amount of time the plugin has been in the repository and whether the feature of the plugin is nice or popular.
  • Number of downloads per day:  The Downloads per Day graph is found in the ‘Stats’ tab. Again, this graph can only be used as a rough indication of the amount of people using the plugin successfully.
  • Plugin ratings: This can be used as an approximate indication of what people think about the plugin. Take into consideration the number of people which rated this plugin; the higher the amount the better the overall picture.
  • The ‘See what others are saying’ section: Take the time to also have a look at the plugin’s Forum page. Both the positive and negative feedback can give you a picture of whether the plugin is doing a good job.

We suggest you use a combination of all these methods in determining whether a WordPress plugin functions as marketed. Beware, these methods can only be used as an indication to evaluate the usefulness of a plugin and cannot substitute plugin testing. It is always a good practice to test a plugin in a WordPress testing environment. For a more detailed explanation on how to choose the best WordPress plugin for your website or blog, read our Guide to choosing the right plugin for WordPress.

 WPWhiteSecurity.com Webmaster Tip: Remember to always test a plugin on a development or testing copy of your WordPress blog! Never test a plugin on the live version of your blog or website since bugs and security issues can disrupt your settings and data.