Everything You Need to Know About WordPress Plugins - Mad Lemmings

Everything You Need to Know About WordPress Plugins

In this post I am going to give you the low down on plugins, what they are, how they work and more!

If you’re already using WordPress for your website, you’re probably using plugins to make a lot features possible.

If you’re just starting out with WordPress, you may be a little lost on what plugins are and how they work.

No matter which category you fall into, there are some things you probably don’t know or could use a refresher on.

What Are WordPress Plugins?

Plugins are bits of software your can use on WordPress sites to increase the overall functionality of your site.

WordPress plugins can help with things like:

The possibilities on what you can find a plugin for are pretty much endless.

Some plugins are free, while others cost a one time or reoccurring subscription fee (which are sometimes called Premium Plugins).

Plugins Versus Widgets

Many first time WordPress users and explorers get really confused on the difference between a plugin and a widget.

While they both work as little pieces of extra functionality on your website, there are some big difference between the two.

First, widgets have more of a specific purpose and are often designed to display something.

Second, widgets must be placed in a specific location on your website – usually the sidebar or footer.

Note: Technically widgets can be placed in any widgetized area of your website ( this a place where you can put widgets and is determined by your theme ).

So the short version: A widget’s functionality may be built into your theme or come with a plugin, but it is always placed somewhere specific.

To view and edit your widgets go to:

  • your website Dashboard
  • click on Appearance
  • now click on Widgets

On the widgets page you will see all of your widgets on the left side and all of the places you can use them on the right. (see an example from this website below)

Widgets Page

On the other hand, to view your plugins list go to:

  • your website Dashboard
  • click on Plugins
Plugins Page

Here you can see a list of your plugins and options to activate, deactivate, delete and update them.

How To Find, Install, and Configure Plugins

There are two main ways you can add a plugin to your website:

  1. You can search for a plugin via the plugins page on your site
  2. Or you can upload a plugin you have downloaded from somewhere else.

To search for new plugins:

  • go to the Plugin page
  • click Add New right at the top

Once you are on this page, you will see a list of recommended plugins and the search bar to find new plugins.

Search for WordPress plugins

When you are downloading new plugins like this, all you have to do is click “Install Now” next to the plugin you would like to use.

Once it is installed – don’t forget to activate it!

Uploading Plugins

If you are wanting to use a plugin you purchased or downloaded from another website, you will need the plugin .zip file.

Then you need to upload the .zip file into WordPress:

  • choose Upload Plugin from the Add New Plugin page 
  • now drag over or choose your .zip file via the button
Upload New WordPress Plugin

Once the plugin is uploaded or installed, you should go to your plugin list and click “activate” next to the plugin.

Configuring Plugins

To configure the new plugin, you will go to the plugins settings either using the link by the plugin name on the plugin page or by going to the plugins tab on your dashboard.​

See the Pro Tip below for more information.​

How To Configure/Find The New Plugin (Pro Tip):

Once a WordPress Plugin is installed, it can be sometimes hard to find where it is in the menu or dashboard. So here are some tips on where to look in case it is not obvious:

  • First look for the Plugin Name in your menu, often it has it's own menu item and icon
  • Two other common places to put plugins are the Settings or Tools menus 
  • If you still cannot find it, go to the Installed Plugins List, find your plugin and click on the Settings link which might be in the description somewhere
  • Last, if the plugin has added something specific to your Posts/Pages toolbar or other functionality, you might only see it where it is to be used. Check the Plugin documentation and Screenshots to find more information.

Plugin Upload Video Tutorial:

Want to see step by step how to upload a plugin?

We have a video tutorial that shows how to upload a plugin that you can find on Youtube or simply view below.

Premium/Paid Plugins Versus Free Plugins

As I mentioned earlier, Plugins come at all different price points.

  • Some are FREE
  • Some have a one-time cost 
  • Some have an ongoing/subscription cost 
  • Some have a free and a pro version

We’ll talk about deciding if a plugin is good or not next, but all in all, the price you should pay for a plugin all depends on the:

  • Functionality
  • Advanced Options
  • Updates and Support

For example, while there are tons off free plugins for email opt in boxes, and they usually come with only limited functionally and styles (looks).

When you pay for a premium email optin plugin, you will typically have more advanced options to edit your fonts, colors, sizes and more.

How To Choose The Best Plugin

Choosing the best plugin isn’t just about the cost of that plugin.

The best way to decide if a plugin is “good” or not is to view its rating, reviews and functionality on WordPress.org.

The plugin profile on WordPress.org allows you to view

  • reviews
  • the overall rating
  • functionality requirements
  • screenshots
  • the support forum
  • the date of the last update and more

The first thing you want to look at is the reviews and ratings.

Then, you want to take a look at the provided screenshots so you can see the look and feel of the plugin via Screenshots.

If you are still feeling pretty good about the plugin you can check out the support forum.

People asking questions on the forum doesn’t have to be a turn off. What’s important is that the plugin developer is participating in the forum and helping people fix any issues. If not, then you won’t get any support either.

Finally, you can look at the stats. If the number of downloads is high and the last update was recent, you know the plugin is up to date and well used and tested.

The Sign Of A Bad Plugin

If the plugin has a low rating, hasn’t been downloaded much and the support feed is minimal, you know the plugin may be too new or unpopular to trust.

What To Do When Your Plugins Cause Website Problems

If you ever notice your website start to lack certain functionalities, you may want to see if it is being caused by a plugin.

It’s certainly not uncommon for your theme to clash with certain plugins, so always keep that in mind when you are adding something new to your website.

Pro Tip:

To find out if a plugin is creating an issue with your coding, and rechecking the issue.

  • Try deactivating your plugins one at a time
  • Check the problem you were having after each deactivation

If the issue goes away once a certain plugin is deactivated, you’ve found the source of your problem.

This is a trick you really should learn and remember, because one day you will need it!

The Best WordPress Plugins

Finding the best WordPress plugins can be a big challenge, so here are a few things to help you navigate the plugin jungle!

We’ve written multiple posts that cover Best Free and Premium Themes and The Best Plugins of 2015. 

Grab The FREE 

Best WordPress Plugins Checklist

and save yourself hours of searching!

Are you considering using WordPress for your website already?

What are top WordPress struggles that you would love for us to cover?

We can’t wait to hear and we can’t wait to help.


About the Author Taylor Manning

Taylor is a full time web designer and online marketer, part time blogger and overtime dog mom. She has a passion for helping bloggers, creatives and entrepreneurs turn their online presence from 'meh' to 'WOW'! Find her on her website.

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