Beginners Guide to WordPress Plugins
One of the biggest advantages of using WordPress is the ability to use plugins to expand the capabilities of your blog or website. Since WordPress has such a large community of plugin developers, it means that you can make your WordPress website do pretty much anything you want it to. If you’ve ever thought about a feature that you wanted in WordPress, chances are that if you look around, you’ll find someone who has created a plugin to integrate that feature.
The problem is that many people don’t know how to go about installing plugin or think they are not technologically inclined enough to be able to. But these days most of the plugins available for WordPress only require one or two steps to get working so anyone can do it.
If you read my other tutorial about Upgrading WordPress then you will be familiar with the basics. You will need an FTP client to connect to your web space. If your host used cPanel, you can also use the file manager and upload plugins from there. Most plugins are installed in the same place, a folder called ‘plugins’ inside the wp-content directory.
To activate or deactivate a plugin, you just need to log into your WP admin and find Plugins in the top menu. This page lists all installed plugins.
The really great thing about the newest version of WordPress is that it will keep track of most of your plugins and let you know if they need to be updated.
Now let’s talk about where to find plugins. There are two big places to find pretty much all the WordPress plugins available:
First is the Plugins Directory on the main WordPress website. However this is still fairly new, so it may be a bit limited. But you’re going to find the newest version of plugins here and it will tell you what version of WP the plugin is compatible up to. This is where the updater in you WP admin culls from, so if you’re plugin isn’t in here, it’s not going to tell you when there’s an update available.
The other place is Plugins Database. This has been around for 3+ years, so it’s really extensive. The problem here is that some of the plugins are for REALLY old versions of WordPress and/or haven’t been updated in a long time. You could find the perfect plugin and find out that it doesn’t work anymore. It’s important to click on the Plugin Homepage link here because that will usually take you to a page that tells you if this plugin has been updated for the newest version of WP.
Another option is, of course, Google. Since WordPress is open source, it’s not uncommon that a new person will take a plugin that hasn’t been updated in a long time and take over the development of that plugin. So if you are struggling to find a plugin that does a specific thing or find out if someone has updated a certain plugin, Google can definitely be your friend. The WP Support forums are also a good place to find out info.
The main thing with installation is to follow the developer’s instructions. Some plugins may have really specific things you need to do. However, like I said above, most plugins these days have three steps:
1. Download and unzip the plugin.
2. Upload the plugin folder/files to your wp-content>plugins directory.
3. Activate plugin.
If a plugin has any kind of configuration options, these will usually appear in your WP admin under Options, though depending on the plugin could also appear under any of the other top menu items, like Manage.
I thought I’d go though some plugins that are really useful and add some great features to your website or blog.
Site and Admin plugins
1. First let’s talk about a plugin that already comes installed with WordPress. It’s called Akismet and it’s a spam prevention plugin. If your blog has comments you WILL get spam and this is the BEST spam prevention plugin available. There is absolutely no reason for you not to activate this plugin, in fact you are creating a big headache for yourself if you don’t.
In order to use Akismet, you need a WordPress API key. However, this is simple to get. If you ever had a WordPress.com blog or signed up for a username to comment on a WordPress.com user’s blog, then you already have one. Log into your WP.com account and find this under Users>Your Profile. If you don’t have a WordPress.com account or you don’t want one, don’t fear, you can just sign up for a username, which will give you an API key. Go to wordpress.com and click on Sign Up, then make sure to check the “just a username” option on the sign up form. You will be emailed your API key. Copy the key, go to your blog and activate Akismet, and put in your key where it asks you to. The newest version of Akismet has to option to automatically delete spam on older entries. I’ve found that MOST spam comes in on your oldest entries, so this is a really great option. Otherwise anything tagged as spam will appear under Comments>Akismet Spam and you can check to make sure no real comments have gotten tagged. If they have, just check next to ‘Not Spam’ and it shouldn’t tag that commenter as spam anymore.
2. OneClick. The great thing about this plugin is that it makes other plugins and themes easier to install. You don’t need to use an FTP client to install plugins anymore. You don’t even have to upzip the plugins. Once this plugin is installed, you can upload and install plugins right from your WP admin. All you have to do it upload them and it does ALL the installation work for you. He even made a companion extension for FireFox users that makes the process even simpler.
3. WP-DB-Backup. If you read my tutorial about upgrading WP, you know how important your WordPress database is and how important it is to back it up regularly. With this plugin, you can do it straight from your WP admin.
4. Google XML Sitemaps. Having a sitemap is easiest way to set your site up for better search engine optimization and this plugin creates one for with a few clicks.
5. WP Super Cache – If you have an even slightly high traffic blog or website, this plugin will save you tons of money on bandwidth costs. It’s also really handy to guard against Digg or other social networking sites whose huge traffic spike could literally bring your site down.
6. Feedburner Feedsmith. Route your WP feed through Feedburner, a very handy service that keeps stats for your feed as well as adding a lot of really nice functionality. This plugin sets it up so all your feeds will automatically forward to your new feedburner address, so you won’t lose subscribers and you get the most extensive look at who is reading you via feedreader.
7. WP-Shortstat. One of my favorite stats plugins. This one has gone though many developers though the years and there are a few different versions floating around, but this is most recently updated.
Features or additional functionality
8. Simple Tags. Like the new tagging feature in WP 2.3 but frustrated with the lack of management for your tags? This plugin is all you need. It auto-suggests tags for your posts, lets you add/edit/delete tags, mass edit tags on ALL posts, add related posts on all your entries, tag clouds and much more.
9. Enhanced WP Contact Form. A very simple, but nice, contact form plugin with spam prevention option.
10. WP You Tube. Easily add videos from You Tube to your posts.
11. Sideblog. Very handy plugin for creating a miniblog/linkblog on your blog sidebar or even on another page of your website (like if you wanted to have “News” section on your main page or something like that).
12. Subscribe to Comments. Allows your commenters to subscribe to receive notice of additional comments. Very handy, especially if you have long comment threads.
13. Easy Gravatars. Adds gravatars to your comments, no template editing necessary.
14. Exec-PHP. Use PHP in your posts or pages. Really handy plugin, especially in addition to other plugins that require you to use special template tags or code in your posts or pages.
15. Secure Form Mailer Plugin. This is hands down the best contact form I’ve found. You can set up multiple forms on your site, and you can edit the form fields to your heart’s content using many many options, such as dropdown menus, radio buttons, check boxes, text areas, upload fields, plus it’s very secure and doesn’t let in spammers. This is probably more than some people need, but if you need an custom contact form, this is your best bet.
16. Custom Field GUI. This plugin is for more advanced users as it requires some basic configuration and template editing, but I’ve found it to be a really handy plugin. It lets you add custom fields to the Write Post page in your WP admin. Say for instance you have a weightloss blog and every day you post your weight or how many miles you ran. Or maybe you want to say what you are currently reading/doing/watching/feeling. You can add a field to make it easier to add this info to your posts. We’re using it in our portfolio to display information about each project (designer, CMS, launch date, etc.). This plugin allows us to add this info in a matter of minutes whereas if we had to hand code all that info for each project it would take a long time and adding to our portfolio would be a pain to do.
17. WP Mailing List. This plugin is not free (it costs $30 to download), but if you have a mailing list to run, I promise you it is 100% worth the cost. It’s extremely easy to install and set up, you can add multiple lists with multiple templates and it’s all controlled from your WP admin.
18. WP Shopping Cart. Another very easy to install plugin if you want to sell products on your site. Add and edit products right in your WP admin, create and assign templates for your product pages. It’s free, but does have paid upgrades which are worth the price (especially the DropShop and Gridview).
19. Simple Press. Want a forum for your blog or website but don’t want to bother with trying to figure out how to set on up? This plugin integrates a forum right into WordPress using the inherent multiple user feature. Extremely easy install and set up. Custom templates are available or you can create one yourself. Control everything right from your WP admin.
20. Plugins by Lester Chan. There are too many plugins here to mention. Just click on the link and take a look. All of his plugins are really great and do fun as well as useful things. Plus he is a very active developer and usually updates all his plugins after every major WP release.
21. Plugins by Alex King. Another great plugin developer with lots of good plugins. My personal favs are WP-Grins and WP-Mobile Edition and Share This.
I could literally go on and on and on about all the great plugins there are out there. I tried to cover some big ones that do a variety of things in WordPress. Pretty much all of them can be installed and configured in a matter of minutes and they all add some great features for your blog or website.
What are your favorite WP plugins?