The concept of WordPress plugins was briefly discussed in an earlier article in this series, but they are definitely worth revisiting. Plugins serve as a critical part of your WordPress blog and so it is important that you recognize what they are, how you can get them, and what they can do for you.
Expanding and Customizing WordPress
The official definition coming from WordPress is that plugins “can extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine.” In short, these are smaller software components that can add specific capabilities to a larger software application (like WordPress). They are not programs themselves, but they act as an add-on or expansion pack, so to speak.
WordPress plugins can affect just about every aspect of your WordPress blog. There are plugins to change how you interact with the administration control panel. There are plugins that help integrate your blog with your social networking profiles. There are plugins that change certain aspects of how your blog looks to readers. There are plugins that work behind the scenes to make for a better blog. They really can change just about anything.
A good analogy to consider would be car modifications. If you think of WordPress as your car, then plugins would be such things as car stereos, new paint jobs, new steering wheels, upgraded exhaust systems, rear spoilers, new tires, sportier suspension, and so forth. The car itself is still the same car, so to speak, but these accessories and upgrades can completely change not only how you interact with the car, but also the car’s performance and how it is viewed by people on the street.
Free and Paid Plugins
Just as there are both free and premium (paid) WordPress themes, the exact same thing can be found when it comes to WordPress plugins as well.
In addition to the free WordPress plugins that developers give away on their own websites, there is also the official Plugin Directory on WordPress.org. There are currently over 12,000 free plugins available there.
Premium plugins are sold through a number of different marketplaces, like Clickbank, as well as through the sites and online stores of the developers themselves. Pricing can range considerably with many of the most popular and most powerful WordPress plugins selling for hundreds of dollars. Some of these, for instance, are able to convert WordPress into a true e-commerce solution, complete with PayPal and Google Checkout integration.
How to Install and Activate
The process of installing a WordPress plugin is easier than ever.
Log into the WordPress control panel using your admin account. Click on the “Plugins” area in the sidebar to reach the main plugins screen. From there, you can see a button near the top that says “Add New.” From here, you can search for new plugins or upload one that you have already downloaded.
In the past, it was your responsibility to download the plugin, extract it from its compressed folder (if necessary), and upload it to the appropriate directory on your blog using an FTP program. That is no longer the case. Even if you don’t use the search function, you can upload a new plugin in its compressed .zip format directly from the WordPress control panel.
After the upload has completed, you activate the plugin through the main plugins screen. Depending on the WordPress plugin, you may then need to configure its options through the Tools or Settings sections in the control panel. Be sure to read the specific instructions (usually found on the plugin’s website or through a “readme” file) for further direction.