One of the reasons why I love WordPress so much and have been using it for nearly 10 years (wow!) is because of the fact that you can do almost anything you can think of thanks to plugins! This post is a guide to what they are, how to use them, and my top recommended must-have plugins for any new WordPress blog.
If you want more help getting your blog set up without spinning your wheels then I actually have a FREE 1-week course to get you set up the right way…Click here to sign up to my FREE 1 week blog course... & get your blog set up the right way
What Are WordPress Plugins?
A plugin is essentially software or an app that you add on to your WordPress installation to make it do something you want it to do, or behave in a certain way. If you know how to code, you could do these things yourself. But if you don’t, or want to save time, this is where plugins come in!
Because WordPress is “open source” (meaning that the source code can be freely distributed and modified), anyone can make a plugin for it, so there are many, many to choose from. One plugin could add a contact form to your website, another plugin could add social media sharing links to your blog posts. More advanced plugins can add a whole suite of features like a shopping cart and product pages. These plugins are what make WordPress so awesome!
Honestly, there isn’t enough room to explain all that plugins do for WordPress. It’s what makes WordPress so special. Instead of buying or using a bulky do everything software, you can customize your WordPress instance to do what you want and need it to do.
How to Install New WordPress Plugins
You can find plugins from all kinds of places (since anyone can release them) but WordPress also has a dedicated plugin directory of free options that you can browse right from your WordPress dashboard.
To browse the available plugins, simply go to “Plugins” > “Add New” and then have a search for some things and you’ll get an idea for the kind of choice that’s available. When you’re ready to install any of these free plugins, you simply click on the plugin, you’ll then see a button to install it, after which there’s a further button to “activate” the plugin. Each plugin comes with its own documentation to help you use it if you get stuck. The more you use them, the easier it becomes!
If you’re installing plugins from an external website, such as paid plugins, then you’ll need to follow their installation instructions. Usually, it means clicking “Plugins” > “Add New” > “Upload Plugins” and uploading your own zip file, before activating the plugin. It’s super easy to do.
NOTE: Importance of Backing Up & Updating Your Plugins
Plugins usually work great and you can have many different ones running together without any problems. However, sometimes two different plugins will run into conflict and “break” something on your website. Or a plugin author may not update a plugin in time to support a new WordPress update, and you may see an error on your site.
This is why it’s so important to backup! In fact, I’ve included a backup plugin you can use on the list below to make sure you do this. Then if any plugin installation breaks your site, you can simply revert to the previous backup to get it going again. Note: your web host probably will back up your site, but may do so at irregular intervals so it’s important you do a manual backup every time you do any major backend work on your website, like installing or updating plugins or themes.
Remember to keep an eye on the updates section of your dashboard too (it’s available at “Dashboard” > “Updates”) so that you are keeping all your plugins as up to date as possible, preventing conflicts with WordPress and also keeping your site safe (as older plugins can sometimes become vulnerable to hackers).
And lastly, remember to delete or deactivate any plugins you no longer use. In general, the more plugins you have active on your website, the more it can potentially slow your website down. You want to keep your website fast (a) because it creates a better user experience for your visitors and (b) because it helps boost your SEO (Google likes fast websites!)
Top 7 Must-Have WordPress Plugins for Your New Blog
There are lots and lots of plugins you might want to install for your website, so this is just a list of the basics. All of these plugins are available for free so you’ll find them by searching for their name in the plugins tab in your dashboard (as explained above), or click the link to view the plugin website.
- Akismet – this one usually comes already installed, but if not it’s a must have to filter out spam blog comments.
- Contact Form 7 – this will make it super-easy to create a page for your readers to contact you from (a must-have for any website)
- WordPress Editorial Calendar – this is going to help you plan your content like a boss
- SumoMe – this has lots of features, but if you only do one thing with it, use it to add social sharing buttons to your blog to help people share your posts.
- Yoast SEO – changing some basic SEO settings using this plugin will make it more likely for your site to show up in search engines, bringing you more traffic.
- W3 Total Cache – this will help your site load a lot faster, which is another crucial factor in getting your site to appear in search engines.
- UpdraftPlus WordPress Backup Plugin – I don’t personally use this plugin (because my host, WP Engine*, has great backup features and I can backup there anytime I want) but I recommend you install it as an easy way to backup your data.
If you’re confused and not sure which plugins you really need then just start with these basics and get a feel for using WordPress. In time, you’ll think of things you’d really like to do with your website (like creating a pretty photo gallery, or adding a discussion forum) and then you can go on the search for other plugins to make those ideas happen.
Don’t forget, if you want more help getting your blog set up without spinning your wheels then I actually have a FREE 1 week course to get you set up the right way…Click here to sign up to my FREE 1 week blog course... & get your blog set up the right way
*Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are ‘affiliate links.’ This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.