How do WordPress plugin installations work

WordPress plugins simply explained

Welcome to the eleventh part of my series of articles, in which I describe a complete website creation from start to finish. In the previous, tenth part, I showed you how to set up Google Analytics on your WordPress website in 3 super-quick steps. Now we come to an important topic: WordPress plugins.

What are WordPress plugins and how do I use them correctly?

WordPress plugins are extensions of the WordPress software in order to have various additional functions or design elements available for your own website. One should restrict the plug-in use to the essentials and try to specifically find the right and best plug-ins.

The topic of WordPress plugins is almost inexhaustible. Here I give an overview of the plugins that I use, for what exactly and why. As always, I use screenshots for this.

Here you can find out more about the following topics:

What do WordPress plugins do?

WordPress plugins offer the possibility of changing the functions and appearance of a WordPress website. Some only concern the administration in the WordPress dashboard (back-end), others offer advantages or functions for the visitor (front-end).

Think of it like a puzzle starting with a large piece in the middle (the WordPress core). So the picture shown by the puzzle already looks pretty good and you could show it to someone. But maybe a bit is missing in one corner or the other, an interesting part of the picture, or it just looks unfinished.

WordPress plugins are like other puzzle pieces that can be attached to the large center piece. This allows you to see more, see a more complete picture, or the puzzle looks complete, better and can do more.

What should I use WordPress plugins for?

WordPress plugins should only be used to provide properties or elements that the planned WordPress theme does not yet have. In this overview I would like to single out three main options: security, optimization and functionality.

First of all for security: WordPress is very safe as a software package and is constantly being tested and developed further due to its widespread use and the many contributing programmers. However, there are security issues that do not affect the code itself, but how it is used. I describe some of these aspects below.

For optimization: With a more complex website (powerful theme, some plugins), the load on the server and bandwidth also increases (when the requested pages are transmitted from the server to the visitor). In order to improve such situations, one should strive to optimize the website in various ways. A little more about this below.

Finally, the functionality of a website is actually a bottomless pit. Who wouldn't want their own website to be able to do this or that? As already mentioned, additional functions can make the website operator's life easier or offer the visitor more experience or opportunities. There are no limits to the complexity either: From a single button that appears somewhere to a complete web shop, everything is included and possible here.

Now you might be wondering where the design or design elements go here. That's a very interesting question.

What shouldn't I use WordPress plugins for?

On the one hand, WordPress plugins should not be used for cosmetics. On the other hand, you should avoid using WordPress plugins to change things that already exist in the existing functionality or in the chosen theme.

First of all, the cosmetic aspect: Cosmetics and design in general are part of the WordPress theme. It doesn't make sense to choose a theme you're not happy with and then add or change things through a bunch of plugins.

This brings us to the aspect of change: Everything that can be changed with a plugin could also change in the chosen theme to be changed. Perhaps the developers decide to rebuild the modified gallery in such a way that the change no longer works or even looks catastrophic? Who knows …

Weighing up: WordPress theme versus WordPress plugins

Overall, this discussion boils down to weighing theme against plugins. Basically, however, you should primarily assign the design to the theme and leave it to it. If you don't like the layout, a different theme is called for and not a plugin that intervenes to correct or change it.

What applies to design, however, also applies to functionality and available design elements. E.g. I realize that some in this article might miss the discussion of plugins for a picture gallery or a video slider. That's because these elements are already provided by the Divi theme I'm using.

Obviously not everyone has this theme available. However, you should try to choose a theme that already has as many of the design elements you want to use built in. The simple reason for this is that plugins (as well as powerful themes, of course) consume web server resources. The more plugins are installed, the more resources the website needs during operation.

You therefore have to optimize which suitable element package can already be obtained with a good theme, and how many plugins you actually need to have the desired functions available.

How do WordPress plugins work?

WordPress plugins work as extensions of the WordPress software that runs on the web server and generates the content that is sent to the website visitor and that he sees in the browser.

As a website operator, you ideally do not notice much of the work of the plugin, except that the plugin provides functions, options, buttons or settings in WordPress that you would not otherwise have. A plugin can have a tiny function or a whole handful of functions, it depends.

Most plugins serve exactly one purpose, but some are designed as quite extensive function packages. The question that always arises is how much of it is actually needed. It doesn't make sense to have a plugin like that Jetpack from WordPress.com to only generate XML sitemaps. But that is, admittedly, a very drastic example.

Where can I find plugins in the WordPress dashboard?

WordPress plugins can be found in the WordPress dashboard in the side menu on the left as a separate sub-item. Clicking on it gives you an overview of the currently installed plugins. If you're not sure what the WordPress dashboard is or how to find it, please check out my article from this series: How WordPress Works, Simply Explained.

This overview of the already installed plugins typically looks like this at the beginning:

The plugins are displayed in a list and can then be (de) activated or deleted. You can also read through information about the plugins and see who is developing them.

In a fresh WordPress installation, the two WordPress plugins shown here are usually preinstalled but not activated. You can safely ignore (and delete) these two. First of all, every unnecessary plug-in should be seen as ballast.

But it is more interesting that you should definitely deal with e.g. comments on your own website, especially at the beginning. I have already discussed the essential basic settings for WordPress comments in this series of articles. This is the most important step first; a plugin like Akismet is therefore unnecessary at the beginning. Many websites do not need or want comments at all. In such cases, you should definitely remove the two pre-installed plugins.

Install, activate, deactivate, delete WordPress plugins

WordPress plugins can be used as building blocks of the website Installed and again deleted become. You also have to have an installed WordPress plugin activatebefore it works and you can have an active plugin too deactivateto stop it without losing any related settings or data. We will now look at these steps individually and in detail.

But first I would like to answer an important question in connection with WordPress plugins:

Do WordPress plugins actually cost anything?

There are tons of free WordPress plugins and some paid plugins. The most common case is that there is a free and a premium version of the same plugin that differ in terms of functionality. Then we recommend a more precise comparison of the functions required for different plugins and whether these are already available in the free version.

The recommendations I describe below include all of these variants. I also briefly explain what you already get in the free version and what you have to pay for. Basically, however, it can be said that you can get by with free plugins in the beginning. In another article I ask myself the more precise question: What do WordPress plugins cost?

As always, such a purchase decision is also linked to the time available to spend on the website. So you weigh money against time (look for a more suitable plugin, piece it together, solve it differently, do it yourself). I have already described how much time it takes to create a website in another article on WebsiteBerater.com.

Install a WordPress plugin

A WordPress plugin is installed in the WordPress dashboard. There you click on the sub-item in the side menu To install of the menu item Plugins or on the button To install at the top of the plugin overview.

This takes you to a page that looks something like this at the top:

There are two options: Either you search for specific plugins (via keyword), or you can upload the plugin file directly as a .zip file. The second case is especially important for purchased plugins, because they cannot be found in the repository, but are usually made available as a download.

The search for suitable WordPress plugins

The search window for plugin keywords is located on the right edge of the plugin installation page (see screenshot above). If you already know the name of the WordPress plugin you want, it is best to enter it exactly into the search field. The search starts automatically and possible results for plugins are displayed.

Then you can usually select and install the desired plug-in directly. I will describe the concrete steps below. If, on the other hand, you have searched for a keyword and are looking for a relevant plugin, possible results are lined up and displayed with some interesting key data, a brief description and links to further information. It looks something like this for each plugin:

Now there is the question:

How do I find the best WordPress plugin for my purpose?

By searching for suitable keywords, you can find what you are looking for directly in the WordPress dashboard on the add plugin page. It is important to look for the intended purpose as specifically as possible.

If several plugins are displayed for a certain keyword or search phrase that at least appear to be suitable in terms of title, you need a decision-making aid. This can be found in the plugindescription and in the additional information at the bottom of the box: reviews, Number of installationscompatibility and last update. In the screenshot above you can see how this looks in our Akismet example.

All of these points have to be considered when deciding on a plugin, but at this point I have to say that I usually use two other “tactics”: First, the good old search on Google. And then quite simply trying out one or more plugins to see what they really do, whether they work properly and whether I like the result.

Before I try a plugin, however, I look at the list of search results according to the following criteria and usually in this order:

  • How many active installations does the plugin have?
  • How good / bad is it rated?
  • When was it last updated?
  • Is it classified as compatible with my (mostly very current) version of WordPress?
  • What is in the description (under more details)?
  • Are there screenshots in the description and what do they look like?

Now I would like to go into the individual points in more detail and explain why and how they are important for the plugin decision:

How important is the number of active installations of a WordPress plugin?

The number of active installations of a WordPress plugin reveals how many websites this plugin is installed on and also activated. This number ranges between a hundred and over a million and thus provides a direct assessment of the prevalence, but also a good basis for interpreting the ratings.

Which values ​​are normal for the number of active installations and what do they say? I can say the following from my own experience:

  • First of all, it doesn't really matter how many active installations a plugin has, because despite a very large number of active installations it is conceivable (and this also happens) that the plugin is slow, overloaded or complicated to operate, for example.
  • In particular, together with the reviews, a clearer picture for or against a plugin results.
  • Even plugins with 1000 active installations can be the perfect solution to your own problem if it is a very specific problem.
  • Keep in mind that a plug-in that has not been around for long will generally have fewer active installs than one that has been around for many years; a plug-in with 10,000 active installations can therefore be much better suited to a specific problem than one with over a million active installations.

Conclusion: Any number is to be regarded as normal and is best suited as a decision aid in combination with the other information.

How important are the ratings of a WordPress plugin?

The ratings of a WordPress plugin provide immediate information on whether there are specific problems with the plugin that WordPress users have reported. The star rating is a first indication of this. Then you should also take a look at some of the reviews that didn't give 5 out of 5 stars to find out what this WordPress user was dissatisfied with.

In the screenshot of Akismet's plug-in box above, you can see that there are 797 reviews and the plug-in received an average rating of four and a half out of five stars. To find out what the reviews look like in detail, just click on the link more details and sees an overview in the called popup. This overview can also be found online, e.g. for Akismet.

On the right edge of this overview is the rating with average values ​​and a breakdown by the number of stars. For Akismet the following is found:

Here you can look at the ratings with one or two stars. It is important to note when these ratings were submitted. Some of them are quite old (sometimes several years) and relate to problems that have been fixed by the plugin authors in the meantime. It is therefore interesting to keep an eye out for any problems that may still be current by keeping an eye on the date of the assessment.

What should be considered when assessing ratings of WordPress plugins?

The assessment of ratings of WordPress plugins must first be made with reference to the time of the rating. But it is also important to see whether, how and how quickly the plugin authors reacted to specific criticism.

Sometimes some of the one-star ratings are briefly comments about a lack of functionality, the fact that essential features are only available in a paid upgrade, or that the plugin simply doesn't work.

The latter occurs especially with discontinued or no longer developed plugins. The complaint about the lack of functionality in the free version of a plugin or about the free version as a pure bait for the paid version is, however, much more frequent and is actually very helpful.

If you are looking for a free plug-in for a certain functionality, as is usually the case, you don't want to waste your time installing a free plug-in and then discovering that it actually does almost nothing until you find something for the Premium variant has paid.

How important is the time of the last update of a WordPress plugin?

When a WordPress plugin was last updated reveals a lot about the way a plugin is managed and developed.Especially after major WordPress core updates, it is important to see whether a plugin has also been updated or not.

Basically, plugins that have not been updated for months or more should be viewed with caution. A few days or weeks since the last update are a good sign and show that the plugin authors are constantly adding new features or making improvements.

Very important: Plugins that have not been updated for several years represent a significant security risk for a WordPress website because known weaknesses in outdated versions give attackers specific targets for attacks.

How important is the indicated compatibility of a WordPress plugin with my version of WordPress?

The indicated compatibility of a WordPress plugin with the version of WordPress being used is based on the tests and feedback from users who use the plugin with the current version of WordPress and who have given feedback about its proper function.

So if a plugin is available as a untested with your version of WordPress is listed, it does not mean that it is incompatible. There is just not enough confirmation yet. If the plugin has only recently been updated, it can generally be assumed that it is functioning properly. Otherwise, a test in an inconspicuous place or for a short time will help.

Nevertheless, plugins can in principle also cause considerable damage to or in a WordPress installation. Before doing something whose outcome is uncertain, make a backup of the website or refrain from a test and wait for a third party to confirm that it is working properly.

How important are the description and screenshots of a WordPress plugin?

You read the description of a plugin almost automatically. An interesting part of this additional information, however, may be screenshots provided by the plugin authors. There you can possibly get an idea of ​​the functions and details of the plugin.

As I said, you can get all of this information by clicking on more details in the information box for a plugin in the search results. The information is divided into the following tabs:

In the description you get a little more information about the functions and idea of ​​the plugin than was already shown in the short description directly in the search result. The installation is described and there is one changelog, in which the changes in the past updates are listed. The FAQ contains frequently asked questions and the answers to them.

There are not always screenshots. If screenshots are not provided, it does not necessarily mean that the plugin authors want to hide something. Some plugins are so simple that apart from the entry for the plugin there is nothing to be seen in the list of installed plugins. With more complex plugins, however, there are often page-by-page settings or the like, and screenshots may offer a preview for this.

We have already discussed the reviews - they are also available again here.

Install a WordPress plugin from the WordPress repository

When a suitable plugin has been found in the WordPress repository and you have decided to install it, you navigate back to the information box for this plugin. The installation is then carried out by clicking the Install now Buttons in the top right of the box. Here is the specific example of the Akismet plug-in that I have not installed on my websites:

After clicking the button, it changes to the following variant, which is now Install stands. After the successful installation, the button changes again and the plug-in can now be activated by clicking on the button Activate to be activated.

But before we come to activation, I would like to describe the other installation option:

Upload a WordPress plugin

A WordPress plugin must then be uploaded if it is not available via the WordPress repository. This is the case, for example, with purchased plugins for which there is no free version at all or for which a significantly different premium version is provided by the plugin authors. The correct file format when uploading a WordPress plugin is .zip.

The upload is done via the button Upload plugin, the one at the top right next to the heading Add plugins is displayed on the page where you can browse the WordPress plugin repository.

By clicking on this button, the following additional view appears:

By clicking on the Choose button file or Choose a file A selection window of the Internet browser opens, in which you then have to navigate through your own file system in order to find the desired plug-in installation file.

A WordPress plugin installation file is a .zip file that usually bears the name of the plugin. This contains the necessary program code in one or more files, which can be downloaded after selecting the file by clicking on the Install now Button will be installed automatically.

As already mentioned, this functionality is comparatively seldom needed. For example, a large number of WordPress users rarely or never buy a plugin or theme, but instead use the plugins and themes that are available free of charge. In these cases, installations will usually be carried out via the WordPress repository.

An interesting use of the Upload Buttons is, however, that you can manually install a certain file or version of a plugin that you can no longer get from the repository. You can also try to manually reinstall a plug-in whose automatic update has failed or whose installation has been damaged in some other way under more controlled circumstances.

Problems installing WordPress plugins

As with all technical matters, there can be problems installing plugins in WordPress. The reason that you cannot install a plugin or that something does not work with the plugin installation in WordPress is usually not clear from the start.

Therefore, I have summarized the main reasons for problems installing plugins in WordPress in a separate article here on WebsiteBerater.com. In addition, I also provide the concrete steps for each case that usually lead to the solution of the respective problem.

You can find this article via the following link: Why can't I install plugins on WordPress? If you have a problem of this type and can't find the solution there, contact me with the details of your specific situation. I am very interested in learning more special cases.

Activate a WordPress plugin

In order to be able to use an installed WordPress plugin, it must be activated. This happens either directly after the installation from the WordPress repository by clicking on the Activate Button in the information box:

Or, if you have installed the plugin by uploading it, the following view appears after the installation (here using the example of the plugin Bloom from Elegant Themes):

By clicking on the button Activate plugin the plugin becomes active immediately.

Alternatively, you can also postpone the activation of a plugin until later. In the plug-in overview described above, you can activate plug-ins that are not yet active at any time.

What happens when a WordPress plugin is activated?

During or immediately after activating a WordPress plugin, various actions can be set immediately by the plugin. E.g. the configuration can be started or you get some information displayed, you will be asked to enter the activation code (for premium plugins), etc.

You shouldn't be surprised by this, just read the information displayed in peace and, if possible, follow the instructions on the screen. An example of this is the Wordfence plug-in, a security plug-in that I will describe in more detail in the next part of this series.

Configure a WordPress plugin

In most cases, however, not much happens after activating a WordPress plugin, but the plugin is simply displayed as active in the list of all plugins from now on. If there are settings for a WordPress plugin that the user can make himself, in these cases you have to click on the Settings link under the name of the plugin in the list:

As long as you don't do that, the plugin works with the given configuration of the plugin author.

Deactivate a WordPress plugin

A WordPress plugin can be deactivated in order to prevent its functions without losing the settings for the plugin. This can be necessary to test something, to rule out conflicts or to try out different plugins that do the same thing.

To deactivate a plugin, look for its entry in the overview of all installed plugins, accessible in the WordPress dashboard via the menu Plugins:

The plugins appear in the list, activated or not, with entries under the name of the plugin that indicate the possible actions for this plugin. If a plugin is active, it usually looks like this:

It's worth noting that not every plugin Settings possible are. Some plugins always work in the same way without you having to or being able to set anything. The link for Deactivate there are, however, for every active WordPress plugin. Clicking on it deactivates the plugin. It can then be reactivated at any time or deleted in the next step after deactivation.

Delete a WordPress plugin

A WordPress plugin that is no longer required can also be completely deleted after it has been deactivated. Any settings that may have been made for the plug-in and any data saved for the plug-in will be lost.

So you should only take this step if you really don't need the plugin anymore, or if it is not a problem or if you have to install and configure it again. Sometimes the complete deletion of a WordPress plugin is also desirable if you just want to start over from scratch.

To delete a plugin, click on the Delete link under the name of the plugin in the overview after deactivating it:

Then there is a final warning and thus the chance to cancel the deletion:

When confirming with OK However, the plug-in is actually deleted and you receive the following message at the point in the list of plug-ins where the plug-in was previously listed:

How do premium plugins for WordPress work?

Premium plugins for WordPress are mostly paid versions of free plugins. Sometimes there is no free version of a plugin, but only a paid one. In the basic handling, all WordPress plugins are the same, so everything described here can also be applied to premium plugins.

However, some differences are important: First of all, about the installation: As I said, it is possible that after purchasing the plug-in you will receive your own file version of the premium plug-in from the seller. You then have to upload this file for installation, as I described above.

Another option is to install the plugin as a free version from the WordPress plugin repository and then activate the premium functions with an activation code. Even for premium plugins with an extra download file, there is always an activation code or personalized key that must be entered when the plugin is activated.

This is to prevent the plugin installation file from “falling into the wrong hands”. After you have successfully activated the premium plugin by code or successfully unlocked the premium functions, the operation and handling is the same as for free WordPress plugins. Deactivating and deleting are no exception.

Next Steps

That was the most important information about the functionality and handling of WordPress plugins in the everyday life of a WordPress website operator.

After this general introduction, in the next part I will go into some concrete examples of plugins that you should definitely install, or whose use you should think carefully about.

Read part 12 now!