How to Install WordPress Plugins

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This guide looks at how to find and install new plugins in WordPress. Every site owner or administrator needs to know how to do this. There are only four simple steps:

  1. Search for a plugin by name or function from the Dashboard
  2. Install a plugin
  3. Activate the plugin
  4. Adjust the settings to meet your needs

First, a quick overview of what a WP plugin is and why all WordPress site owners use them.

What Is a WP Plugin?

Plugins are to WordPress what apps are to smartphones and other mobile devices. Most are lightweight PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) scripts that are quick to install and easy to configure. The purpose of all plugins is to enhance the features or functionality of WordPress blogs, websites, and e-stores. There are thousands of WP plugins, both free and premium.

You have access to over 57,000 official plugins in the WordPress Directory. There are also plenty of third-party choices elsewhere online. Simply search for a plugin if your theme doesn’t have a feature or function you want. Alternatively, write your own or have a developer do it for you.

Back-end plugins

Popular back-end plugins assist with site management and maintenance and may include:

  • WordPress security
  • Dashboard customisation
  • Site analytics
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Caching to enhance page loading times
  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) editors
  • Multilingual content creators
  • Automated backups
  • Others

Front-end plugins

Front-end WP plugins add to the visitor experience in some way, and may include:

  • Live chat buttons
  • Social media sharing
  • eCommerce features
  • Add interactive web forums
  • Add forms, e.g., feedback, order, etc.
  • Mail subscription
  • Landing pages
  • Advertising
  • Galleries and image sliders
  • Polls, quizzes, and games
  • Others

Whatever your WP website needs, there’s most likely a plugin that can do the job.

How to Find WordPress Plugins

The quickest way to find a new plugin is to perform a simple search from the WP Dashboard. You can also search the official WordPress Plugin page or via one of the major search engines. Both these methods require you to download the plugin to your computer as a zip file. You then upload its files to WordPress from within the Dashboard.

This quick guide walks you through the Dashboard Search, Install, and Activate method.

Log in to your WP Admin Dashboard.

From the side menu, click Plugins => Add New.

WordPress now opens the Add Plugins screen. If you’re only window shopping, you can view plugins by clicking the Featured, Popular, and Recommended tabs. 

If you know what you want, enter the name of the plugin or its function into the search box. There are also options to narrow down the search by Author or Tag.

For this example, let’s search by keyword for the plugin Contact Form 7.

WordPress retrieves Contact Form 7 and all related plugins. Always check the product’s compatibility with your version of WordPress before you proceed. For lesser-known plugins, study their popularity as well, i.e., active installations and star rating.

Installing and Activating WordPress Plugins

Click the plugin’s Install Now button.

The button text changes to Activate after a few seconds. Click it.

Configure Your New WP Plugin

It only takes 2-3 minutes to find, install, and activate a new WP plugin.

Click the product’s View Details link to learn more about it.

Most plugins have additional settings accessible from the Installed Plugins screen via a text link. Some products also add quick links to the Dashboard menu area.

Go to Plugins => All Plugins from the Dashboard menu.

Here’s what our Contact Form 7 looks like (important links with yellow highlights).

All active plugins have the same links from the WP Plugins screen. Those with pending updates display a ‘new version’ update notification like the one below.  

Installing Plugins, the Manual Way

Most WordPress users don’t manually install plugins using FTP. Even custom plugins can be uploaded directly from the Dashboard. However, those who have multiple products to install may prefer the manual route. It doesn’t matter what FTP client you use to do this. You can use the built-in program that comes with your hosting cPanel (Control Panel) or third-party software.

Here’s the typical 5-step procedure for uploading WP plugins via FTP:

  1. Download the zipped plugin files to your computer
  2. Extract (unzip) the plugin files
  3. Log in to your FTP server and navigate to /wp-content/plugins
  4. Upload the extracted plugin folder to the server plugin directory above
  5. Activate the new plugin from your Dashboard

Tip: It’s useful to create an FTP or SFTP account if you plan to hire freelances to work on your site. This way, you don’t need to hand over cPanel user names and passwords to strangers.

You can now find and install WordPress plugins from your WP Dashboard or via FTP 😉

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