Question: I’ve just started blogging and I’m using WordPress. I keep seeing people talk about plugins, but I’m not really sure what one is. What is a plugin and what do you do with them?
Answer: Plugins are vital for WordPress blogs unless you’re code-savvy enough to be able to make changes to a site using CSS and all those scary characters and commands.
I am not code-savvy in the slightest, so I wouldn’t even have a working blog at all if it weren’t for the various WordPress plugins I use to keep them going. It certainly wouldn’t look good, that’s for sure.
What is a Plugin? ~ A Simple Explanation
A plugin is very much how it sounds: something that ‘plugs in’ to your site to enhance it or tweak it in some way. They work as extensions, adding more stuff to an existing framework — in this case, WordPress.
I play The Sims. (A lot.) I have the basic game, and I also download additional packs of content to allow me to do more stuff in the game, such as holiday packs, eco-friendly packs, seasonal packs, etc. I even downloaded a laundry pack once.
WordPress is like the basic The Sims game, and plugins are like the additional download packs. (Except you don’t actually need to pay for most of them.)
If you don’t like The Sims, how about Call of Duty? You know how you can download additional bits and pieces for the game, such as extra maps? Think of the plugins on a WordPress blog as the additional map packs for your game — they add more to the original base game.
You can get plugins that do pretty much any and every job these days, although not all plugins for WordPress are equal. Quite a lot of the plugins you can download and use on your blog are trash, but I’m going to share a few tips and tricks to make sure you don’t ever fall prey to one of those.
Examples of WordPress Plugins
If you want to see how many people are visiting your blog, you could download a plugin that monitors analytics, such as Jetpack for WordPress.
[You’ll find links to all resources/plugins/etc. mentioned at the bottom of this post, just in case you want to finish reading this one first.]
One of my top 5 plugins for blogs, and the first plugin I download on every blog, Jetpack not only helps you to monitor your blog’s numbers (visitors, popular posts, how people are finding your blog, etc.), it also helps to ensure your WordPress blog is secure, with various security features included.
If you wanted to drag n’ drop boxes on the screen until your blog looked exactly the way you wanted it to, you could download the Elementor plugin — it’s the one I personally use to create posts on this blog.
It gives you all sorts of additional extras, such as cute-looking dividers, columns for text, and various other boxes and funky features — and that’s just the free version. You can upgrade to the paid-for ‘Pro’ version, or even download additional plugin ‘packs’ to give you extra stuff.
In case you’re interested: I’m currently enjoying playing around with Elementor + Essential Addons for Elementor, the latter of which you can get for free if you sign up to the developer’s email newsletter.
If you’re having a hard time with spam comments on your blog, rather than turning off comments completely, you could always look at downloading and installing the Akismet plugin for WordPress, which catches spam comments and deletes them without you ever having to know they exist.
The plugin is free, and you can sign up for a free Akismet account which allows you to spam-protect one blog. (You need to pay to upgrade if you use it on more than one blog, or if you want to use any of the advanced features.)
If you need to add code to your blog to verify it’s yours, such as with Google Adsense, there’s a WordPress plugin for that, too: Insert Headers and Footers.
The verification business is tricky business if you don’t know what you’re doing, and I’ve broken every single one of my blogs trying to insert these code snippets. Thankfully, I’ve now discovered the Insert Headers and Footers WordPress plugin, which is another must-have (in my opinion), and is a free and easy way to get around all of those verification problems you’re having.
And finally, while I’m on a roll, if you’re in the market for something that’ll help speed up your blog’s loading time by compressing and optimising images, without having to sacrifice on image quality, you’ll definitely want to consider using a WordPress plugin like Smush — Lazy Load Images, Optimize & Compress Images.
I talked about this plugin in What Do I Need to Do to Optimise My Blog For Mobiles (which I definitely recommend checking out, by the way).
So … yeah. There’s pretty much a plugin for everything.
Where to Find WordPress Plugins
On your WordPress dashboard, there’s a whole tab dedicated to plugins. You’ll find all the ones you have installed, and if you check out the ‘Add New’ button at the top of the page, right next to the ‘Plugins’ title, you’ll open up a database of plugins you can download.
You can use the search bar to look for a specific plugin’s name, such as “Jetpack”, or you can search for the thing you’re looking for. The latter doesn’t always work, but there have been times when I’ve searched for something like “dividers for WordPress posts” and found the exact thing I was looking for.
As well as being able to search for something specific, you can also use the four tabs below the title to help you find plugins that’ll be helpful for you — Featured, Popular, Recommended, and Favourites.
You’ll see that there is an ‘Upload Plugin’ button on this page, but I’ve never had to use it. You can upload zipped plugins that are on your hard drive/USB stick/wherever this way.
Pros + Cons of Using WordPress Plugins
As with most good things in life, plugins have a bad side … but we’ll get to that part in a moment. I’d like to start with the good stuff — the pros.
WordPress Plugins ~ The Pros
1 – You can get plugins to do virtually any job you want.
Well, almost any job. With more than 57,000 plugins, there seems to be a plugin to solve most problems too, though this isn’t always the case. Get in touch with me if you’re trying to do something with your blog but can’t work out how, and I bet I can find a plugin that’ll help you out with it.
There is literally a plugin to do everything.
2 – You just download, install, activate.
And that’s it, you’re done. Your plugin is ready and raring to go. Occasionally, you will need to tweak or setup a few settings and options, but you won’t have to worry about any complicated coding stuff that’ll probably break your blog. (I’m speaking from painful experience when I talk about breaking blogs by writing really bad code.)
3 – If you don’t like a plugin, you can just deactivate and delete.
And then it’s gone. You haven’t got to un-write anything in your blog’s code; simply deactivate the plugin, delete it and move on. (That’s my motto for ex-partners and toxic people, too.)
WordPress Plugins ~ The Cons
1 – Too many plugins spoil the blog.
I’m going to take you back to earlier on, when I was talking about The Sims — because, just as with The Sims, the more ‘stuff’ you add to your WordPress blog, the more it will become slow and sluggish.
The more game packs you install on your computer, the more slowly it will run.
The more plugins you install and use on your WordPress blog, the more slow and sluggish it will become.
Ideally, you want to have as few plugins as possible. I usually have around 10 to 20 on mine, but some experts say that’s far too many.
2 – Constant updates . . . groan.
WordPress plugins require constant updating, and if you don’t update them, you are at risk of suffering from a broken blog, a blog that has been infected with malware, or a blog that has been taken over by hackers.
The more plugins you have, the more plugins you will have to update. And when I say constant updating, I really do mean constant. You can log out of your site one day with no plugins to update, and then log back in the next day to find that more than fifty percent of your plugin list needs to be updated.
3 – Updating plugins will probably break your site sometimes.
Learning how to backup and restore my blog has been one of the best things I’ve ever done because sometimes, just sometimes, updating plugins (and other things) crashed my blogs entirely.
I’ve got different blogs in different places, with different hosts, but I recommend checking to see if some sort of restore-to-an-earlier-point option is available with your host.
If you don’t have backup/restore features open to you, there are various WordPress plugins that can help you out.
Blogging Wizard has a really helpful blog post about this: 7 Effective Backup Plugins For WordPress: Keep Your Data Safe
I had a Jetpack issue on one blog — whenever I updated the plugin, it would break, leave my blog in permanent maintenance mode, and I’d need to use the GoDaddy restore-to-an-earlier-point feature to go back and start again.
Bizarrely, Jetpack would only ever crash that one site, and always on the first update attempt; the second one would go through and work just fine.
Another thing I recommend checking with your host is whether or not your plugins and WordPress version will be updated automatically. I have one blog on a host that does all of that for me, which is good because it means I don’t have to log in on a daily basis and update everything. I even get emails to let me know when the plugins have been updated.
Unfortunately, if something breaks during the update process, I’m not aware of it until I do have a look at my site — and that can sometimes take a couple of days depending on how busy I’ve been. I personally prefer manual updating even though it does mean I have to remind myself to log in to different blogs on a daily basis.
4 – Not updating your plugins will put you at risk of being hacked.
And if you’re not hacked, you might find your site has malware on it one day instead.
Out-of-date plugins is one of the biggest reasons behind blogs/sites getting hacked or having malware installed — they allow the internet bad guys to put their own code into the script of the plugin, or access various parts of your site using it, causing havoc all the while.
Updating your plugins regularly, as soon as they need it, is essential to avoid hacking, malware, and any other sort of interference from internet bad guys that could mess up all of your hard work.
5 – Not all plugins are equal.
As I said right at the beginning of this post, not all WordPress plugins are going to be good for your blog. Some of them, quite a lot of them, in fact, are going to be useless or harmful to it. Some will cause threats to the security of your blog, whereas others will slow them down or crash your blog entirely. I’ve been on the end of a completely white screen where my blog once stood before, all because of a crappy plugin.
6 – Plugins can cause problems with each other.
Sometimes, downloading and activating one plugin on your blog can make another one (or more) not work. They’re not compatible with each other.
Sadly, you won’t always know that this is the case BEFORE you press the activate button … and break your site.
And sadly again, it’s not always obvious which plugins aren’t agreeing with each other. There have been a few times where I’ve had to de-activate/delete ALL plugins on my site, turning them on again one-by-one, to work out which one was giving me problems.
I hope you’ve found this blog post helpful and I’ve successfully answered the question, “What is a plugin?” for you. If you have any other questions, though, please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to help!
Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog today.
Have a fabulous rest of the day!