Introduction To Common Plugins

Description

In this lesson, you will learn how plugins add functionality to your website. There are a variety of plugins available that can be used to add extra functionality around: social media, backup, analytics, security, caching, etc. These plugins can help you get more out of your WordPress website.

Objective

After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Describe the benefits of installing the various Plugins on your site.
  • Install Plugins that will be beneficial to your WordPress site.

Prerequisite Skills

You will be better equipped to work through this lesson if you have experience in and are familiar with:

Readiness Questions

  • Do you know what plugins are commonly needed on WordPress sites?
  • Do you know what types of functionality common plugins can provide?

Materials Needed

Notes for Presenters

  • Plugins mentioned here are all free and available on the WordPress.org repository
  • Plugins do not have to be installed by either you or the student

Lesson Outline

Introduction

Plugins add helpful functionality to your WordPress website, improving upon default functionality or adding completely new features for you to use. These features can be things like contact forms, Search Engine Optimization, automatic backups, and much more. There are some types of plugins most sites would benefit from installing. Common plugins add the following functionality to WordPress sites:

  • Forms
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Caching
  • Backups
  • Social Media integration
  • Analytics
  • Security

There is no limit to the number of plugins that can be installed on one website. A common misconception is that having many active plugins will slow down your website. However, if the active plugins on your website are built well and play well with other plugins, your website will be fine.

While all of the plugins mentioned are free and available in the WordPress.org plugin repository, they may also have premium versions available at a cost, that provide more functionality.

Forms

Forms provide a way for users to get in touch with you without having to use an email client. In fact, using contact forms frees you from making your email address public and still allow people to send you a message.

There are many great form plugins available on wordpress.org/plugins/, and you can view popular form plugins in the Plugin Repository here. Every form plugin will offer different sets of functionality – some allow you to add simple contact forms and others let you create complex forms to gather more information from the user.

Tip: Some of the advantages of using forms over simply providing an e-mail address are:

  • Users can stay on your website.
  • Doesn’t require users to have access to their email account, in case they are using a public computer.
  • Can be used to send notifications to different emails addresses depending on the form or its subject.
  • Allows users to benefit from their browser’s autofill function.

What to look for when choosing a form plugin

  • Does this plugin have all the form fields I need?
  • How does this plugin save or provide access to form entries?
  • Can I set up email confirmations and/or notifications?
  • Does this form plugin output accessible code?
  • Does the plugin integrate spam control?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

WordPress plays well with search engines out of the box, and an SEO plugin can help you focus your efforts and help make your site more attractive and easy to understand for search engine crawlers. You can see some of the most popular SEO plugins in the Plugin Repository here and install one that fits your goals.

Tip: Common features of SEO plugins are:

  • the ability to add keywords and metadata to help you control how your site is found,
  • adding schema for better social media previews,
  • and categorizing different pages and posts by the type of information they provide.

What to look for when choosing a SEO plugin

  • Does this plugin let me add keywords and other metadata to my posts and pages?
  • What metrics does this SEO plugin provide?
  • Does this plugin provide features specific to my situation (retail store, services, online store, etc)
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Caching

The speed at which your site loads is important to your visitors, and it’s even more important to search engines.

Tip: Caching can be employed in a few different ways to to speed up your website:

  • by storing parts of it on a visitor’s computer,
  • storing rendered versions of your website pages on the server for quicker load times,
  • or creating lighter versions of the page to send users to

Some hosting providers include caching as part of their services, but if yours doesn’t, you may want to install a caching plugin to help speed things up. You can see some of the most popular caching plugins in the Plugin Repository here and install one that makes the most sense for the kind of website you have.

What to look for when choosing a caching plugin

  • Is this plugin on any hosting blocklists?
  • What kinds of files does this plugin cache?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Backups

Backing up a WordPress site is done in two parts: backing up the files (themes, plugins, your media files, etc) and backing up the database (your site settings, posts, pages, etc). In order to restore your website, you need to have backups of both your files and your database. Many good quality hosts provide some kind of backups as part of their services, however, it’s good practice to have a few regular complete site backups offsite as well. You can see some of the most popular backup plugins in the Plugin Repository here.

It is wise to practice backing up your site and restoring it from a backup. A backup is not useful if the restore process does not work or if you do not know how to restore the backup when needed. Planning ahead is key with backups.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a backup plugin

The following questions can help you figure out what kind of features you need in a backup plugin for your website.

  • Does the plugin backup your files, your database, or both?
  • Can you save backups to a location other than your website server?
  • How often can you run backups?
  • Are backups automated or manual?
  • Can you customize what gets backed up?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Social Media

Social Media icons and sharing capabilities are a common request for websites, and there are tons of plugins to help you get the job done. You can see some of the most popular social media plugins in the Plugin Repository here.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a social media plugin

  • What social media platforms does this plugin support?
  • What customizations does this plugin offer?
  • Does this plugin provide a way to add social media links or does it also help you set up sharing links?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Analytics

Tracking the traffic to your site is both fun and informative. You can use plugins to integrate analytics services into your website; some will also show you the analytics information within the WordPress Dashboard. You can see some of the most popular analytics plugins in the Plugin Repository here and install one that makes the most sense for your locale and website.

Different parts of the world have different privacy laws. It’s important to make sure you are using an analytics service that complies with the privacy laws where you live and where your website is most often accessed from.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing an analytics plugin

  • What third-party services does this plugin integrate with?
  • Does the service offered by this plugin honour the privacy laws where I live and where my audience is?
  • What kind of analytics does this plugin provide?
  • Does it provide any of the specific analytics features I need (ability to track referrals, downloads, etc)?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Security

Keeping your website secure is important. Security is a multi-faceted effort that may require more than one plugin. If you have comments on your website, you may want to install a plugin to help you combat spam. If you have a highly trafficked website, you may want to install a plugin to help you prevent hacks and malware.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a security plugin

  • What forms of security does this plugin provide?
  • Can I turn on/off features I need?
  • How well supported is this plugin?

Exercises

Search wordpress.org/plugins for each of the categories listed

  • Go to the Plugin Repository and type contact form in the search bar to find form plugins.
  • Click on at least one of the plugins and read the different tabs (Description, Installation, FAQ, Screenshots, etc) to see the features available with this plugin.

Compare two different plugins

  • Using the above exercise, find two different plugins and review the features of each.
  • Create a list of the features each one has.
  • Compare and contrast the two lists.

Assessment

Caching is included in all WordPress hosting packages.

  1. True
  2. False

Answer: 2. False

Is it possible to have people send you messages without putting your email address on the website?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: 1. Yes

All form plugins let you create forms with complex conditional logic.

  1. True
  2. False

Answer: 2. False

Where can you find plugins for your WordPress site?

  1. WordPress.com
  2. WordPress.org plugin repository
  3. WordPress Support Forums

Answer: 3. the WordPress.org plugin repository

Additional Resources

  1. Plugins via WordPress Support
  2. Managing Plugins via WordPress Support