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WordPress Plugins 101: How to Install and Update

How to update and install WordPress Plugins

The thought of installing WordPress plugins can be nerve-wracking. While plugins can bring very cool functionality and features to your website, many don’t know how they work or what is the best approach to do it on their own properly.

While, in reality, it takes only a few clicks to install or update a plugin — there are things you need to consider before jumping in, from backups to reviews and even if you really, really, even need that plugin.

Adding WordPress Plugins

Let’s discuss everything you need to consider when adding plugins to your WordPress website. Before installing any plugins, you want to do a bit of investigating.

If you are a regular reader, I’ve covered the levels of plugins in several articles. So here’s a quick refresher:

  • Free: Free to use on as many websites as you like.
  • Freemium: Certain functionality is only available on an upgraded “Pro” or “Premium Version.” With that goes an annual fee to receive updates and support.
  • Premium: Annual fee based on the number of websites your license can be used on.

Free, open-source plugins are available through the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Extend your WordPress experience! Browse 59,479 free plugins.

That’s a lot of plugins, right? But not all plugins are created equal. And while WordPress does its best to jury plugins and removes those that do not meet the stated criteria, the onus is on you to do your due diligence.

You can also search for plugins from within your WordPress Dashboard (Plugins > Add New). Whether in the directory on WordPress.org or exploring on your site, you want to check that the plugin is compatible and tested up to the version of WordPress you are currently running. (Which should be the current version.)

Beyond conflicts, installing out-of-date plugins could pose serious security issues too. Not to mention that the availability of support, if needed, will probably not happen.

Review, Review, Review.

Next, check out the posted user ratings. These ratings will give you a good idea of the quality of the plugin and the author’s support levels.

Reviewing the support forums for a plugin provides an insight into the level of support you can expect. For example, how quickly do they respond to questions?

It will also help make you aware of any conflicts that have been identified and any fixes or available options. I always look at forums first to find solutions I can implement without having to contact the developer.

It can be overwhelming when perusing the directory. This is where looking at the number of installs, ratings, and if the plugin is up-to-date with WordPress can weed out more risky choices.

Premium Plugins

I tend to gravitate towards Premium Plugins, where the developer charges a fee for their plugins and offers more support options. Premium plugins/versions are only available on the developer’s site and are not listed in the WP Directory.

You can check out Envato’s WordPress Plugin Marketplace for even more plugin choices. I have found quite a few neat plugins offered there. You’ll find different and unique plugins at a reasonable cost with the option to purchase additional support if needed. Just apply the same review process as you would for any other plugin before making your decision.

How to Install WordPress Plugins

Before installing anything on your site, you always want to do a quick backup of everything — just in case. My article How to Do the Mother of All WordPress Backups can help you get a system in place.

Here are the simple steps involved in installing WordPress plugins. First, go to Plugins > Add New.

  1. Once you’ve reviewed a plugin and decided you want to try it, click the “Install Now” button. Then “Activate.”
  2. Look for the settings link to configure. Always review your site after installing to make sure there are no conflicts.

If you’ve downloaded a plugin off-site…

  1. Note where you downloaded the plugin’s Zip file on your hard drive.
  2. In your WordPress dashboard click on Plugins > Add New > Upload
  3. Find the Zip file you downloaded and upload it to your WordPress site. Then activate.

If, after activating a new plugin (or when updating plugins), you find that your site is different or something is not working right — you probably have a conflict. Conflicts happen. There is no way every possible combo of themes and plugins on every site out there is going to work smoothly all the time.

Try not to panic. I know — easier said than done. But that’s when you’ll be glad you took my advice and backed up everything before installing or updating anything.

When a conflict occurs, the first thing you do is deactivate the plugin you just installed. That will generally resolve the issue. For more on resolving conflicts, check out my article How to Troubleshoot and Recover Your Broken WordPress Website.

A final consideration is the number of plugins you should have on your WordPress website. While there is no definitive number, plugins do use a ton of resources.

Too many plugins and your website’s performance degrades, and the more you increase your chances of a conflict. So I try to stick around 20 — give or take a few.

Quick WordPress Plugin Tips

  • Do not install multiple plugins that do the same thing. If you are unhappy with a plugin, delete it after adding a similar one.
  • Only install plugins that you know are important to enhancing the features and functionality of your site. Not just because you read about it somewhere and think you need it. Not because you think it’s cool. Because it will enhance the user experience or your business objectives.
  • Update your plugins when WordPress notifies you that an update is available. Most updates also remedy bugs and include security hardening.
  • Always do a quick run-through of your website after adding a new plugin to ensure everything is operating as it should.
  • Lastly, run a performance test to see how your new addition may have impacted your performance metrics.

See? Updating and installing plugins is not all that mysterious, is it?

Just be sure to take the time to review and backup and update when prompted. With this approach, you’ll be able to take advantage of quality plugins that can enhance your WordPress website — and your bottom line.

At your service,
WordPress Consultant Judith

WordPress website products and services you can trust!