What’s a plugin?
The first time I read about WordPress plugins, I had only one question:
A plugin. It’s sort of like an app, that you would get for your phone. It’s an extension that gives your website a functionality it wouldn’t otherwise have. Like social share buttons or pop ups that collect email addresses. (Maybe by now you’ve noticed that your theme doesn’t seem to have these, but all the other blogs in the world do?) Well, you can have ’em too.
Plugins are one of the MAJOR benefits of a self hosted WordPress site. You can’t get (most) plugins for the free platforms like blogger or even wordpress.com, thus limiting functionality immensely.
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
Before you start installing plugins left, right, and center though –
WordPress plugins are awesome, but plugins have a dark side. (Just like too much sugar, or too much wine, unfortunately.)
They can slow your site down, making the pages take longer to load. You know when you click in to read a post (from Pinterest, or Facebook, or anywhere really) and it just sits there blank and slow for.ev.er? So then you leave?
Yep, too many plugins running on a website can do that. (So can other things, like images that are too large, or some ad networks, for example.) That’s bad.
You absolutely don’t want people clicking in to your blog and then leaving before they have a chance to fall in love with you, or sign up for your email list.
Keep that in mind when you’re getting excited about new plugins. Sometimes it’s best to see if you can do without a plugin. And if you happen to install a plugin that you don’t use, don’t just deactivate it – delete it! (You can always re-install it in the future if necessary.)
Plugins can also come with bugs. You’ll want to use WordPress plugins that are well reviewed and regularly updated. Anyone can write the code for a plugin (well, anyone who knows how to code…so not me). That means that some of them are poorly coded and can cause problems on your site. If you install a plugin and your site starts acting funny, try deleting it.
But don’t be afraid of all plugins now that you’ve read this! I use a few plugins and I like the ones I use.
Important Free WordPress plugins:
While you do need to be careful with plugins, there are a few that are almost necessary.
These are plugins that I recommend everyone install right away. I use the free versions of these plugins and they do the job for me!
♦ Akismet (spam blocker). You will get spam. I hardly get any spam, because Akismet does a really good job.
♦ Yoast SEO for WordPress Plugin. SEO means “search engine optimization” (you should definitely read this post by Regina for all her amazing knowledge on SEO. If you are starting a blog, Regina is a lady you wanna know).
(Instructions on finding and installing the free plugins coming up in a bit – just keep reading for now.)
Other Necessary Plugins:
I used to be a big advocate of using all free plugins when possible, all the time.
(I’ve learned some painful lessons over the course of the past year, and why we don’t always want free plugins was a BIG ONE.)
Let me preface this: I am not saying any of the following to convince you to buy plugins. Make your own choices about this, because the free ones DO WORK.
Social Sharing plugin –
Social sharing plugins are important; if you are not getting your content shared then NO ONE will see it. Period. Social sharing is huge, and you need a social sharing plugin.
I installed one of the most popular free social sharing plugins available when I started my blog – shareaholic. (It’s the cute one you see everywhere that says “sharing is caring”.) And I LOVED it. I used it for nearly a full year. Because my site is monetized with ads, site speed is very important. Ad networks actually pay MORE per ad if your site is fast. (Interesting eh?).
My ad network let me know they were none too happy with shareaholic – they said it is extremely resource heavy and really causes the site to slow down. (They also said this about sumome, which is another VERY popular free plugin – for email collection.)
I finally moved away from shareaholic when I started getting emails complaining about “all the pop up ads” blocking my content… (turns out shareaholic was running ads ON MY SITE, even though I had turned off their permissions to do that!) When I moved away from shareaholic I LOST ALL MY SOCIAL SHARE COUNTS.
This is devastating. Social share counts may be a vanity metric, but I also believe that they are a metric that gives new visitors an idea of your credibility in the online space. I have posts that have been shared over 50,ooo times… that now show social shares of 200.
The worst part of all this? The plugin I’m using now is super light (won’t affect site speed) and costs 29 whole dollars per year.
I gave up my share counts to save 29$ per year.
If you can afford it, I would recommend starting out with a paid sharing pluging like the Social Pug plugin, and saving yourself this trouble down the road. (It also solves all the problems for image optimization for Facebook and Pinterest, but we will get to that.)
I am currently using Social Pug, but all plugins have their share of issues. You should do some research before deciding on one… and if you are just starting out this is NOT something you need to decide TODAY. (It’s unlikely that flocks of people are landing on your site wanting to share right now anyhow!)
Email Collection Plugin –
I started out with the free version of sumo, and fortunately, the damage done is not long term. Sumo is also very resource heavy and slows down your site terribly. However, as soon as I switched, the problem went away with no long lasting ill effects. (I am now using Thrive Leads, and I used to REALLY love it… but they’ve done an update and I’m not sure I would recommend it anymore.)
Hellobar is a good option for beginners who want a cheap pop up type thing. (I have the paid version, and I love it, but the free version does work).
How install free plugins in WordPress
→ Go to the “Plugins” tab on your WordPress dashboard, in the list on the left hand side, & click “add new”.
→ In the search box – on the right hand side at the top (# 1 below) – enter the name of the plugin you are looking for, and hit enter. Locate the plugin in the list it brings up, and click the install now button (# 2).
→ It will install, and you will see a screen like the one below. Click “active plugin”.
→ It will take you to your installed plugins list (you could also access this list by clicking “installed plugins” right above the “add new” that you used before). The plugin will already be activated, since you clicked activate plugin. Here you can access the settings, and set the plugin up (if necessary). I always at least look around in the settings and see if there’s something that needs to be done.
→ THAT’S ALL! Installing a plugin is NOT hard.
Using the plugins
Depending on the plugin you’ve installed, it might add a tab right into your WordPress dashboard for you to access the plugin. Instructions for how to use most of the popular plugins will be available via google (everything is available via google) or right from the developers (if you’ve bought paid plugins).
Sometimes learning to use a plugin to the best of it’s functionality takes a little trial and error. I just fiddle with them until I win. (And google. Always google.)
21 thoughts on “How to Install WordPress Plugins (& Warnings)”
I m so loving this series! I’ve wanted to start a blog for a long time, but gotten overwhelmed. You are breaking this up into bite sized pieces that I can digest and implement in addition to my more than full time job! While I’m anxious for more it’s allowing me time to think about and research content. So I’ve made nothing public yet..just working in the background to have a professional site with some content before I launch. Thank you so much!
HI Julie! YAY I am SOOOO excited to hear that you’re enjoying the series, and that you’ve started your blog! I really do think you’re doing it the right way. It’s 100% acceptable to keep your blog your own secret for MONTHS if you have to. Eventually, you will want to make it public so friends can see it and give you feed back before you start promoting. But don’t worry – no one else will see it until you promote it 😉 Please keep in touch and let me know how it’s going for you, and if I can answer any questions I’d be thrilled to help. Good luck lady!
Carly this series is great! I have been reading a lot before starting my blog but the way you describe things makes the whole picture more clear! Thanks for the helpful hints and guidance!
HI Erin! I’m SOOO glad you’re enjoying it! Good luck on your blogging journey 🙂
Love this series of posts and your pinterest ebook. I know you use Divi and I’m curious why you don’t use their Bloom plug-in for email opt in forms? I’m trying to get my website up while nursing my partner after a hip replacement. You are so honest about what tools have worked or not worked for you.
HI Michelle!! I actually just don’t use it because I never looked into it and already have thrive up and running and changing it out at this point seems like SO much work when I already like thrive. (However, the new update of thrive has BAD bugs, so I’m not recommending that you use that right now. If they don’t sort it out maybe I will look at a change.) I’m sorry I don’t have any experience with bloom!
Hi Carly! I must say, I don’t know where I would be without your helpful content guiding me. I am a full-time dental hygienist and I have decided to become a part- time blogger (I want to eventually switch the two) and you have made things SO much easier. You are awesome!! Thank you!! I will be emailing you soon to let you know when I am up and running 🙂 ttyl xo
I am looking forward to seeing your blog Michelle!! CONGRATS on getting started. That’s one of the biggest hurdles down! xoxo
Carly! I’m going to be honest with you…I feel overwhlemed! Nothing to do with your post BUT I already ‘launched’ my blog and I feel there’s still so many things to check and know about, so I’m going trough this serie to checkout what I missed. And the other thing, I knew I would have to invest money in it, but seems unending between paid plugings and courses or e-books. Just tell me that I’m gonna make it, please!
It’s a one step at a time journey Paola!! I STILL get overwhelmed feeling, most recently when I switched to a new email service provider. Just do one thing at a time.
This series is really helpful to me. I am just trying to get my blog off the ground. I am so close to posting that first post, but there is just so much to do behind the scenes first. I am so glad to have found this series to help guide me along.
so glad you like it!
Hi, I am so grateful for all your advice on blogging, I wish I read all this before I started my blog. My question is what is the best blogging host, I get confused alot by hosting etc..Right Now I have blogpress with WordPress and I will say I am confused half bthe time with how to use plug ins and also where to put HTML codes. Any advice on the best hosting if that’s what it’s called LOL would be so helpful. Basically just tell me who to go with and I will go because I am not happy where I am.
Thank you so much!!
This is the series that has finally got me to start my blog. Thank you so mush for writing this! I do have a question though about the Akismet plugin. You said you use the free version. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it says I’m not eligible for the free version if I’m going to be using advertising on my site or selling things. Does that mean using ad networks? Have they changed the policy or am I on the wrong Akismet plugin? Thanks again so much for this series!
Sarah – I am so glad that I have been able to help you on your blog journey! Honestly..I am not sure about your Akismet question. I would recommend reaching out to them and clarifying – that’s probably the most accurate answer you can get! Good luck with the blog girl!!
Hi Carly, I think I am slowing but surely understanding……Your posts have been so enlightening! Thanks!
I Carly, I have already started blogging and have a few articles, but I like your honesty about the plugins. My web developer moved so now I am on my own. Trying to monitize the blog and my site and would love your input and feedback.
Thanks a lot. This is a really very elaborate tutorial. I simply love it. Other essential plugins that are really good are updraft plus for backup of website and Wordfence among all. Too many plugins are also not recommended. Thanks again for such an inspiring post. Which plugin do you use for Pinterest?Thanks
I use tasty pins on one site, and grow by mediavine on another… I dont have a favorite!
Hello mama Carly! I am a super newbie to blogging. I have so many ideas and excitement but right now I am on the technological struggle bus. I have realized I truly know nothing about the website world. I have been reading your information as well as others and it has been very helpful. My biggest issue right now is customizing my theme so I can write my blog and get it out there. I am taking the iMark course right now but still feel lost on where to start. I don’t want to spend tons of time on customizing. I want it to look just professional enough…then later I will tweak it. I’m not even sure what to ask you because I just don’t know! haha Thank you again for your information, and I will press on because I see a bright future and want to own my tomorrow!