How To Install Plugins For WordPress

If you have a WordPress website or blog, adding plugins can elevate your website in both functionality, performance, and appearance. In this article, we’re going to look at the step-by-step process of how to install plugins for WordPress, as well as a few more useful things to know about plugins.

Recently my brother created his first website and naturally I wanted to help. As we’re both living on different continents, we hopped on a couple of Zoom calls and got everything up and running in no time. 

One thing that I noticed on our calls, and also when helping others with their websites, was the learning curve involved in getting to terms with WordPress. If they were struggling, then there must be many more people that could use a simple guide to explain WordPress, and in this case, plugins for WordPress. 

So I decided to write it myself.

What are Plugins for WordPress?

A plugin for WordPress is a software built specifically for websites using WordPress

Plugins can increase the functionality of a website (i.e. adding an online shop), improve your website performance (i.e. making your site load faster) and can make it look better/be more usable (i.e. showcase images in a portfolio more easily). 

Plugins are like apps on your phone or programs on a computer. You can install, update, and uninstall them from your website, normally without affecting the rest of your site.

Usually, plugins are developed by 3rd parties and they’re available in free, freemium, and premium versions. Most of the good free and freemium versions of plugins can be found in the WordPress plugins directory, whereas premium plugins normally need to be downloaded by the developer’s site.

Let’s take a look at how to install both types of plugins for WordPress.

How To Add WordPress Plugins Easily

Adding plugins to your WordPress website shouldn’t be intimidating. You can install WordPress plugins directly from within your WordPress dashboard with a click of a few buttons. This is mostly used for installing free or freemium WordPress plugins. 

Here’s how to do it:

1. Log into your WordPress dashboard (add /wp-admin/ to the end of your domain to access your dashboard. I.e. yourdomain.com/wp-admin/).

2. In the column on the left, hover over “Plugins” and then select “Add New”.

How to add a new plugin to WordPress

3. Now you can search the WordPress Plugin Directory. Type in a keyword like “image optimization” or the plugin name if you are looking for a specific one in the search bar in the top right.

Search in the WordPress Plugin Directory

4. Once you’ve found the plugin you want to install, click on the “Install Now” button.

How to Install a Plugin

5. Once the plugin has been installed, click “Activate” to turn the plugin on.

Activate installed Plugin

6. After activating, you will either be taken to the settings page of the plugin to configure it if required, or it will take you to the “Installed Plugins” page. Either way, the plugin is now installed. Now load your website to make sure that nothing is broken.

If you want to change any settings on a particular plugin, you can usually find the specific plugin settings in the “Settings” tab from your WordPress dashboard, or under the “Settings” option in the “Installed Plugins” page.

How to Install Plugins for WordPress from a ZIP file

We’ve looked at how to install a plugin directly from WordPress, now let’s take a look at how to install a premium plugin or one downloaded directly from a WordPress plugin developer.

These files are saved in the .ZIP file format. 

Once you’ve downloaded the plugin from the developer’s website, this is what you need to do:

1. Log into your WordPress dashboard.

2. In the column on the left, hover over “Plugins” and then select “Add New”.

3. In the top left corner, select “Upload Plugin”.

Upload a WordPress Plugin

4. Select “Choose file” and select the ZIP file containing the plugin (do NOT unzip it).

Choose Plugin to Upload

5. Click “Install Now”.

6. Once installed, select “Activate Plugin”.

7. After activation, you will be taken to the settings page of the plugin to configure it if required, or it will take you to the “Installed Plugins” page.

Either way, congratulations, the plugin is now installed!

Make sure to load your website to make sure that nothing is broken.

How to Update WordPress Plugins Safely

Once you’ve installed plugins on your website, it’s important for security reasons to keep your plugins up-to-date. There could be vulnerabilities in plugins that hackers try to exploit, which puts your website at risk. Plugin developers are constantly working to remove any threats to your site, but they also work on maintaining the stability of the plugin with other themes and 

Many plugin developers are also constantly working on improving their plugins features and making them faster, so keeping your plugins up-to-date can also increase the functionality and usability of your website.

This is how to update WordPress plugins safely:

WordPress has a notification system built-in that automatically tells you when new plugin updates are available. These are shown with a notification in the updates section or the plugins section in your WordPress dashboard.

You can also check manually for updates in the “Updates” section of your WordPress dashboard.

When an update is available, open the “Plugins” tab from the column on the left. Select “Installed Plugins”.

WordPress Plugin Update Available

Before you click “update install”, make sure to click the “view version XYZ details” option beneath the update. This will tell you everything that has been updated in this new version.

View plugin version details before updating

Unless it says “security update”, I recommend waiting about a week before updating. 

This gives the developer enough time to work out any potential bugs that could cause conflicts or mess up your site. These don’t happen very often, but when they do they are usually reported and fixed within a few hours or days, so waiting a week should allow the issues to be resolved. 

If it is a security update, then you should update immediately as your website may otherwise be at risk.

When you’re ready to update, then click “update now”.

That’s it, once the box shows “Updated!”, your plugin is up-to-date.

Plugin Updated

Why can’t I install plugins on WordPress?

When trying to install plugins on your WordPress website, you may run into some issues where the WordPress plugin section isn’t visible on your WordPress dashboard. 

If you cannot see the WordPress Plugin area, the 2 most common problems are: 

1. You are on WordPress.com

Often confused with the self-hosted WordPress software you can find on WordPress.org, WordPress.com is a light version that is offered as a hosting service. 

It is possible to install plugins on a website using WordPress.com, but you will need to pay for the business plan which costs approx. $299 per year. 

Instead of doing that, I recommend self-hosting with Bluehost. At just $2.95/month for the 36 year plan, it comes in at $106.20. But that’s for 3 years. 

Not to mention you receive a free domain for a year, CDN, SSL, custom email addresses, and more.

Self-hosting gives you the freedom to do just about anything with your website, like installing plugins and professional themes.

If you have a WordPress.com site, here is how to migrate to self-hosted WordPress with Bluehost.

2. You don’t have user rights to install plugins

If you are not the owner or admin of a website, it’s very likely that you have been given rights with limited access.

This protects the site owner from losing valuable data, but it also helps maintain stability on the site. If users are not familiar with the plugins that are already installed on the website, adding incompatible ones may cause problems with the website.

If you are the owner of the site, but you had a website developer create it for you, it may be that they added you with the role of editor. Only administrators can add plugins to WordPress websites, so you may need to contact your web developer to request admin access. 

P.s. These are two of the most common problems, but if you’re still having trouble, you may be facing memory issues, or your site may be a part of a multi-site network.

How to uninstall WordPress plugins

When adding new plugins to your website you may find other plugins that do the same job in a better or simpler way. Or you may find that when you installed a plugin, it caused issues with your website.

In these cases, you should deactivate and uninstall the WordPress plugin causing the issue or remove the plugin that you no longer need. It’s a similar, but much quicker process than installing plugins.

Here’s how to uninstall a WordPress plugin:

  1. Log into your WordPress dashboard (yourdomain.com/wp-admin/).
  2. Hover with your cursor over the “Plugins” section in the menu on the left and select “Installed Plugins”.
  3. Scroll to the plugin you want to remove and click “deactivate”.
  4. Once deactivated, a “delete” option will appear. Click “delete” to remove the plugin.

Now you’ve removed the plugin from your website.

6 Tips For Installing WordPress Plugins

Now that you know how to install, update and delete WordPress plugins, here are a few things you should pay attention to when it comes to plugins for WordPress.

1. Find free plugins from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Many of the best plugins are available for free, directly from the WordPress Plugin Directory. Find plugins to optimize your images, rank on search engines, backup your website and more, all for free directly from your WordPress dashboard.

Make sure to check reviews and when the plugin was last updated before installing. If a plugin has poor reviews and doesn’t look like it will solve your problem, then don’t install it.

If a plugin hasn’t been updated in the last 6-12 months, it’s very likely that it is no longer being maintained by the developer. This means it could be susceptible to newer security issues and could put your website at risk. I recommend looking for an alternative in this case.

2. Do not set plugins to update automatically.

While it may be tempting to set everything to update automatically, if you’re going to be logging into WordPress on a weekly basis, you might as well update your plugins manually.

Even though most developers test and retest new updates, occasionally a bug will slip through and it could break your sight. This protects your website from downtime for your visitors when new updates are released.

You can then update the plugin when the bugs have been worked out after a week, or install it as soon as you log in if it is a security patch.

3. Install plugins one at a time.

Some plugins don’t play well with others. 

Make sure to install your plugins one at a time and refresh your website while clearing your cache with a performance plugin like WP Rocket, to make sure there are no conflicts or issues being caused.

If you install multiple plugins at once, and your website has some issues, it can be hard to pinpoint which plugin is causing the problem. If it’s a popular plugin, you can usually also find compatibility information on the developers website or on online forums, these can provide you with alternatives if the plugin is not compatible with a plugin or theme you already have installed. 

4. Check compatibility for plugins that do similar things.

Very often plugins do one thing very well (the main reason why you want to install it) but they also have a number of other useful features but they may not be the go-to plugin for that job. When you have two plugins installed that do similar things, these can cause a conflict and break your site. 

For example, if you have 2 caching plugins running simultaneously. These plugins can stand on each other’s feet and your site may have areas that don’t load properly, or the site doesn’t load at all.

If you are very interested in a plugin, check the developers website, or write them an email (or open a ticket) and ask if they have any compatibility issues with a plugin you’re running. They may have already installed a work around where you can disable certain additional features bypassing the conflict.

5. Delete inactive plugins you’re not planning on using.

Sometimes it can be useful when troubleshooting to disable certain plugins to find out which plugin may be causing issues or which existing plugin you have is causing a conflict with a new plugin you’ve installed (you may not need the older plugin anymore and can then delete that one).

When deactivating plugins, make sure to remove ones that you no longer plan on using. 

You should delete inactive plugins as these plugins can still be susceptible to hacker attacks, even if they are not active on your website. WordPress also checks for updates for these inactive plugins and these update notifications can also start getting annoying.

Plugins don’t take up much space, but if you have a server with very limited space, removing inactive plugins can help make some room.

6. Only install plugins if you have to.

Gutenberg Editor provides a variety of different features you would previously need a plugin for (or know how to write some code manually). This helps speed up your site as each additional plugin you add means there’s more that needs to be loaded when someone visits your website. 

Having fewer plugins also reduces the risk of your website conflicting with new plugins or updates to existing plugins. And by reducing the number of plugins you have, you’ll also reduce the possibility of your website being infected by hackers.

Some powerful plugins combine special features and do so very well, for example: 

Rank Math: SEO Tool, URL Redirection, and Website Analytics

WP Rocket: Caching Tool, Optimization, Image Optimization, and CDN Integration

How to install plugins for WordPress

Now that you know how to install plugins for WordPress, you can customize and edit your website to have it look and function exactly how you’d like it. 

What’s the first plugin you install on a new WordPress website?

Mine is WP Rocket, but let me know yours in the comments below.