WordPress offers a very simple platform to build your web property and before I start to look in detail at how it all works, and how it can work for you, there are two things that I need to explain which are never far away from the conversation when WordPress is discussed. These two things are Themes and also Plugins; and it is WordPress Plugins that I’ll discuss here.
As is the way that I’m trying to communicate to business people, who are already overwhelmed with information, I’ll try and keep it simple. I have already talked about WordPress and what makes it so popular. The ‘look’ of a WordPress site can be dramatically altered by the Theme. The functionality of a WordPress site, that is, the things that can be shown, the things that the visitor can do, the ‘fancy stuff’, if you will, can be greatly increased by the Plugins that are used. The only explanation, in technical terms, as to what is a Plugin, is that it is a tiny ‘packet’ of already written code that you can upload to your site which allows something to happen, or a function to occur. That is all you really need to know.
I’ll give a simple example to demonstrate.
WordPress, out of the box, allows you to display images. To do this it is pretty straightforward and, one of the joys of WordPress is that if you are not sure how to do something then just hop over to YouTube, or one of the many other video sharing sites and you’ll find that some kind soul has put up a video showing you what to do. So here is an example of what a Plugin can do.
The first image is what you’ll get ‘out of the box’ with WordPress.
The above image is okay, but look down at the next image and click on it. This creates a far better user experience. Imagine if you want to show greater detail of your products?
Now to get this effect I have two options. The first one is to learn, or to employ someone with great coding skills who could write up the code needed to make this happen or, alternatively I download a Plugin and load the images. That is what makes Plugins great and enhance WordPress as a website and blogging platform, it is so flexible and Plugins add to that greatly.
So what do Plugins do, just images? No! There are Plugins that deal with just about every type of functionality that you can imagine, adding contact forms, making Search Engine Optimization easy, rotating different adverts in different places, dealing with comment spam and a whole lot more too. I’ll probably do a list of some good Plugins that you may want to consider in a future post but there are some other points I want to cover.
WHERE DO I GET WORDPRESS PLUGINS FROM?
First point here, there are some drawbacks to using Plugins so before you start looking for a solution to a problem you have with your site check the masses of information already online, you may well find that your ‘problem’ can already be dealt with by a functionality in WordPress and it is just that you didn’t know that it could be done or how it could be done, so check the video sites first. If after doing this you know that a Plugin is the solution then most Plugins, but not all, are available for free from here. This is the WordPress Plugin Directory and, right now and entirely without cost, you can download almost 22,000 Plugins which will allow you to do a whole manner of things to your site.
There are so many options available (and all are free) at the above directory, however, some Plugins do cost money. These tend to be the ones that have taken some time and effort to develop and possibly have regular updates, along with offering support. If you cannot find what you need at the Plugin Directory then a simple search could throw up some paid options and then you simply need to evaluate it and make a decision as to whether you can do without it or not. Do not dismiss a Plugin simply because it costs money, some are superb.
ARE THERE ANY DISADVANTAGES TO USING WORDPRESS PLUGINS?
The short answer is yes! But the fuller answer is that these are outweighed by the benefits. Let’s take a look at the downside.
1. The more you use the slower your site may operate at. In a nutshell, the more resources your site is using the slower it will work. New WordPress users, in particular, have a habit of loading lots and lots of Plugins simply because they look so good and are free. Think first!
2. I have outlined above that you should search for other solutions first before deciding to use Plugins. I am not convinced at all that this is what people actually do!
3. Each Plugin gives you a potential security issue. Each one provides an opportunity for someone to, potentially, damage your site.
4. One odd phenomenon that occurs, considering that Plugins enhance your functionality is that sometimes you install a Plugin only to find that it stops another one from working! These so called conflicts are resolved by having to uninstall the offending Plugin.
5. Occasionally you can download a virus or something else you didn’t want or expect. This is unusual but it can happen. Generally the above directory, though, is safe and the popular and long standing Plugins are unlikely to present a problem.
You may think this list is enough to make anyone think Plugins are not worth the trouble but they are. Numbers 3 – 5 happen infrequently enough for them not normally to be a problem.
I will talk about how to install a WordPress Plugin in a separate article.