WordPress as a content management system is built around two important factors: WordPress themes and plugins. Whilst WordPress themes are for organizing and displaying your content in a manner that reflects industry design choices, WordPress plugins are all about expanding your website/blog to new heights with the help of additional features and capabilities.
A traditional example would be that you want to optimize your WordPress blog for search engines, but doing so manually would take up a lot of your time. Instead, you can use a SEO plugin that will take care of almost everything for you. The biggest benefit of WordPress plugins is that plugins themselves take away hours of customization and optimization work that could end up costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in development work.
Where to find WordPress plugins
At the moment, there are two highly acclaimed WordPress plugin resources, one is free and the other is paid. In total, both add up to 45,000 custom plugins that you could potentially add to your own website. Probably half of that when you take out duplicates and variations of plugins, but still an astonishing number nonetheless.
Official WordPress Plugin Directory
The official WordPress Plugin Directory is home to some 41,000 plugins, many of which are arranged by their popularity. The one thing to remember about WordPress plugins is that if you want to add something to your website, you should know exactly what it is. Apart from checking out WordPress plugin lists scattered across the web, there's isn't really a safe way to browse 41,000 plugins without coming across plugins that may seem worthless to you.
CodeCanyon Plugin Directory
The CodeCanyon site by Envato offers nearly 4,000 unique WordPress plugins, all of which are premium and require a monetary investment, though the prices in most cases will be fair and won't go above your average dinner meal at a restaurant. On top of that, you usually also get to have the developer as your personal support person, which is always nice if you're running into problems with getting your WordPress plugins to work properly.
How to install a WordPress plugin
The most traditional way of installing a WordPress plugin is by using the Plugins page inside of your WordPress dashboard. Once on this page, you will see a screen similar to the one below.
From this page, you can browse Popular, Featured and Recommended plugins, but also use the search function to find plugins that might benefit your website. It works just like it would work on the official plugin homepage, so you aren't really learning anything new. To install a plugin that you like, you simply click the Install button by the name of the plugin. (As can be seen in the screenshot.)
How to configure a WordPress plugin
WordPress plugins usually come equipped with a thing called Options Panel. The Options Panel serves as a way of making modifications and enabling custom settings for the particular plugin. A good example, in sync with this tutorial, would be the Yoast SEO plugin. Once you install the plugin, a settings panel on your left-hand side dashboard appears; it's called SEO.
It may look a little bit bold at this point, but we have outlined the left-hand side configuration panel with an arrow. Each of those settings enable you to optimize your WordPress blog for different kinds of SEO settings. For example, in the following screenshot you can see how you can adjust your content titles and in turn make them more search engine friendly, as well as adjust their meta settings.
These are the kind of settings you will be dealing with when working with a WordPress plugin, and not always the settings panels are going to be as sophisticated or as difficult to master, in most cases – WordPress plugins keep it simple and beginner friendly.
Where to get support for WordPress plugins
There will be cases when working with a particular WordPress plugin where you may run into errors, and there will be cases when an error can actually cause huge downtime for your site. It doesn't happen every day, but it tends to happen to everyone who has ever used WordPress, and not always because it's your fault or the fault of the developer, sometimes plugins don't work closely with each other and can create problems unintentionally.
To get quick WordPress support, one of the best places to go to is the official WordPress Community Forums. Hundreds of thousands of users visit this forum every month, with tons of unique discussions being made each day. You should also know that each individual plugin has its own support forum allocated on the WordPress.org website.
On each plugins official homepage, you can scroll down the sidebar on the right-hand side and find a button that says “View support forum” – this will take you to the official support forum for the particular plugin, a place where you can not only search for solutions to problems similar to yours, but also ask questions and help answer questions.