Learning how to install a WordPress plugin may only take a few minutes, but, once learned, it’s a skill that will serve you (and, more importantly, your website) well for years to come.
After all, plugins are pretty much the unsung heroes of WordPress sites, turning the somewhat basic core installation into a dynamic, multi-functional platform that allows you to do just about anything from developing a member site to selling products. It even takes care of those essential behind-the-scenes tasks, like optimizing your site security and performance.
Without at least a small handful of plugins installed, you may find it difficult -if not impossible- to deliver the kind of optimum user experiences needed to grow a successful blog.
If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. Below, I’ll show you just how easy it is to install any WordPress plugin you can think of, but if you’re new to all this, let me first explain what plugins are and why they’re so fundamental to the whole WordPress experience.
What Are WordPress Plugins, And Why Do We Need Them?
In the most basic scene, a WordPress plugin is a small piece of software that “plugs in” to your website to enjoy more functionality than you have access to when you first install WordPress.
One of the main reasons WordPress is the preferred platform for some 455 million websites is that it offers almost endless flexibility and customization options to build just about any kind of site imaginable and uses an almost infinite amount of tools to optimize the way your site performs.
However, you won’t find many of these tools and options in the core WordPress installation. Instead, whether you want to set up an eCommerce store, a creative portfolio, or just about anything else, you’ll need to install a plugin to make that happen, just as you’ll need a plugin to create site backups, to ensure your site is safe and secure, and carry out any number of other vital back-end tasks.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter what you want to do with your site to learn how to install a plugin.
While the 55,000 plugins currently in existence all function differently, installing each requires the same straightforward process.
Here’s how it’s done.
How to Install a WordPress Plugin: A Step-by-Step Guide
Excluding FTP which, as I’ve said before, is a pretty time-consuming and unnecessary process when it comes to WordPress, there are two main ways to install a plugin.
1. Select one from the WordPress plugins directory
2. Upload a plugin you downloaded from a third-party developer.
Here’s how to do both.
1. How to Install a WordPress Plugin from the WordPress Plugins Directory
1. Go to Plugins – Add New
After logging into your WordPress site, select Plugins – Appearance from the main left-hand menu.
This brings up the main plugins directory, with some of the most popular and widely-used options featured prominently at the top.
2. Choose Your Plugin
Once you’re in the directory, there are a number of ways you can find the plugin you want to use.
You can use the filters in the top menu to sort by featured, popular, and recommended plugins, or you can simply type a keyword into the search bar.
In this example, you’ll see that typing “security” into the search bar brings up the top security plugins with the highest ratings and compatible with my WordPress version.
If you know the exact name of the plugin you want to use, you can also type it into this search bar to bring it up.
3. Click ‘Install’
This next step couldn’t be simpler. To install your chosen WordPress plugin, just click the Install Now button located in the top-right-hand corner.
You’ll know when this is successful because the button will momentarily flash up with a green tick mark and the word Installed before the Install Now button changes completely into an Activate button.
4. Activate Your Plugin
Once your plugin is installed, the final step of the process is to simply hit the Activate button so that you can start using it to optimize your site.
How to Upload a WordPress Plugin from a Third-Party?
Installing plugins from the WordPress directory may be the easiest option, but what if you just purchased a premium plugin from a third-party developer and need to install that?
Honestly, that’s almost as easy.
Let me show you:
1. Download Your Plugin
There are scores of places to download both free and premium third-party plugins, but to ensure the one you buy is both safe and legitimate, I recommend using a reputable vendor such as Mojo Marketplace or Codecanyon.
You can use these sites to search for, preview, and purchase thousands of plugins that allow you to do whatever it is you want to do with your site.
Once you’ve found one, go through the checkout process. This will provide you with a link from which you can download your new plugin to your computer.
2. Go to Plugins – Add New – Upload
Just as you did when installing plugins from the directory, your next step is to log in to WordPress and go to Plugins – Add New.
This time, select the Upload Plugin from the top of the page, next to the page title.
3. Upload the Plugin
Clicking on Upload Plugin brings up the same kind of basic file-uploader tool that you’ll have seen on countless other websites or when adding an attachment to an email.
Select Choose File and then select the plugin that you just downloaded from your computer to use.
4. Install the Plugin
With your plugin selected, just hit the Install Now button to install it.
5. Activate the Plugin
Finally, once your plugin is installed, hit the Activate Plugin which appears, and that’s it. You’ve successfully installed your first WordPress plugin and are ready to start enjoying added functionality on your site.
What to do After Installing a WordPress Plugin?
Learning how to install a WordPress plugin may be the easiest thing in the world, but there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind post-installation.
Suppose you’ve purchased a premium plugin, for example. In that case, you’ll often need to visit the settings for that page to add in an activation code provided by the developer in order to access its premium features.
Many plugins these days come with an automatic pop-up notification that appears immediately after installation and prompts you to enter your activation code.
If yours doesn’t, you can simply head to Plugins – Installed Plugins and select it from your list of plugins in order to add in the code.
Regardless of whether you need an activation code or not, it’s also worth keeping in mind that WordPress plugins do often need updating in order to keep them safe, secure, and functioning well with the latest version of WordPress.
Unless you’re signed up with a managed WordPress hosting company like WP Engine which may do this for you, you’ll also need to check in on your plugins from time to time (especially after a big WordPress core update) to take care of any updates and ensure they’re still working as they should.
Finally, if you’ve learned everything you need to know about how to install plugins but you’re still not sure which ones to install, check out my complete guide to the most essential must-have plugins for WordPress.