Much like widgets, the term “plugin” is not specific to WordPress. Outside of my favorite blogging platform, plugins are defined as “a small piece of software that supplements a larger program” + I think that definition will help break down what exactly a WordPress plugin is.
According to WordPress.org, “plugins are PHP scripts that extend the functionality of WordPress.”
That got a little nerdy really quickly, so let’s break it down with the general definition of a plugin. “PHP scripts” is another way of saying “a small piece of software” — PHP is a coding language that some developers use + it’s what WordPress is primarily written with. Which means this small piece of PHP can supplement (or extend the functionality) of WordPress (a larger program).
In other terms, plugins get WordPress to do more cool things.
With over 50,000 plugins available, there are loads of cool functions you can add to your site. Common options include shopping carts, SEO add-ons, pop-up + form builders.
Where you use plugins on your site
While widgets appear in widget areas assigned by your theme, WordPress plugins have much more range in where they can be used.
Some plugins will never be seen by your site visitors — these type of plugins help with content creation, site management + performance.
Other plugins are put into place for your site visitors — contact forms, click to tweet, countdown timers + comment tools.
The possibilities are truly endless. Especially when you consider that you can create your own plugins (or hire someone to code them for you) based on what you need WordPress to do.
What WordPress plugins cost
The short + sweet answer is it depends. Because there are so many free plugins, paid plugins (known as premium plugins) or plugins that have a free version + ask you to pay to unlock specific features.
Free plugins are great because you get the chance to try them out + make sure they work for you / for your WordPress site. But they aren’t always the best coded plugins, nor are they always kept up-to-date because the developer isn’t making money on the project.
Paid or premium plugins often come with a support forum or email that you can reach out to when you need help. And they are often updated with new versions of WordPress. I have had a few premium WordPress plugins that sounded awesome but didn’t do what we needed + the client requested a refund that was approved.
Just because they cost money doesn’t mean you are stuck with it — double check before buying.
Don’t make these common plugin mistakes
Speaking of double checking….after working with dozens of websites, we’ve seen it all at tiny blue orange + have some things for you to watch out for with plugins. These 3 things many WordPress site owners struggle with when it comes to plugins:
1. Repeat plugins
It happens — you’re looking for “the right” plugin + add a few to your site. Once you settle on the winner, you move on to the next task on your never-ending to do list. Leaving those extra plugins in place + likely active.
Having plugins that do the exact same thing can cause compatibility issues. Aka they could break the one you want to use. So once you settle on a plugin, deactivate + remove the ones you decided against.
2. Inactive plugins
Speaking of deactivated plugins, sometimes we install a plugin for one-time use. A great example of this is a broken link checker plugin (that scans your site for broken links).
Leaving inactive plugins on your site means more maintenance work for you + more risk for your website. If you’re not taking care of those plugins, hackers could take advantage of it. So clear inactive plugins out.
3. Outdated plugins
Every plugin you add to your site means you add another maintenance task to your to do list. Plugins are (hopefully) updated often by the plugin creator + it’s in your best interest to keep things current.
A streamlined website with a small number of plugins + themes will have fewer updates to run — making the task easier to keep up with. So if you have a number of plugins on your site