Last Updated March 6, 2023
If you are in the process of developing a business website, there is no platform better than WordPress. It is easy to use and offers many features and functionality via third-party free and premium themes and plugins. As a result, you can perform every essential task and integrate multiple features by simply installing WordPress plugins.
WordPress is fantastic, but the actual value lies in understanding WordPress plugins. This article outlines which plugins are best in support of your website and how to get those plugins added and put to the best use. Let's dive in.
What Are WordPress Plugins?
Before we learn how to install WordPress plugins and leverage their many features, you need to understand what a plugin is!
To give a basic definition, WordPress plugins are packaged pieces of software installed, activated, and added to a WordPress website. Since it ‘plugs in' to the existing website without changing the default coding, it is known as a ‘plugin.'
Plugins can add or modify the existing functionality of a website. Examples are a plugin to add the ability to share via social media or one that provides a contact form for lead capture.
A plugin impacts a website to different extents. Some plugins might alter the entire website, such as a translation plugin to create a multilingual website. In contrast, others only make minor visual alterations, such as adding social media sharing buttons at the bottom of blog posts.
How Do WordPress Plugins Work?
Without getting technical, a WordPress plugin uses PHP programming language, filters, and action hooks to provide functionality by tapping into the WordPress API. A filter is an access point used by a WordPress plugin, whereas an action hook lets it enter or hook into the website's source code.
While some plugins are built to work as soon as the website loads, others trigger based on specific events. Take, for example, a person who subscribes to your newsletter. Once they provide their email address and submit the form, a plugin gets triggered and sends the initial introductory email to the address.
Inside the plugin is, however, a piece of code. Developers create plugins' access points to generate triggers specific to an event. But as WordPress users installing a plugin, we do not need to understand how it works; we only need to know how to use it.
How Can WordPress Plugins Help A Website?
More than 39% of websites are created using WordPress as the content management system, and there's a reason for that. WordPress offers pre-built themes, templates, and existing functionality that allows users to add all the required customizations by installing and activating plugins.
A business can create fully customized websites with WordPress plugins without hiring a developer. Since no coding is involved, adding features and customizations is quick and easy. And with the interactive interface of a WordPress builder plugin and a dynamic WordPress theme, websites can be created in days, not weeks or months.
The biggest plus of WordPress plugins is that there is a myriad of them available. According to WordPress, there are over 59,941 free WordPress plugins alone. If you add thousands of premium plugins to the list, you have over 100,000 WordPress plugins.
Have a new idea you'd like to implement on your website? It is likely possible to use a plugin. WordPress has everything from plugins for security to those providing SEO optimization to less conventional broken link checkers, comment disabling, and a whole bunch more!
In short, plugins cut down effort and time, increase functionality, offer interactivity, and allow users to build a great business website in less time and with less money. Needless to say, a WordPress plugin is worth the money (if you are using paid versions) and the time you are spending to learn about them!
Obtaining a WordPress Plugin
WordPress has done a great job in organizing all the third-party vendors and plugins being offered inside of the official WordPress directory, which can be found on the WordPress website or via this link: https://wordpress.org/plugins/
The plugin search bar on the plugins page allows you to search by plugin name or functionality to find a free plugin to add to your website. WordPress has done even better by moving the ability to download and install WordPress plugins into the WordPress dashboard of a WordPress install. The screenshot below shows a WordPress website's admin area and plugin interface.
The functionality of searching for plugins is similar whether you use the WordPress plugin directory or the admin area of WordPress. Still, you have added filters across the top to search all featured plugins, popular plugins, recommended plugins, and more categories.
Additionally, once you find a plugin you want, you can click on it to review it in more detail, and if you decide to add it to your website, install and activate the plugin right from within your WordPress admin panel. Plugin files typically arrive as a plugin zip file if you need to install WordPress plugins outside of WordPress. The process of installing WordPress plugins from within WordPress is much easier than from outside.
You can also upload a plugin from within WordPress. The process is very manageable, and once installed, you can activate the plugin from within the WordPress upload screen. Plugins that are premium, meaning that they require you to purchase from WordPress vendors, will be installed using the upload feature.
Premium plugins are purchased outside of WordPress on third-party websites. These websites can be marketplaces that sell multiple plugins like Envato, or they can be the vendor's own website. We typically recommend premium plugins when it comes to providing critical functionality or features on a website for a few reasons.
- A premium plugin is supported, which means that if something goes wrong, you can email the plugin developer and have them help fix the issue. This is typically not possible or seamless if you use a free version of a plugin.
- In most cases, premium plugins provide more functionality than free plugins, so it sometimes pays to have the purchased version, so you don't have to add extra plugins to do the work that a premium plugin provides.
- Most plugins are reasonably priced and provide exceptional value and peace of mind that your website's functionality will be intact through updates and throughout the steady evolution of WordPress, which gets updated at least 10-15 times per year. In 2022 alone, WordPress had 3 major releases (5.9, 6.0, and 6.1) and multiple security and maintenance releases.
Free WordPress plugins are not always kept up to date. If you are relying on them to stay up to date as WordPress is updated, you will likely find that free plugins are updated much more slowly than premium plugins and, as such, can cause a security risk within your WordPress site.
Essential WordPress Plugins for Business Websites
Learning how to use a WordPress plugin might be easier than choosing a plugin that performs the necessary tasks needing to be completed. With such a vast array of WordPress plugins, you may get stuck in a direction you will regret later on.
To save you from entering a scenario you will regret, we've compiled our list of the most essential WordPress plugins businesses can trust and rely on. These plugins will ensure you've built a highly functional and capable WordPress website right from the get-go. These plugins fit within the areas we would define as essential needs for a successful website.
- Website theming and builder tool
- Website security plugin
- Website SEO optimization plugin
- Website performance plugin
- Website tracking plugin
- Website backup plugin
1. Elementor – A Fantastic Website Builder
The first thing businesses need to do when creating a website is to build out a theme or templates for the various pages and the overall layout, look and feel for a website, and that’s where Elementor comes in handy.
Elementor is a powerful website builder that lets you create business websites with simple drag-and-drop actions and no knowledge of CSS or HTML. Its on-page editor takes the place of the classic WordPress editor or the Gutenburg editor, where every change is immediately viewable on the screen.
When building with Elementor, users can see how each added or removed element affects the layout and visual impact of the website in real-time. With this quick edit and review scenario, a user can ensure that the website is designed as desired and works flawlessly across devices.
Furthermore, Elementor saves users from the hassle of shifting from the editor to the preview tab to see how their website looks, which is the traditional WordPress functionality.
You can use Elementor to design individual pages or the entire website using its many widgets and style options.
Elementor offers a few plans beyond its free version, Elementor Essential, Expert, and Agency. The Essential plan covers a single website and starts at $59/year.
With Elementor's Essential Plan, users can design the entire website theme, including the header, footer, sidebars, widgets, 404 pages, etc. It also offers more robust features, for instance, integrations with popular email services or dynamic content features with custom triggers.
Elementor's free version is a great starting point. We suggest starting there, and if you need additional functionality the free plugin does not provide, upgrade to the pro version.
Best Alternative: Beaver Builder
2. Sucuri – The Best Security Layer
There are many excellent and reputable security plugins to choose from for protecting a WordPress website, but Sucuri is a step above, and here's why. Sucuri isn't just a plugin but a layer of security that sits on top of your website, similar to Cloudflare. Sucuri is a complete package offering a WAF firewall, DDoS protection, brute force prevention, and site hack remediation, should it occur.
For the same price, you would pay for another top-notch security plugin; you get more with Sucuri. Based on your plan purchase, they will fix any hacked website within hours and provide maximum protection across all known security risks.
Sucuri offers three plans to choose from based on the level of protection you require. A plugin accompanies the plan you can download and activate from within the WordPress admin area.
Basic Platform: $199/year. Malware removal within 30 hours of a hack occurrence. Advanced security scan every 12 hours.
Pro Platform: $299/year. Malware removal within 12 hours of a hack occurrence. Advanced security scan every 6 hours.
Business Platform: $499/year. Malware removal within 6 hours of a hack occurrence. Advanced security scan every 30 minutes.
Best Alternative: iThemes Security Pro
3. Rank Math SEO – Yoast's Replacement & Better
If you'd asked us a couple of years ago what the best SEO plugin was for WordPress, we would have said Yoast, but Rank Math SEO has come a long way in a short period of time and provides more features and overall value than Yoast for much less money.
Rank Math has a free version that offers a tremendous number of features that make it invaluable for optimizing a WordPress site, but when you look at the premium version's features, it's mind-blowing for the cost you pay.
Rank Math has a better content scoring system than Yoast, more integrated features within the core plugin, and costs less than half of what you have to pay Yoast for the same functionality.
With Yoast, you need to pay extra for local SEO, News SEO, Schema, Video SEO, and SEO for WooCommerce. Add all of those up, and you get a hefty price tag. Rank Math includes support for all of those for $59 for unlimited personal websites. Additionally, you can track 1,000 keywords and get 25 AI credits to aid in the optimization of your content.
Best Alternative: All-In-One SEO
4. FlyingPress – Best For Keeping Your Site Blazing Fast
You need your website to load fast. Plugins don't help, as the more plugins you use, the slower your website gets. There are a few ways to remedy this, including changing your hosting plan to get more server resources and faster response time, but you can also improve your site speed using a plugin.
FlyingPress is quite affordable, starting at $60/year for the Personal plan, which covers one website. Renewals are even less, saving you 30%.
Best Alternative: WP Rocket
5. MonsterInsights – Best for Google Analytics Tracking
For business owners needing to track performance (which should be everyone), you need a plugin that integrates with Google Analytics, assuming you are using the free analytics service Google provides.
MonsterInsights has many impressive features that allow you to capture data within the backend of WordPress and send data to Google Analytics for review within that platform. A few reports within WordPress include real-time data reporting, event tracking, scroll tracking, a publisher dashboard for tracking the best-performing content, and much more.
MonsterInsights offers three plans: Plus, Pro, and Agency
Plus: $99/year. Tracking on one website.
Pro: $199/year. Additional features above Plus and tracking on five websites.
Agency: $399/year. Additional features above Pro and tracking on 25 websites.
Best Alternative: Header Footer Code Manager (HFCM)
6. Backup Buddy – Best for Backing Up Files & Database
When it comes to ensuring your website is safely backed up with the ability to be restored at a moment's notice, Backup Buddy is a great buddy to have. Backup Buddy allows you to back up your entire website or just a portion of it on demand and on a schedule that meets your needs.
You can back up your database similarly and automatically send your backups to a remote location for safe storage. Options like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and more are provided. The free version is powerful, but the premium plugin is worth the cost for peace of mind.
Backup Buddy Basic: $99/year. Back up one site, updates, email support, and 1 gig of storage space.
Best Alternative: UpdraftPlus
How to Install a WordPress Plugin?
Installing WordPress plugins is straightforward if you are familiar with the WordPress interface. But if you're a beginner or need a refresher, here's how to install WordPress plugins.
Installing a WordPress Plugin from the Dashboard
- On the dashboard, click on ‘Plugins' and then ‘Add New.'
- You'll see a bar with featured, popular, recommended, favorites, and premium options. Enter the plugin name in the search bar to select a specific plugin or choose from the options already displayed in various categories.
- After hitting ‘Enter,' multiple plugins will appear. You can click on their name to learn more about them.
- You'll see an ‘Install Now' option on the top right corner of the plugin. Clicking on it will begin the installation, which usually takes a few seconds.
- Once your plugin is installed, activate it by clicking the ‘Activate’ button next to it.
- You can now begin using the WordPress plugin. Users can update plugins from the dashboard as well.
Manually Adding a Plugin to Your WordPress Website
To manually add plugins to your WordPress website, you need to download the plugin file (a .zip file) from the plugin's source. If you plan to use a third-party plugin, ensure that it is safe, malware-free, and used by others. Then, follow these steps:
- Click on Plugins and then Add New
- Select Upload Plugin this time instead of searching for it.
- A dialog box will appear, asking you to choose a file to upload. Select the zipped plugin file from your computer and click on Install Now.
- Once the installation is complete, you will get a message. Click on Activate Plugin to start using it.
- Most of the plugins start working immediately after they are installed. However, some may require extra configuration to set them up properly.
Installing the Plugin Using FTP
FTP stands for file transfer protocol. In some cases, your hosting provider may exercise restrictions on direct file uploads. In that case, you will not be able to upload and install the WordPress plugin directly. To install, you'll need to utilize an FTP client like FileZilla.
Here’s how you can manually install plugins using FTP:
- Download the .zip file of the plugin from the website where purchased.
- Extract the .zip file onto your computer, creating a separate folder with the same name.
- Within the control panel of the web hosting provider, find the Files menu and look for FTP Accounts. The screenshot below will help you if your hosting company uses cPanel for its control panel. You'll be able to see the FTP credentials or set up new ones. If you can't find them, contact your web host for assistance.
- Open the FTP client on your computer and log in with the FTP credentials (username, password, hostname, protocol, encryption method, and port number). Follow the four steps in the screenshot below and connect to your remote host.
- In the right-side panel of the main window, navigate to the wp-content folder, and from there, choose the plugins folder within.
- Upload the folder you extracted from the .zip file to the plugins folder. As shown below, you'll drag and drop from the left to the right window within Filezilla. Pay careful attention to the queued file window shown with the number 2 in the screenshot below. This will tell you if any files did not transfer successfully.
- Your plugin is now on your web server and is successfully installed.
- To confirm installation, navigate to the Plugins menu from your admin dashboard. You will see the plugin under the installed plugins list. Click Activate to begin using it!
Upon successful activation, you should be able to find the plugin in the left navigation panel, change settings, customize it (if applicable) and begin using it.
The Benefits of Using Plugins to Power Website Growth?
Plugins are one of the most powerful tools a website can have. With their ease of use, quick installation, endless possibilities for customization, and added functionalities, there is significant value in using them for various website requirements.
Furthermore, adding new functionality with a plugin takes minutes. You no longer have to hire a developer to modify your website whenever you add functionality or make a change. By choosing the proper plugins, your website is assured of unencumbered flexibility.
Common Problems with WordPress Plugins
While WordPress plugins are beneficial and usually necessary to build and run a website on the WordPress platform, they can also cause issues.
Whether it is slow load speed, incompatibility with other plugins, or an issue with the latest update, WordPress plugins can create problems for a website. They can create connection errors and database issues, and incompatibility may cause portions of your website not to work or show properly.
To resolve these issues, you must first know which plugin is causing the issue. If you know what to look for, you may notice a change or a problem when a particular plugin is installed or updated. Understanding that adding plugins might cause an issue, you'll want to ensure you add plugins only when necessary and that you monitor the site when you add one.
If you cannot identify the problematic plugin, you will need to deactivate all of the plugins currently active on your site and activate them one by one to see which one is causing the issue.
Once identified, you can search for a solution in the WordPress community or directly contact the plugin developer. This is where having a premium plugin is valuable. Otherwise, the developer might not respond.
The WordPress community is filled with helpful troubleshooting guides that can lead you to a problem's solution. But if you can't find the solution for your specific plugin, you can permanently delete it and install another one with similar functionality.
Although WordPress allows you to install as many plugins as you want, it's best to keep plugin use to a minimum to prevent overburdening your website. The recommended number of plugins for websites on shared hosting is five. Keep updating the plugins and uninstall unused ones. Without proper upkeep, your site may face performance issues.
That is why we recommend going with managed WordPress hosting or a VPS server. These will ensure you can scale plugin use to twenty without suffering performance lag.
Web Tools Advisor strongly recommends Kinsta for managed WordPress hosting. You can read our Kinsta review for more information.
How Often Should You Update Your WordPress Plugins?
It is vital to keep WordPress plugins up-to-date. Keeping a plugin updated prevents your website from being hacked, which is the number one concern for WordPress websites and why having an excellent web host and security plugin are critical.
To be safe, update plugins when WordPress says an update is available. WordPress will typically tell you if a plugin author says the update is compatible with core WordPress. If you see the plugin label “Unknown,” you'll likely want to ensure you have a backup of your website before updating the plugin, or you can wait a few days to see if the status is updated.
There are caveats to all update rules depending on the core WordPress updates. To be safe, ensure your site is backed up or test the updates on a staging environment before updating the live site.
If there is a security update for a plugin, you must perform it as soon as possible. Delaying security updates can put your website at risk of malware and attacks.
If you have plugins that are not offering regular updates, uninstall and replace them with other plugins for the best performance and security.
How to Use WordPress Plugins Wrap-Up
WordPress plugins have become necessary for those who do not want the expense of a web developer. The best WordPress plugins can power a website and provide significant value.
Ensuring you have covered the essentials, security, speed, optimization, tracking, and website building will set your website up for success. WordPress is a robust platform, but it needs help to power a business website. Plugin installation provides the spark.