What are they and how do I get them?

In this lesson, we are going to walk through the basics of WordPress plugins and have you install a simple Contact Form plugin so you understand how they work. If you haven't configured the general settings for WordPress, be sure to check out our page on WordPress General Settings.

What is a plugin?

What is a plugin

A plugin is a separate piece of software that you can add-on to the base installation of WordPress to give it special features. They are similar to apps on your phone. You buy an iPhone with just the software from Apple and you download (for free or $$) extra functionality to make your life easier.

Plugins can be written by anyone. Since WordPress is so widely used people have created plugins for just about everything. This is great because you can add features to your website without having to know a single thing about website development or programming.

What are some examples of plugins?

The most common types of plugins are related to adding special pages (like contact forms), adding security features, adding eCommerce (online store) support, or adding Drag & Drop editing capability to pages and posts.

How do I find plugins?

treasure map

The plugin browser is built right into WordPress. From your WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins -> Add New and you will see the most popular plugins and a search bar to search for more.For each plugin, you will be able to see the reviews from other users, the number of active installations (how many other people have installed this plugin) and the last time it was updated.

What should I watch out for when installing plugins?

Since plugins are so easy to make (and most of them are free) it is important to have some caution when adding new plugins to your blog. Answer a few questions before downloading and installing:

  • When was the last time this plugin was updated?
  • How many reviews does this plugin have?
  • Does it have good reviews?
  • Is it compatible with my version of WordPress?
What to watch out for with plugins

It is also important to understand that since most of the plugins are free they probably don’t come with technical support. So, it is always safer to use plugins that have a high number of reviews or have a lot of active installations. If other people are using them successfully, it will be easier to get information and help.

Once my plugin is installed, how do I see/configure it?

This is going to vary with each plugin. The best way to find the options or configuration for it are to take a look at the screenshots tab of the plugin information:

The pictures in this tab will usually show you how to access a plugin.

Contact Form 7 Overview

For the 'Contact Form 7' plugin, the picture shows us that a new menu item has been added to the sidebar called ‘Contact’. After the plugin is installed, we can go to the new menu item to see the configuration options.

What plugins should I install to start?

As you go through this course, we will install plugins that are relevant to the module or lesson you are on. For now, we will install the Contact Form plugin so you can see how the process works.

1. Go to ‘Plugins’ -> Add New

WordPress Plugin Add New Location

2. Search for ‘Contact Form 7’

WordPress plugin search

3. Click ‘Install Now’

Contact Form 7 Install

4. Click ‘Activate’

Contact Form 7 Activate

5. On the left sidebar go to ‘Contact’

Contact Form Settings Location

6. Get shortcode

Contact Form Shortcode

What is a shortcode? It is a hotkey that WordPress can use to insert content. Think of them like abbreviations. When WordPress sees a page or post with this shortcode it will replace it with a contact form.

7. Go to Page -> ‘New’ to create a blank page for our 'Contact' page.

8. Title the new page 'Contact' and insert the shortcode in the body of the page.

Configuring Contact Form

9. Click 'Publish' and your new contact page will be live.

Contact Form Example