What is a WordPress Plugin and How Do They Work?

Last Updated on October 11, 2021 by Sunny Staff

Did you know that as of 2021, WordPress now powers a whopping 40% of all websites on the internet?

This makes it the most popular content management system in the world.

So if you’re a blogger, website manager, small business owner, etc., that wants to learn about WordPress, you’ve made the right choice!

But whenever you attempt to learn anything new, there’s bound to be something that causes confusion and uncertainty — it’s a natural part of any learning curve.

You may have heard a lot of talk about plugins, and now you may be asking yourself: What is a plugin in WordPress?

It’s a valid question as this is one of the most important tools on the WordPress platform.

And in this article, you will learn what a plugin is, how WordPress plugins work, where you can get them, how to install them onto your site, and more.

What is a WordPress Plugin?

In layman’s terms, a WordPress plugin is an application that expands the current capabilities of your site or adds a completely new feature altogether.

Think of a plugin as a piece of code that “plugs in” to your site to improve its functionality.

With plugins, a lot of the work has been done for you. Countless developers have written thousands of WordPress plugins, many of which are free.

The versatility of these apps is endless. A plugin can make minor adjustments to your site, or it can totally revamp your entire site!

For instance, a plugin can add a feature that’s as simple as an opt-in form to capture emails, or it can be as complex as transforming your entire site from a blog to an eCommerce store.

How Exactly Do Plugins Work?

There are a lot of things online that are very complicated to learn, but fortunately, learning how to use plugins for your site is not one of them. In fact, it’s quite a simple process.

First, you’ll have to determine what your goals are. For example, if you want to sell your products on your site, then you’ll need a plugin that can provide you with an online storefront.

Second, you’ll want to go to your plugin directory on your WordPress site and download the plugin you need.

And lastly, you’ll have to customize the plugin inside of your dashboard on WordPress.

Some good examples of plugins for WordPress include:

  • Option Monster: Helps to convert deserting website visitors to email subscribers and then to customers and clients
  • Search WP: Helps users find anything on your website such as PDF documents, files of text, ACF fields, etc
  • Uncanny Automator: Merges with other WordPress plugins to construct automation methods so you don’t have to pay a developer
  • UpdraftPlus: Quickly and easily configure manual or automatic backups for your WordPress site.

How to Manage Your WordPress Plugins

Now, you have a more comprehensive view of what plugins are and how they work. Let’s take a deeper dive into where you can find them and how to manage them.

Finding Plugins

Before we get to where you can find plugins, a quick note about the differences between free and premium plugins.

Premium plugins will offer you better features, but as a result, they will obviously cost you a little bit of money.

Conversely, with free plugins, you can have access without paying, but their features and benefits are limited until you upgrade to a premium package.

Here are a few great places to find plugins for your site:


Probably the best place to find free plugins is the plugin directory on WordPress.org. It’s easy, it’s free, and there are countless options to choose from.

Code Canyon

Created by a group of brilliant developers, Code Canyon is a gigantic market that houses thousands of plugins to accommodate your site.

Third-Party Developers

Many developers sell plugins exclusively through their websites. By doing a quick Google search, you can find these third-party plugin sites. Looking for a calendar plugin, search for “WordPress calendar plugin.” Need a coupon plugin, just search for “WordPress coupon plugin.” You get the idea…

Installing a WordPress Plugin

The truth about WordPress plugins is that they’re easy to install. So, if you still have some confusion, pay close attention to this section because this is where we’ll have the WordPress plugins explained.

All you need to do is simply go on your dashboard and select the “Plugins” option and then click the “Add New” button.

You then go to the search bar and type in whatever plugin you need. If you don’t know the name of the specific plugin you need, then just type in the problem you’re trying to solve.

For example, if you want better rankings, then type in “SEO.” If you want an email opt-in form, then type in “email list,” etc.

The directory will then provide you with a myriad of options to choose from, to which you just pick one to download and then activate, and then you’re good to go.

Updating a WordPress Plugin

Not only do regular updates keep your site secure, but they will keep it running optimally as well. So be on the lookout for any update notifications for your plugins.

Simply log on to your dashboard to update your plugins and click “updates” on the top left corner.

There will be a little box for you to check beside the image of your download plugin. Check the box, then click the “update” button at the bottom of the page.

Tip: always make sure you have a current backup of your site before updating your plugins. Even the best of plugins can sometimes cause problems during the update process.

Deactivating a WordPress Plugin

To deactivate your plugins, go to your dashboard, go to the “plugins” section, and click “installed plugins.” It will then bring you to a glossary of all your inserts.

There will be a little “deactivate” button right underneath the name of the plugin you wish to put out of service. Click it. And that’s all there is to it.

How Many Plugins is Too Many?

When just starting out, it’s good to have a small number of plugins on your site, at least initially. Without a thorough understanding of WordPress, it’s very easy to go “plugin” crazy.

Too many low-quality plugins can slow down your site. So it’s best to keep your inserts to a minimum until you learn more about WordPress and the plugins you use.

With more knowledge and experience, you’ll install better quality plugins that won’t hinder the performance of your site.

In short, only use the plugins that are critical. Don’t just download any ol’ plugin, keep it to the essentials.

WordPress Plugins Will Enhance Your Site

The simple answer to the question: What is a WordPress plugin? It’s a tool to expand the capabilities of your website.  When used properly, plugins have the power to completely overhaul any regular or underperforming website, into a powerhouse!

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’re WordPress experts and we love to help!