How to Install and Configure WordPress Plugins

In this post we’re going to show you three ways to install a WordPress plugin. But first, let’s take a moment to make sure we all know exactly what a WordPress plugin is and what it does. A WordPress plugin is a php script that extends the functionality of your WordPress website, allowing your site to do something it otherwise wouldn’t be able to do–such as integrate a newsletter service like mailchimp; sync your website with facebook; create an editorial workflow/calendar; and the list could go on.

A good rule of thumb to follow when locating a plugin on the official directory is to only install plugins with an average rating of four stars or higher. Granted, some newer plugins may not have had a chance to accrue this rating but as a general rule this should be effective in identifying quality design/development as well as safe/secure plugins. You’ll also want to make sure that the plugin has been updated recently and is compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

plugin directory sidebar highlight

Ok, so now that you know what a plugin is and how to determine that you’ve found one of high quality, let’s go over the three ways you can install them on your WordPress website.

Finding and Installing Plugins from the Dashboard

Perhaps the easiest way to find and install the plugin you’re looking for is by completing the entire process within the WordPress Dashboard itself. To do this simply navigate to Plugins > Add New and search for the plugin you’d like to install.

plugins add new search

Once you’ve found the plugin you’re looking for, you can install it by clicking the “Install Now” button found to the right of the title of the plugin or, if you’ve clicked on “Details”, at the bottom of the resulting lightbox style information panel.

plugins install now highlight

plugins install now button highlight

Once you have installed the plugin you will be asked to “Activate” it. Do so by clicking “Activate Plugin”.

plugin activate

In most instances, after activating your new plugin you will notice that your admin sidebar has a new primary menu or that the menu for your new plugin has been added under the primary menu for Settings. In either case, it is important to configure the settings for your new plugin if you want it to function as desired (or at all, in some cases).

plugin new primary menu

In most cases plugins come with a section, subsection or series of either dedicated to its settings with the appropriate help text included to explain what each option does. To configure your plugin simply review each option, the help text associated with it, make your selections and be sure to click “Save” when a “save button” is provided. If for some reason no new menu or submenu appears then your plugin does not require any configuration.

Installing Downloaded Plugins via the Dashboard

Let’s say you’ve purchased a premium plugin from a third party or that you prefer searching for plugins on the official WordPress plugin directory instead of in your Dashboard. How do you install those plugins?

Simply download the plugin’s zipped file from the directory by clicking the large orange download button on the plugin page or using the download prompts provided by the third party.

plugin page orange download button

Next, in your WordPress Dashboard navigate to Plugins > Add New > Upload. Use the “choose file” option to select the zipped folder you downloaded.

plugin upload page

Click “Install Now” and follow the same steps for activation and configuration as before.

Installing Downloaded Plugins via FTP/SFTP

Finally, in certain cases you may wish to have more control over the installation process. At these times it may be necessary or preferable to install your plugin via FTP or File Transfer Protocol (a standard network protocol for transferring computer files from one host to another). To do this you will need an FTP client (a desktop application for your computer that provides an interface for you to use FTP). Popular FTP clients include FileZilla for Windows and Transmit for Mac, but a simple web search will reveal a wide variety for you to choose from; some free, some premium.

Once you’ve downloaded your FTP client of choice you’ll be asked to provide the proper login credentials to access the files that comprise your website. This information can be attained through your hosting account. You will need to provide your site’s domain and/or IP address and the username/password associated with it. Again, this information will be specific to your host; it is not your WordPress username and password.

Once you are logged in (preferrably to the SFTP option, as in secure file transfer protocol, not simply FTP) you will see a local file tree on the left panel representing the files on your computer and a hosted file tree on the right panel representing the files that are being hosted for your website.

Note: any time you are uploading/deleting files via FTP/SFTP it is highly recommended that you first backup your site completely. If you do not know how to do this please refer to this tutorial on backing up your WordPress website.

To install a plugin via FTP/SFTP you will first need to download the plugin files to your desktop. If the files are zipped you will want to unpack them and read the specific install instructions for that plugin. Unless otherwise specified, you will then select the unpacked plugin file from the left panel and drag it into the plugins folder (which can be found within the wp-content folder) on the right panel.

plugins sftp install

Once the file transfer is complete, navigate within your WordPress Dashboard to Plugins > Installed Plugins and locate the new install.

installed plugins activateugins add new search

Click “Activate” and then configure the plugin by finding the new sidebar menu and following the help text associated with each setting, same as the two options above.

In Conclusion

WordPress plugins are fantastic tools for extending and expanding the functionality of your WordPress website. Installing a plugin is easy and can be done in three different ways depending on your preference:

The first and easiest way is to use the built-in plugin installer found in the WordPress Dashboard under Plugins > Add New. The second and nearly as simple method is downloading a plugin’s zipped file from the plugin directory and installing it via Plugins > Add New > Upload. And finally, the third method for installing a WordPress plugin is to use an FTP/SFTP client such as FileZilla or Transmit and manually place the unpacked plugin files directly into your site’s plugins folder, which can be found within the wp-content folder.

No matter which method you choose, they all get the job done in just a few seconds or minutes. And just like that, your WordPress site is equipped with new and useful functionality that extends or expands the way you are able to use WordPress.

We hope you found this tutorial helpful, if you have any questions or need clarification on one of the methods mentioned above, please feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.

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