As of August 2013, WordPress is estimated to be used by nearly one in five of the top ten million sites in the world. With more than 60 million (and counting) total WordPress sites online today, it doesn’t take much to understand why WordPress is so popular. It owes much of its success to the use of plug-ins. Without them, WordPress as a platform would be but a shadow if what it is today.
What’s a “Plug-in”?
Like any content management system (“CMS”), WordPress has limited innate capacities. Designing a platform to do everything would be impractical if not impossible. That’s where plug-ins come in. In the simplest terms, plug-ins allow WordPress developers to extend WordPress blogs well beyond their innate capacities. While WordPress has no innate functionality for many of the common features that are all but necessary to run a modern site, plug-ins enable developers a high degree of customizability that allow WordPress to be as ubiquitous as it is.
Today, the official WordPress plug-in library contains more than 27,000 plug-ins, with half a billion downloads. While some of these plugins are functionally redundant, many offer highly customizable functionality that allows a WordPress developer to have their site serve very specific needs.
At this stage in WordPress’ history, there’s a plug-in for just about anything you can imagine. This includes everything from on-site widgets and custom navigation to Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) enhancement and social media integration. Of course there may be no better way to understand WordPress plug-ins than to examine a few of the more popular ones.
All in One SEO Pack
With more than 16 million downloads to date, All in One SEO Pack offers exactly what the name suggests—a total SEO package. Its easily one of the most useful behind-the-scenes plugins for any serious blogger by offering:
- Innate support for Google Analytics
- Cryptographic nonce security
- Custom SEO-oriented post types
If you’re less experienced in SEO but still want to use many of the best SEO practices, All in One SEO Pack goes a long way towards giving a beginner a hand.
While blogging is often about creating a community that encourages participation and discussion, more often than not, opening up a forum also means opening the floodgates to unwanted spam. That’s where Akismet comes in. Essentially, this plug-in does a simple check of posted comments against Akismet’s own spam database to flag potentially harmful comments and prevent them from being posted.
With deep customization options, Akismet offers all the control and power of having a full time moderation staff with none of the costs. It can show you which comments were caught, which were approved, and even a complete history of every comment it has ever blocked.
Nearing two million downloads to date, WooCommerce is a relatively simple plug-in that can turn your WordPress page into a full-fledged online store. With detailed sales information, comprehensive payment gateway integration, and a robust variety of shipping options, WooCommerce offers for free what many expect would be a monthly fee. And if your ecommerce needs go beyond the bare essentials, like many plug-ins, WooCommerce allows users to pay for a plug-in add-on that can drastically extend functionality.
Where Can You Get Plug-ins?
You can search for plugins by heading to your WordPress dashboard and selecting the “plug-ins” option from the dashboard menu. Whatever it is you want to do with your site from putting in a new photo gallery to engaging automated data backups, odds are there’s an existing plug-in in the WordPress library that can do exactly what you desire. Furthermore, nearly all plugins are free with the remainder almost always being relatively inexpensive.