This guide will help you with installing a WordPress plugin on your site. Plugins are small bundles of software, often with additional media assets, that extend the functionality of WordPress beyond its built-in capabilities. There are tens of thousands of Plugins available for WordPress, which add features like Forums, Spam Filtering, Analytics, Portfolio Galleries, Chat, Payments, Calendars, and more.
In most cases, plugins will be compatible with your existing WordPress configuration and theme, particularly if all your software is up-to-date. You usually shouldn’t have problems if you have multiple Plugins installed, particularly if they do different things. It’s usually not the best idea to install multiple plugins that provide the same features since the conflict can cause unexpected results. But if you do install multiple Plugins that provide the same features, you can “activate” them one at a time to evaluate them, and then decide which one you prefer.
While there are a lot of free plugins available for use, selecting a premium or paid solution often means you get access to technical support to help resolve issues. Otherwise, you may have to search through forums and articles to find fixes to common problems.
Although it’s generally safe to install a plugin, as with anything else that relates to computers and software, it’s always a good idea to make a back up of your system, including the data, before you make any changes. You can manually download your files via FTP, but most good hosting providers offer backup features; check the support knowledge base if you don’t have this configured already.
We recommend going to WordPress.org to read up on the reviews and ratings before installing the software, particularly for the free plugins that are listed in the directory. We also have recommendations for a variety of plugins on our blog – you can read about our recommended plugins for portfolio features here; feel free to use the search option above for tips and suggested options.
Also note that if you are using WordPress.com for your hosting, you will not be able to install plugins because of its limited feature set (at least as of this writing). We recommend you consider upgrading to your own hosting solution. Here are some alternative hosting options you should consider:
– Managed WordPress hosting if you want the most headache-free experience when running WordPress. View a list of the best offers here.
– Shared Server WordPress hosting if you’re on a budget. For a list of top plans see here.
– VPS WordPress hosting if you’re a small or medium sized business. For a list of the best VPS servers that support WordPress see here.
– Dedicated Server WordPress hosting if you’re a large corporation. For a list of the best, dedicated servers that support WordPress see here.
Install Free WordPress Plugins via Admin Plugin Search
If you’re interested in a free plugin that’s listed in the WordPress.org plugin directory you have access to the simplest method of installing the tools in the Admin area without the hassle of downloading, file unpacking, or uploading. Here’s the process:
Start by logging in to your WordPress Admin backend. Then from the menu on the left click select “Plugins” > “Add New”. If you can’t hover over the Plugins text (for example you’re on a tablet) click Plugins then at the top click “Add New.”
This will usually open up a list of Featured tools, with the option to see “Popular”, “Recommended” and “Favorite” Plugins. If you already know what plugin you want, you can type the name in the “Plugin Search” field on the right.
A nice thing about installing the plugin via this method is that the display will tell you if the software is compatible with your current version of WordPress. If it is, and you are ready to add the plugin to your site, click the “Install Now” button.
Your WordPress system will now download the software, unpack it, install the code and then tell you if the plugin was successfully installed.
At this point, you must “activate” the plugin for the features to be enabled. After doing so, you will likely need to to go to a separate settings area for the plugin to properly configure it. Since this will vary greatly from tool to tool, you’ll want to consult the “Read Me” for the software or visit the developer’s site for details; usually, you will see a “Visit Plugin Site” link in the “Plugins” tab under the “Description” of the tool.
Manually Installing Plugins
If you have downloaded a plugin to your local computer, or if you want a Premium Plugin, which is not available via WordPress.org’s directory, you won’t be able to use the “Add New” method described above. However, there is a simple Upload option in the WordPress Admin area that makes it almost as easy. In some cases you can’t use that Upload function, so you’ll need to do it either via cPanel (if your host provides that feature) or via FTP.
We suggest you first read any developer “read me” or other documentation provided because they may have different installation directions that the default. This is especially true if the plugin requires connectivity to third party services or other subscriptions to function.
Once you buy and download a plugin, it will more than likely be “zipped” or “compressed” into an “archive,” which is a way for developers to reduce the file size also make sure all the needed files are kept together and in the correct locations. A compressed plugin will usually have .zip, .gz or .tar as the extension at the end of the file name. When using the WordPress Admin Upload method you usually do not need to extract it, so leave the download as is, zipped up for now.
Installing a Plugin via WordPress Admin Upload
To use the built-in WordPress Admin area Upload process, log in to your WordPress backend and select “Plugins” > “Add New”. If you can’t hover over the plugins text (for example you’re on a tablet) click on Plugins in the menu then at the top click “Add New.”
If you’re in the main Plugins area, you’ll see an “Add New” button – click this and you’ll be taken to the Add Plugins option. At the top of this page, you’ll see yet another button that says “Upload Plugin.”
If you do not see the “Upload Plugin” option, or if you run into issues, you may need to use the cPanel or FTP process described below.
Click “Upload Plugin” and you’ll be taken to an upload area, which shows you a “Choose File” option. Click this button and you’ll be shown your local computer’s file browser. Browse over to the location you have downloaded the zip file (it should still be zipped for this process to work) and select it. Then click “Install Now.”
At this point, WordPress will upload your zip file, unpack the contents, put the files in the right location and give you a confirmation if the process was a success.
Now you’ll need to “Activate” the recently uploaded plugin. You will also need to locate the Plugin’s options in the Admin panel to finish the setup. Please refer to the developer documentation for this portion as it varies greatly by plugin.
Installing a Plugin via cPanel
cPanel is an advanced feature provided by many hosting services. It offers a set of “control panel” type tools to manage your WordPress setup, as well as for other servers and services provided by your host, like email or domain name management. Typically in the cPanel you’ll find a File Manager tool which you’ll use to upload the plugin. We recommend you check your host’s support site for specific instructions, as they can configure options differently than what we outline below.
Once you have downloaded your plugin to your local computer, leave the files as is – don’t extract the contents of the .zip file by double-clicking or right-clicking on it. Note the location on your desktop. Then do the following:
1. Login to your Host’s cPanel tool. This could be a separate login from your WordPress Admin credentials.
2. Find the File Manager tool in cPanel and the navigate to the WordPress Plugins folder. In the default set up for most hosts this will either be in the “root” folder at public_html/wp-content/plugins or if your WordPress is configured in a subfolder named “WordPress” it will be at public_html/wordpress/wp-content/plugins. If you can’t locate it check with your host’s support line or use one of the other methods described in this article.
3. When you’ve browsed to the default “Plugins” folder, click the “Upload file” option in the cPanel interface and select the .zip file for your new plugin. Confirm the upload.
4. Once the .zip file is successfully uploaded, click on that file using the File Manager UI, then on the right you’ll see the option to “Extract File Contents”. Select this and cPanel will “unpack” the plugin into the right folder locations for you.
5. Finally, you’ll log in to your WordPress Admin area and then go to “Plugins.” Locate the plugin you just installed and then click “Activate”. There might be additional steps to finish the set up through a “Plugin Settings” area; check the instructions provided by the developer.
Installing a Theme via FTP
To use this method, you’ll need to unzip your plugin. It also requires an FTP client, which is software for your Mac or PC that uses the File Transfer Protocol. Quite a few FTP clients are available for Mac and Windows as both free and paid software. In addition to providing the FTP mechanism to move files between your desktop to a server or back, these tools vary in their user interfaces, which makes some easier to use than others.
For free FTP tools, a solid Windows option is FileZilla. A Mac version exists, but we also recommend CyberDuck for Apple users (it’s also available for Windows!) You’ll need to read the instructions or read me files for your FTP client for specific usage directions, but they’re “drag-and-drop” for the most part. Once you connect to your Web Server, the FTP client will show it as a location like a desktop folder; you can then drag files from your local machine onto the server folder. The FTP software will transfer the files up to the server.
Before uploading, you’ll need to unzip or “extract” the files from the zip archive on your desktop. On a Mac, just double-click on it; the files will unzip in the same folder as the compressed file. On Windows, just right-click the zipped plugin and choose “Extract All” then follow the wizard. It’s critical you do not change the folder structure once it is extracted. Leave the files as they are expanded or you might break the plugin! If you accidentally do that, just extract the files again. Read the documents from the developer for more details.
With the extracted files, the FTP process is as follows:
1. Using the FTP client, connect to your host web server using the credentials provided for FTP use, which may or may not be different from your WordPress Admin logins and even from your host login.
2. In the FTP client, browse to the wp-content/plugins directory
3. For the new Plugin, using the FTP client, create a new directory (or “folder”) inside the main plugin directory with the name of the new plugin or, if instructed to do so by the Developer’s “Read Me,” use the parent directory name created when you extracted the archive. For example, for a plugin called “Best” you should have a directory named “Best” located at wp-content/plugin/best.
4. Use the FTP client to upload the files from your desktop into this new directory on your host server
5. To finish up, log in to your WordPress Admin area and select “Plugins” on the menu on the left. Find the plugin you uploaded and then click “Activate”. There are often more steps to do for the setup of the plugin in a dedicated settings area; check the developer site or documentation.
A good quality WordPress Host should provide the above tools for installing plugins. This is a common function of WordPress and if you’re having issues, your Host should provide solid support. If you run into issues with your host, please share that in a review!