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Three Ways to Install Plugins on your WordPress Website

Plugins are best thought of as apps for your WordPress website. With over 50,000 to choose from, you can use them to literally transform your website into anything you want it to be. Here’s how to add any plugin to your site.

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WordPress.org v WordPress.com

Before we start, there is one common point of confusion to clear up. This tutorial is for installing plugins on to the free WordPress Content Management System (downloaded by you or your web designer from WordPress.org). If you have a website hosted on WordPress.com then this tutorial won’t make much sense (besides, you can’t add plugins without paying to upgrade).

Plugins can add single functions (e.g. a contact form) or can change the way your whole site works (e.g. WooCommerce). In either case, the methods of installing them are the same.


Method #1: The WordPress Directory (free and easy!)

Adding a plugin directly from the built-in WordPress Plugin Directory is by far the quickest and easiest method. In addition, all plugins are free and have been approved by the WordPress team.

From your WordPress dashboard, click ‘Plugins’ on the left-hand side and then click ‘Add New’. This will bring you to the WordPress Plugin Directory. On the top right-hand side you should see a text box next to a dropdown menu selector (usually displaying the word ‘Keyword’). Unless you know the author or title of the plugin you want, you will need to enter a relevant word into the text box to see what free plugins are available. For example, if you want an events calendar, type this into the box and see what pops up on the screen.

You can get an idea of how good the plugin is likely to be by checking the star rating and the number of active installations.

Once you have settled on a plugin you want to try, simply click the ‘Install’ button to the top right of the panel. Within seconds this button should turn into an ‘Activate’ button. You don’t have to press this straight away but when you do, the plugin will either immediately be live on your site or you will need to go into a settings menu. The exact location of this can vary depending on the plugin.


Method #2: Upload via the dashboard (free/paid and easy!)

If you are unable to find the plugin you want (or you have come across a great plugin from a third party site), you will need to upload it to your WordPress website.

A word of caution: as these will have not been vetted by WordPress, they could contain bugs or even malware. Be sure you trust the third party site before downloading their plugin to your computer.

When you download the plugin, it will usually be in a .zip format (a folder that bundles lots of files together). You can only upload zipped plugin files via the WordPress dashboard. Save the zip file somewhere memorable and then go to your WordPress dashboard.

Follow the steps in the first method to get to the WordPress Plugin Directory page. However, this time you will need to click the ‘Upload Plugin’ button at the top left of the page. You will then see a button marked ‘Choose File’ which, when pressed, will open up your computer’s file viewer. Navigate to wherever you stored the zip file and click it. You should then be able to click the ‘Install Now’ button.

After a few seconds and a few lines of text, you should be presented with an ‘Activate’ button.


Method #3: Upload via FTP (free/paid but can be tricky)

The third method enables you to upload plugins to your WordPress website without even accessing the dashboard. 

You will need to have a working knowledge of using an FTP client such as FileZilla or FireFTP but these are fairly easy to pick up with a bit of practice. As with the second method, you will need to download your chosen plugin from the third party site to your website.

However, this time the file will need to be unzipped. You can usually do this by double-clicking it or right-clicking and selecting ‘Extract.’

When you fire up your FTP client, you will need to navigate to your WordPress plugins folder on the destination/target panel. This can be found in the wp-content folder. Make sure you actually open up the plugins folder and can see the folders of your existing plugins in the target window.

In the source window, navigate to your (unzipped) plugin and follow your client’s instructions to move all files to the target folder (e.g. with FileZilla you can just select them all and drag them over). Just make sure you move all the files and subfolders across.

When you next go into your WordPress dashboard, the plugin should be deactivated in your ‘Installed Plugins’ list. Click the ‘Activate’ link below and the magic should happen.

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