Wordpress has a lot of functionality built-in, but occasionally you might find a specific need that isn't a part of the default software. To accomplish this, Wordpress has a plugin architecture where developers can create plugins that add additional functionality to your site. From simple photo galleries to site statistics, to automatic Twitter and Facebook sharing of posts, there is practically a plugin for whatever you need for your blog (over 23,000 at the time of this writing). To start using and installing plugins just follow these simple instructions.
Now we're going to work with plugins a little bit. We'll activate one plugin and install at least one more.
A plugin is a piece of code that some developer has written in order to expand the functionality of software in one way or another. Because Wordpress is open source software it's relatively easy for someone who knows how to code to write plugins to allow you to solve problems with or add capabilities to your site. There are many thousands of such pieces of code in the Wordpress plugin repository.
If you've used Wordpress.com or had a Scholarblog site, you've probably never messed with plugins because there's not much you can do with them in that environment. Plugins allow you to customize your Wordpress installation in all sorts of ways but most multisite installations of Wordpress don't allow you to install your own plugins because the administrators of those sites maintain control over plugins.
When you install Wordpress through Reclaim Hosting, there are some plugins that are automatically included. If you log in to your dashboard and go to Plugins, you'll see the list of installed plugins:
Note that some of these are already activated and working automatically. Cookies for Comments is a basic spam protection plugin and it comes pre-installed and activated. Akismet is a much better spam protection plugin which you probably also want to activate–it's not automatically activated because you need to sign up for an account with them and enter they key they provide to you first.
Check the help document on Managing Comment Spam with Akismet and follow along with it, get your own Akismet key, then activate that plugin. You can leave Cookies for Comments on, too, since they won't interfere with each other.
Now you know how to activate an install plugin (it was easy, wasn't it?) but what if you want to add some sort of other feature to your site and you need a plugin that's not already there when you first install Wordpress?
Let's walk through installing the plugin WP Edit, which allows you to edit the buttons available to you in your Wordpress page and post editors. (If you have worked with earlier versions of Wordpress.org before joining Domain 101 and have ever used Ultimate TinyMCE, this plugin is the new version for WP 3.9 and above.)
From the Plugin page in your WP dashboard pictured above, click on Add New in the sidebar or at the top of the page and then type WP Edit in the search bar. On the next page, underneath the plugin, choose “Install Now” and confirm that you want to install the plugin.
The next page will show the progress of downloading, unpacking, and installing the plugin. Once it's done, you can activate the plugin and from the confirmation page, or you can go back to the list of installed plugins and activate it there.
With WP Edit, once you activate the plugin it will add a new menu item in your sidebar and automatically bring you to the WP Edit configure menu.
In that initial page, the box labeled “Editor Rows” shows the buttons that are available in your page and post editor by default. The “Icon Placeholder Container” shows new buttons that you can add because you've got this plugin.
I often need to insert tables on my pages, but while Wordpress will support tables (styled according to the theme that you're working in), by default there's not a simple table insertion button in the page and post editor, like you are used to seeing in MS Word, Google Docs, and elsewhere. Drag the small table button from the placeholder area into your editor rows and that solves that problem. (Hover your cursor over any button to find out what the button does.)
You might also want to include the insert/embed media button, which simplifies the process of embedding videos from Vimeo or YouTube.
Some plugins will have their own settings page located under the
'Settings', other plugins will break out their own menu item on the lefthand side of the Dashboard. The best way to understand how to use a plugin is to make sure you've read the documentation available on the plugin's website as every plugin behaves differently and sometimes it won't be explicit how the plugin interacts with your website.
As I said above, there are lots and lots of Wordpress plugins available. You can always search through the plugin directory if there's something new you want to do with your site. Some of them, like WP Edit, change the way you dashboard looks and functions. Others add widgets or other features that show up on the front end of your site. Some of them, like WP Edit, will add menu items in your sidebar, some of them will add items to your Settings menu, some of them just operate in the background and don't come with configuration screens.
Here are a few things you might want to do with plugins.
If you want to install a Twitter feed on your site, you can do so manually using the Twitter widget generator but that requires that you log in to your Twitter account, define the kind of feed you want–you can have a feed that shows all of your own or some other user's tweets, or shows all the tweets from a list of users, or all tweets using a particular hashtag. For example, when I made the Twitter feed for the Domain Incubator, I set up the #ATLDomain widget and embedded the code on the conference site:
However, there are also many plugins designed specifically for the purpose of embedding Twitter on your site. Most of them seem to assume that the only thing you'd want to do with Twitter is embed your own tweets on the site
The simplest plugin I've found for inserting footnotes on posts and pages. Once the plugin is activated, whenever you want to add a footnote, you just insert the text for the footnote inline and surrounded by double parentheses. I've used it for a couple of years now and it works well. However, it hasn't been updated in a long time and is not officially current with the latest version of Wordpress. A new update for the plugin was released the same morning this session went live.
As I was looking up Civil Footnotes above, I found this brand new footnote plugin, which is more current. I've not actually used it myself yet, but it looks like it should be almost as simple to use but it's more customizable.
If you want to be able to track how many people are visiting your site, from where, and other details, then you will need to install some sort of analytics tracking. Probably the best, easiest, free analytics tracker is http://www.google.com/analytics/Google Analytics. You'll need to sign up for an account with Google Analytics first and let them know which website you're tracking. Then they give you a tracking ID, which you use when you set up your site to be measured.
There are plugins just for Google Analytics, like Google Analytics for Wordpress. I've never used this plugin myself because I use the plugin below to insert the code manually, but it is well reviewed and it lets you customize the analytics inside your WP dashboard, instead of going through the Google site to do so.
This plugin simply adds an item in your settings section of the dashboard where you can add code to the header or footer of your site. Google analytics will give you a snippet of embed code that includes your tracking ID when you sign up–just copy that code and then paste it into your header like so: