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Sloth’s First Plugin

Zip has finally installed WordPress. While there are a bunch of settings he should change right away, we're going to, instead, do a tutorial about installing WordPress plugins starting with a simple Coming Soon page.

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So, Zip has finally installed WordPress, and we took a quick tour of the WordPress dashboard and admin. Before we go on with more detailed tours of each part of the admin area as he sets up his blog, let’s start with how to install a WordPress plugin. We’ll look at that, along with how to deactivate a WordPress plugin, and how to delete a WordPress plugins that you no longer need or want.

What is a WordPress Plugin?

“A plugin? What’s that?” Zip asks, looking for the nearest outlet. While plugins have nothing to do with powering up your devices, they do have to do with powering up your WordPress website. And, I’m sure, they were named as they were due to the simplicity of adding them. Just “plug it in” and go.

A WordPress plugin is a program or code — which can be a single file or a collection of many files — that adds features or functions to your WordPress website. They’re written in the PHP programming language but can be easily installed by anyone that can use WordPress — no coding skills needed. You’ll find them in the “Plugins” section of your admin area.

Plugins Are Not Toys!

I’m going to give Zip this bit of sage advice before he proceeds with his website: plugins are not toys! They are handy, and there are some that you will need. But if Zip — or you — are at all like me, you might find that you just love trying them out and adding features to your website.

Quiz plugin? Yes, please! I mean, who doesn’t love trivia? Membership plugin? Hell, yeah! It might be a membership of one, but I’m all over that (though I have used a membership plugin to curtail spam registrations). Pretty soon, you look at your website and find you have 100 plugins in your plugin directory.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing, if they play nice. But, more likely, some of them will be like an unruly set of preschoolers refusing to play well together. The more plugins you have, the more likely you are to have conflicts between plugins and find that something’s not working or to have them hog resources and negatively affect your site speed. Conflicts may not happen, depending on the plugins you are using, but it’s much more likely. And some plugins are more significant offenders than others when it comes to using a lot of resources and slowing down your website.

My advice to Zip? (Note that this may be a “do as I say not as I do thing”) Decide what you want your WordPress site to do. Ask yourself, “what do I want to accomplish?” and choose your plugins accordingly. For these tutorials, however, Zip might be a little like me, so we can see what happens.

How to Install a WordPress Plugin

Now that I’ve warned you about the dangerous attraction of WordPress plugins let’s proceed to install your first one. This will be a gateway plugin; don’t let it lead down the slippery slope of plugin addiction.

Zip will create his website, Slothverse.com, live as part of this series of tutorials, and won’t be using a “Coming Soon” page — but you might want to. Therefore, this will be an excellent occasion to look at how to install a coming soon page plugin and then how to uninstall it.

Do I Need a Coming Soon Page?

Of course not. You can do what you want. You don’t even have to customize your website if you don’t want to — you can just start writing. But, chances are, you’re going to want to do some design and, in the process, you might not want eyes on it just yet.

And, some coming soon page plugins — like the one we’ll be installing — double as maintenance mode plugins, so if you need your site to be off for a while for maintenance, you can let your visitors know.

As I intend for this to be a beginning tutorial and how to do this varies between web hosting providers, I will just touch on this here: creating your new website on a staging site is very useful. A staging site is a copy of your website that you can use for testing things before you add them to your live site. Many hosting providers offer simple “one-click” (again, that usually takes many more clicks in reality) staging sites, so if you need to test something, you can do so there and then “push” it to your live site when you know it works.

Installing a Plugin From the WordPress Plugin Repository

Many WordPress plugins are free and available to install right from your admin area. To install one of these plugins is simple:

  1. Click on Plugins< Add New
  2. Use the search box to search for the name and type of plugin you want.
  3. Click install now on the plugin you want to install.
  4. After you’ve installed the plugin, the “Install Now” button will change to “Activate.” Click it to activate the plugin.

Configuring Your Plugin

After you’ve installed and activated your plugin, where you’ll find its settings differs with each plugin. Some you may access from your Settings menu, others may have their own menus in the sidebar of your WordPress admin area. Seed Prod is one of these: you’ll find the settings for that coming soon page plugin quickly in your sidebar; from there, you can choose to add a logo, set it as your coming soon page, or a maintenance mode page, or choose from a bunch of designs. The purpose of this post is to offer a tutorial about installing a plugin; I may add a separate article with a review of that particular plugin in the future.

Help! My Dashboard is now full of ads!

Plugin developers need to (and deserve to) earn a living. You’ll find most free plugins have a premium counterpart that has additional features. That being the case, you’ll see ads for these in your WordPress admin — at least in the specific plugin’s area, but often at the top of your dashboard as well. These are usually at the top of your screen and may either be ads to upgrade to the premium version, but also may be an important notification about plugin features. They’re easy to dismiss: they should have a little x in the upper right corner so you can get rid of them after you’ve read them.

Some tips on choosing a plugin here:

You’ll notice a few things on each plugin you see here. Each lists:

  • the number of rating stars WordPress users have given it
  • how many active installations there are
  • how long ago the plugin was last updated
  • whether it’s known to be compatible with your version of WordPress
  • who made the plugin

If you click on the plugin, it will open up a popup where you can view and read more information, such as the reviews themselves. If you want to search for WordPress plugins outside of your admin dashboard, you can do so here.

Looking at this information before you try a plugin can be extremely helpful. You can see what issues people have had with the plugin and whether its developers are actively updating it and keeping it current with WordPress, or whether it has been abandoned and may be out of date.

Uploading a Plugin

Sometimes, you’ll want a plugin that’s not in the WordPress repository. We’re trying to start Slothverse.com off with free plugins, but at some point, you’ll probably want to try a premium plugin. Most often, you’ll then download a zipped file from the plugin developer’s website.

Good news! It’s super-easy to install these. You can do so right from the WordPress dashboard.

When I was first using WordPress a long time ago, I used to install plugins by unpacking all the files and uploading them via FTP, then I took a very long break, and when I came back, I suddenly realized I did not have to do this.

To install a compressed (zipped) WordPress plugin:

  1. Click Plugins<Add New.
  2. Click Upload Plugin
  3. Click choose file and choose your UNZIPPED plugin folder
  4. Click install now
  5. Let it install and then click Activate Plugin

Deactivating WordPress Plugins

So, you’ve activated a plugin, why would you want to deactivate it? As I mentioned before, sometimes plugins don’t play nicely with each other. Maybe you’re suddenly having errors and issues on your site. Often plugin conflicts are the problem.

So you go to the plugin developer asking for help. Their answer? “Deactivate all of your plugins and switch to a basic theme;” an answer that will make you want to scream because:

  1. You now know to do this and have already tried it.
  2. Because deactivating all of your plugins and then reactivating them one by one to pick out the offender is a pain in the butt (and best done on a staging site.)

But they are correct. Often deactivating some plugins can help you weed out problems.

To deactivate a plugin, simply:

  1. Go to Plugins< Installed Plugins
  2. You’ll see a Deactivate link. Click it.

Deactivating the plugin will leave it installed, just not active. When you want to activate it again, you’ll see an Activate link in the same area. You can also use the dropdown box above all of the plugins to select and activate, deactivate, or delete multiple plugins at once.

Remove/Delete a WordPress Plugin

Sometimes you’ll want not just to deactivate, but get entirely rid of, a WordPress plugin. Maybe you no longer need it, or perhaps it was found to be incompatible with one of your other plugins.

Doing so is simple — mostly. But be aware when you do this that some plugins will leave behind tables in your database, even after you’ve uninstalled them. Leaving a plugin’s settings intact can be handy if you decide to re-install the plugin and want that information. But it can also bog down your database, over time, if you’ve tried and deleted a bunch of plugins.

If you’re sure that you never want the plugin again, before you deactivate and uninstall it, look in its settings for a checkbox or toggle that says something like “delete data on uninstall.” That should remove the plugin’s settings and tables from your database.

To delete a plugin from WordPress:

  1. Deactivate the plugin as described above.
  2. After you’ve deleted the plugin, you’ll see a Delete link. Click it to complete deleting the plugin.

Alternately, you can select the plugin’s checkbox and use the drop-down menu to delete the plugin.

Whew! That does it! We’ll be going over plugins that Zip might want to install on his blog later. But, for now, we’ve installed one and (can) have a coming soon page in place.

Eventually, we’ll get to the fun stuff, like themes and appearance, but coming up next, we’ll look at settings Zip will want to change before he does anything else on his blog — we’ll take a tour through the Settings menu.

WordPress 5.5 and Beyond

While we haven’t gotten around to maintenance in this series, plugins are something that need to be updated regularly. WordPress 5.5 added the ability to auto-update plugins from the WordPress repository.

You’ll now see a link on the right side of your plugins page where you can turn on auto-updates for each plugin that offers this feature.

But should you auto-update your plugins?

At first, I was skeptical of this feature. I knew from long experience that, sometimes, plugin updates came with both new features and unexpected problems. However, I finally turned it on for plugins that allow it. While I’ve occasionally had an issue, overall it’s been helpful in keeping my websites updated much easier.

With one caveat: I’d recommend using a backup plugin like Updraft Plus that will automatically backup your website before plugins are automatically updated. That way, if there are problems and you need to roll back, you can. Fortunately, I haven’t had to yet, but it’s comforting to know I have the backup.

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