This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.
WordPress is a platform that’s rather easy to use, for the most part. Publishing new posts is easy, creating new pages is easy, and moderating comments is—again—easy. And that’s great because, this way, the platform can be used by anybody. As Matt Hooper explained earlier today, in his post What Your Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog, no web development or programming skills are required.
There are, however, some aspects that are not that obvious for people who are new to the whole blogging thing, and who are trying to get their WordPress site running for the first time.
Just to make one thing clear, WordPress doesn’t need any additional software, tools, or plugins to operate. Once you get a clean version you are well-off to join the blogging world. However, if you want to include some extra features in your blog, make it SEO friendly, or enable just a simple contact form, in most cases you’ll have to use plugins.
The word “plugin” sounds like a piece of code or software that needs to be included manually in your WordPress by a professional. This isn’t the case, however.
I admit, if you want to work with other platforms then you might stumble upon some difficulties while installing plugins, but with WordPress you can get any plugin installed in less than a minute.
What are plugins, and what’s their job?
There are almost 20,000 plugins available (at the time of writing) in the official directory, and they enable you to turn your blog into whatever kind of site you like.
To quote the WordPress team themselves: “Plugins can extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine.” A simple definition, but accurate nonetheless.
Among the things plugins can do for your blog are: improve its typography, tune the SEO structure, help you to proofread and edit, take care of backups, check for broken links, provide a contact form, protect against spam, connect your site with social media profiles, display social media share buttons, enable Google Analytics, cache recent posts, enable AdSense, make it possible to display different forms of advertising, and many many more.
Where can you get plugins from?
The official WordPress plugin directory can be accessed at: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/
You can use the search engine to find any plugin you want by its name, or to use keywords that describe the functionality you’re after. For example, here’s how you’d find the “coming soon” plugin by ThemeFuse:
Now, in this post I’m using ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode —the “coming soon” plugin—as an example to guide you through the whole process of installing a plugin. The process is universal and you can follow it to get any other plugin installed as well.
There are two main ways to “get” your hands on a WordPress plugin, so to speak. You can either:
- download it from the official directory (or any other website) as a ZIP file
- have it put straight into your WordPress blog.
The latter is, of course, a much easier way, and a much faster to go through. However, I’m going to tell you about both to make the picture complete.
Install a WordPress plugin through your admin panel (the easy way)
I know that it sounds like a big deal, but this is actually the easier way to install a plugin, and one that can be done in less than a minute.
First, you need to log in to your WordPress panel on an admin account. Installing new plugins always requires admin access rights; it can’t be done through author accounts.
Next, go to Plugins > Add New, as shown below.
There’s a search field in the center of the page. It works almost exactly the same as the one in the official directory available at wordpress.org. You can use this search field to find a plugin by name, or you can use keywords to describe the functionality you want.
In our example, we’ve decided that we want to get the ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode plugin, so this is what we’re going to put in the field. Inevitably, the first result shown is the plugin we want to install.
Now, to the best part. You can have the plugin downloaded to your WordPress and installed just by clicking the link labeled as Install Now, that’s next to the plugin’s name.
The installation itself is pretty quick, and if everything goes well you should see something like this:
The only thing left to do now is to click the link labeled as “Activate Plugin,” shown above. By default, every plugin that gets put in your WordPress blog is deactivated. If you want to use it you have to activate it first.
If the plugin activates successfully it should be visible in your Plugins section and marked as active:
At this point, three main links are visible: Settings, Deactivate, and Edit.
- Settings: This is where you can set the basic things about your new plugin. Usually, it’s where you start working with a plugin.
- Deactivate: You can deactivate your plugin if you don’t want to use it anymore.
- Edit: It’s not advisable to go there if you’re a beginner. This is the place where you can edit the source code executed by a given plugin.
That’s it. Your new plugin is up and running!
Now let’s take a look at a more complicated way of installing a plugin.
Installing a WordPress plugin manually
In this approach, you’ll have to get the ZIP file of the plugin you want to install (1), upload it to your blog through FTP (2), and then activate it in your WordPress admin (3).
1. Getting the ZIP file
As usual, start by searching for a nice plugin in the official directory at wordpress.org. Once you stumble upon something interesting you can download it to your local hard drive.
When you’re at the plugin page (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/themefuse-maintenance-mode/, for example) click on the Download button and save the ZIP file somewhere on your computer:
2. Uploading through FTP
For this step, you’ll need a piece of FTP (file transfer protocol) software to transfer the files to your blog hosting directory. Thankfully, there are some free ones, like FileZilla.
Before you can use FTP, you need to take the ZIP archive of your plugin and extract it to a location on your hard drive.
Now, in your FTP software connect to your site (your host will be able to give you the details you ned to be able to do this) and navigate to the wp-content/plugins directory.
Next, upload everything that has been extracted from the plugin’s ZIP file to that location.
3. Activating the plugin
Once you upload the plugin via FTP, you should see it listed in the Plugins section of your WordPress admin panel. But this time it’s deactivated.
The only thing left for you to do now is activate it. Simply click the Activate link, as shown above.
At this point, your new plugin is active and ready to be used, and the same three links (Settings, Deactivate, Edit) are displayed under the plugin’s name.
Since there’s not much more we can say about the installation process itself, let’s take a minute to follow the Settings link mentioned above and see what a standard plugin configuration page looks like.
Adjusting plugin settings
ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode lets you welcome your visitors with a sort of “coming soon” message. This comes handy if you haven’t finished working on your blog yet, and you don’t want anyone to see it half-baked.
Here’s an example screen that a reader will see when they visit a site where the plugin is active:
The best part is that a user who’s logged in to the site’s admin section (wp-admin) sees the blog normally, so they can work on it without any problems. The screen above is what normal blog visitors see. Now let’s go back to the settings section:
This is what you’ll find when you navigate to Settings > ThemeFuse Maintenance Plugin from the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area.
Many WordPress plugins provide a small set of initial options that need to be set, but then the rest is done without any additional attention on your part. With this plugin, everything is pretty much set up right from the get-go, and if you want to, you can take care of some adjustments to make the plugin fit your needs perfectly.
The plugin provides some basic customization regarding the way it looks. The first two fields (Upload Logo and Upload Background) let you give the plugin a little branding. I advise you to change at least the logo to one you’re going to use on your site once it’s live.
The easiest way of changing the logo or the background is to upload these files through your blog’s media library, and then copy and paste the file links to the aforementioned fields.
In order to do this, just go to Media > Add New (the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area):
Click Select Files. After your files are successfully uploaded, you’ll see a screen similar to this:
The marked URL is what you need to copy and paste into either the Upload Logo or Upload Background field.
The remaining fields enable you to customize your welcome message even further:
- You can input the date on which your site is planned to be completed.
- You can set a label for the loader bar.
- You can set the percentage of completion, to give some visual representation of what’s going on.
- You can include any content you find suitable through the standard WordPress visual (or HTML) editor.
- Finally, you can set your Twitter username if you want to display a follow button along with your latest tweet.
One important thing you have to remember is that if the plugin is active, everyone who visits your blog and is not logged in will see the Coming Soon page instead of the blog’s normal appearance. When you are done working on your blog, and ready to launch, always remember to deactivate the plugin.
What’s the next step?
That’s all for this guide. I hope that you’ll visit the plugin directory and get yourself a nice shiny plugin right away. Later today, we’ll be publishing a list of some of the more popular plugins for you to check out.
For now, though, what other things about WordPress do you find challenging for a beginner to take care of? Let us know in the comments!
Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Contrary to what you might think, he doesn’t want to be the worst blogger on the planet. Don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some original WordPress themes (warning: no boring stuff like everyone else offers).