Lesson 6: Plugins

Learning how to add functionalities to your website through WordPress plugins.

Hi and welcome back. In this lesson, I’ll cover the basics of plugins and show you how to install two of my favourites that I think will enhance your blog. 

Introduction to plugins

First, what exactly is a plugin? Well, it’s a lot like a phone app, that gives your phone more functionality than what came with it when you first bought it. WordPress is like your phone’s operating system, which comes with some apps (or in this case, features) built-in, and some that you’ll need a third-party software to get. The version of WordPress without any additional plugins is called WordPress core. WordPress core is updated a few times a year, and each release comes with new features and enhancements. 

Like apps, plugins can be free, paid, or on a subscription model. Some plugins are created by plugin companies who create and maintain the software as their business, and other plugins are created by freelance developers just trying to share their code with others who might benefit from it. 

In any case, if you have something you need to do, chances are, there’s a plugin for it. To search the official WordPress plugin repository, click on plugins and add. But not all plugins are created equal, so here are a few tips when picking plugins. The repository has rules to be added, so already, you can feel more confident about picking a plugin in there. What I look at before choosing a plugin are 1) stars 2) active install and 3) how recent was the last update, so I can tell if it’s being actively maintained. 

Two of my recommended plugins for bloggers are Jetpack and Yoast SEO. Both of these have free and paid versions, so I’ll show you the free ones, how to use them and install them, and you can decide to upgrade later if you feel the need as your blog grows. 

Installing and configuring Jetpack

In this video, I explain what plugins are and guide you through the setup of Jetpack, the free version. Hot tip, if you do choose to upgrade your Jetpack subscription in the future, follow them on social media to catch a 20-30% off sale.

Once Jetpack is installed and activated, you have to activate the modules you want to use. To do this, go to the Jetpack section on your dashboard, and at the bottom go to Modules.

Here’s a list of Jetpack feature categories (that’s right, there’s even *more* when you follow the links) for you to explore:
Extra Widgets
Custom Post Types

For more Jetpack support, you can view their support documentation here.

With Jetpack modules activated, you’ll notice extra features in the Jetpack settings area of your dashboard. You now also have additional blocks available when editing your posts and pages and additional widgets when editing widgets in the Customizer.

Additional widget settings in Jetpack

Jetpack adds extra widgets and widget features like Visibility.

Beyond adding widgets, Jetpack also unlocks widget visibility. This means you can add conditional logic to a widget you add to a widget area so it only shows up on certain pages. Widget areas are consistent throughout your whole site and are theme-specific. Most often, this includes your footer and sidebar. By adding visibility parameters, you can choose to hide or show specific widgets based on the category of the post, tags of the post, type of content (post, page, testimonial, or portfolio item) and more.

Content Options

Content options is a section of the Customizer that appears once Jetpack is activated and the Content Options module is too. It’s simply a place to add more features like controlling whether you show the author name, tags, categories and other blog post metadata. The ‘Featured Tag’ is available with themes that have a prominent way of showing highlighted blog posts. Sometimes that’s a slider or a top section. By setting a custom tag (such as ‘Featured’ or ‘Favorites’) as your featured tag, any post with that tag will be shown in the featured section of that theme.

Installing Yoast SEO

Although Jetpack does have some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) features, the gold standard for WordPress SEO plugins is Yoast. It has tools that allow you to prepare your website for search engines to index and rank your content so people can find it. It also has great tools for individual posts and pages, so you’re really optimizing each piece of content for search engine optimization. If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice as a blogger, it would be to really put in the extra love and attention to each post to optimize it to the max. 

Yoast SEO has free and paid versions, but like Jetpack, the free one is rich with useful features. This video will give you a quick tour and show some of the strongest features for bloggers. Yoast’s blog and lessons are also a great source of knowledge on all things search optimization.

If you’re curious about how to really optimize your site for search engines, you’re in luck, that’s what we’ll talk about in the next video.