What are plugins? Simple question. Every time you turn around, another new plugin is being offered…for sale or free!
Try thinking of WordPress as a box. Everyone knows what a box is and generally what it’s used for.
Let’s say you want your box to hold snack size bags of potato chips. The box doesn’t have to be really substantial in its design and fabrication because potato chips don’t weigh a lot, but they do take up quite a bit of space. So your box needs to be large enough to hold 50 – 1 ounce bags of chips, and has to be strong enough to allow stacking of the boxes about 10 high without the product being damaged. Doesn’t seem like much of a problem.
But suppose your box is going to be used for holding and transporting quart size cans of juice. It is still a box, but this time it has to be much stronger as the weight of the juice is substantially more than the chips. This time, the box has to be designed with corrugated cardboard to give it the structual integrity and strength to handle the additional load.
So you have 2 examples of using ‘the box’, and they are very different because of the intended purpose.
The WordPress platform is much like the box inasmuch as it can be used to contain many different things. But WordPress is not a physical product like the cardboard boxes above…it is completely digital.
So how do you handle the different uses for the WordPress box without having to completely redesign the digital box for every purpose? The answer is plugins.
Plugins are software items that you drop into the WordPress box to redefine what its purpose will be. For a simple blog not many plugins will be needed. Often the basic theme you use will provide the functionality you need. But if you are going to have your site be an online store, or a membership site, or one of a myriad of other options, you will need plugins to give you the functionality to accomplish that.
Before WordPress, each website and every page on that website had to be coded in HTML. You can still use HTML to code web pages and build some very funtional and beautiful pages. But most site owners are not HTML programmers and they really don’t want to have to pay a programmer for every little change to their site. WordPress and its plugins make it easy for folks who are not ‘techies’ to be able to make daily updates and changes to a web page. Often, the company blog is maintained by the secretarial staff in an office. Not to take away from the skills that secretaries have, but they generally are not the kine of computer ‘geeks’ that programmers are…they actually have lives! LOL
So you can add a plugin to your theme that will handle email list management, SEO, traffic generation, social updates to Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter…a very long list of social networks. Just the social updates could be full time job for someone if there wasn’t a plugin to handle posting to all the various sites.
I have a plug in on an autoblog, that by going through about 5 minutes or work, posts new content to my page at specific intervals of my choosing for up to 2 month, pings the search engines to get page rankings, and gives my viewers/customers a direct link to the site that sells the products (of which I am an affilate). And I paid only $30 for that plug in! Pretty nice, huh?
So the simple answer to ‘what is a plugin’ is that it’s a small software add-in for WordPress that expands its function and makes it useable for many purposes without having to have a programmer available all the time. A big plus is also that plugins are generally pretty reasonably priced…often less than $30. Many programmers charge more than that per hour!
Hope this helps you understand plugins better. When a particularly good plugin pops up on the scene, I’ll post information about it on this site. Hopefully, I’ll find ones that will really help you in your business. Many of them are HUGE time savers, and time is the one thing that we never can obtain more.