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How to install a WordPress plugin

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Do you see a WordPress plugin over at the official WordPress site you’d like to use on your blog and not sure how to install it? Not to worry, this tutorial will guide you through every step of the way. If you already know how to install a WordPress theme, this WordPress tutorial will be a breeze for you. This tutorial will teach you:

  1. What WordPress plugins are
  2. What WordPress plugins can do
  3. Finally, how to install a WordPress plugin

This will be just a quick guide on the topic of WordPress plugins.

So what’s a WordPress plugin?

Quite simply, a WordPress plugin is a prepackaged piece of code that can add additional functionality and features to your WordPress website.

What can WordPress plugins do?

The possibilities are literally endless. Here’s just a few of the things WordPress plugins can possibly do:

  • Optimize your WordPress site for search engines
  • Help prevent the usual comment spam
  • Add photo galleries
  • Social bookmarking features
  • Mange advertisements such as Google Adsense
  • Track various statistics such as visitors and page views

I could keep going but hopefully you get the point by now.

How do I install a WordPress plugin?

The first thing you need to do is select the WordPress plugin you want and upload the plugin files to your /wp-content/plugins/ directory in your WordPress root. If you don’t have any other plugins installed (which is probably the case, considering you’re reading a tutorial on installing plugins) this directory will look something like this in an FTP client.

WordPress Plugin FTP

You might be wondering why those files are already in your plugins directory if you’ve never installed any yourself. It’s because these plugins are bundled with all WordPress installations, this is normal. The folder called “askimet” is a powerful spam-fighting plugin brought to you by Automattic, the people behind the WordPress project. The “hello.php” is a plugin known as Hello Dolly. You probably won’t have to worry about the latter as it’s more or less useless. On the other hand, you should strongly consider using Askimet to protect your blog from spam comments.

Once uploaded, simply activate the plugin in your WordPress administration panel. That’s really all there is to it, very similar to installing a WordPress theme. Just as an example, we’ll activate the previously mentioned “useless” plugin: Hello Dolly.

WordPress Plugins Page

If you see a success message, and notice the random text added in the top right on your WordPress blog installation, it worked. In a normal case, once the files of the plugin of your choice is uploaded, it will appear in the list of available plugins to activate/deactivate.

Since WordPress plugins are so diverse, and like I said above, can pretty much do anything, it would be impossible for me to go over how to use and configure each specific one. Fortunately for you however, in the future I’ll be reviewing some of the top WordPress plugins available and providing an in-depth analysis on each. I already have a few in mind, but if you have any requests for plugins you’d like me to go over on the blog, feel free to comment below.


Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.

  • Sue

    A really informative post and explained in such a way that even I can understood!

    I’ll certainly be back for more tutorials.


  • Wesley

    The plugin for Akismet, and your preinstructions to activate it, worked, but polldaddy does not seem to work. Do you have any ideas why that is so or do you know anything about the polldaddy plugin?

  • Jamie

    “The first thing you need to do is select the WordPress plugin you want and upload the plugin files to your /wp-content/plugins/ directory in your WordPress root.”

    I’m hoping this doesn’t mean I should just give up, but I can’t even figure out how to accomplish the first sentence! How do I upload them, and where can I locate my plugin directory?

  • Rajneesh saini

    Hi All,
    After installing plugin successfully you need to activate it and also do some adjustments from setting tab in wp-admin.


  • Kelly

    I am sorry for my stupidity but I am so confused. I am trying to install a plugin so I found one I wanted and downloaded it. I found these instructions “WordPress plugin you want and upload the plugin files to your /wp-content/plugins/ directory in your WordPress root.” but have NO IDEA how to do this. I can’t even find anything about plugins on my dashboard. Pleas help!

    • Leland

      Hi Kelly, does not allow uploading of custom plugins.

      This tutorial was made for self-hosted WordPress sites.