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Michigan State University

Building a Website with Wordpress: Plugins

This guide walks you through how to build a website using WordPress. It covers web hosting, installing WordPress, installing themes and plugins, and using the in-browser editor to adjust the theme (header image, colors, fonts, etc.).

What to look for in a plugin

Many of the same criteria apply to WordPress plugins that we used for themes:

  • Is it free? 
    • There are lots and lots of excellent free themes out there. Sometimes it's worth paying for one, but usually only if you know you have specific needs and you can't find a good free theme to meet them.
  • Is it well-maintained?
    • Has there been an update in the last year?
    • Is it compatible with the current version of WordPress, or only slightly behind?
    • Can you tell if there are answers to questions folks have had about it?
  • Also, keep in mind that plugins can cause the following issues:
    • Slower loading
    • More "points of failure" for your site, which from your perspective means more things you have to check when you're troubleshooting
    • More difficulty upgrading your site (potentially)
  • This is not to say you shouldn't use plugins, but be judicious about it!

Installing a plugin

  1. Click on "Plugins" in the side menu
  2. If you want to activate, or turn on, a plugin that's already installed, do that by clicking "activate" under the relevant plug-in title
    • WordPress comes pre-loaded with several plugins, including "Hello Dolly" and "Akismet." Since they're not turned on by default, we can just ignore them for now.
  3. To find a new plugin, click "Add new" -- we're going to look for "Wordfence" (it's a free security plugin that's essentially an anti-virus for your website)
  4. Once the "Add Plugins" page has loaded, enter "Wordfence" in the search box at the top right
  5. The first result should be "Wordfence Security" -- click "More Details" to get additional information about it
  6. If you've decided you want to try it out, click "Install Now" at the bottom
  7. You should see two little orange arrows moving in a circle in the "Wordfence Security" box, next to "Installing" so you'll know it's working
  8. When it has finished installing, the button will change to "Activate" -- click that
  9. When it finishes, you should be at a new screen (back at your WordPress site) for the plugin. You don't have to enter your email address, and you can "take the tour" anytime, but it's good to do it soon and get your site's security set up.

Congratulations! You've installed your first plugin!

Megan Kudzia's picture
Megan Kudzia
Michigan State University