There are two ways to install a WordPress plugin without the need for additional software; from within WordPress or by uploading a .zip file from your computer.

Just in case you don’t know – WordPress plugins are small scripts/programs that add extra functionality to the core system.

Typically, you install free plugins through the WordPress admin area as they’re stored in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and you install premium plugins (the ones you buy) from your computer because they’re not available from the WordPress directory.

However, if you prefer, you can download plugins from the WordPress Plugin Directory to your computer and install them from there.

How to Install a WordPress Plugin from the WordPress Plugin Directory

Navigate to Plugins > Add New Plugin

The page looks something like this.

At this stage, you have a few options. Using the navigation menu near the top of the page, you can stay in the default view, which contains Featured plugins or you can choose one of the alternative options listed below.

  • Click on the Popular link to see a list of popular plugins
  • Click on Recommended to the recommended plugins
  • If you have a account and you’ve marked plugins as favourites, you can view them by clicking on Favourites and entering your username.
  • Enter a term into the Search box

If it’s the first time you’ve seen the plugin section of WordPress it’s a good idea to click on all the links to familiarise yourself with how it works and to find out some suggestions for which plugins to use.

For the sake of this tutorial, I’m going to use the Search function and enter the term SEO.

This is what the results page looks like:

WordPress lists plugins based on name and not quality or popularity. The top result is not always the best or most popular plugin for the phrase you entered. You can see at the bottom of each widget a brief overview of the plugin.

It shows:

  • The overall score is given to it by the number of people in brackets.
  • The number of active installs.
  • The date the plugin was last updated.
  • Compatibility with your version of WordPress notice.

To find out more about the plugin, click the More Details link.

This is what you see for the SEO Wizard plugin (at the time of writing) – it opens in a lightbox window/popup:

Between the horizontal navigation menu and the description, you might see a warning saying the plugin hasn’t been tested with your version of WordPress.

This is always worth noting as sometimes plugins go out of date and don’t work on newer versions of WordPress.

If you see a notice like this, especially if the plugin hasn’t been updated for many months or even years, it’s best to err on the side of caution and look for a more suitable alternative as the plugin might break your site in some way.

This isn’t always the case. In the past, I’ve used plugins that haven’t been updated for more than two years and they still worked perfectly.

At the top of the screen are links to more information about the plugin:

  • Description (displayed).
  • Installation – how to install.
  • Screenshots – screenshots of the plugin’s admin pages.
  • Changelog – Used by the author to track changes and updates to the plugin.
  • Reviews – Er, reviews.

Navigating through and reading each of these sections gives you a good feel for the author, the plugin and whether it’s worth installing.

To the right of the box is statistical information about the author, the version, compatibility, ratings and a link to the plugin help page.

The full list shows you:

  • Plugin version number
  • Author’s name (and a link to their website)
  • Date of last update
  • Required WordPress version
  • The WordPress version the plugin is compatible to
  • A link to the plugin page
  • A link to the plugin’s homepage
  • Ratings
  • Contributors names /links

(Some of these fields may vary from plugin to plugin as they are dependent on input from the user.)

Plugin ratings

When I find a new plugin, I nearly always look at the ratings to see what people think of it. I pay particular attention to the reviewers who awarded it one or two stars.

Oftentimes, the award of such a low rating is unjustified, and oftentimes, it’s bang on the money.

What you glean from looking at the reviews is an insight into what could go wrong and how the plugin’s author responds to the comments. Sometimes they’re helpful, and other times they put the blame fairly and squarely on the commenter. Some of whom could be very new to WordPress and may have little experience working with plugins.

Having one break their site is going to drive them crazy and bring out the worst in them. Hence the low score and irate comment.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have positive reviews. If there are a few, I always look at them with my BS detector switched on. Mates or not? Who knows.

Back to installing the plugin

After reading all of this, and evaluating a plugin’s usefulness and whether it suits your requirements, it’s time to install it.

If the lightbox window is still open, click on the Install Now link in the bottom right corner. 

If you’ve closed the lightbox, click on the Install Now button and wait for a few seconds. It’ll turn blue and the wording will change to ‘Activate.

At this stage, the plugin’s installed but it’s not activated.

Click on Activate Plugin.

The next screen you see depends on the plugin. You may see instructions on what to do next or you may have to look for those in the left menu or elsewhere.

Install a WordPress Plugin from your computer

When uploading a plugin from your computer you don’t get any information about it. For this reason, you should make sure the plugin and the source are trustworthy.

  • Navigate to Plugins > Add New > click on Upload Plugin
  • Click on Choose File and find the .zip file on your computer, then click on Install Now
  • Find the file on your computer and upload it

From there, the rest of the process is the same as above.

Wrapping Up

Once you’ve been through this process a few times, installing WordPress plugins becomes second nature.

Installing, setting up, and using plugins are essential parts of running a WordPress-powered website. Good plugins come with plenty of documentation to help you have a positive experience. They’ll walk you through everything you need to do to get up and running.