No, not your phone charger or hi-tech headphones. Plugins in the technical world refer to pieces of software code that enable a device or a specific app to do something that it couldn’t already do. Think of it as an upgrade that you install, which elevates the way you can use a specific application on your device.
For the most part, plugins are there to make life easier, remove annoying obstacles, and make even the most mundane of activities run seamlessly and smoothly. In this article, we will be sharing all you need to know about Plugins, from the how’s to the what’s – and those all-important WHY’s.
How do Plugins work?
Plugins are there to make everything better – whether that’s the way something works, the options presented to you as a user, or the way you experience certain things. Sometimes those things are essential, for example being able to switch webpages or open certain documents on your device; while sometimes they are more for experience than necessity, for example being able to add and view animation as part of a content stream.
These plugins can be designed by anyone, allowing third-party developers to build on and improve existing applications.
Crucially, most plugins for web browsers are available through dedicated websites, which help to ensure that what you are downloading is not harmful or has some kind of virus in disguise. Knowing where to get your plugins from is as important as choosing the right ones.
What kinds of Plugins might small businesses need?
For a small business, plugins are what enable scalable and flexible growth. Imagine that you build a standard site designed to communicate your brand or services and encourage engagement through direct contact. Now imagine that further down the line you start to advertise and sell online through your website. Rather than starting from scratch and building from the ground up, plugins allow you to expand what you already have and implement new functions into the site that is already drawing in visitors.
Let’s look at WordPress as a commonly used example.
When it comes to building a business website, you will find that plugins are rife on sites like WordPress which allow you to bring your business to life easily and through a series of templates. The standard WordPress templates are pretty straightforward, but when you start to get into the available Plugins you can optimise and enhance the user experience on your site ten-fold.
A few good examples include Akismet which removes spam comments from your posts, Jetpack which automates and supports SEO, and Yoast SEO which supports SEO and content optimisation. WordPress also supports plugins that enable you to add contact forms, shopping carts, and so much more to your website – not only enhancing the way it is used but broadening the scope of your site’s usage.
And it’s not just WordPress where plugins become useful. Adobe Acrobat is another prime example of a plugin that most of us don’t even know is a plugin – because we use it so often. Without Adobe Acrobat you wouldn’t be able to conduct simple tasks such as open a PDF. Another example refers to all those printing plugins which allow you to connect a device to a printer remotely and send documents over to be printed. Without this plugin, that connection wouldn’t exist, and we’d still be emailing documents over to a computer with a printer.
What are the benefits of Plugins?
It really depends on what the Plugin you have selected is designed to do – though most plugins are largely designed to improve the user experience and make sure that everything runs smoothly and safely, whatever industry or interest you are searching for.
Most of the essential plugins can be accessed for free, however, there are optimised versions of various plugins which come at a premium. Again, here we return to WordPress which is such a broad example of how plugins can be accessed and used by all industries and businesses – with the WordPress site operating its own page dedicated to free plugins which are designed to enhance the way a WordPress site is built, accessed, and used.
In terms of the benefits of plugins, this is where it all comes back to usability and experience – both from the perspective of the end-user and the website developer.
Plugins save time. They hold all the coding and programming needed to implement useful tools and functions on your website quickly and easily, meaning that you can do anything from add a shopping cart to link a social media account without much work at all.
They are also intrinsically linked to experience, with a range of options available to improve every aspect of a website or customer journey – and deliver crucial information to the business owner or website builder along the way through enhanced analytics.
Of course, with every benefit comes a challenge – and in the case of plugins, the main challenge is around not overloading your website with so many plugins that it becomes either too complex to use, or to vulnerable to hackers. To ensure that your website is as safe as possible, always download your plugins from reputable sources and seek the support of a web developer where necessary.
For more advice and guidance on how to use plugins – and how to identify those which will genuinely elevate and improve your online offering and experience – get in touch with our team.