In this WordPress beginner’s tutorial, we’ll show you three easy ways to install a WordPress plugin.

We’ve made this tutorial for folks who want to learn the best WordPress practices.

We’ve begun with the easiest and the most recommended method for installing a WordPress plugin, and then proceeded to explain the rest.

There are plenty of screenshots have been used to guide you through the process. Should you run into any trouble or have any feedback on how we can improve this, drop us a comment.

Let’s get started.

The recommended way to install a WordPress plugin

One of the easiest ways to install a WordPress plugin is using the WordPress dashboard.

In all probability, you’re going to install an official plugin, i.e. one that is available in the plugin repository.

Everyday plugins such as Google XML Sitemaps, WordPress SEO and BackWPUp should always be installed using this method, should your web host allow it. In 99% of the cases, this works.

So you start off by logging into your WordPress dashboard and from the left hand menu navigate to Plugins > Add New

Install a WP plugin from the dashboard
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You enter the plugin’s name in the search box. Let’s say we want to install BackWPUp. We type “backwpup” in the search box and hit Search Plugins.

Search for WordPress plugin
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The first result returned is the plugin we want to install. We simply click on Install Now.

Click install now
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WordPress will then download the plugin and unpack it. Once that’s over, it’ll ask you if you want to activate the plugin.

Note on plugin activation:

Activate WordPress plugin
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Up to this point, your WordPress database has not been modified by the plugin, nor does the plugin have any access to your WordPress database. This is similar to uploading the plugin folder in your wp-content/plugin directory. Only when you activate the plugin, will it have access to your database.

If you want to activate the plugin right away, click on Activate Plugin. You can also return to Plugins > Installed Plugins and click on the Activate button.

Plugin is now installed
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This should activate the plugin.

Manually upload the plugin via the WordPress dashboard

The second method involves a slight variation. We use the WordPress dashboard as usual, but, instead of searching for the plugin, we manually upload it. This would be applicable to:

  1. Premium plugins like BackupBuddy which aren’t available in the repository
  2. Free plugins hosted on GitHub or other places.
  3. Plugins you’ve developed – beta testing, etc.

Manually upload a WordPress plugin
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So we goto Plugins > Add New and click on Upload.

Choose file and click install now
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We select the plugin zip file we want to upload by clicking on Choose File, followed by Install Now.

Activate plugin after manual upload
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WordPress will then upload the plugin and unpack it. You can activate it immediately, or do so later.

Install a WordPress plugin via FTP

The most concrete and fail-proof way to install a WordPress plugin is using the FTP method. You need FTP access to your server. Most web hosts and managed WordPress hosting companies provide you with FTP access, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Login in to your FTP server using a FTP client like FileZilla and navigate to the WordPress installation directory and into the wp-content/plugins folder. The complete path would be:


Install a WordPress plugin via FTP file upload
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Extract the plugin archive and paste the plugin folder (and not the contents of the folder) in the wp-content/plugins folder. If you upload the archive, WordPress won’t be able to recognize it.

For example, let’s say we download W3 Total Cache.To upload via FTP, we first extract the archive which yields a folder w3-total-cache irrespective of the version we use. In this tutorial, the archive name was w3-total-cache.0.9.4. We then upload the folder w3-total-cache via FTP.

Plugin activation
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To activate the plugin, we navigate to Plugins > Installed Plugins, find the plugin we uploaded, and click on Activate.

File managers:

Cpanel file manager
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You could however upload the archive and extract it using a suitable file manager provided by your web host.

Shared hosts like HostGator and BlueHost provide you with cPanel whose powerful File Manager can extract zip archives in a breeze, amongst other essential file operations. FatCow provides a custom file management software, which also supports archive extraction.

Some friendly advice:

You should be absolutely confident about the developer’s credibility when it comes to installing plugins which aren’t available in the repository.

Such a precaution is necessary because plugins get unhindered access to your WordPress database. There’s no “grant permissions” kind of thing like in Android applications. Example of a trustworthy plugin, which isn’t available in the repository is the Envato WordPress Toolkit. It connects WordPress to your Envato account to enable you to update your purchased themes using a just a single click.

Popular premium plugins, like iThemes Security Pro, BackupBuddy and Visual Composer – all need to be uploaded manually. But these are trusted by thousands (including WPSS) and so can you.


Plugins extend the functionalities of WordPress to an infinite number of possibilities. One practical advice we would like to extend to our reader is this:

Only activate the plugins you absolutely need. Lesser plugins = lesser queries = faster execution.

And, a faster site = better search engine rankings and more people will want to come back to your site.

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Posted by Sourav Kundu

Hi there! I'm Sourav. I dig comedy, WordPress, computers and tea - CWCT if you will. I can also write clean, precise copy for your projects. Portfolio is under construction. You can reach me on Twitter @Souravify.