What Are WordPress Plugins and Themes? (A Beginner’s Guide)

Starting a WordPress blog is an exciting project. However, getting your website to look and function exactly how you want can be a little overwhelming. 

This is where plugins and themes come in. These are add-ons that enable you to customize the appearance and functionality of your WordPress site. With the help of these tools, you can build your website to your exact vision, and give your visitors the best experience possible.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at WordPress plugins and themes, and how they work. We’ll also show you how to add them to your website. Let’s jump in!

What Are WordPress Plugins?

WordPress plugins are tools that can help you enhance the functionality of your website, without the need to learn coding. You can think of them as apps that give you more control over your content. 

Plugins can simplify some aspects of building a website. For example, you can use a tool that offers an easy way to add a contact form to a page. Here’s an example from photographer Nikki Martin’s website:

Different plugins can change your website’s features in varying ways. For instance, you can add small elements to your site, such as social media share buttons, or use plugins for larger tasks, like translating your content into multiple languages.

Moreover, you can install plugins for essential maintenance tasks, like performing backups or scanning your posts for broken links. Meanwhile, tools like Yoast SEO can help you optimize your content for search engines: 

Another popular plugin is WooCommerce. This eCommerce platform helps you build a fully-functional store on WordPress:

Not all plugins are free, and some tools come with premium versions and add-ons. Paid plugins can provide more versatility, features, and support. However, it’s up to you to decide if you require premium software for your site.

How to Install Plugins on Your WordPress.com Site

WordPress.com comes with several built-in features. This includes our Jetpack-powered Stats, which highlights important information about your website, and essential SEO to help you optimize your posts for Google’s search results. You also get tools like Jetpack and Akismet to help you keep your site secure. 

If you find that these features aren’t enough, our WordPress.com Business and eCommerce plans enable you to install additional plugins, with more than 5,000 options available. 

Let’s look at how to install a plugin on your WordPress.com site. First, you’ll want to navigate to your admin dashboard and select Plugins > Add New from the left-hand side menu: 

On this page, you can browse through some suggested plugins. You can also use the search bar in the top right-hand corner to find a particular plugin. Alternatively, if you don’t have a specific plugin in mind, you can type in a few keywords to look at some relevant options.

In this tutorial, we’ll be installing Yoast SEO: 

Once you find a plugin that you like, you can go ahead and click on it. This will take you to a page that contains some information about your plugin. Here, you’ll just need to click on Install and Activate: 

You can then return to your admin dashboard and locate your newly installed plugin in the menu:

When you select it, you’ll be taken to a page where you can configure the plugin, or even upgrade to the premium version. You can also access your plugin by navigating to Plugins > Installed Plugins:

Here, you’ll see a full list of the plugins on your site. You can configure a plugin by selecting the Settings option. If you want to remove it, click on Deactivate, followed by Delete

You can also install premium plugins, like Yoast SEO Premium, from here as well.

What Are WordPress Themes?

While plugins control what your WordPress website does, WordPress themes enable you to change how your site looks. This includes design elements such as the page layout, colors, and fonts. While you can have multiple plugins activated at once, you can only have one active theme at any one time.

WordPress has its own default themes. These are named after the year they were released in: 

Similar to plugins, there are free and premium options for themes. Free themes are more than sufficient to get you started. Moreover, they are all subject to an official review process before they are featured on the WordPress Theme Directory. This helps ensure that they are secure. 

If you’re looking for additional features, along with more support and updates, you may want to consider purchasing a premium theme:

There are many options available on the WordPress directory. However, you can also use marketplaces like Theme Forest to look for themes and purchase them directly from developers. However, these paid themes are not all required to undergo an official review. 

Therefore, when buying a theme from a third-party site, you may want to look at its user reviews and last update. You may also want to use a plugin like Theme Check to make sure that your theme is up to standard. 

How to Install Themes on Your WordPress.com Site

Installing a theme is a very simple process. First, you’ll need to navigate to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard. This will take you to the Themes page:

Here, you can view and customize your current theme. If you would like to change it, click on Install theme in the top right-hand corner.

On this next page, you can choose from recommended or trending WordPress themes. You can also use the search bar to look for a particular theme. Alternatively, you can select the Feature Filter option to sort themes by subject, feature, and layout.

Once you’ve found the perfect theme, you can hover over the image thumbnail and click on Details & Preview to learn more about its features:

This will also give you the option to preview a demo of the theme:

If you’re happy with your selection, go ahead and click on the Install button in the left-hand panel. Then select Activate

Depending on the theme you’ve chosen, you may be able to change certain aspects of your design. To access these settings, return to Appearance > Themes. Then, locate your active theme and click on Customize

This will take you to the Customizer, where you can edit your theme to your liking:

For instance, you may be able to change the layout of your blog page and posts. You can also add your logo and site title to the header, and configure your main menu. Remember to save your changes when you’re ready. 

Congratulations, you’ve installed your first theme! If you need some help with designing your site, we’ve reviewed some basic WordPress themes to help get you started.

Which Theme and Plugins Will You Choose?

You may feel that there’s a lot to learn when starting your website. Fortunately, WordPress provides themes and plugins to help you build and customize your site more easily.

Plugins enable you to add features that bring more functionality to your site. Meanwhile, themes help you modify the appearance of your pages. These tools can be located from the WordPress.com plugins and WordPress.com themes directories, and you can install them directly from your dashboard.


The WordPress.com Team

We're a team of happiness engineers, developers, editors, and WordPress experts. Our team personally curates and serves up the best resources to help you no matter where you are in your blogging or website-building journey. At WordPress.com, our mission is to democratize publishing one website at a time. Create a free website or build a blog with ease on WordPress.com. Dozens of free, customizable, mobile-ready designs and themes.

More by The WordPress.com Team

%d bloggers like this: