What would WordPress be without plugins?
Our ability to extend the world’s favorite content management system in an almost limitless fashion is what makes WordPress so great. With nearly 25,000 plugins available on WordPress.org alone, the sky really is the limit.
But with great power comes great responsibility and it is an unfortunate fact that using WordPress plugins can have unsavory side effects if you’re not too careful. With that in mind, in this post I want to cover the most important things to keep in mind when using WordPress plugins on your WordPress site so that you can enjoy all of the extra functionality and avoid the pitfalls.
1. Update Your Plugins
This is a bit of a no-brainer but it bears mentioning in the interests of completeness: keeping your plugins updated is absolutely vital to the security and functionality of your blog. Out of date plugins are prime targets for those in search of security weaknesses and can also break when newer versions of WordPress and other plugins are released.
Not only should you regularly update your plugins, you should also periodically check your plugins to make sure that they have been recently updated. You should strongly consider removing plugins that haven’t been updated for an extended period of time (as a rule of thumb say one year).
Ideally you should never be caught in a situation where you are using an out of date plugin — it’ll always end in tears eventually.
2. Keep Deactivated Plugins Updated or Get Rid
This follows on directly from my previous point: even if a plugin is not active on your site you must ensure that it is still updated. A deactivated plugin is still “live” on your site in the sense that it could be exploited as a security weakness. Incidentally, the same can be said for themes so my advice also applies there.
To be honest, if a plugin isn’t active on your site and you have no intention of using it in the future my advice would be to remove it. The last thing you want is for your site to become a graveyard of unused plugins — it pays to keep things clean and tidy.
3. Deactivate Backend Plugins When They’re Not in Use
Most plugins put a strain on your site’s resources, even if that strain is only minor. As such it is my recommendation that you only activate backend plugins when they are needed.
Take the Plugin Performance Profiler (P3) as an example. This great little plugin will scan the plugins installed on your site and give you an idea of how resource intensive each one is. This in turn can empower you to make informed decisions regarding whether or not a plugin is worth keeping. However, P3 only needs to be active when you are running the scan — it can be deactivated at all other times.
In a nutshell, every single active plugin on your site should be utilized by your site. If not, it shouldn’t be active.
4. The Number of Plugins Isn’t Important
To put it in layman’s terms, a plugin is simply extra code that is implemented on your site. To an extent you could add the same code within your functions.php file and achieve the same effect.
Therefore, the number of plugins you have installed and activated on your site isn’t necessary a major issue. The major issue is how well coded and resource intensive your plugins are.
Let me put it this way: it would be far better for you to have five lightweight and immaculately coded plugins installed on your site than one bloated, resource intensive and vulnerable plugin. In reality you should be more worried about what plugins you are installing rather than how many.
5. The Number of Plugins Is Important
Having said that, there is one reason why the number of plugins you have installed on your site can be an issue: conflicts.
Theoretically speaking, the more plugins you have on your site, the more likely you are to find one that conflicts with another. This is an issue that plugin developers constantly face as there are a near-infinite number of setup combinations across all WordPress installations. Most WordPress blogs are completely unique in terms of the combination of plugins installed.
So although you should be mindful of the quality of plugins you use, you should also keep an eye on the number with a view to keeping things as simple as possible. In this case, less is more.
6. Quality Always Beats Quantity
Along that same line of thinking, you should be very selective in deciding what plugins to install on your site. After all, every plugin you install may leave behind a footprint that is difficult to remove (especially if it is poorly coded). While it can be very tempting to test and install every plugin under the sun on your site, you should err on the side of caution and selectiveness.
When it comes to installing plugins you should look at a few key items such as:
- Number of downloads
- Average rating
- The developer (are they well-established?)
- Evidence of active support
The fact is that you’re not just installing a plugin — you’re installing a piece of functionality that you would like to remain functional for the foreseeable future. If the plugin works now that’s a good start but you want to make sure it will work in the future too.
For me, the decision to install a new plugin on my site is a pretty important one. I am careful to ask myself whether or not I really need the functionality or if I am being drawn in by the proverbial shiny lights. It might be worth you asking yourself that same question.
7. Premium Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Best
It’s a well-known fact of psychology that people’s perception of value is affected by cost. If I offer you the same thing free of charge or at cost, your perception of value is likely to change under the separate circumstances.
This phenomenon can sometimes be observed in people’s attitude towards premium plugins. The fact is this: there are plenty of unscrupulous premium plugin developers out there. Just because someone is charging you for a plugin does not make it good. There are an awful lot of extremely good quality free plugins out there developed by people who you can trust absolutely.
Having said that, the well-made premium plugins typically are the best. If you pick a reputable premium plugin developer you’re likely to enjoy the best functionality, top notch support and consistent updates. The key is to make sure that you’re supporting the “right” developer. Don’t just do a Google search and go with whatever shows up — find out who people are happy to personally recommend. Get involved in the WordPress community and make note of who is talked about in a positive light. Those are the people you should look to buy from.
What Do You Know About Plugins?
The above points are what I consider to be the most important things to keep in mind when browsing for plugins. However, I have no doubt that you have some excellent advice to offer too so please do not hesitate to share with us via the comments section below!