7 Things You Should Know About Using WordPress Plugins

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 Out of date plugins are prime targets for those in search of security weaknesses and can also break when newer versions of WordPress and other plugins are released.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).

Better Internal Link Search.

Checking the date that one of my favorite plugins, Better Internal Link Search, was last updated.

Ideally you should never be caught in a situation where you are using an out of date plugin — it’ll always end in tears eventually.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.

Plugin Performance Profiler.

Plugin Performance Profiler.

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

awardAlong 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
  • Reviews
  • 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.

edd_standingHaving 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!

Tom Ewer
Post Author: Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is a professional blogger, longtime WordPress enthusiast and the founder of WordCandy.

Disclosure: This page contains external affiliate links that may result in us receiving a comission if you choose to purchase said product. The opinions on this page are our own. We do not receive payment for positive reviews.
Got something to say? Join the discussion.
  1. Utkarsh Bhatt says:
    Well you said it right! The number of plugins is not that important as opposed to what everyone says. I don't understand people's perspective towards such ignorance. Great read!
  2. Elliott Richmond says:
    Nice post Tom, I've seen some horrendous set ups where users have installed a plethora of plugins just to do a few simple things but left the ones they don't need - it's no wonder things end up conflicting. Less is more!
  3. antonis kioupliotis says:
    I think that wordpress should publice a list of good reputation and well coded plugins to protect users. There are a lot of plugins they do the same thing, but not all are well coded. This problem gets bigger as wordpress popularity grows up. I 'm a "victim" of bad coded plugin... Thanks for the article Tom!
    • Tom Ewer says:
      No problem Antonis. I think the issue with your idea is that plugins that are "well coded" and with a "good reputation" are terms open to interpretation...
  4. Kim McDougal says:
    Very well written, as a Wordpress web designer, I'm really careful about what plugins to use and I often read, and re-read before installing. That said, there some plugins I use all the time so I keep them in a folder and check to make sure I have the latest versions of them all, they're also by developers I know and trust as well.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      Hey Kim, thanks for stopping by as usual. It's quite important as you say to use plugins that you trust and even if you don't know the author usually with a simple Google search (if not a new plugin) you can get a good feel for it. I don't use many plugins, but the ones I do I love!
  5. Noumaan Yaqoob says:
    Since most plugins are licensed GPL this means that if a plugin is poorly coded other people can submit patches for it, or fork it and create a better version. As for how do you find out which plugins are better coded and follow WordPress best practices, there are a few features in the official repository that would give you a hint. For example you can see how many people have downloaded the plugin and voted for it. Users can also report if a plugin is broken or not working for them. You can also checkout unresolved support requests for the plugin by clicking on the support tab.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      Thanks for stopping by Noumaan - This is all very true! It's a shame we can't have you as a contributor here at WPE, but maybe some day ;)
  6. Nice advices...but why do we need to update unactivated plugins? Maybe it will be better to delete them completely. Also, as an advice, i would like to warn WP users about the safety of many plugins. Read the special resources in which the viruses and bugs of the plugins are being discussed.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      Sometimes you might have a plugin that you don't use very often so you deactivate it while not in use so it's good to keep it update for when you do activate it. But generally you are correct, if not in use, just delete it ;)
  7. Mike Schinkel (@mikeschinkel) says:
    I really like #4 juxtaposed with #5. It explains the "number of plugins" issue better than I've seen elsewhere.
  8. Good article. This is the first week I am working with WP. I noticed that I wouldn't want to use the comments section on each page, and by googling this, it immediately offers a lot of plugins. Same goes for the 'testimonial' icon I used for a page. I like to change the rotation speed only, and again, plugins are offered. This is making my head spin. I thought it should be possible to edit things (like above) without installing (and risking) plugins? Anyway, your article is very informative, and helps me to research before installing plugins.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      You can edit things...As long as you know how to code ;) Just like you can make your own plugins! If you don't know how to code then of course you are stuck using what other people make. Maybe you should learn!
  9. David Chase (@davidchase03) says:
    Great article, thank you for sharing. I personally use plugins sparingly 1 to 3 at most. I believe wordpress has a lot of functions baked in that you can extend without worrying about adding plugin "bloat". If your not a developer, maybe you should get one before adding a lot of plugins to a site :) IMO.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      Hiring someone that knows what they are doing is always best, unfortunately not everyone thinks that way.
  10. Best point: Premium Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Best. Totally agree.
  11. Truth (@OneTruConscious) says:
    #3. Thank you for pointing that out. While there are plenty of plugins you can install, you should only actually keep the ones you're using active. Otherwise, de-activate or re-activate when needed.
  12. filjuntejano says:
    Thank you so much for this post! I'm gonna apply this info in my site.
  13. Awesome article.Thanks for the valuable information !
  14. Thank you very much. I was not knowing anything about these plugins.
  15. vikassomvanshi13 says:
    thanks for giving info about plug ins but what really want to ask that is can we make a web site without any single plug in?(no plug in).
    • Kyla
      Of course you can just use a theme if it already has all of the features you want built-in (just be sure to read the fine print, since many free and premium themes reply on 3rd party plugins to add all of their awesome features). But there's nothing wrong with plugins - I personally love them!
  16. thanks for the information about plugins
  17. Hello. how can I delete a plugin. I only see how to deactivate a plugin on the Wordpress Site. From the back-end I went into the plugins folder and renamed a plugin I wanted to delete. It now says on my plugin page that the plugin can't find the file so it can't activate. I'm happy though, because it's as if I deleted it. I just like doing things the right way. Thanks
    • Kyla
      To completely delete a plugin, first deactivate it on your WordPress installation then delete the file for the plugin via FTP. It sound't like you can already access your server since you renamed the plugin file, so just go back and delete it. Just for others who might find it useful, here are the complete 3 steps as per the WordPress Codex: 1. Login to your server via FTP 2. Locate the plugin within the the WordPress Plugins Directory 3. Delete the file for the WordPress Plugin you wish to remove
  18. I was really almost there. I feel a bit sheepish now., but I would've been scared to delete it without knowing for sure that it is a safe thing to do. The tech support on my hosting company advised me to rename it, so I was just following protocol. Thank you.
  19. Anoop Bhandari says:
    Thanks for the information but can you tell me that many people says that using too many plugins will reduce the speed o the website. Is it true as I am quite new to blogosphere.
  20. Thanks for the valuable information !
  21. jacobselvam says:
    Very informative. Thanks. I shall try.
  22. Ulterios says:
    Nice article Tom, loved it! I really liked the point you stated about "Premium Plugins" and that just because it's a paid plugin, that doesn't mean that it's a good one, or even better than a free plugin. Yes the premium plugins from reputable sources are usually good but that isn't always the case will all of the premium plugin sellers. Research is your friend in this case. Paid doesn't always translate into better, look into the plugin and author/source first! I'm definitely going to be referring some people to read this article! Thanks for the nice article and I am looking forward to reading others. :)
  23. MyCityWoman says:
    True THat! Many a times the plugins get in conflict with one another which reduces the wp efficiency. I too try and keep only the plugins that I really need,rather than download anything that just "looks good". Its easy to get lost in the sea of plugins available out there
  24. Hey my Yoast is giving the problems with Wp Smush can you tell me why is it so... Got stuck here :(
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      Unfortunately I am not aware of any conflict between the two plugins. I would recommend requesting help directly from Yoast or the developers of WP Smush.
  25. Md Parvez Alam says:
    Great Help ..Might I need more help to understand on better way , I just started with my own Domain name
  26. Gregory Lucy says:
    Hi there, Thanks for your nice article. You shared a great information. I think everyone related to a website should know these and users will be benefited from your write-up.
  27. Freethinker says:
    What a great read. You guys are the best. I intend to develop a website where premium subbscribers will have to login before they can view my premium contents. What plugin is responsible for this kind of operation on the website?
  28. Hi I'm just planning to have a domain thanks for the information
  29. The Plugin Performance Profiler (P3) mentioned at the third bullet doesn't work anymore. It only shows the impact of the plugin itself so it's pretty much useless.

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