It was Plugins that got me hooked on WordPress. Plugins are the add-ons if you like, the additional features or functions that you can apply to improve the functionality of your WordPress site and make it your own. Shiny new toy syndrome, that’s what I had. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the Plugins. The Daily Mash published an article on this theme that still makes me chuckle, but that’s an aside.
The majority of the Plugins available are free to use and simple to install. They would solve all my problems, with them I could do anything. And to a certain extent this was true, but I’m here today to advise you to approach Plugins with caution. Without wishing to be a complete killjoy, I think it’s important to outline the dangers of freely installing them. This information could save your site, so please read on.
They can slow your site upload speed down significantly
One of the most important metrics for the health of any website is the time it takes to upload in a web browser. This is a hugely influential factor for search engine optimisation – the position your site ranks on Google and the rest. No-one wants to hang around while a site goes through the motions of loading up. These days with high speed broadband we expect instant gratification, not slow loads. This can be attributed in part to the hosting arrangement of the site, the quality of the code (how the site is written) and the impact of Plugins. A website with poorly performing Plugins will take longer to load. End of.
What are the issues with downloading WordPress Plugins?
They can present a security risk
There are thousands of premium and free Plugins available to choose from. WordPress is Open Source software which means that users can contribute freely to the development of it. One way they can do this is by publishing Plugins. Activating poorly coded Plugins from disreputable sources can leave your website open to attacks.
Deactivated Plugins can leave an unwanted legacy
From time to time WordPress owners will decide to stop using a Plugin on their site. They’ll deactivate it, maybe even delete it – but they may forget to remove any Shortcodes they’ve added to Pages on their site to make the Plugin work. They will remain there even after the Plugin has been removed and need to be deleted manually. These often gets missed.
I, like many other WordPress users, have spent many a long night hitting the search button on the Plugin page looking for solutions to problems. Although activating Plugins is relatively quick and easy, reading the notes associated with each Plugin takes time. And they’re not always written in plain English.
They may stop other things working on your site, or not work at all
As mentioned before, anyone can write and publish a Plugin. They may work great on some sites, but there’s no guarantee they are going to be compatible with the theme you’ve selected or the other Plugins you already have installed. They may cause things to break and it may not always be obvious why!
What can you do to reduce the risks of using WordPress Plugins?
Deactivate and test
If you’re experiencing slow upload times then you can deactivate each Plugin in turn and check the site upload speed one at a time. Once you’ve identified the culprit, delete the Plugin permanently, and any additional text you had to add to your site then integrate the Plugin originally.
Adapt the child theme instead
It may prove more worthwhile to adapt your child theme (a copy of the theme you’re using) to add the functionality you require, rather than finding a Plugin that not only does the required job, but is also compatible with your site.
If you do plan to continue using lots of Plugins and you’re not sure about the reputation of the developers that have created them, then you need to backup regularly. I wrote a couple of Posts if you’re not sure how. They were imaginatively titled How to backup your WordPress site – part 1 and How to backup your WordPress site – part 2.
Pick reputable Plugin producers
Look for high ratings, Plugins that work with the latest version of WordPress and those that are most popular. WordPress publish a top ten to show which Plugins are downloaded most regularly.
Off WordPress Plugins?
I wouldn’t say for a minute that I’ve kicked the habit but I’m not the magpie I once was. This is good news because I’ve had a bit of a problem with these birds since the day my cat was chased up a tree by an aggressive dog and subsequently dive-bombed by two! And I say this as an RSPB supporter!
I use a small selection of Plugins regularly for my client’s sites, but I have learnt which are the best to use on each project and have confidence using them. Plugins have played a huge part in making WordPress what it is. There are many reputable developers that have significantly enhanced WordPress through their Plugins. All I’m trying to say is use them wisely and think before you link your site with a Plugin.
Do you agree? Have I missed the point? Vent your spleen below!
Many thanks to Doug Brown and Sergey Yeliseev on Flickr for allowing us to use these photos on this post