One of the biggest benefits of using WordPress to build and manage your website is plugins. These small pieces of code can greatly increase the functions and benefits of your WordPress site, but it’s not without some risk.
John Overall of WP Plugins from A-Z joins me on the BeBizzy Break Podcast Episode #85 to discuss WordPress plugins and a few other subjects.
Some Basic Info on WordPress Plugins
Plugins are really just compiled code that can easily be installed and used on your website. Most are very small and only get loaded when they are used on a page. However, some, like Woocommerce and some contact form plugins are very large and often load on all pages whether they get used or not, so be careful on how many you install and run.
Currently there are nearly 55,000 plugins available in the WordPress repository in just about any function you can imagine.
The repository contains links and information to free plugins, with paid plugins available directly from the developer, CodeCanyon, and a variety of other places.
How to Select a Plugin
Searching for a plugin can yield hundreds of potential suitors for the job. Some detective work and maybe even some “live” testing may be required to find the right plugin.
John has set up some “sandbox” websites that only serve as test beds for plugins and themes. This is a great suggestion, or you can use a development area for the actual site if you have that available to you.
It’s not recommended that you test a plugin on a live site unless absolutely necessary. It can cause the site to not display correctly, or be totally down.
And also be advised there are three different types of plugins in regards to cost, free, premium, and freemium. Free is free. No cost, just download and use. Premium will cost you up front before you install. Large, often popular plugins like Gravity Forms are included in this model. The third is “freemium” where you will be given the plugin for free for a short time, then you have to pay to use it after the trial period.
Potential Issues Installing Plugins on Your Site
Before we go too far, this is a great time for me to snap in my weekly plug for backups. Back up your site BEFORE you install any plugins or themes just in case.
Like anything you install on a website, plugin code can cause some undesired results on the website. Collisions with other code can affect CSS, some themes, the working of other plugins, and even the dreaded “white screen of death” on your WordPress site.
Also, free can come with some security issues. While the WordPress repository does a great job of monitoring and screening plugins before they get into the wild, sometimes malware finds a way into a plugin. This also can occur on paid plugins, but it’s less of a chance.
Really what is comes down to is a couple of things.
- When was the plugin last updated.
- What versions of PHP or WordPress has it been tested with.
- Read the reviews to see if the plugin was well-received by other users.
- John suggested typing the plugin name into Google followed by the word “sucks”.
Keep in mind, WordPress is a free CRM. Out of the box it is very secure, but as you add themes, private code, or plugins you can open it up to potentially being exploited.
When asked if there is a number of plugins that is too many, John responded with “No.” It comes down to if all of the plugins can run well with each other, causes the page to load slowly, and can harm the user experience.
Go-To Plugins That We Use on Every Site
I use several plugins on nearly every website I develop. John also has a list of about ten or so plugins that go on his sites.
- Wordfence : security plugin that has a free or premium service. Even the free version does a great job of locking down the site
- UpdraftPlus : A GREAT backup system that allows you to back up to the WordPress install, a Dropbox folder, an FTP location, and several other options.
- Gravity Forms : Versatile form builder
- A CDN plugin – I use a CDN to make the website load faster for the visitor.
- MainWP : I manage dozens of websites, so MainWP is very useful to track updates to all of the plugins.
- WPMU Smush Pro : great image optimization plugin
Some Final Thoughts on WordPress Plugins
- Don’t be afraid to use them.
- The will save tons of time.
- Don’t be stuck on the free version.
- Don’t get married to a plugin. Sometimes you have to move to a new, better plugin.
- Don’t be afraid of the research to find and implement the right plugin.
- Listen to shows like the BeBizzy Break Podcast and WP Plugins from A-Z to learn about good, and bad, plugins.
WP Plugins from A-Z and Other John Overall Projects
If you are managing a WordPress website for you or for clients I would encourage you to add John Overall’s WP Plugins from A-Z to your rotation. He reviews five or so plugins on every episode and gives some real-world ratings on whether that plugin will be useful.
At JohnOverall.com he also serves his development, hosting and recovery clients.