When is Using a WordPress Plugin a Great Idea…
and When a Plugin Might be the Wrong Solution
Our Austin WordPress Beginner classes continued our “Back to WordPress Basics” series with an in-depth discussion about how to add functionality to your WordPress site with plugins. WPATX Co-Organizer, Deepti Boddapati led this session, graciously stepping in for Nick Batik who was ill. Deepti guided the attendees through the sometimes confusing world of WordPress Plugins. The class discussed when using a plugin is a great idea, and when a plugin might be the wrong solution.Even those new to WordPress will be familiar with the general concept of plugins. If you have been managing your WordPress site for a while you’ve probably chosen and installed a few plugins on your own. Those new to WordPress were warned about the disadvantages of using too many plugins, and what using the wrong plugin can do to your site’s performance.
What Are WordPress Plugins?
WordPress Plugins are composed of PHP scripts, bits of code that extend the functionality of your WordPress site or Blog. Theses pieces of programming code enable enhanced features that were already available or add otherwise unavailable new features or functionalities to your WordPress sites such as e-commerce, scheduling calendars, and site visitor analytics. Plugins help you upload, manage or manipulate images, documents, audio, video and much more. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress.
Plugins are tools to extend the functionality of WordPress. The core of WordPress is designed to be lean, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.
What do WordPress Plugins Do?
Way too many things to list in this blog post… Plugins can extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine. Here are some general categories of functions and features that WordPress plugins support:
- Administration Panels
- Bookstores & Catalogs
- Calendar & Event Management
- Contact Forms & Email
- Content & Content Management
- Upload & Download File Management
- Navigation & Searching
- Photo Galleries
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Sidebar Items
- Social Networking
- User Management
Why Plugins are a Great Option for Those New to WordPress
Plugins offer some simple solutions for getting the functionality you need into your WordPress site. The main advantages of using WordPress plugins is that they are quick and easy to install even with little to no development experience needed. WordPress Plugins are the simplest way to add functionality to a site and are easy for a beginner to enable and disable. But, with every Blessing comes a cautionary tale…
How Plugins can Effect your WordPress Site
The Problems With Plugins
- First, let’s address the common worry about WordPress plugins affecting site speed… “Is there a tipping point for too many plugins on a WordPress Site?” “Is it the nature of WordPress plugins to slow site performance?” Everyone, beginners and advanced WordPress users alike, are concerned about site load speed. Fast load times, improves the customer experience and is rewarded by Google with higher page ranking.
- How and if a WordPress Plugin isUpgraded and maintained is an issue we need to note. Plugins are developed by individual WordPress users, who may lose interest in maintaining their plugin to work with the latest WordPress upgrades. If this plugin adds an important function to your site, you will not be able to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress until your find or write a replacement plugin.
- Upgrading plugins as soon as a new release becomes available is a crucial best practice for site security. You need to build time into your site maintenance schedule to manage and upgrade your plugins. When you forget or ignore your plugin’s maintenance, you are l leaving your site open to being hacked. Plugins are not an inherent security risk — plugins that have not been maintained/upgraded increase the risk of security exploits.
- Too much of a good thing can add a lot of management overhead. Managing and maintaining a stable of plugins can become burdensome. Using too many plugins, or the wrong plugins can cause your site a mischief. Think carefully about the plugins extending functionality or adding features to your site.
- Watch for the plugins that can devour all available server space. Some backup plugins are such server-space hogs, that managed WordPress hosting companies like WP Engine, have banned them. Monitor how a specific plugin is behaving on your site. Is it taking up too much space on your server? Is that slowing down your site’s overall performance?
- Some plugins are written badly. They do what they say but in a slow and inefficient manner. Some plugins fetch information for other websites. If the other sites are down, or if they are running slowly, your site will also take a long time to display.
- Some plugins require you to register with the author’s site, and then you start getting lots of SPAM from plugin developer.
- Some plugins just don’t work.
- It is not the number of plugins on your site that affect load speed — it is the quality of the plugins that you are loading and the operation(s) they are performing. Pippin Williamson, a respected WordPress Plugin Developer, considers four aspects when evaluating a WordPress plugin:
- Does it load lots of scripts, styles, or other assets?
- Does it add extra database queries to each page?
- Does it perform complex operations?
- Does it perform remote requests, like to external APIs? Any one of these functional aspects can add to site load time?
Where do WordPress Plugins Come From?
Anyone can write a WordPress plugin. Most WordPress plugins are designed by volunteers and are usually free to the public. Plugins are written by WordPress users, who want something on their website that is not part of the standard WordPress installation, and they write these small programs to add that specific feature.
Where do I find WordPress Plugins?
You can find, download, rate, and comment on, all the best plugins the WordPress community have to offer from theWordPress Plugins Directory site. There are 49,651 Plugins in theWordPress Plugins Directory …with more being added every day. The Plugins hosted in the WordPress Plugins Directory are considered thoroughly tested and “safe.”
NOTE: WordPress Plugins are the responsibility of the author and the user, and they are typically works-in-progress as WordPress grows and expands.
How to Choose a Plugin from the WordPress Plugin Directory
When you go to theWordPress Plugins Directory to choose a plugin, make sure a plugin will work for you before you actually activate it. To do that, check the description of the major features, the WordPress version it was developed to work with, when the development team last updated the plugin, and look at the number of active installs. See what other people think about the plugin, check the reviews and look at the support forum activity.
How Do I Find The Plugin I Want?
The good part of having so many plugins is that there are lots of options to choose from. The bad part of having so many plugins is that finding the right one requires good searching skills. The first step to solving a problem is defining it The most popular tags in the Plugin Directory are a good place to start your search. Sometimes you may want to do some research before you visit the WordPress Plugin Directory. A good Google search phase is 2017 List of Favorite Plugins. Finding a list of reviewed and rated plugins is usually an easy search. It is also a good idea to ask trusted sources: Call your hosting company, or check with others in your Meetup group for plugin recommendations. When it comes to choosing plugins — Life is too short to learn from your own mistakes…
How Many Plugins Can I Put on My WordPress Site?
Some developers like to keep the use of plugins to a minimum so their sites are easier to maintain. Some site owners like to use lots of plugins so their self-managed site is full- featured and robust. Nobody has ever found a limit on the number of plugins you can have running on your site, but your site may take a long time to display pages.
How to Know if Your Plugin of Choice Plays Well With Others?
Plugins may not play nicely with each other – particularly if they do similar functions. This could result in your site acting strangely or crashing. You have just entered the “incompatible zone” If you are considering adding several plugins, do so one at a time, testing the site before you add the next.
When choosing a plugin it’s a good idea to Google or BING the plugin (name + known incompatibilities), to see if other users have documented which other plugins might have an issue with your new darling. Your choice of plugin has probably been downloaded thousands of times, check the reviews on the WordPress Plugin Directory, to see if others have reported a compatibility problem. Check WordPress forums to see if any other compatibility problems have been discussed and if they have been resolved with a workaround.
A Simple Solution for Slow
To check for problem plugins — deactivate all site plugins from the plugin menu in the wp-admin. Time the upload of your site without the plugins (pingdom.com). If the site loads faster, you know that there was an issue with one or more plugins. Then activate the plugins one at a time — timing the homepage load speed after each plugin is activated, to determine which plugin is causing the slowdown. Once you’ve discovered which plugin is causing the issue, find a replacement.
My Responsibility as a User of Open Source Plugins
We expect a plugin developer to spend hours writing code, debugging code, documenting that code, and setting up a user forum, so the folks that use that code can ask questions. How does the developer pay the rent and keep the lights on, if self-same folks that benefit from the plugins don’t donate some cash to the developers? What is keeping plugin developers engaged and willing to maintain and upgrade that plugin that makes your site do what you need it to do?
“Please reward the WordPress plugin developers that support the success of your site — make a donation!”
What is a Minimum Plugin Set for a Beginner-level WordSite?
Every WordPress site has at least six to seven areas of functionality that could benefit from a plugin. Those are:
- Comments and Comment Management
- Forms and Forms Management
- Site Optimization Tools
- Backups If your site is a store then add a seventh category of plugin
Basic Plugin Recommendations
Add Akismet — one of the only two plugins included with each WordPress.org install, Akismet, is the best- known and trusted spam-fighting tool for WordPress sites. If you don’t have the Akismet plugin activated your site has probably been slammed with hundreds of spam comments. Akismet helps clear out the SPAM comments so you can reasonably engage the legitimate feedback and opinions from your site’s commenters.
Where To Find It— https://wordpress .org/plugins/akis met/ Cost: FREE (they encourage donations to keep Akismet a top-rated plugin) You will need: Akismet API key (requires Akismet account or WordPress.org account through JetPack*) * More on JetPack in a later Class.
Comments and Comment Management
The Disqus (pronounced “discuss”) comment system replaces your WordPress comment system with your comments hosted and powered by Disqus. This plugin is both a service and tool for web comments and discussions. Disqus makes commenting easier and more interactive while connecting websites and commenters across a thriving discussion community. The Disqus for WordPress plugin seamlessly integrates using the Disqus API and by syncing with WordPress comments. Disqus features threaded comments and replies, notifications and reply by email, aggregated comments and social mentions, and powerful moderation and admin tools. This plugin offers a smooth interface that allows you to either manage your comments and discussions outside of your WordPress site, within your site or from the mobile app.
Where to find it: https://wordpress.org/plugins/di squs-comment-system/ Plugin offers a simple one-click installation —seamlessly integrates with WordPress without needing to edit any code without loosing existing comments.
Forms and Forms Management
Install Gravity Forms. Gravity Forms is referred to as a Premium Plugin. It is well worth the investment. It is the best form management WordPress plugin available. It provides easy to follow documentation so you will be able to create, manage, test and optimize any type of form your website needs. It has a large user base and it is easy to find answers to individual questions. Gravity forms also have extensions that allow you to tie your web forms to some of the most widely used CRMs like Salesforce. Gravity Forms is the Easiest Tool to Create Advanced Forms for Your WordPress Powered Website.
Where to find it: http://www.gravityforms.com/
Site Engine Optimization — SEO
The Only SEO Plugin You Will Ever Need — WordPress SEO by Yoast. If SEO is the question, then WordPress SEO by Yoast is THE ANSWER. If you want your site to be indexed properly and to even have a chance of competing organically, then your WordPress site needs this plugin. Don’t even bother with other SEO plugins or even themes that claim to have all of these features built-in. You will not find a better solution for SEO.
Where to find it: https://yoast.com/wordpress/plu gins/seo/ Go Premium You Won’t Be Sorry
WordPress Backup and Restore
BackupBuddy handles WordPress backup and restores files like a champ. What good is a backup if you don’t also have a way to restore your WordPress site? A solid WordPress backup solution must include both components: A complete backup – Unlike other WordPress backup plugins, BackupBuddy backs up your entire WordPress installation, including your media library, themes, plugins, widgets, content, settings plus your database. Don’t be fooled by backup plugins that only back up your database—that won’t be enough to restore your site in its entirety. A quick and easy way to restore WordPress – If something goes wrong, BackupBuddy can get your site up and running in no time using the restore function.
Where to find it: https://ithemes.com/backupbuddy/wordpress-backup-and-restore
WooCommerce is the WordPress Community’s eCommerce plugin of choice. For businesses or non-profit organizations that want to sell products and services from their website, the WordPress plugin WooCommerce is a best-in-class choice. The WooCommerce plugin offers multiple payment integration options, a simple to understand control panel and easy-to-follow documentation to guide you through configuration and implementation. This eCommerce plugin is a universal favorite.
Where to find it: https://woocommerce.com/
Deepti closed the class with a live Demonstration a Plugin Install and Deactivation and Q&A.
After Class Resources
I hope these class notes help. I have included a link to the class Slidedeck below. I’m sorry if the transfer from Keynote to PowerPoint format sometimes does odd things to the headers and some images. Deepti and I urge you to join and perhaps contribute to the Austin WordPress Tribe by volunteering to take notes for our wpauston.com website, present at WPATX meetups or helping with our annual WordCamp. You can always find the current class schedule at https://www.meetup.com/austinwordpress/ We look forward to seeing you at an Austin WordPress Meetup soon.
Follow me @sandi_batik / @WPATX / Contact me at: handsonwp.com / LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/hsandrachevalierbatik