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5 Tips on choosing and using WordPress Plugins

With nearly 50,000 free plugins to choose from the world of WordPress Plugins is your oyster. But don’t go mad.

5 Tips on choosing and using WordPress Plugins

One of the huge benefits of WordPress is the fact that you can extend the functionality of your site through the use of Plugins and, with nearly 50,000 to choose from for free at the WordPress.org plugin directory, the world of WordPress plugins is your oyster. But don’t go mad.

Plugins exist and should only be used to add functionality, improve usability and enhance the design of your site. Some do a better job than others. Some neatly do what they say on the tin while some seem to unleash unwitting chaos and destruction on your website. And more often than not this is because some don’t mix well with one of the others.

So before you go installing a whole bunch of plugins to your new site consider what you really need and be a little bit discerning before you click on the install button.

1. Less is more… or is it?

So this is true if you add loads of unnecessary widgets and whistles to your otherwise clean, fresh and easy to use website.

Despite what you might think, you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with how many plugins you have installed and activated on your site. As long as they are functioning as they should, and serving their purpose, the actual number is not the most important consideration. More important is the quality of the code and how resource intensive and secure a plugin is.

But how could you possibly know that? But if you’re new to WordPress and the world of plugins, and the chances are that this is the case or you wouldn’t be here, how do you know a beautifully coded plugin when you see one? Well you don’t, but there are ways of finding out.

2. Quality and quantity

After you’ve done a search, and you’re browsing through the plugins that apparently meet your needs, you don’t have to rely entirely on the information provided by the developer to make your decision.

On the install page you can see how many active installs there are of the particular plugin and what star rating it has along with the number of reviews the that rating was based on. You will also see when the plugin was last updated and if it is compatible with your version of WordPress. If you’re looking at something with 1+ million active installs and a 4 or 5 star rating based on thousands of reviews, you’ll know that you’re in pretty safe hands.

It’s not always as obvious as that of course so there are other ways of working out the quality of the plugin. These include checking for unresolved support requests by looking at the support tab or simply googling it to see what people are saying about it.

If you happen to install a dud – perhaps it just didn’t do what you wanted it to do or it sent your site into meltdown – you can always deactivate and delete. However, it is better to have a pretty good idea about a plugin before you install it as poorly coded plugins can leave a footprint even after deletion.

3. The best things in life are free… or are they?

Generally speaking if you buy a plugin from a reputable developer you’ll end up with something that functions as it should and is backed up by decent support and regular updates. But don’t be fooled into thinking that premium is always better.

There are a huge number of free plugins available made by reputable developers. Do a bit of homework to see which developers other WordPress users are buying from.

4. The updating game

OK, listen up, this is an important one. To keep your site functioning and secure it is vital that you update your plugins regularly. This includes deactivated plugins. The best advice is to use ’em or lose ’em.

Why is this so important? Active plugins that are not updated, and deactivated plugins that languish unused and out of date in you backend, can become a security risk and may also conflict with WordPress updates and any new plugins that you install.

When updating your plugins please don’t be tempted to do it using the bulk action option. This is only a time saver if no conflicts occur. Taking a little bit of extra time to update each plugin individually allows you to identify any conflicts as they arise rather than going through the laborious process of finding the problem retrospectively.

Which leads me to my final point…

5. When Plugins conflict

This takes us back to the quality and quantity issue that we touched on in point 2. Sometimes plugins conflict and the more you have installed the more likely it is that will occur. And this is the argument for keeping things simple on your site especially if you are new to WordPress.

What to do when you think that you have a conflict?

One good rule is to do a back-up before you update your plugins. That way if something breaks you can just restore your site and you sanity from the backup.

But let’s assume that you didn’t do a back up. Yes, it happens. Now you’ll need to manually check each plugin to find the offender which you do by deactivating the whole lot and then reactivating them one by one to find the conflict. This may take some time and will have a potentially negative effect on your live site while you are doing the work.

Once you know which plugin is causing the problem you can turn to the support forum on WordPress.org to see there is a resolution or find another plugin to do the same job.

Sophie is co-founder and author of Website-Guide.co.uk. With nearly a decade's experience in WordPress and writing for the web she is pleased to share her knowledge to help others set-up their websites. If you need some help with this you'll find her at Bird on the Hill

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