A 7-Step Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Plugins
WordPress has earned much of its fame as a free and open-source content management system.
Installing it is easy. Learning and handling couldn’t be easier.
A big chunk of its fame (some would even consider it notoriety) has been earned thanks to plugins, which make it customizable and, of course, cause a problem or two here and there.
If you are new in the world of WordPress, there are common questions you will probably have about plugins.
Scroll down to check out the answers. (We promise we will speak plain English, and not PHP, CSS and other intimidating geeky abbreviations.)
What are plugins and why do I need them?
Here’s a common situation every non-techie user has witnessed at least once. You’ve got yourself a brand new PC. It came with an operating system, so you’re good to go with the use.
Hardly 5 minutes have passed and you already find yourself in need of that extra little thingy that just doesn’t seem to exist there or is really lousy, so you need some extra software. You don’t want the Internet Exploder (Sic!), so you download Chrome for free. That fancy new movie you were gonna watch – better check which video player is best. There are hundreds of them, free or paid. Which one to choose? Either ask Google, or other users. If you are into photo editing, Photoshop is the first thing that comes to mind, but there are many more editors if you can’t afford it. Some protection wouldn’t hurt either, so an antivirus needs to be acquired…Two weeks later, when you’re done with asking around, downloading, purchasing software, you’ll need something to help you get rid of all the junk files which tend to slow down your gadget’s performance.
Sure, you can spare yourself the trouble, bring your computer to the service and let them deal with it and make all fine adjustments for you.
Basically, the same goes for WordPress and its many plugins. They offer you the widest imaginable range of possibilities for your website. They are tools made to work out your website’s functionality and solve problems.
Truth be told, problem solving is not their sole purpose. There are plugins which provide a random Chuck Norris joke (even though 2000’s are ancient past already) or help your visitors express their disapproval of your website’s structure or content by shooting down its elements while playing Asteroids. It doesn’t make for an irretrievable loss, though. A single reload of the page and it all comes back. Shoot again, space warrior!
Plugins are a necessary evil and a great asset
A necessary evil – because WordPress wasn’t designed to serve you well on its own. It’s a skeleton on which you need to build muscles, sinews and blood. Some brains wouldn’t hurt either.
Whether you need precise stats, analytics, information about your visitors, or some SEO advantages, anything that can bring some additional backstage insights, or you just need something to make your website more neatly organized and functional for the visitors, or to keep it secure – there are plugins that have the power to do this. Damn, there are even plugins that were specifically made to handle and manage other plugins!
There are so many of plugins out there that it is virtually impossible not to be able to find one that will suit your need. Should it happen anyway, you can fill in the hole. WordPress relies on the sheer power of contributing, so feel free to learn PHP and write your own plugin, whether to sell it or give it for free, or keeping it to yourself if you like.
They are a great asset because you are the one who is in charge of the process, so there is no use of accusing WordPress if you’re experiencing problems. How good and functional is your website going to be depends on you and you alone. They do not solve problems by themselves, but they will provide you the necessary means to do it yourself. They are mere tools, not Supermen.
Being in control requires responsibility, so it’s up to you to make the best use of these little programs, or let some no-good guys in and mess things up.
How to choose the right plugins?
This part is not too difficult. The general rule is: if it’s good enough for a bazillion users, it’s probably good enough for you. If you happen to be a black sheep by nature, dye your fleece white in this case (there’s probably a plugin that will make it a no-brainer). Sorry, hipsters!
Being a black sheep in the WordPress community is neither cool nor smart. Choosing some anonymous SEO plugin over immensely popular Yoast isn’t what we call a smart decision.
So, whenever you look for a new plugin, check out the reviews. The author’s reputation should be the reason to say yay or nay. Some plugins are made by well established companies (such as Sucuri, one of the biggest website security corporations), while others are being made by anonymous developers. This isn’t to say that anonymous developers suck. This is just to say that you, as a user, wouldn’t want to take a risk of using something that hasn’t got the social proof yet.
Feel free to test plugins, of course. But be sure not to install two or more plugins which serve the same purpose.
Here are a few of our favorite plugins which we wholeheartedly recommend.
How am I to know that I have an issue with a plugin?
Just like all programs, plugins are written and coded so they would execute a command. There are many poorly coded ones which won’t perform well in your website’s ecosystem.
What can happen?
They can slow down your website. It’s 2017 and there’s no room for turtles on the Internet. Studies have shown that 40% of your website’s visitors will click X if it takes more than 3 seconds to load fully. There are free performance tests that can help you discover the culprit.
They can even get into a conflict with another plugin or the theme you’re using, which can cause your website to crash. Another bad user experience that could cost you visitors.
They can also… Well, this deserves a separate heading.
A bad plugin can jeopardize your website’s security
This is probably the biggest reason why you should only install plugins from trustworthy sources. It’s worthy to mention the so-called Mossack Fonseca case, the most notorious WordPress security breach in history, which was caused by a tiny little plugin.
There is no guarantee that a plugin is absolutely safe to use. However, some creators keep an eye on vulnerabilities and react quickly, releasing updates on a regular basis. One more reason why you should always choose plugins from reputable sources that take good care of their products.
Just like WordPress itself and the themes, plugins should be updated whenever there is an update. This is not just something you should choose to do when and if you have some spare time. It’s a must if you care about your online business. You should understand it as maintenance – sometimes it gets tedious, but it needs to be done. Or else…
So, how many plugins should I use?
Sorry, but we won’t tell you the exact number. Not because we want to keep our big secret safe, but because we would be phonies if we pretended there was a possibility to determine the exact number.
As we’ve already pointed out, there is an ocean of plugins. To be more precise, there are nearly 50 thousand of them at this moment, counting only those available within the official WP plugin directory.
An ocean is a diverse space, enchanting and dangerous at the same time. There’s plenty of tasty fish, but there are also dead and rotten animals. Another rule of the game is that a fish can get crippled by another fish or end up in its belly.
However, there’s no telling how many fish can live and breathe next to each other, and for how long. It doesn’t work in numbers.
To abandon the metaphor, you can have three dozens of plugins installed and have your website run perfectly, without any interruptions or problems. On the other hand, you can have only one plugin which is causing a problem, or two which can’t stand each other.
Hire someone to take care of your plugins
One of our main services is optimizing the performance of your WordPress website. This means we can see to it that you never ever have a problem with your plugins. We will remove those which are unnecessary, optimize the ones you need and monitor every potential security threat 24/7.
You can stop caring about your website’s security and pray that nothing ever happens.