We get asked a LOT about what plugins to use, how to use them, how to fix them. We also get asked how you can make your blog look better, load faster, perform better. We’ll be answering these questions in our upcoming “Top 7 plugins for . . .” series. However, before we all go plugin crazy, here’s a sage story from ProBlogger Developer Mario Ricalde on the use of plugins and some recommended rules to keep your blog in top shape.
Plugins and WordPress are two terms that are often used in the same sentence. You want your WordPress installation to do something that it doesn't currently? No Problem! There's a high chance that there's a plugin that is just right to achieve just that and more.
As of right now, there's close to fifty thousand WordPress plugins available on the official plugin directory, and much more available in third party non-official sources. With this many plugins at your fingertips, I can guarantee that you'll find whatever you need. However, using a favorite quote:
"With great power comes great responsibility" - Learn how to manage your WordPress plugins
Quite often, as a user, you'll find yourself with a problem that you want to solve, let's say a feature you want to add to your WordPress installation, and it's quite tempting to "fix it" by browsing around for plugins. On its own is not a bad practice, at least not the first couple of times; however, down the line, after you repeat this process several times you'll find yourself carrying a lot of "extra luggage."
As a Software Engineer, that has been working for over twelve years in the field, I'm no stranger to this problem. I'm sure, that as a WordPress user, you will find a lot of sense in my words, even if you don't know the technical terms. At the end of the day we are all aware how sluggish a WordPress installation can feel when you have a little bit too much on top of it.
WordPress: The Light Traveler
Let's visualise your WordPress blog as a celebrity that decides to go on a journey, destination and length unknown. Along that journey our traveler is frequently stopped and asked for autographs.
Our well-known traveler carries everything she needs to deliver, pen and white paper, in her backpack. Every time someone approaches her, she stops, reaches into her bag to pull what she needs to compose her note to her fan and signs it. Once she's done, she'll put everything back in her bag and carry on with her journey.
Since she doesn't have too much to juggle our traveler can quickly stop and handle this easily. Several needing her attention one after another? No problem, she can pull out the paper and the pen quickly, signing and moving on without too much trouble.
All is fine and dandy, but it's not as great as it could be. She feels what she's delivering is boring and looks unprofessional. Let's say our traveler wants to give more interesting things to her fans - something that will make her stand out from the other celebrities.
So our traveler decides that she needs better paper, one that has decorations on it. She also wants to use different pens depending on the occasion (theme). She decides that she will offer the option to take a selfie with her and give them as a souvenir, maybe also an on the spot voice recording to go with that (lots of different plugins)!
Suddenly the backpack that our traveler was carrying is full of things that she might need for those fans of hers. Not only that, she's now carrying several small bags that she needs to take with her everywhere she goes. Our once light traveler is not only moving slower along her path due to the added weight, but she's also having to juggle through all her belongings depending on the request. This causes her to let her fans down by making them wait unnecessarily, sometimes even missing them altogether.
Extra Luggage: aka Technical Debt
Our traveler wanted to give something more personalized so she got herself some camera equipment that would allow her to take a photo and deliver it instantly to her fans. However, she has no real idea how it works. She didn't properly research if the camera was right for the job, so sometimes it fails or the print comes out smudged without her knowing why.
And those fancy pens that she got? They were not as easy to use as the one she originally had, she now had to unscrew a cap before being able to write, making the whole process slower.
Suddenly our traveler finds herself struggling with all the additions designed to improve her fans’ experience with her. Since she doesn't know how things work, she can't tell that the camera that she bought was poorly made, just like her pen. All she can do is work around it.
Slippery Floor: aka Server Issues
Time goes by, and our traveler decides to add even more things for her fans, she finds herself carrying a lot of luggage. It's at this point that she becomes aware of how slippery the floor is. Moving around is not easy, and any sudden movements might cause her to fall, preventing her from paying attention to her fans.
Not only that, but when she needs to stop to deliver the usual autograph, more often than not she finds herself sliding around and dropping things.
We all know how bad it looks when you fall flat on your back, it would be a disaster if her fans saw that, it could even cost her more popularity than her inability to deliver quickly!
How Much of Other People's Luggage are You Carrying?
At this point, it's clear that some of the luggage (plugins) that our traveler selected brought some unexpected things with them. This is a form of Technical Debt, a concept in programming that reflects the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best practice solution.
Just like our traveler with her poorly made camera, we'll find ourselves installing a plugin that has a large amount of technical debt that could cause performance issues with our WordPress installation. Security is another thing to consider, since a poorly made plugin could compromise your WordPress Installation.
So what should you do? Simple, put yourself in the position of that traveler!
The 'Traveler' Rules
1. Search for information before committing to bringing something with you, you're paying for it (even if it's free)!
The world is big, and the chances are that the problem that you're trying to solve is already solved by someone else. This means that you're probably going to find more than one solution for that feature you're trying to get into your WordPress installation.
Once more think of yourself as a Traveler, this time with a limited budget regarding how much you can spend, and how much you can carry.
Remember, this is not a race. You're spending your hard earned money on something that you'll use often. You want to make sure that you have the best tool for the job.
It's sensible for you to do quite a bit of research when shopping around for that fancy camera that you want, your daily driver. It's the same for plugins. You want to make sure that the plugin that you're bringing with you has good reviews, is actively being developed and is not too heavy on resources.
3 Questions to Ask before Installing a Plugin
1. Is the Developer a well-known contributor? Do they have other popular plugins?
2. Is the plugin updated often?
3. Has the plugin been downloaded/installed enough times by other people?
If you answer "Yes" to all of these questions you can be more confident about installing the plugin. However, if you answer "No" to any of the questions above, you might not have enough feedback to know if the plugin is good and secure enough for you to install.
3 More Questions to Ask
1. Has anyone mentioned any possible security risks when installing this plugin?
2. Has anyone said they had a drop in performance when installing this plugin?
3. Is this plugin doing too much? Does it bring more things than what I need to implement my feature?
If you answer "Yes" to one of those questions, you're possibly better off finding another alternative.
2. Keep Track of What You Carry and Make Sure it's in Perfect Shape
Commitment. That's the one word that you need to repeat over and over when you install a plugin. Like a traveler, you only want to carry the things that are necessary for your travels. You don't want your camera to fail while you're out there! Nor do you want to find out that your tent is broken!
I recommend keeping notes on why you install each plugin - what is its purpose? Then review this list every time you install a new plugin. Down the line you'll likely find something is no longer required (in which case you should go to Rule #3).
3. Get Rid of those Things that are No Longer Relevant
Unorganized travelers tend to carry around all the things they pick up from the places they visit. That coat that you needed during the Winter in Europe? You probably shouldn't be carrying it around now that you're in South Africa during Summer!
Remove plugins that you don't use enough. Remember, the more you carry, the more you need to monitor. Having fewer plugins is good for your install and your sanity. Don't be afraid of removing a plugin that you only use on one page, ask yourself:
1. Can I use this plugin somewhere else?
2. Will removing this plugin will destroy my site?
If you answer "No" to both of these questions, you probably should remove that plugin.
4. Stay Up to Date with What Other Travelers are Saying About Their Tools
You're not traveling alone! We live in the world of the Internet; you can be up to date with everything relevant to your travels. You should do the same with your tools.
Follow WordPress vulnerability lists such as the WPScan Vulnerability Database.
Join communities where you can talk about the plugins that you use and ask for feedback from peers that are more than happy to share their thoughts on certain plugins, such as the ProBlogger Community.
Remember: You’re not alone, someone will always be willing to help a fellow traveler going through hardships. We’re all travelers on this blogging journey after all!