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The “Traveler” Rules of WordPress Plugin Management

Wordpress Plugins Traveler Rules

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 

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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.

plain autograph

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)!

Signed selfie

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

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

raveler Rules of plugin management

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!

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • Hi Mario,

    Excellent! As a world traveler I am minimalist offline, and online. I need to be. So as a blogger I got serious about lean design and lean backoffices too, many years ago. If anything I went low in the functionality department so I could go light in the WP plug in department. Even if it caused my developer to go a bit wild LOL.

    How many plug ins do we REALLY need? Honestly? A few to speed things up. 1 for SEO. Others to have a few bells and whistles if each benefits your blog. But we all do pay a plug in price. Premium or free. Because you said it; the storage aspect of plug ins requires us to pay something for all tools. And that price gets super steep and stupid costly if a plug in or collection of ’em slows down our blogs, or affects performance in some other way.

    A while back I received emails from my readers; when they commented, the screen went white. No comment registered. Turns out my spam plug in did not agree with my theme. Changed to Disqus, but that went batty too. So I delete the old spam catching plug in, and Akismet, and found a solution that works with my theme. Gotta keep readers in mind to make all POP on the plug in angle. Speed is only 1 aspect of a blog’s performance.

    Less is more. Really. Many bloggers wrongly feel that a plug in is the difference maker – or collection thereof – but mental clarity on the front end, streamlining your blog, practicing your writing daily, commenting like me ;), sharing blogger’s posts on social and guest posting are fundamentals of successful blogging. Plug ins are just….plug ins. Icing on the cake. You could run a hyper successful blog with 1-2 or even….gasp….zero plug ins. Of course it is possible if you go super bare bones.

    Remember this when you feel a plug in binge download urge in your mind. Let it go. Stick to the fundamentals. Plug ins are merely the cherry on top. Load what feels useful and what benefits your blog without loading it down.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

    • Mario Ricalde

      Ryan,

      First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking some time of your day to write such a great comment, I truly appreciate it.

      You’re right. I don’t think that focusing too much on the bells and whistles that you can get by installing several plugins is worthwhile if the trade-off for that is slower load times or unstable servers. Install the bare minimum that you need to make what you want work, and focus on writing engaging content which keeps the users coming for more. WordPress is a tool; your content is king.

      Sincerely,
      Mario

  • I just love the analogy here in story form. It has a way to resonate with me.

    As for me, I rather have very few plugins than too many. I rely on just what I need and forget the rest of the bells and whistles. I use Yoast for SEO, Akismet to sort out my spam, and CommentLuv which are my favorites. There is a few others back there, but not many.

    I knew many bloggers that had one plugin work against another and boom…their blogs broke. I don’t fool around with plugins much because I leave that to my blog designer and host. He makes sure things are running correctly and answers all my questions. As you can tell, I’m not a techie person, so I delegate that part out.

    Thanks for the interesting story form!

    -Donna

    • Mario Ricalde

      Donna,

      I wrote this article with non-techies in mind, introducing technical subjects as an analogy is a great way to wrap your head around complicated subjects such as Technical Debt.

      Cheers!

  • Truckway

    this is very informative and interesting for those who are interested in blogging field.

  • Hi Mario,

    I love using plugins, and love how you referenced it to a traveler. I wouldn’t say that I am a light traveler. I like to take a little more luggage.

    However, I always make sure that my luggage is useful and I always take care of it. I really don’t download a lot of free plugins.

    Most of my plugins are premium plugins as I prefer to pay someone for the updates and keep my plugins up to date. I know how important it is to ensure that plugins are maintained. I’ve seen clients of mine hacked and I don’t ever want to have to deal with those types of issues.

    I actually just went through my plugins last month to see if I could delete any of them. I did end up deleting like 2 of them. I found a way to do what the plugin was doing without having to use it.

    If it’s a small task like adding an affiliate disclaimer or a policy page, I’ll do without the plugin. However, if it’s something that I need the plugin to keep doing. A functionality that I can’t seem to do, then unfortunately, I’ll have to keep the plugin.

    Great advice on only downloading plugins that have been maintained by the developer. I always look to see when the plugin was last updated before I even update it. I am also one of these people who like to see the plugin downloaded by several people before I even consider downloading it.

    Thanks for sharing these tips with us about plugins. So many bloggers think that they need a plugin for everything. The truth is, if you can do it without the need of a plugin, then you should.

    Of course sometimes, you’ll need a plugin to help you accomplish something you want done. The great thing is that you can always add the plugin and then remove it later if you decide you don’t want it.

    Have a a great day :)

    Susan

  • Great post Darren, thanks for sharing. If I had a $ for every plugin I have used over the last 5 years… I now try and max to 12 and they all have to have a long term gain/purpose. 90% of them are paid for plugins rather than free, ensuring support/updates and ongoing development.

    The problem is we all suffer from “shiny ball” syndrome and oooh look what that does, when reall we don’t need it.

  • Prabhakar Singh

    All excellent points and very important for all the aspiring bloggers to take a note. I would like to add that for writing quality content one must write from the heart, write about some thing you are passionate about and quality content will follow.

  • Ashok Kumar K R

    Hi Darren, thanks for the article! Inspiring !