Continuing in our WordPress series, we will now turn our attention towards WordPress plugins. If you have missed the previous installments of this series, you can find them here: initial optimization steps, WordPress security and WordPress SEO. With that said, we know that a WordPress plugin can be used to extend the functionality and features of WordPress. If you have been an active user of WP, you might already have installed multiple plugins to handle SEO, security, as well as various other features for your website.
But what separates a good plugin from a bad one? You can find numerous free and premium WP plugins for the same type of task — how do you find out which one is the right one? Also, is there such a thing as “too many WordPress plugins”?
In this article, we shall find the answers for these questions.
How to Find the Right WordPress Plugin?
If you were to search for “seo” in the WordPress plugin repository, you will come across thousands of results. Similarly, for any popular category of plugin, there are several ones out there. As such, how do you find the best one? You cannot, after all, possibly try them all one by one.
The methodology to distinguish a good plugin from the rest is simple.
Check Frequency of Updates
You should install a WordPress plugin only if it is under active development. if the plugin in question has not been updated in over a year, don’t bother installing it.
New security issues and bugs are discovered quite often, and as a result, WordPress and its plugins or themes need to be updated regularly to safeguard your site from such threats. Plus, as new WP features are added and obsolete ones are discarded, plugins and themes too need to evolve and stay updated. Obviously, if your WP plugin is not being updated regularly, it can put your site at risk due to security issues and even cause compatibility problems with newer WordPress versions.
Almost all premium plugin marketplaces, as well as the official WP repository, show the “Last updated” statistic very prominently.
This especially applies to free WordPress plugins. If a given plugin has less users, the developer might lose interest in the product since the community’s response is not positive. On the other hand, a highly popular plugin means the developers have a reason to add more features and functions.
Plus, a popular plugin means it has been tested and is being used under different case scenarios, and tends to be more bug-free and stable. Of course, this does not mean a WordPress plugin with less active users is always a bad plugin, but a plugin with over a million active users generally fares better than a similar one with 10 active users.
Read the Reviews
For all premium WordPress plugins as well as the popular free ones, be sure to go through users’ reviews. That can give you a fair idea about what to expect — cases wherein the plugin may not do well, its limitations, how well the developers are responding to users’ feedback, and so on.
Reading the plugin documentation too can prove useful, but user reviews tend to offer a more versatile and practical picture.
What if my Plugins Consume too Many Resources?
We have all been there and heard it way too many times — you activate a few WordPress plugins, and your site becomes bloatware. So, are plugins really that bad?
Simply put, you cannot run a decent WordPress website without activating and using a few plugins. WP does not come with sitemaps and SEO features of its own and you need a plugin for that. WP is not inherently insecure, but you need a security plugin to keep bad guys away. As such, what if you are getting performance issues when activating plugins?
The first step here is to ensure you are on a good web hosting plan. If your host offers less memory resources and poor quality servers, WP simply cannot run properly.
Next, plugin selection should be a judicious procedure. Most of the time, users tend to activate and use plugins that are not always necessary, and ignore ones that are. You should try to outsource some tasks, rather than relying on WordPress plugins for everything.
Take up the case of showing “related posts” after content to your readers. This is a crucial section of any blog or magazine. However, while there are several related posts’ plugins out there, you do not really need one that parses your site on your own server. Relying on an external free or premium service, such as Contextly or Jetpack Related Posts module, is a better choice. Most plugins that scan for related posts tend to parse and thrash your database — this leads to multiple database revisions and readings and slows down your site. External services, on the other hand, use an API to read your content and do not repeatedly make calls to your database.
Similarly, using a service such as Disqus to manage your comments or MailChimp for your newsletters is a wiser idea as compared to using plugins that run from within your hosting account entirely.
You can make use of free plugins such as WP Page Load Stats or UsageDD to check plugin performance. Essentially, these plugins output the calls and queries made to your database and memory consumed — if a given plugin is malfunctioning, you will see a difference in the number of queries and calls upon activating or deactivating the plugin.
If you are using a plugin that makes drastic changes to your site, such as addition of custom content types, make sure you pick one that has an exit door. Look for “export/import” sections in the plugin details — you would not want to be locked down to a defunct plugin simply because you cannot export your data out of it.
Lastly, it is obvious that you should always keep your plugins updated and download free ones only from WordPress.org repository or buy premium ones from reputed developers.
In the next and final part of the series, we will be taking a look at some optimization methods and usage ideas for WordPress themes.
Up Next in the Series:
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