Plugins are one of the handiest things about WordPress, allowing us to do all sorts of amazing things WordPress can’t do by itself. But like all great things, they have quirks. Here’s how to use them and tips for using them well.
What is a plugin?
A plugin adds functionality to your self-hosted WordPress site. You might think of plugins like you think of kitchen appliances. You have a kitchen which allows you to cook, but different appliances allow you to add more functionality to your kitchen. For example, if you want to make toast, you’d add a toaster. If you want to make waffles, you’d add a waffle maker.
In the same way, a self-hosted WordPress site is great on its own, but you can make it even more functional and easy to use by adding plugins. If you want to automatically backup your site, you’d add a backup plugin. If you want to add social sharing buttons to your posts, you’d add a social sharing plugin. You get the idea.
Plugins I use
I keep a running list here.
How to install plugins
I explained that here.
Plugins cannot be used with Blogger or WordPress.com
I know a lot of you use Blogger (the platform I’d use if I had to go with free). Unfortunately, plugins aren’t available on Blogger.
You can read more about WordPress and Blogger and whether or not to switch here.)
1. Plugins tend to slow your site down
Plugins draw on your site’s resources, so if you can avoid a plugin, do. The faster your site loads, the better. Not only does it make it nicer for your visitors, fast-loading sites have an SEO edge.
2. Plugins can be buggy
Plugins are written by all kinds of people with varying levels of expertise. Plus, things online change constantly. For those reasons, plugins sometimes wig out, or cause other things on your site to wig out. Therefore, plugins should be one of the first things you suspect if your site starts doing funny things.
3. Use plugins for function not fun
Because plugins can cause trouble, use as few as necessary. Avoid going plugin crazy. Unless it significantly improves the usability of your blog, I suggest you pass. Stick to only the most essential plugins that offer the highest benefit.
4. Keep plugins updated
Keep all your plugins updated. You can see any pending updates by hovering over Dashboard in the left column and clicking on Updates.
Alternatively, a red notification number will pop up next to your Plugins list in your Dashboard when there’s an update available.
5. Plugin troubleshooting
If you notice site trouble, deactivate your plugins one at a time (starting with your most recently installed one). If your site behaves properly again after a plugin is deactivated, it’s likely you’ve isolated the culprit.
At that point you can delete the offending plugin and try another one like it if it’s a necessity (search the Plugin Directory using similar keywords). You can also try contacting the plugin author for help, but this may or may not be fruitful depending on the plugin. Paid-for plugins should offer some type of support. If those options don’t help and you can’t live without it, you could hire someone to write a new one for you.
6. Just because someone you know uses a particular plugin doesn’t mean you should too
We’ve all done it. A big blogger professes their love for a particular plugin and we all race to install it (maybe thinking it’ll help us be big too?). Go easy on the plugins. Only install them as you need them. Plugins are handy, but generally they aren’t miraculous. Excellent content still wins.
7. Delete unused plugins
An installed plugin can exist in two different forms on your blog: activated or deactivated. A plugin that’s activated means it is functioning (turned “on”). A plugin that’s deactivated means it’s there but not functioning (turned “off”).
If you have a plugin that’s deactivated, it’s best to delete it. You’ll see the delete option if you hover over the plugin name under Dashboard –> Plugins –> Installed Plugins. If you’re one of those “but what if I need it later!??!” types, write the name of the plugin down on a “plugins I may want to use someday” list. You can always install it again later.
Don’t forget to check out my favorite plugins, plus the ones I’ve deactivated (and why).