Plugins are one of the key features that make WordPress the most popular choice for webmasters today. Put simply, they extend the functionality of WordPress to new heights.
As a result, new WordPress users often tend to get a little plugin-happy and go off on a plugin installation rampage, downloading and activating everything they can get their hands on.
Needless to say, this isn’t the right approach to take. Before you install and activate a plugin, you need to be aware of the following five things.
1. Plugins Can Skyrocket Your Page Load Time
Page load speed is a very important, yet often overlooked, factor. According to KISSMetrics, almost 50% of Internet users expect webpages to load within two seconds. If it still hasn’t loaded after three seconds, they often abandon the website altogether.
If the plugin hasn’t been coded well and takes up too much space on the server, it will increase the size of each webpage which will in turn increase your page load time.
A handy tool to keep track of your page load time is Pingdom. One cool aspect that sets Pingdom apart is that it gives you a very detailed analysis as to what increases your page load time, so you know exactly which plugins are taking up too much space on the server.
2. Plugins Can Contain Malicious Code
WordPress.org’s team reviews each and every plugin before making it available for download on their website. As a result, it is unlikely (although possible) that you will find plugins with malicious code on WordPress.org.
However, WordPress plugins are also available for download on “independent” sites. Downloading plugins from most sites other than WordPress.org represents a greater risk.
Before downloading a plugin, make sure you do your homework and check up on the creator of the plugin and the site upon which it is hosted. Do they have a proven track record with a large number of positive reviews? Have they created other plugins before?
3. Outdated Plugins Can Throw Your Site Into Maintenance Mode
If you are thinking of installing a plugin created in 2007, check to make sure that it still works with the current versions of WordPress. (Generally speaking I would advise that you avoid such plugins altogether, but do with that advice as you wish.)
Outdated plugins that are no longer compatible with the latest WordPress updates can throw your site into an internal server error as soon as you activate them. As you probably already know, every second of downtime hurts your blog badly.
On the right-hand sidebar of the WordPress.org download page for any plugin, there should be a box that tells you whether or not the plugin in question has been tested with the latest version of WordPress. If it hasn’t, tread cautiously.
4. For Every Function, There Are a Hundred Different Plugins
If you care to look, you’ll find a hundred different social sharing plugins, a hundred different search engine optimization plugins, and a hundred different contact form plugins. (Okay, maybe not exactly a hundred of each, but you get the idea.)
My point is this: for each function, there isn’t necessarily a “best” plugin.
For example, different social sharing plugins with different styles work for different websites running different themes.
Make sure you test a few plugins before deciding on the one you want for your blog — don’t just settle on the first one you find.
5. Always Ask Yourself: “Can I Do Without This Plugin?”
If your blog will be none the worse for not installing the plugin, then simply don’t install it. Quite a few people just install plugins thinking that they might find a use for it somewhere down the line (I know I sure did). In the coming months, though, they don’t even touch it.
If you don’t use it, it shouldn’t be there. Period. Every saved kilobyte counts.
WordPress plugins can be instrumental in increasing your blog’s performance. But be careful whenever you install a new plugin — ensure that it’s compatible with your version of WordPress, that the developer behind it is trustworthy, and that it won’t cause too much of a drag on your load time.
But most of all, always ask yourself if you really need the plugin and if it will really help you take your blog to the next level. If not, it’s just unnecessary cruft.