WordPress Plugin Overview

What are wordpress plugins?

by: Dan Jeffers

A plugin is a simple way to add specific functions to the website. It is a piece of code that can be added through the admin interface, making it easy for non-coders to tailor the WordPress website to their needs. Plugins are created by developers across the large WordPress community and submitted to the codex. Frequently, popular plugins are maintained and updated by many coders within the community. Some are also created by companies and sold as premium plugins.

Plugins can add forms, calendars, increase website speed, and add social media integration. E-commerce and newsletter plugins allow WordPress to easily integrate with other platforms. Some provide better image displays or multi-media integration for videos or sliders. If you think ¨I wish my website would do something fascinating,¨ try searching for a plugin, because someone else may already have solved the problem.

When should you use plugins?

There are nearly 50,000 plugins in the WordPress codex, and many more are available through commercial or other services. Each one can be a temptation, but we need a little discipline in deciding when to use plugins to solve particular problems on our websites.

The first question should always be: do I need to do anything? Just because something can be done, and maybe it looks clever, doesn’t mean it should be done. Website design always goes back to the original goals of the website and satisfying the user. Adding elements, tricks, and functionality that doesn’t meet these goals actually takes away from them.

If we need to add functionality of any kind, we need to ask whether a plugin is the best way to do so. Many themes add a lot of functionality to the WordPress platform, and we often solve problems by using theme customization. On the other hand, we can also add code to files that accomplishes our goals more directly. Of course adding code requires knowledge and skills.

Plugins are still often a better choice than using either theme functionality or coding, though. Good plugins have been tested in many situations by many users. They are updated frequently to answer security issues or to be compatible with platform updates. They can also be more easily removed if there are conflicts or if no longer needed.

When should you not use plugins?

Almost every WordPress installation is better off with a few well-chosen plugins, and some that require a lot of functionality may have dozens or even hundreds to help them work properly. But plugin bloat is a problem for a lot of WordPress sites. Not because of the number, but because they have accumulated over time and there is no clear reason for some of them. Plugins may conflict with each other, and neglected plugins can sometimes create security vulnerabilities. Some can also degrade site performance

There is no real value to keeping plugin use to an artificially low level. But plugins that are unnecessary or redundant are bogging down your website. Plugins that are outdated, poorly built, or not well maintained are an issue. It makes sense to regularly go through and eliminate plugins that are not critical to your website goals.

What are the most important plugins?

This is not an exhaustive or even a must-have list. These are plugins that are commonly used and are generally well-regarded, most have a free version and are easy for relative beginners to use. All of these have a free version, and can be found on the WordPress Codex.

Proper search engine optimization can only be done if you can control elements such as page titles and meta-description tags at the page level. The easiest way to do this is with a plugin, such as Yoast SEO. We have used Yoast for years and find it very helpful, though it has some functionality that can lead inexperienced SEO people into bad practices. Another option that is quite popular is the All in one SEO pack. Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack

Content management systems such as WordPress can be slower to load than straight html websites. One work-around for this problem is use a caching plugin to speed up the process. The two most popular cache plugins are WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache. Super Cache tends to be easier for beginners to use, while W3 is a bit more customizable. WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache

Jetpack is an all-in-one plugin that has a lot of functionality that has proven popular on the WordPress.com platform. While some all-in-one packages can be kind of a garbage can collection, this one has been tested and refined over the years and remains very popular. Some of this functionalities are free site stats and analytics, free automatic sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, and WhatsApp, and paid search engine optimization tools for Google, Bing, Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress.com. Jetpack

If you allow people to comment on your posts or pages, you will receive a lot of spam. Akismet is a system that helps filter comments and get rid of the bulk of the spammy ones. The plugin needs to be combined with the service, and there is both a free and paid level. Akismet

Notifying Google of the website structure is an important boost to the SEO process. Google’s webmaster tools allows users to upload XML sitemaps. This tool simplifies the process of creating these documents. Google XML Sitemaps

One element that frequently slows down websites is the size of the images that need to be loaded. Most images are larger than necessary for the Web and can be easily compressed without any loss of resolution online. There are several popular tools that allow you to do this as you upload images, some of these also allow you to go into directories and optimize existing images. We have found that the EWWW free version seems to outperform the free version of the other tools. WP Smush or Imagify or EWWW Image Optimizer

Another way to address the image issue is to use a plugin to control when images are loaded. A web page that has a lot of images below the fold could load a lot more quickly if those images aren't loaded up right away. The Lazy Load plugins use placeholders until images are actually needed. BJ Lazy Load is the most current popular plugin for this task. BJ Lazy Load

Some themes have a lot of customization features and many include so-called page-builders that give the user a lot of control over the layout. Website builders with coding skills can make changes to the CSS of the website in order to make the changes they need. But if you really need to make alterations to the design of your site without getting into the CSS details, you can use a tool like Yellow Pencil to make the changes with a simple drag, click, and menu interface.Yellow Pencil

There are many plugins that make it easy to integrate social media into your website. A lot of themes include this functionality but a popular plugin that will do it for you is Social Icons

Google analytics is a key tool for tracking performance and supporting SEO and web content decisions the plugin we use to manage the Google Analytics code on a website is MonsterInsights though some people also use the YOAST package or others to perform this function.

The most popular plugin for creating contact forms on a website is the Contact Form 7

Free vs. Paid Plugins

Paid plugins are not necessarily better than free plugins. but there are many more bad free plugins than there are bad paid plugins. The best free plugins are generally very high quality and well supported. The biggest advantage for paid plugins is that you can call and get technical support easily, whereas with free plugins you regularly just go to a forum or figure it out yourself. Paid plugins are generally easier to use for the inexperienced users. A paid plugin will often include more features, though you may not need all of them.

When to call us for help?

If you have time to navigate the world of plugins you can probably solve most of your wordpress problems and create the website you really want, but getting it right is important and you may not have that time as a business owner in which case, give a call and we will help you out.