WordPress Plugins

This is the third post in the How To Start A Blog series.

It would seem that the WordPress community has a love / hate relationship with WordPress plugins.

On the positive side, plugins are one of the primary reasons users and developers are drawn to use WordPress in the first place. Plugins offer a way to quickly add functionality to a WordPress site and there are literally thousands to choose from.

On the negative side, there is no process for monitoring plugin quality. While it is nice that anyone can create and distribute a plugin, there is no standard enforced. This means that you could install a poorly coded plugin and it could have a huge impact on your site’s performance.

I will share my thoughts on what you should consider when installing plugins and what WordPress plugins I use on my site.

Quantity

There have been several articles published on how many plugins a WordPress site should have. I will save you the reading time and cut to the answer… There is no “magic number”. But almost every article I have read concludes with the same message…

Simply be thoughtful and intentional about which plugins you do and do not install.

You see, every plugin you install impacts your site. More code needs to process, and depending on what the plugin does, more files and assets (ie. images, JavaScript, etc.) need to load. All of which can impact your site’s load time, which is a contributing factor to calculating SEO ranking. Keeping your plugin count low naturally reduces this impact and allows your blog to stay focused on what matters, which is publishing quality content.

Quality

To me, this is the most important part of choosing a plugin. If a plugin is developed well, then the number of plugins matters less. A well developed plugin that adheres to WordPress best practices should run like it is built as a part of a theme or the WordPress core. It is the plugins that are developed outside of these standards, either due to inexperience or ignorance, that cause the most damage to performance.

The best advice I can give here is to:

  • Know the plugin’s reputation. Has it been downloaded a lot? Do users rate it favorably? Then chances are less likely that the plugin will have adverse effects on your site. The WordPress plugins all have the total number of downloads and the ability to rate a plugin, even against multiple WordPress versions as WordPress updates can change functionality.
  • Know how current the plugin is. The WordPress platform changes, life gets busy, other, more advanced plugins come along, etc. There are several reasons development can halt on a plugin. Make sure you know the plugin is relatively current and that the plugin is still actively being developed. A simple email to the plugin developer can sort out any questions about this. The WordPress plugins also report the last updated date.
  • Know the plugin’s developer. Do they have a reputation in the WordPress community as respected developer? Do they have multiple plugins to demonstrate experience?
  • Know the code. If you are capable, take the time to look at the source code. It is good to peek under the hood. You might even learn something new.

I would also like to make a gentle nudge to WordPress plugin developers. You are ultimately responsible for the quality of your plugin’s code. Take the time to learn your craft and learn it as well as you can. Yes, we all have to start somewhere and I encourage that, but please take ownership and improve the quality of your WordPress plugins whenever possible. You and the WordPress community will be better for it.

Plugins I Use

Choosing the right theme can dramatically decrease the number of plugins you need to run. Since I use Standard Theme already comes with a vast majority of the functionality I need, I do not need to install very many plugins.

At this point, I am only running the following plugins on this site and I do not foresee the need to add very many more (if any).

  • Akismet is used to capture spam comments on your blog. My blog is only a few weeks old, but it did not take the spambots long to find it. Aksimet helps keep my comments clean and focused on real conversation.
  • Google XML Sitemaps helps search engines see my website better, which can help increase SEO. Better SEO visibility is never a bad thing!
  • Jetpack is actually a collection of plugins from Automattic, the makers of WordPress. The features of Jetpack I actively use are WordPress.com StatsSubscriptions, and Contact Form.
  • Public Post Preview is handy if I want someone to proofread a post before it goes live.
  • Single Post Message is the little yellow message box that appears at the beginning of some of my posts. It is a simple and easy way to add little notes about the post (like a blog series). This plugin was developed by my teammate and Tom McFarlin, so I know it is good. ;)
  • WP Gist is a plugin I created to add GitHub Gists to your posts / pages via a shortcode. It’s great for showing off or referencing code.
  • Standard Sticky Footer is a plugin I developed for Standard 3. It makes the footer / copyright stick to the bottom of the browser making shorter posts and pages. This is not a must have, but it looks super clean.
  • WP No Category Base removes the word “category” from your category URLs. This reads much more naturally, makes for shorter URLs, and is better for SEO. This is also a feature that 8BIT is considering adding to Standard, so that could make this plugin moot.

Like I sad, plugins are wonderful and they can add advanced functionality to your site quickly. We all just need to be mindful of what we are putting on our sites. For many of us, our sites are digital extensions of us. We should care greatly what they are doing for us and for our site.

How many plugins do you use? What are your “must have” plugins you cannot live without?

4 Comments

Michael, good stuff. I will start using Single Post Message right away – looks awesome. Do you use Jetpack’s contact form component? I have to push back on the “know the developer” suggestion. As an amateur blogger, I find pluggins because I have a specific purpose in mind. If I find one that works, I look for red flags or I just install it. Sure, bad on my part – but I’d love to hear other strategies for vetting these developers. One thought: wouldn’t it be cool if the developer could reveal if it’s coded by WP standards? Then the community could verify that?

    Yes, I do use Jetpack’s contact form component. It is one of the three features I use in Jetpack all the time, as I outlined in the post.

    The “know the developer” is a nice to have item and not a requirement. This is the hardest suggestion to follow in the quality sections as there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of WordPress developers out there. I am not saying that you need to know them personally, but do a bit of cyber stalking. If you visit their site and the have a blog, are they discussing WordPress and displaying detailed knowledge of the platform? Is their Twitter stream filled with WordPress talk? Just look for hints that they actually know what they are doing and not just slinging code.

    The WordPress plugins system does have a rating system. While not detailed enough to track if they are using WordPress standards, they should be enough to know if there are any major red flags. It would be really nice if WordPress had some sort of vetting system in place… It is really nice that anyone can list a plugin. The zero barrier is inviting, but that also means there is no accountability. I am not suggesting that WordPress go the way of the Apple App Stores where absolutely everything needs to be approved before it hits the shelves, but that does organically vet higher quality code to a degree. There has to be a happy medium in there somewhere…

    Good questions! Keep them coming! :)

When I initially left a comment I appear to have
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    William : :

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