I want to start off by saying plugins are nice. They can provide your website with just about every bit of functionality currently available on the web. In fact, I think that WordPress’s large repository, which consists of 43,717 plugins to date, makes it possibly the best Content Management System (CMS) available. But there are a few things everyone who manages their company’s WordPress site should know to keep them out of trouble before they begin adding a bunch of features.
- Plugins often leave a lot behind
- Plugins sometimes don’t play well together
- Plugins can make your site slower
- Plugins increase your vulnerability to hackers
On your home computer you can install and uninstall programs and it will probably not affect your computer much. Not so with plugins. Often times after you have deactivated and deleted a plugin from your WordPress installation, it will leave behind all sorts of stuff. Depending on what functionality the plugin offered it could leave behind pages that need to be deleted, sitemaps it created, and so forth. This can be a big deal because if you’re not careful you’ll find that your WordPress site has an awful lot of stuff that you don’t want or use–making your backend messy.
If you’re not careful you can easily add two plugins to your site that have overlapping functionality. For example Yoast SEO and W3 Total Cache do different things, but they both create sitemaps which Google “crawls” to make your site discoverable in a Google search. What happens when you have two plugins that conflict like this? In this case Google’s “spiders” will probably have a hard time indexing your site–which will hurt your search results. In more extreme cases, the two conflicting plugins could literally break your site.
Have you ever heard of the white screen of death? It’s what happens when your code conflicts to the point that nothing is displayed on your page. When it’s just a single page usually it’s not too hard to fix. If, however, the conflict is a serious one, having its root in the core of your WordPress installation, it will make it impossible to display anything on your entire site. Hence the white screen of death.
In our fast paced modern world where most people are browsing on mobile devices, speed is everything. If your page doesn’t load within four seconds you will loose 25% of people. Having a lot of plugins will weigh down on your site–making it slow. For this reason, it is suggested that you keep the number of plugins on your site down to a minimum.
There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule. For instance, there are caching plugins out there which are created to enhance your load time. But watch out for compatibility issues with these by checking out all the features and making sure they don’t overlap any features you already have, as I’ve already explained.
I know, sad but true. It would be nice if you didn’t have to worry about stupid geeks who can’t keep to themselves, but that’s not the world we live in. Plugins can create vulnerabilities, and you can never fully trust those who have created them. For these reasons, we suggest you install a security plugin that will protect you from the bad guys. One of our favorite plugins, and one that you’ll find on every site we build is iThemes Security. It’s got a lot of features that will keep your site safe. We suggest that you keep the number of plugins you install on your site to a minimum for this reason also.
An additional note that you might find useful is that a lot of plugins have a free version and a paid version. The free version almost never comes with any support and usually has less functionality. Support for plugins can be useful if you are having trouble setting it up or if something breaks.
The bottom line is that even though plugins are nice, you need to be careful not to get over zealous trying out new ones. We suggest that you decide, beforehand, which features you would like to present on your site and properly research which ones would be best so that you don’t accidentally run into any unintended consequences. If you run into trouble, drop us a line. We can give you a hand with just about anything – we love WordPress and we’d be happy to help.