Should You Install That WordPress Plugin?

The WordPress platform gives such flexibility and cool features that you can install with the glorious download of a simple plugin that will do everything you want it to do. Although some plugins are developed to make money, most plugins are often developed to solve a need that isn’t being currently met by WordPress.

However, before you download that super plugin that will do exactly what you want it to do, do your homework first.

Recently I had the unfortunate experience of upgrading to the new WordPress 3.4.2 version and had my site completely go ugly. The home page was blank, the blog page could only display one blog at a time, and the sidebar “disappeared”. It was a mess. However, the new version of WordPress wasn’t the issue. It was those darn pesky plugins.

Like a good website administrator I upgraded to the new WordPress version 3.4.2 and then I noticed that I had some plugins to update as well. So I updated six of them and bam – the whole site bombed. I wasn’t quite sure that it was the plugins because I didn’t notice it right away. The blog posts were still working and I was writing some new posts for the week. But about an hour or so later I took a look and it was chaos.

I quickly jumped over to LinkedIn’s WordPress group and posted “I need help!” and as always, a handful of people came to my rescue immediately. The first comment was from Martin Malden who said, “The problem is almost certainly caused by a plugin” and he was right. I restored to a backup from the previous day, deactivated all of my plugins and then reactivated them one by one to see which one was the culprit. It was my social sharing buttons. Go figure. I also found a plugin that although wasn’t causing me any significant problems, when I jumped over to the author’s plugin page I noticed that a bunch of people were complaining about the plugin’s compatibility with the new WordPress version, so I deactivated that one too.

My lessons learned:

  1. Wait at least a month before upgrading to the new WordPress version.
  2. When an existing plugin needs to be updated, read the changelog to see what was fixed or changed. If it doesn’t say, then don’t update it.
  3. Check out the author’s plugin page to see if anyone reported any issues with the new update.

And in further research, I ran across another blog from Jonathan Wold on Six Revisions who basically went on about the same subject on plugins and how they can cause security issues, slow down your page load,  and expose you to long term risks. It’s actually a good read and I recommend you check it out.

So what’s a person to do? Jonathan suggested to ask yourself six questions:

  1. Do you really need this plugin? If not, then don’t install it. But chances are you probably think you need it.
  2. Can you do what you need without this plugin? If so, don’t install. For example, you don’t really need a Google Analytics plugin. You can manually insert the code into your site and then track your analytics via Google’s Analytics dashboard.
  3. Is this plugin better than other competing plugins? Make a list and do your homework.
  4. Who has the most credibility? If you are selecting from a list of multiple plugins that can do the same thing, then look at the author. Check the WordPress directory to see the ration of support tickets entered and how quickly they were resolved.
  5. Does this plugin have a good update track record? (meaning do they update it when WordPress changes? Look at the Changelog)
  6. Which plugin has the most widespread adoption? How many times was it downloaded? What were its ratings?

So, please learn from my experience and tread carefully when using WordPress plugins. I beg you.

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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.