WordPress plugins: how & when to use them (and when you shouldn’t)

WordPress plugins: how & when to use them (and when you shouldn't)

WordPress Plugins n.
Plugins are ways to extend and add to the functionality that already exists in WordPress
source: wordpress.org


What is a plugin?

Your WordPress installation includes the basic functionality you need to publish your site, but it stops there to keep the site lean and lightweight.

Plugins, then, allow you to add custom features one at a time to meet your specific needs and wants. There are plugins that offer recipe card formatting, SEO tools, social share buttons, and more.

In fact, there are almost 55,000 free plugins available, plus thousands of premium paid plugins! With so many options to choose from, it can be tempting to add feature after feature to your site.

Plugins are a core feature of WordPress and a great way to customize and improve your site. But it’s important to be choosy in the ones you add to your site because:

  1. Each time you add another plugin, it adds additional complexity to your site. If the plugins aren’t coded carefully, this can affect your site speed.
  2. Not all plugins are compatible, and incompatible plugins can break one another.
  3. Plugins can introduce security vulnerabilities to your site.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use plugins; you should! But it’s important to choose plugins carefully. You want to be sure the ones you do install are well-written and from reputable developers.

Finding reputable plugins

Before installing any plugin, you want to consider the plugin’s reputation. The best place to start is in a trusted plugin repository:

Using a repository lets you check things like the number of times a plugin has been downloaded or reviewed, how recently it’s been updated, whether it’s compatible with the latest version of WordPress, and if anyone has referred to it as “unsafe” in their review.

A popular plugin that is updated regularly and has tons of downloads and high reviews is safer than a newer plugin. That doesn’t mean the new plugin is unsafe; it just means there’s a bit more of a risk involved.

In that case, you may want to also check out the developer’s site and other plugins. Do they have a good reputation in general? Is their site up to date and working correctly?

Reviewing the reputation of each plugin you want to install is a great way to ensure that you’re only adding safe plugins to your site. You’ll also want to watch for compatibility issues after you activate the plugin. (More on that below!)

Installing, activating & using plugins

Once you’ve selected a plugin you’d like to add to your site — whether to help you take care of business on the backend or to improve your readers’ experience — you can install it.

Screenshot of plugin directory

To install plugins from the WordPress repository:

  1. Log into your WordPress admin, then click Plugins.
  2. Click on Add New.
  3. Search for the plugin by its keyword, author or tag and hit Enter.
  4. Find the plugin you want to install and click Install Now.
  5. Click Activate.

To install a premium plugin:

  1. For plugins that are sold directly by a developer, you should receive a link to download the plugin as a ZIP file after purchase.
  2. Once you’ve downloaded the file, log into your WordPress admin, then click Plugins.
  3. Click Add New. Then, Upload Plugin and Choose File.
  4. Find the file from step 1, and click Open and Install Now.
  5. Click Activate Plugin.

After you’ve installed a plugin, it’s time to adjust the settings. How customizable a plugin is varies. If there are settings for you to adjust, the plugin should show up on the left sidebar of your WordPress dashboard, either as a standalone menu item or under the Settings or Tools menu.

Next, visit the front end of your site and click through several posts, pages, and forms to be sure everything is still working as it should. If you encounter problems at this point, try deactivating the new plugin from the Plugins page to verify that the new plugin is the problem.

The importance of regular plugin audits

No matter how many plugins you have installed, it’s important to update them regularly. Ideally, you’ll make this a part of your monthly routine (along with checking your stats and setting goals for the next month!).

Screenshot of installed plugins list

To do a plugin audit, log into your WordPress dashboard and click on Plugins. Then review each plugin on the list:

  • Does it need to be updated? If so, click on Update Now.
  • After each update, click through a few pages and forms on your site to make sure everything is still working as expected. This can help you isolate any compatibility issues.
  • Are you still using the functionality, or can it be deactivated & deleted?
  • Is there a single plugin that handles the features of several of your plugins in one package?
  • Has it been awhile since you’ve updated a particular plugin? Visit the plugin page: When was the last time it was updated? Is it compatible with your current version of WordPress? Some plugins will remain stable without updates, but be sure to check that it’s compatible with your current version of WordPress. If it isn’t, is there another plugin you could replace it with?

Doing this plugin audit regularly ensures that your site is secure and stable.

WordPress plugins we recommend

Here’s a short list of plugins we recommend for various administrative tasks. Some of these we recommend for every blog and some for specific scenarios, as noted below:

  • Stop XML-RPC Attacks – a way to protect your site from attacks that can make your site very sluggish
  • Move Login – move your login page to prevent brute force attacks
  • Really Simple SSL – makes configuring your site to run over https simple & easy
  • WP Super Cache or WP Rocket – caching plugins to improve your site speed for visitors
  • Autoptimize – optimizes your site by minifying things like CSS, HTML, and JavaScript in the code (this is unnecessary if you use WP Rocket)
  • Imagify or Short Pixel – reduce the size of your images without impacting the quality
  • UpdraftPlus – one-click backup and restoration
  • Google Analytics by MonsterInsights – a better alternative to Jetpack if you want stats on your dashboard, but any plugin that adds stats to your dashboard will slow it down

WordPress plugins are an incredible way to automate tasks, customize your site, and create a better reader experience. Don’t be afraid to use them, but do proceed carefully before adding a new plugin to your site!

WordPress plugins: how & when to use them (and when you shouldn't)

Mandi Ehman

Director of Marketing at Agathon
With 10 years of experience as a professional blogger—and as a former Agathon hosting client herself—Mandi’s passionate about the good work Agathon does and sharing that message with more people.
Mandi Ehman

3 comments on “WordPress plugins: how & when to use them (and when you shouldn’t)

  • Mandi @ Agathon says:

    Hi Danny!

    It doesn’t look like there’s a reliable app for doing this.

    If you want RTL across the board, it should just be a matter of verifying your theme supports it, and then switching your admin interface to use an RTL language (https://createandcode.com/how-to-enable-right-to-left-rtl-support-in-wordpress/).

    If, however, you want a mostly LTR site with some blocks of text in RTL, you’ll need a CSS solution combined with writing in the correct language, as in this discussion:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/Wordpress/comments/a3cj2c/gutenberg_rtl/

    Basically you’ll need to 1) add a CSS class to the theme that defines something as right-to-left then 2) add that CSS class to any block that should be RTL.

    I hope that helps!

    Reply
  • Hi Mandi,
    I have a cumbersome way of rendering right to left text using the new gutenberg blocks. I tried creating a reusable block with special CSS but it doesn’t work.

    For now I am able to use the tinyMCE advanced plugin to change the text direction in classic mode. For the forum, I have to use this basic HTML code in the post to make the text right to left:

    I could use the HTML gutenberg block for creating a page, but it would be horribly cumbersome to put that code for each block.

    Thank you for trying to help.

    Danny

    Reply

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