So you’ve heard the term ‘plugin’ thrown around a bit lately and each time you awkwardly nodded and that thought ‘what is a plugin?’
Let’s get the ‘what’ out of the way. A WordPress plugin is code written to achieve a specific purpose by adding functionality to your website.
Here’s a simple way to visualise a plugin. Your WordPress website is like a new entry model car. It is shiny, gets you from A to B and is more practical than a horse and cart (in most cases).
This car does have it’s limitations, for example, it can’t give you directions, it can’t keep you warm on cold days and it certainly can’t help you park. So what do you do? You speak to the car dealership and add a ‘Sat nav’, go for the seat warmer option and install some parking sensors. Each of these additional features perform a function. This is exactly how a plugin works.
Why the need for plugins?
Quite simply WordPress is a great platform to build a website on, but it can’t be everything to everyone. It’s a lean starting point, ready to be customised to your exacting requirements. You may need a website to host videos or an online shopping cart, the choice is yours and a plugin will be your best friend in your endeavours.
What’s all the fuss about?
Plugins allow developers to rapidly create solutions to meet or exceed their clients requests. Some savvy clients can even ‘help themselves’ to the plugin repository. Many plugins are maintained by WordPress industry professionals and literally tested on hundreds of thousands of websites. This ensures that the code has been exposed to many different environments and conditions, with the resulting code being considered to be reasonably stable.
Are there any risks?
Absolutely. A badly coded plugin can slow down a website, conflict with other plugins or worse of all, crash your entire site. Each plugin you add to your website must also be maintained to ensure it’s effectiveness and longevity. It’s similar to keeping your computer’s anti-virus software updated or ensuring your car goes into the shop for regular servicing. Each additional plugin exposes your site that little bit more, so we always recommend to only install and activate the bare minimum. There is no maximum number we would recommend, it’s more so finding a good mix of plugins that achieve the objectives of your website without compromising the user experience.
Of course you are! If you have a need to satisfy for your website, you can get started by checking out the WordPress plugin repository. With almost fifty thousand plugins, you are sure to find something to catch your eye. Here’s our top tips if you are keen to experiment with some new plugins:
- First and foremost, justify the need. Make sure you really need the functionality that the plugin is offering. Try to resist the temptation of installing extra plugins ‘just because’ or because they ‘may come in handy later’.
- Select plugins that have a heap of downloads and a good rating. The more times a plugin has been used, the higher the chances that the majority of the bugs have been addressed. Paid plugins generally come with a higher and more committed level of support.
- Backup. Never proceed with installing a plugin before you have run a backup! It can take seconds to destroy and lose hours/days/weeks/months of work!
- Ideally upload the plugin to a staging copy of your website. This will allow you to configure, test and review the plugin without affecting the visitors to your public site. Once you are happy the plugin ticks your boxes, you can then replicate the same steps on your live site.
- Keep them updated. Remember maintenance is key. Plugins are not a ‘set and forget’ piece of kit. They must be checked regularly to see if updates are available. This will ensure you are running the most stable version of your plugin and in turn, running a slightly safer website.
Of course the WP Perk team are on hand to answer any and all of your plugin questions and manage hundreds of plugins on a daily basis. We are always happy to share our tried and tested favourites and also regularly write our own plugins to exceed our clients requirements. Get in touch, we’d love to chat!