It’s no secret that we love (or, when we’re feeling less positive, tolerate) WordPress. It’s our go-to Content Management System (CMS) for the websites that we design and develop. Its usage is so widespread finding answers to questions is easy. If you’re running into an issue, it’s fairly likely that someone else has hit that same wall and written about how they solved the problem. The wisdom of the crowd in the WordPress community is very real and the biggest draw from our perspective.
WordPress’s plugin ecosystem is another asset that will resolve many of your issues. Plugins are little (sometimes not so little) bits of self-contained code that are designed to add (or extend) specific functionality in WordPress. Out of the box, WordPress is great for the tasks that it was designed for: blog and page content management. More advanced sites will often require functionality for which WordPress wasn’t originally built.
For example, a concert venue will probably want an event calendar on its website. There are ways that you could cobble together a workable solution using only WordPress’ built-in tools, but it probably won’t be the most user-friendly administrative back-end for the venue to actually use on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully, there are many events and calendar management plugins out there. So many, in fact, that it can be a challenge to choose the plugin that is the right fit for that particular job and client.
We try to be aggressive about limiting the number of plugins that we use because with every plugin that you add to a site, you are adding a potential source of failure (and another variable that you will need to test if/when your site stops working). When choosing plugins, it’s extremely important to pay attention to who is developing it and how popular it is (more active site installs = more popular). It’s like shopping for shoes online. Check the reviews! If it’s a great plugin, the numbers will reflect that but, if it’s has terrible reviews, it’s probably going to be more of a headache to use than it is worth.
When was the plugin last updated? This is also an important indicator. WordPress changes its features fairly regularly and, as you might expect, if a plugin hasn’t been updated for a couple of years, it almost assuredly won’t support the newer features that WordPress has added since it was last updated. Another potential downside to out-of-date plugins is that they can potentially become security issues for your site. By its nature, the internet changes fast and security vulnerabilities pop up every day. A developer who keeps their plugins updated should be making sure that their plugin not only does what it does well but that it also doesn’t introduce vectors of infection or malware to your site.
Slightly less worrisome than site-killing security errors is potential performance issues that stale plugins could introduce. No one wants to have a site that is slow to load, but if a plugin hasn’t been updated in line with WordPress best practices, it could be doing things in a very un-optimized manner that could really weigh down your site’s load times.
WordPress plugins are an integral component of its offerings – equally beloved and maligned by users. They can be a life-saver when you run out of options, but they can also cripple your website. It is tempting to dump a ton of functionality into your website using them, but we urge that you use restraint since it can be very easy to “over-egg the pudding.”