In this post we explore the pros and cons of using WordPress plugins and how you can choose the right plugins for your site.
It is estimated that nearly a third of all websites are powered by WordPress and using plugins to create them has become standard practice for web developers. With over 1.5 billion plugins downloaded from WordPress.org’s plugin library alone, their impact is undeniable. However, before you commit to using WordPress plugins, you should consider a few important things to make an informed decision for your site.
What is a Plugin?
A plugin is a piece of software that can be installed on your website to add or expand its functionality. Plugins can be uploaded to your website and quickly configured to give you functionality that would otherwise take developers a long time to create from scratch. They are what the name implies, something you can “plug” into a site to increase its capabilities without having to write a bunch of custom code.
A good comparison is that of an operating system on your computer. Out of the box, the computer gives you basic functionality, however there’s a good chance you added apps to customize what it could do. For example, you may have added Adobe Reader to view PDFs, or Photoshop to edit images. Maybe you downloaded Chrome or Firefox because you prefer those browsers, or installed an antivirus software to keep your computer secure. The options are endless. The same goes for WordPress plugins—they provide developers with pre-built functionality that enhance the sites they are building.
WordPress Plugin Pros
The popularity of plugins is not by chance. They offer several benefits to developers and website administrators, including:
- They save time. The main reason so many developers use plugins is because they save a lot of development time, which in turn can save on a website’s overall budget. With over 55,000 plugins currently in WordPress.org’s library, developers have access to plugins for virtually anything they need. This can range from adding complex functionality like e-commerce or multi-language capabilities to smaller updates like giving site administrators the ability to add Google Analytics tracking to a site without touching the code.
- They offer some flexibility. Plugins provide developers the flexibility to customize site features and functionality. Most plugins allow some settings to be turned on and off and styles such as fonts, colors, and sizes to be changed to match the rest of the site. And, if you ever want to get rid of a plugin, it is a straightforward process to remove it from your site.
- They can be very reliable. Plugins have become so essential to WordPress development that many of them are created and managed by reputable companies who regularly update them to fix bugs and improve security. Many plugins offer different levels of functionality depending on your needs, with a free version for the basic functionality and a paid version for more advanced features. While this does mean that plugins can incur a cost, they are typically less than $100 which may be far less than what you would spend for developers to create that functionality themselves. The benefit to choosing paid plugins is the companies behind them have an incentive to keep their users happy by keeping the plugins updated.
Cons of WordPress Plugins
While plugins sound like a developer’s dream, there are some downsides to consider too. Those include:
- They can leave your site vulnerable. Not all plugins are regularly updated or built to the highest standards and these plugins can leave your site vulnerable to hacks. According to WP White Security, it is estimated that 54% of known WordPress vulnerabilities come from plugins. This is such a big concern that the team at Mightybytes dedicates time to researching every plugin we use, and updating our clients’ plugins twice a month through our hosting service so all security patches are put in place quickly. These actions help to reduce the risk of plugin vulnerabilities.
- They limit functionality. Part of the trade-off with using a plugin is that you are limited to what the plugin offers and which settings it lets you change. The good news is there are so many options out there you can usually find something that fits what you need.
- They can conflict with each other. Since plugins are so convenient it can be easy to rely on them too much. Unfortunately that isn’t a good idea. It is not unheard of for plugins to have compatibility issues with other plugins on your site. This could result in broken functionality or even your site going down. We recommend using only the plugins you really need and testing the site each time you add a plugin to make sure they all get along.
Although this list may make plugins seem intimidating, we side with the vast majority of WordPress developers in thinking that the benefits far outweigh potential risks. As long as you research and maintain plugins properly, you should have minimal issues with them on your site.
How to Choose a Plugin
Deciding which plugins to use on your site is a very important process that you and your web developers need to go through. There are a few steps you should take order to make an informed decision:
- Research, research, research. Visit the WordPress.org plugin library and search by name or keyword to find plugin options. Each plugin will have information about its functionality, along with support tickets and technical information. You’ll want to choose a plugin that is reputable so pay attention to the user reviews and 5-star rating.
- Check if your plugin is blacklisted. Some hosting services have a list of banned plugins that they won’t allow on the sites they host. This is commonly done for plugins that have known security risks. By preventing you from using these plugins on your site, your hosting provider is protecting your site and any other site hosted on your server.
- Free vs. Premium: If the plugin offers different levels of access, decide whether you want the free version or the paid version. Learn more about the payment schedule so you know whether this is a one-time purchase or an annual payment. We recommend that our clients pay for all their plugins directly with the provider so they have total control over the plugins at all times.
- Test the plugin first. Before you commit to a plugin, test it on a staging site to see if it works like you expected and if there are any conflicts with other plugins you already have installed. Don’t skip this step. Although in most cases there won’t be any problems, you never know what could break your site so don’t risk it.
For more tips and guidance on this, read our post on how to choose a WordPress plugin.
Plugins have become an essential part of a WordPress developer’s toolkit and help to enhance the experience for users and administrators. Researching and maintaining your plugins will keep them functioning properly on your site and help you to avoid some of their pitfalls. For more information on our WordPress development services, please contact us today.