10 rules for using WordPress plugins
This is our first blog post of 2015, which year we welcome with great anticipation.
WordPress has got many plugins – mostly free but also premium – that can enhance visitor experience of your self-hosted Website on one hand, and your ability to gather useful data about aspects such as navigation and pageviews that can in turn be used to improve call-to-action. However, selecting the many available plugins without discipline and skill can result in your Website not functioning at all; or running at sub-optimal performance and resulting in compromised visitor experience and poor SEO ranking.
Let us share with you the 10 rules that we crafted, based on our experience in development and maintenance of Websites.
Rule 1: Less is better
It can be rather tempting to keep adding plugins for every opportunity or issue under the “online” sun, but this is not wise. Remember that plugins are coded applications. The more plugins you have on your site, the slower it will take to load and navigate, and the higher the prospect that there will be clashes in coding with other plugins.
Here is an example of page load speed results of one our managed Websites, using P3 plugin for analysis:
In the end, too many plugins can adversely affect your Website’s functionality and search engine ranking – the 2 primary reasons for having it in the first place.
Our rule of thumb is maximum 15, carefully researched, extensively tested, and constantly monitored plugins. More about research, testing and monitoring in the rest of this post.
Rule 2: Search for articles on “best WordPress plugins” for recommendations
We constantly look out for blogs on best WordPress plugins for recommendations. Assuming that discovered sources of information are genuine and based on properly researched findings, this saves us time and pain. In this way, we also discover plugins that may not pop up on the first page of WordPress Plugins page on a specific solutions, but are highly recommended. One such source we came across was a blog post about best popup optin plugins found in Elegant Themes Blog. Try and search for “popup” in WordPress Plugins and see how many of the mentioned plugins in the Elegant Themes Blog post come up on first page of search results.
Rule 3: The higher the number of downloads for selected WordPress plugins the better
The law of numbers has always been a good guide. A larger number of downloads is essentially a vote of confidence for a searched plugin.
An example is Jetpack, one of our favourite WordPress plugins by far, has been downloaded more than 13 million times – a huge stamp of approval in our view. We will refer to this plugin a few more times here below.
Rule 4: Ensure that selected WordPress plugins deliver against desired goals and conditions
We indicated in Rule 2 that we were looking for a popup plugin at one stage. It was key that the plugin does NOT activate a popup window immediately, as we wanted certain amount of time spent on a specified page to be the trigger. Thus, this condition assisted us in eliminating some plugins that were recommended by Elegant Themes blog but did not have the required functionality.
Rule 5: Ignore WordPress plugins with a review rating of less than 3.8
Website developers are a diligent and generous lot, and this makes life for the rest of us really easy. In the case of plugins, a fair number of Website developers who use them give public reviews on their functionality, good or bad. Recorded WordPress review ratings are published for all downloaded plugins. The higher the total number of review ratings the better.
Jetpack received 1 531 review ratings as at 2/02/15, reflected across different star rating in the image above. This number is considered large enough to make an informed selection, and we use it in 2 ways:
- We consider only plugins with an aggregate rating of 3.8 and above. The significance of this rule is that we choose plugins with a bias for thumbs-up by the Website developer community.
- In addition, we go through a sample of most recent comments that are linked to reviews with a star rating of 1 and sometimes 2, to get a sense of what the source of unhappiness may be from those that gave the rating. Reason for this sub-rule is that some plugins are abandoned by their developers down the line, resulting in increasing incidences of technical issues due to lack of ongoing support.
While Jetpack received 3.9 overall rating, the 267 reviews with star rating of 1 initially caused a concern.
Rule 6: Ignore WordPress plugins that are not regularly updated
We ignore plugins that were last updated more than 4 months ago. This is an indication of lack of continued support by their developers and possible resultant coding issues.
Rule 7: Ignore plugins that are not compatible with the latest WordPress version
WordPress is now in version 4.1 that was published just over a month ago. Any plugin that has not been recently updated will probably not be compatible with this latest version, and the potential is that the functionality of a Website may be affected. Thus, this is a good time for Website developers to go through uploaded plugins and ensure these are compatible, and this rule is to be read together with Rule 10.
Jetpack plugin ticks the updated WordPress compatibility box.
Rule 8: Selected WordPress plugins must be compatible with already activated plugins
Assuming that a selected plugin meets all the 7 rules above, the next step is to test its compatibility with already activated plugins on the Website.
OTE: it is highly recommended that your Website be backed up BEFORE the uploading and activation a new plugin, just in case. Our recommendation is that you get your Website backed up automatically, daily. Your server host can assist if required.
Rule 9: Selected WordPress plugins must be compatible with mobile devices
There is an increasing number of access to Websites using mobile devices, and their contribution is especially high in developing markets such as South Africa. As a standard rule, usage of plugins should meet the compatible mobile device access rule. Generally, popup plugins are notorious for being non-compatible with small screens. Extra care needs to be exercise with this group of plugins, lest you run the risk of high mobile device bounce rates.
Google Analytics for one of our current clients’ Website visitor stats indicates that most of their traffic comes from mobile devices. While this is an extreme example in our experience, it illustrates the importance of ensuring that plugins used on the client’s Website must be compatible mobile devices.
Rule 10: Regularly check that uploaded WordPress plugins continue to be supported by their developers
It has been our experience that not all plugins are maintained by their developers for ever. When such plugins are abandoned, their diminishing technical delivery will ultimately affect the functioning of Websites using them. It is thus key to have a plugin maintenance review calendar in place. Quarterly reviews of uploaded plugins would suffice.
If any of rules 1-8 above are not adhered to, don’t even bother uploading the selected plugin. If rules 9 or 10 are not adhered to, deactivate the uploaded plugin and dump it immediately.