The only Guide to WordPress Plugins that you will ever Need

With over 48,000 free plugins in the WordPress directory alone, its near impossible to not find at least one plugin that can add the functionality you are looking for unless of course you are looking for a plugin that can read the minds of your site’s visitors (but who knows maybe in another 5 years or so ……….).

In this guide to WordPress plugins, I am going to do my best to discuss everything you need to know about WordPress plugins and also answer some of the popular questions 

Table of Contents

What is a WordPress plugin?

Plugins are basically programs that can extend the functionality of your WordPress website either by providing one specific function or a series of different functions.

Plugins are written by WordPress developers from all over the world. This means that anyone with some knowledge of WordPress development can come up with an idea for a plugin, write the code to develop the plugin and then either make it free to the world or charge for it.

While this open source policy encourages the development of many plugins, it does result in the release of some badly written plugins by inexperienced programmers.

Where can I find Plugins?

You can find most plugins in the official WordPress directory.

plugin directory

You can download WordPress plugins from many other websites as well. WordPress developers who choose to sell their plugins have their own websites where you can buy them.

The Plugin Download Page

On every plugin download page, you can see the menu with 5 tabs that offer key information about the plugin.

plugin download page

Details – Provides the key facts about the plugin and what functionality it provides. This is also where you can see whether or not the plugin has a paid version that offers more features.

Reviews – Pretty self explanatory. 

Installation – Provides guidance on how to install the plugin and also access its settings page.

Support – This will take you to the help page where you can seek help from either the developers or other users of the plugin.

Development – Provides a record of all previous versions of the plugin as well as what updates and bug fixes that were implemented with each version.

plugin details

You will see the plugin sidebar to the right of the page. This sidebar contains extra information about the plugin and you want to pay particular attention to two of them.

The first being last updated. This tells you the last time any development was done on the plugin and I recommend you don’t install any plugins that were updated later than 6 months from the current date.

Okay but why? Plugins not updated regularly tend to have bugs or security issues that can break your website. Only install such plugins if you do not have any other choice.

The second piece of info you want to pay attention to in the sidebar is the ‘Tested up to’. This tells you what versions of WordPress the plugin has been tested with. Obviously you should stick with plugins that have been tested with the latest version of WordPress to avoid any issues.

What are the Types of WordPress Plugins?

When it comes to classifying plugins based  on how much functionality they offer and how they could affect the overall performance of your website, there are 3 major types of plugins:

Lightweight Plugins

These are plugins that are exact in what they do and in many cases this could mean providing one very specific functionality. A classic example is the Display Widgets plugin which allows you to show/hide widgets on specific pages & posts.

Lightweight plugins are often very easy to setup and have very little effect on a website’s performance if any.

A major disadvantage to using lightweight plugins constantly is that you might end up installing more than 20 of them just to get all the desired functionality implemented on your site. More plugins means more security risks and more time spent on plugin management.

Use lightweight plugins when you are looking for a very specific functionality to add to your site.

‘Regular/Normal’ Plugins

There are no official terms to describe such plugins except that most of the plugins you work with are likely to fall under this category. These are plugins that are a bit more robust than lightweight plugins and do require a certain amount of set up to get them working properly. Their level of functionality will determine how they affect your website’s performance.

Most plugins you use will fall under this category.

‘Heavyweight’ Plugins

Again the term ‘heavyweight‘ is not an official term but we like to use it to describe such plugins. Heavyweight WordPress plugins provide a wide range of functionalities that serve a general purpose.

One prime example is the WooCommerce plugin which can be used to build an e-commerce store.

Another example is the Wordfence security plugin which offers 7 key features that help to protect WordPress websites.

Some of these plugins may make use of ‘add ons‘  as well.

Their complexity may affect your website performance because they demand and use more resources than other plugins. It is best to limit their number and to use other plugins that can help boost performance like cache plugins.

wordfence security plugin

What are Plugin Add-ons?

You may have noticed certain plugins that are referred to as add-ons. What this means is that they are designed to provide additional functionality to a main/parent plugin.

As an example, the add-on plugins from Crocoblock complement the main plugin Elementor page builder that is used to create and display content. Without the parent plugin, the add-ons will not work.

What happens when a plugin is installed?

When you install a WordPress plugin, a folder with the name of the plugin is created in your plugins directory that will contain its installation files. You can view the plugins folder by using any FTP software to access your web directory.

The plugin is registered in your database and is loaded every time someone visits your website.

Some plugins may add some code to certain key files of your WordPress theme such as the header.php file in order for the plugin to run its function. 

Some plugins create their own widgets that can be used in your sidebars such as the contact form 7 plugin that creates its own contact form widget that you can use to display your contact form in a sidebar.

Are WordPress Plugins Free?

When it comes to classifying plugins, there are 2 major ways of doing so. The first is by how much they cost and the second is by the amount of functionality they provide and how they affect the performance of your website when they are installed.

In terms of cost, there are 2 different types of plugins – Free & Premium

Freemium WordPress Plugins

These are plugins that you can use for free on your site. Some of them may require that you first sign up or create an account before being able to use the plugin but you will not be required to pay to do so.

Pros

  • They are free.
  • There are many of them that are very useful and provide some impressive functionality to any website they are installed on.

Cons

  • There is the tendency for the developers to stop maintaining the plugin by keeping it updated after a period of time
  • Support is limited.
  • Many free WordPress plugins are badly written and may even cause your website harm.

If you are going to use a free plugin, try using one that has a paid version. Such plugins are usually well maintained by the developers in an effort to attract users to the premium version.

outdated plugin
A plugin that was last updated 3 years ago. Avoid plugins like this

Premium WordPress Plugins

These are plugins that you can use for free on your site. Some of them may require that you first sign up or create an account before being able to use the plugin but you will not be required to pay to do so.

Pros

  • They are well maintained.
  • Support is provided.
  • Premium plugins in most cases are superior to their free versions because they provide more functionality.

Cons

  • There is the buyer’s remorse when you buy a premium plugin only to discover a short while later that there is a better and cheaper plugin with very similar functionality. However I should point out that there are premium plugins that come with a money back guarantee (usually 1-2 weeks) after purchase.
  • Not every premium plugin is a good plugin. You must do your research properly before you buy one.

Where Can I Buy WordPress Plugins from?

There are hundreds of websites  where you can buy a plugin from. Some of these are huge market places like code canyon where developers sell their plugins to interested buyers.

There are also some companies that specialize in developing plugins and have a portfolio of them. Examples are yithemes who specialize in creating WooCommerce plugins and mythemeshop who have a wide range of plugins offering different types of functionality.

mytheme shop plugins
A snapshot of some of the plugins available on the mythemeshop website

What are the best WordPress plugins?

This is a very popular question and one that has subjective answers. There are so many good plugins offering the same kind of functionality that it can be very hard to choose one out of them,

However I am going to provide you my top picks for specific kinds of tasks so here they are:

  • Akismet – For fighting against spam comments
  • Elementor – The best page builder for creating and displaying content on your website
  • Wordfence – My top pick for WordPress security. You cannot go wrong with this powerful plugin.
  • RankMath – The best plugin for WordPress SEO. Much better than the more popular Yoast plugin.
  • Optimole – For optimizing your images
  • Social Snap – For adding social media functionality.
  • WooCommerce – For creating your online store and selling products 

Plugin ‘Conflicts’

Every once in a while, you might experience something called a plugin “conflict”. A conflict occurs when one or more of your plugins malfunctions and in some severe cases, could render your website inaccessible.

Plugin conflicts occur from poorly coded plugins and whenever there is a major update to the WordPress core.

One of the best ways of identifying the conflicting plugin(s) is to first disable all plugins and then start reactivating them one at a time. You will get an error message or notice a change in your website’s appearance when you reactivate the faulty plugin.

A plugin conflict can also occur whenever two or more plugins ‘fight’ for resources. This happens when the plugins perform similar tasks and so its often a good idea to avoid installing plugins with similar functionalities on your website.

Plugin Management

Plugins are great but if you mismanage them they can cause as much harm as they can good on your website.

Here are my recommended tips to properly manage your WordPress plugins.

  • Less is more – Install only the plugins that are necessary. The less plugins you have installed, the less management will be required.
  • Learn how to modify some of your key theme files like the header.php or functions.php. The reason why this is very important is because it allows you add some important code like the Google analytics code without having to use a plugin to do so.
  • Run updates – Plugins can be exploited by hackers to inject malicious code. Always keep your plugins updated.
  • Don’t ignore heavy weight plugins – I know I said earlier that heavyweight plugins can negatively impact your website speed but use them when they can offer several functionalities that you are looking for.
  • Avoid installing similar plugins – Just like you can’t have 2 captains running a ship, it’s best to avoid installing 2 more plugins that offer very similar functionality There is a strong possibility this might cause a conflict.
  • Uninstall any deactivated plugins – There is no point in having them occupy space if they are not active.

Conclusion

Well this has been my ultimate guide to WordPress plugins where I attempted to answer every possible question that you might have.

Ensure that you follow my plugin management tips and you will be just fine.

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