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Mar. 13, 2014

Choosing the Right WordPress Plugins for Your Site

Quality plugins for WordPress websites are more than simple, useful codes written to fill in temporary feature needs. Plugins can add a social component to a blog or business and have a serious, quantifiable effect; they can enable global content sharing, build loyal communities and even make the smallest of websites a viable commerce center. So choosing the right plugin and knowing how to make that choice is quite important.

WordPress plugin expert Brian Lis says the key is to choose only a few plugins that fit your needs. Standard plugins can run for free and premium versions vary in price, but all are implemented in the same way a mobile app is: You download the plugins to your hardware, file them in your content directory and then activate them. The best plugins — often the premium ones — are consistently updated by their engineers and are easy to troubleshoot because of their large, collaborative user base.

Premium plugins perform reliably and minimize problems, such as website downturn, that can come with running a site. Functions such as defining "security vulnerabilities, conflicts, and increased load times," are most important, because they prevent system crashing. It's ironic, then, that certain plugin combinations will cause a site to crash, especially when developers use too many of them at the same time.

The nature of plugin development is the cause of the challenge. Anyone can build a WordPress plugin, and sometimes official instruction documents that detail build conflicts aren’t available. For these reasons, Lis says, top developers often use fewer than 10 plugins per build. “Anything over 30 plugins is generally an invitation for problems."

Even if a plugin seems like it's optimally useful, thorough testing and analysis bears out the truth. Lis says he once worked on a site using a single stat-tracking plugin that "took over 1.5 gigs in [the site's] database [while] their website was only 50 megs. The speed difference once that stat-tracking plugin was removed was significant."

The factors that go into load times can be varied and include what type of server or provider you use, whether your site is multimedia heavy or uses slow caching or whether it is connected to a content-delivery network. It might also be a signal that the website is coded poorly. In any case, a select combination of premium and standard plugins that work well together and offer serious benefits, like security and reduced load times, while unsexy, are more important than checking off every box of possible site functionality.

 Plugins Every WordPress Site Should Use

Before adding plugins, businesses should back up all files. Lis says plugin failure rates are at 1 percent, but that tiny percentage can cause serious damage to the infrastructure.

Here are the plugins no site should do without:

Security: Limit Login Attempts (standard)

Hackers can brute-force their way into WordPress software because it allows unlimited login attempts. The best way to prevent this is by locking the number of attempts, and this plugin does it cleanly and efficiently. Users have noted the great customer service.

E-commerce: WooCommerce (premium)

This is a fully featured suite of great plugin applications. The software offers extensions that help both small and large businesses provide a variety of product options, including shipping choices, recurring payments, CSV product importing, one-page checkout and even a deep suite of marketing features.

Forms: Gravity Forms (premium)

Managing forms is a breeze using this plugin. You can create order forms with pricing fields, add PayPal for add-ons, create configurable entry lists, and a lot more. It’s also easy to customize any form, including CSS column layouts.

Membership: WishList Member (premium)

WishList Member is an awesome membership curator that can grow with your site. If you’re a major blogger who wants to offer a few paid articles in between tons of free content, you can offer free, trial or paid memberships, or you can create member upgrade levels for each of paid post. 

Backup: WordPress Backup to Dropbox (standard)
You need to back up your whole system on a server, but your content also needs backup. WordPress Backup to Dropbox takes your files and SQL database and sends them to your Dropbox account folder (subscription required). The plugin uses the OAuth (authorization standard), so your account details are secure. 

Analytics: Google Analytics for WordPress (standard)
A lot of people use Google Analytics, and this is the best plugin incorporating it. According to load-speed analysts, this tracking software is swift. It also comes with a wide variety of customizable demo options, such as categories for page views per user.

Social Sharing: Sociable (standard)
A customizable plugin that makes icons easy to see on a webpage is also one of the most popular. With two different choices for styling (including Skyscraper, which incorporates commenting data), it nicely features the big networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Digg and StumbleUpon.
 
Despite the many ways plugins can help, it’s important to temper expectations. Lis says the difference between hugely successful sites and modest ones comes down to execution of content, not necessarily plugin use.

The best sites “have meaningful content followed by a community of advocates for that website," he says.

As a result, the best practice for beginners vetting plugins is to keep things simple and use the free ones "until you've perfected the core functionality. Once your core functionality is tested and true, [you can] begin adding in the bells and whistles [of the premium sites]."

Website owners with modest budgets can easily build out a site with plugins for analytics managers, file trackers, SEO enhancers, XML sitemaps, social sharing, social feeds and graphics software. cleardot

[image: nyengendadi/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos] 

 

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Jose is a technology expert with experience in covering cloud computing, startups and enterprise IT.
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