8 Essential Tips You Need To Know About Using WordPress Plugins

One of our favorite features of WordPress is that you can find a plugin to do pretty much anything you need for your site. In fact, we consider several (free!) plugins to be essentials additions to any blog! But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility.

We know how it goes: you have a new feature in mind, and you find several WordPress plugins that just might fit the bill. But you won’t know for sure unless you try it out! So you install a few plugins, play around, get everything to look and work how you want, and move on with your life. Then, one day something breaks — and you have no idea what or why.

Spoiler alert: It probably has to do with your plugins.

We’ve seen it time and again — when something isn’t working as it should, 9 times out of 10, it’s a plugin issue. Site issues don’t appear out of thin air. Problems are always related to recent changes on your site. Plugins receive the most updates and just aren’t made to work perfectly with each other, so they are more prone to causing issues.

But that doesn’t mean all plugins are bad! It just means you need to be smart about how you use them. So in this post, we’re sharing essential tips you need to know about using plugins on your lifestyle blog.

How many WordPress plugins is too many?

This is one of the most common questions we receive about plugins, and also one of the most common misconceptions.

You may have heard that it’s better to add functionality to your theme than use a plugin, and that you should limit the number of plugins you install. The truth is, whether you add functionality to your site through a plugin or directly in your theme, you’re still adding code that has to be processed and could possibly increase loading time for your site. How you add it doesn’t matter as much as what you’re adding.

As you install plugins, you need to be aware of what they do and how your site functions with and without it. If you notice a difference in site performance, then you should ask yourself if the plugin’s functionality makes up for it.

If you’re on a shared hosting plan, site performance will naturally be more of an issue as resources to run your site are more limited. If everything you’ve installed is necessary to your site functionality and management, and you’re experiencing site performance issues, it might just be time to upgrade to a managed WordPress host that’s optimized to run WordPress.

Ultimately, there really isn’t a magic number of plugins for your website. What’s more important is that you can keep up with updates as they become available and you don’t have any site performance issues.

Why update WordPress plugins?

So if WordPress plugin updates tend to be the cause of site issues, why bother updating them in the first place? A few reasons:

  1. You’ll get access to new features and improvements.
  2. Your code stays up to date so it’s less likely to conflict with something else on your site.
  3. You get security fixes that patch any new vulnerabilities.

WordPress is made with backwards-compatibility in mind, which means that the community makes every effort to ensure outdated code still works. So if you get behind on updates, it’s generally not a big deal.

But ultimately, it’s best to stay on top of plugin updates, particularly for security fixes.

Should you update WordPress or plugins first?

Typically when there’s a WordPress update, you’ll see a flurry of plugin updates as well, generally to take advantage of new WordPress features or fix any potential issues.

Because WordPress maintains backwards-compatibility, which, as mentioned earlier, helps ensure new releases don’t break old functionality, we recommend updating WordPress first. We also don’t run updates as soon as they are available. We give it at least a week or two so any potential major issues can be uncovered and patched.

How often should you update WordPress plugins?

You can enable auto-updates in WordPress, but we actually don’t recommend it. Instead, we recommend running updates manually at least once a month, or once a week if you can.

Why? As we mentioned earlier, any problems with your site are going to happen when things change. And most changes on your site happen when you run plugin updates.

The first step in troubleshooting any issue in WordPress is identifying what changed. When you run plugin updates manually, you know exactly what changed on your site — so you’re one step ahead in the troubleshooting process.

Running updates should be a part of your blog maintenance routine. (If you’re not sure what your blog maintenance routine should be, we’ve got you covered in our blog planner.) Usually, running updates is a quick and easy process. But be sure to set aside some time to deal with any issues if they should arise.

Why you should review and clean up your plugins in your blog maintenance routine

Speaking of blog maintenance, while you’re adding updates to your to-do list, you should also review and clean up your plugins list.

Let’s go back to that time you installed several plugins to find the perfect one for your needs.

If you’re like pretty much everyone else with a WordPress blog, you probably left all the ones that didn’t work for you installed, and maybe even activated on your site. Rinse and repeat a few times, and before you know it, you’ll have 15 plugins sitting on your site doing nothing but taking up space.

Or maybe you switched to a new theme and left all the plugins you used in your old theme installed and activated. You’re not alone — we see this a lot, too!

Plugins that aren’t in use seem innocent enough — until something breaks on your site. And something is much more likely to break if you have several plugins installed that manipulate the same portion of your site.

Furthermore, those files are still taking up space on your server — space that your server could use to load your blog images instead.

And if you’re like most of the bloggers we work with, you probably get behind on plugin updates, some of which include security fixes. These are usually minor issues, but when you multiply it over several plugins you aren’t using, and probably aren’t even paying attention to, it could become a bigger problem.

So, consider this your reminder — take 10 minutes today to go through your plugin list and deactivate and delete anything you aren’t using. Rinse and repeat every quarter at minimum, or any time you run plugin updates if you can.

How to auto-update WordPress plugins

We get it — you have a million other tasks for your blog, and running updates manually feels daunting. Is it ok to enable auto-updates?

If you’re taking time away from your blog, or manual updates don’t feel manageable, you can enable auto-updates for peace of mind. It’s also generally safe to enable auto-updates for any plugins with more basic functionality if you’d like less updates to manage manually.

Under Plugins > Installed Plugins, you should see a column for Automatic Updates. Click on the “Enable auto-updates” link next to each plugin you’d like to auto-update.

Ultimately, the security benefits outweigh the risks of auto-updates. If something does break, it’s usually easy to troubleshoot if you know what to look for, and most web hosts should be able to point you in the right direction.

You can also install the WP Activity Log plugin for an extra bit of protection, which will log any updates to help you troubleshoot in the event something does go wrong.

How to update WordPress plugins manually

The best way to update your plugins manually is one at a time.

That’s right — now are you sure everything you’ve installed is essential? We’ll wait right here while you double-check.

To update plugins one at a time, go to Plugins > Installed Plugins, then click on the link in the menu for “Update Available.” This will show you all plugins with updates, and you can go down the list and click the corresponding “update now” link one at a time.

For bonus points, keep your site open in another tab and reload after each update to check for issues. If an issue pops up, look to the last plugin you updated.

Now, we’re not going to judge if you want to save time and use the bulk updater under Dashboard > Updates. Just pay close attention to the list of what’s being updated so you know where to start troubleshooting.

How to fix problems with plugins

Even if you do everything right, something is bound to go wrong eventually — that’s just the nature of technology. Everything running on your site, from the WordPress core code, to the theme, and all plugins, represent the work of different developers who think and work in different ways.

When something does go wrong, and you can’t remember what plugin you last updated, start with the plugins that sound related to what went wrong. If you’re not sure which plugins are related, you’ll need to work your way through all of your plugins, top to bottom.

Deactivate each plugin one at a time, then check your site after each deactivation to see if the issue has resolved. If it has, you’ve found the problem plugin, and you can determine if the plugin is necessary to your site.

Usually we find that the culprit either was installed for a previous theme or affects the same functionality as another plugin or theme feature. In this case, the plugin can be safely deleted.

If the plugin is necessary to your site and came from the WordPress free plugins repository on WordPress.org, check the WordPress support forum on the official plugin page. Usually someone will have reported the issue, and some users may even offer temporary solutions in the comments.

For purchased plugins, check the help desk or documentation area of their site if available, or contact their support for assistance.

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