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 in the WordPress plugin repository 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. But that doesn't mean all plugins are bad! It just means you need to be smart about how you use them. Today we're teaching you everything you need to know about using plugins on your blog.
How many 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 you should clean up your plugins
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.
The best way to update your plugins
The best way to update your plugins is one at a time.
That's right — now are you sure everything on that list is essential? We'll wait right here while you double-check.
Yes, you can bulk update plugins, and you can even enable automatic updates for some plugins. And if you're the type to go six months without updates, it's probably worth enabling automatic updates. But if something goes wrong on your site, it's probably going to happen either when you install a new plugin or update existing ones. The best way to stay on top of issues and identify what went wrong is to know exactly which plugin you updated last.
Now, we know that updating plugins one at a time isn't totally realistic all the time — in fact, we've been known to run the bulk updater more often than not. And more often than not, everything works out just fine. But at minimum, make sure you're aware of what's updating so you know where to start troubleshooting in case something does go wrong. Furthermore, if a plugin has caused trouble in the past, update that one individually and double-check that everything is still functioning properly. Also, be aware of any plugins you've enabled automatic updates for and periodically check that they are running properly. We recommend setting a reminder on your calendar at least once per quarter, once per month if you can swing it.
What to do when something goes wrong
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 related to what went wrong, then work your way through the entire list, top to bottom. Deactivate the plugin, then check your site to see if the issue has resolved. If it has, you've found the problem plugin. 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 repository, 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.
What problems have you encountered with plugins, and how did you solve them? What are your favorite plugins? We'd love to hear in the comments below!