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Blogging Pitfalls: Plugin Purgatory

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Everyone loves WordPress plugins. They’re great and they can do a ton of great things from improve your commenting system to improving your site’s security.

While WordPress plugins are great, too much of any good thing is simply that, too much. Going overboard with WordPress plugins can have an adverse affect on your blog in many different ways, possibly resulting in a blog that barely functions.

So before you click “Install” and add yet another one of the latest and greatest WordPress plugins, it’s important to take a moment and make sure it is actually in the best interest of your site.

If you don’t, you could wind up paying for it dearly down the road.

The Pitfall

WordPress plugins are extremely easy and fast ways to add new features to your blog. You can make adjustments to the administration area, add widgets to your sidebar, improve your site’s speed and integrate it with Twitter/Facebook. There are literally thousands of plugins that can fill an incredibly wide array of needs.

That, in turn, is what can make WordPress plugins so addictive. With just one click to install, no code to write and seemingly no downside, many bloggers simply get “plugin happy” and install plugins for just about everything, including simple things that they could probably easily code themselves.

Many bloggers add several dozen plugins and some have been rumored to add over 100.

Unfortunately, these plugins do actually come with a price and it is often a very high one. Though it isn’t enough to swear off plugins forever, it should be enough to at least make you think twice before hitting “install”.

The Danger

The crux of the problem is that every WordPress plugin you install and run adds code to your blog. It may not be much, but it is still code that your server has to process before presenting the site to your readers.

This, in turn, can create several different issues that are worth being aware of:

  1. Server Slowdown: The simplest problem is that all of this extra code can create a very large processing burden on your server, causing your site to slow down. In extreme cases, such as on a shared host, the your provider may decide to pull the plug on your account as you’re taking up too much of the server’s resources.
  2. Instability: Some plugins are not compatible with one another or with your version of WordPress, this can cause instability with your site, especially when you go to upgrade it. This can, in extreme cases, result in downtime, data loss and serious security issues. This is mostly a problem with poorly-written plugins but can impact almost any plugin.
  3. User Slowdown: Finally, many plugins, even some that don’t seemingly impact the public-facing side of your WordPress installation, add files and elements that the user must download, often times making it slower, more bandwidth intensive and an all-around worse experience for your readers.

These problems can literally tear a blog apart. Since Google bases at least some of its ranking on site speed, sites that move slow can expect less search traffic but, more importantly, visitors typically don’t hang around on sites that don’t load quickly, causing them to leave quickly and not return, making it difficult to convert the search visitors you do get into repeat ones.

Worst of all though, in extreme cases, a bad plugin can literally destroy your site and your data by corrupting your database or wrecking your setup. This can mean, at best, hours of work restoring from backups and, at worst, starting over.

How to Avoid It

None of this is to say that you should shy away from using WordPress plugins. Not everyone who uses them has these issues and even some with a very large number of plugins seem to suffer no ill effects. As much as anything, it comes down to the plugins you install and how you use them.

Still though, before adding plugins to your site, it is worthwhile to make sure that it is truly in the best interest in your site. So, when looking at installing a new plugin, consider the following things:

  1. Make Sure You Really Need This Plugin: This is a good idea, not just from a technical standpoint but a clutter one as well. Is this something that will actually improve your site or is it just another trend that will add another bell or whistle needlessly to your site.
  2. Make Sure a Plugin Really Necessary: Though plugins are tempting, especially for those who don’t know a great deal of HTML, using it for something that can be easily dropped into your theme, either directly or via a widget, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. There are exceptions to this, such as critical code you want to make sure survives a theme change or upgrade, but you can add your own Twitter buttons without a plugin.
  3. Check Compatibility Carefully: The addition of a compatibility checker into WordPress has been a boon in this area, but you should also check recent support requests and see if there are compatibility issues with other plugins that you use. You may save yourself a lot of headache this way.
  4. Install Only Respected Plugins: Unless you’re prepared to turn your site into a beta test camp, only install plugins that are widely tested and reviewed. Don’t make yourself the one to find the bugs, unless you enjoy that.
  5. Test After Installation: Once you’re finished installing and configuring the plugin, test your site thoroughly, visiting several pages and also putting it through a site load test, perhaps using Pingdom.

If you take these steps before installing any plugin, you’ll not only avoid installing any bad plugins on your site, but you also won’t install any needless one either. This will help you keep the WordPress plugins you use and have to maintain to a minimum, making it easier for you to maintain, secure and upgrade your WordPress installation while keeping it lean, fast and stable.

All in all, it is a win-win situation for both you and your visitors.

Bottom Line

WordPress plugins are not bad things by any stretch and many, such as caching plugins, have become almost vital for every WordPress install.

That being said, going overboard plugins can be disastrous for your site and is very much worth avoiding. Earlier this year, I put my blog on a diet and cut my loading time in half, you can very likely do the same with your blog.

So enjoy your WordPress plugins but don’t go overboard, your sanity and your visitors will thank you.

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