WordPress Plugins: What This Noob Knows…Or Not

Plugin

One of the many benefits of blogging on the self-hosted WordPress platform is all the available plugins than can be used to enhance your blogging experience. Most plugins are free, like WordPress itself. They are generously created and maintained by members of the WordPress community and can be searched and downloaded from the WordPress.org plugin directory.

All plugins are not created equally.

I really enjoy trying out new plugins but have learned the hard way, all plugins are not created equally. In my excitement in discovering all the extended functionality these plugins create, I have wildly downloaded and installed many sparkly, fun plugins only to regret it later. Since they (most) are free and anyone with knowledge of such things can create a plugin you will find a wide range of quality and support. Keep in mind, when downloading and using a plugin, you do so at your own risk so a little investigation before you take the plunge is always a good idea.

Do I really need that shiny new plugin?

When searching out plugins there are a few things to consider before downloading and installing them on your blog. Plugins are fun and can really enhance your blog…or occasionally create some huge headaches. Most are lovely and pretty and will make you dance and do jazz hands. But some plugins are jealous and don’t play nice with other plugins. Some may wreak havoc just to see you cry. Don’t be me people.  Before you go plugin crazy, stop and think about whether or not that plugin will really enhance your blog and/or your blogging experience. Ask yourself: Just how important are jazz hands in the grand scheme of things?

Do some investigating.

If you’ve determined that yes, you really do need that shiny new plugin then there are some things you can do to help make sure that it is indeed a good solid plugin. Keep in mind, there are never any guarantees.  When visiting the WordPress Plugin Directory, check for this:

  • Is the plugin compatible with your version of WordPress?

Always make sure the plugin you are about to install is compatible with your version of WordPress. Sometimes when a new version of WordPress is released it can “break” some of your plugins or vice versa depending on how you look at it. If you use plugins that are well maintained by the creator, chances are they will be updated along with the newer versions of WordPress to make sure compatibility. Something else to keep in mind is with each new version release of WordPress, some plugins may become unnecessary if their functionality has been incorporated into the new WordPress core. So, be sure to see what new features come with updates and disable and delete plugins that are no longer needed.

  • When was the plugin last updated?

Some plugins continue to work with newer versions of WordPress without updates. However I am always a little concerned about plugins that haven’t been updated in years. It’s possible the plugin creator has abandoned the maintenance of the plugin and I tend to shy away from plugins that are not well maintained. I wish the WordPress Directory would create an “orphanage” section where old abandoned plugins could go live in hopes that some young whipper snapper might come along and adopt a plugin or two and make it shiny new again. You will find some oldie but possibly goodies, but you should download and use at your own risk.

  • How many times has it been downloaded?

I like to let others do the testing for me. If a plugin is still fairly new, I’ll wait until others have downloaded and tested it out and posted some feedback. There are many brave souls out there and I am no longer one of them. Ok fine, I still occasionally succumb “sparkly plugin syndrome”. I’m a girl. I like shiny things, deal with it.

  • What is the average rating?

Once I find a plugin I’m interested in, I check to see how others have rated it. If it only has an average rating of three out of thousands of ratings, I will do a little more investigating to see why. Say it with me people, Google is my friend. If it only has a rating of three and has only been rated three times, again, I may think twice before downloading. Always better to be safe than sorry.

  • See what others are saying

Another great thing about WordPress is the community. People can use the support boards to request support, report problems that they are having or sing its praises. I like to take a look at what others are saying and check to see if the plugin creator is responding to questions and support requests.  Also, check to see if the plugin creator has a website where they provide support and answer questions.

  • Take it slow baby

Don’t install several plugins at a time. If it all goes bad, you won’t know who the culprit is. If you break your blog you will want to know which plugin to beat the tar out of right? Not that I’ve been there or done that. :)

  • Support  and share the love

In most cases the plugin creators work for free. They donate their time and knowledge and even the simplest plugin can greatly enhance the functionality of your blog. So, when you find one that  totally floats your bloggy boat and you can’t blog without it, click that donate button if it’s available. Let’em know you care. Nothing says love like a small PayPal donation right? If you’re short on cash, send a totally non-creepy email to the plugin creator professing your undying and everlasting love of the plugin. Be sure to specify you love the plugin. Restraining orders are inconvenient and embarrassing. Not that I’d know.

  • To sum up

I admit freely that I am still a newbie and hard-core novice at this WordPress gig. But I’ve learned a few things here and there and so I thought I’d pass on a few tid-bits of noob knowledge and hopefully save you from making the same embarrassing mistakes I’ve made. What? You’ve never destroyed two years of blogging with one keystroke? Neither have I. *ahem*

In future posts I will be sharing other nuggets of knowledge with you (nice visual huh?) and telling you about my favorite “float my bloggy boat” plugins both free and premium.  Stay tuned and happy blogging.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the info. I’m on wp.com so I’m not sure I can use plug-ins other than the ones offered via wp. I’ve been thinking of switching to self-hosting on wp but not until fall at the earliest. There’s so much I don’t know about tech stuff that it takes me a while to feel confident enough to make changes.

  2. says

    WP is still a little skeery for me and I’ll do plenty research before jumping from blogger to WP :) I already know though that the plugins can totally dazzle me! I lurv new shiny gadgets and gizmo’s to add but I’ll take your warning to heart! I mean, one drop of water on a gizmo creates a gremlin ;)

  3. says

    Im thinking of moving from blogger to WP but I’m skerred. Great post though. If and when I do move-I’m coming here for advice. :)

    • says

      I’m cautious NOW, and probably only have around 20 installed at the moment. Some would say that is a lot but I try to stick to the ones that are really necessary now. Occasionally the shiny ones lure me though.

  4. says

    I thank the wordpress gods every day for Lou… She is the goddess at that stuff, and has taught me WAY more than I ever wanted to know about WP. Great post. I <3 plugins too. I was just searching for some last night. :D

  5. says

    Like Tori, I’ve thought about moving to wordpress – I’ve heard such good things about it and it can do such cool things – but I’m scared :-O

    And Jazz hands are very important ;) They make life fun.

  6. says

    I’m on A Small Orange, but I use WordPress. I don’t see many new plugins because… well, I’m kind of a hermit. As much as I’d like to visit new websites or check out new plugins (because I love the shiny and new), I’m often the last to find out the Cool New Things because of how little I’m able to be online these days…. I guess I can take that back now that I’m off for the summer, but you know what I mean. Still, I’m SUPER careful about what I put on my site because I’m terrified that I’m going to screw it up and I’m going to have to start all over. Again. Yes, you read that right. I’ve done it before. It’s not a fun thing to have to do, and I’m not very techno savvy, so having to sit here and redo everything all over again would likely have me giving up.

  7. says

    Long-time lurker and I work at Automattic (WordPress.com) :) Very practical advice, and well-put – I write a tech site for non-geeks and this was something I was going to cover at some point but you put it perfectly so I linked back to you (http://whenihavetime.com/2011/07/21/plugin-advice-for-wordpress-newbies/) – I think something to remember is WP works without plugins, too, and not everyone *needs* plugins to have a great site. But it’s tempting to pimp up your site for sure.

    I’m enjoying your WP posts, in addition to the regular review posts :)

  8. says

    Thank you a lot for sharing this with all folks you actually understand what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also discuss with my site =). We can have a link alternate agreement between us

  9. says

    Thanks for the Resources/WordPress menu option. I’m sure I’ll be using it a lot. My biggest question right now is, what is the difference between Categories and Tags? Do you happen to know?

    • says

      Gah, not really. I know a lot of people that have moved from blogger just make everything a category. I’ve separated my posts into main categories like: book reviews, features etc. then I tag with more specific terms, like the author’s name etc.

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