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Exploring WordPress Plugins

Adding features and power to WordPress with plugins is often necessary, but it should be done with planning and caution.

After a year of procrastination, I am finally writing about plugins. If you are experienced with WordPress you can probably spend your time somewhere else as this will not be an in-depth article, but rather an overview of how I approach plugins and my go-to list.

For those new to WordPress, plugins are code packages that add additional functionality to your WordPress website. If you used a theme that provides a general look and feel, plugins add the tools you need to go beyond basic blogging. Having said that, improvements to the core WordPress have diminished the need for a lot of plugins. Speaking about a lot of plugins, there are thousands of them available around the web. The sheer number can make your head spin and not all of them are beneficial.

Where to start

If you are looking for a starting place, always start at the WordPress plugin repository. Here you will find more than 50,000 plugins available to download and install. Don’t. Do some research, read the reviews, find a plugin that meets your requirements. My recommendation would be to look at other websites that talk about WordPress and have current reviews. There are Facebook groups that are tied to themes and builders as well as a general plugin group where you can ask questions or see what others are using. Why all this research? Believe it or not, not all plugins should be used or even installed.

My rules for plugins

I have some basic ground rules when it comes to plugins and I share them with you as a foundation.

  • If it is free, only take it from the WordPress repository, and only after reading the reviews and doing the other research I mentioned.
  • As a rule, if it hasn’t been updated in the past six months, proceed with caution. WordPress core is updated on a regular basis and these updates can be for performance or security or both. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize the security and performance of your website or the server your site is hosted on.
  • For me, if the plugin has not been updated in more than six months and I have no experience with it, I avoid it. If I have used it in the past, but it has been more than a year, it’s gone.
  • Keep the number of plugins to a minimum. This will improve your website’s performance. As great as all these tools can be, they add “weight” to your website and can cause it to run slow for the average user. If you have a business website, a slow website leads to fewer customers.
  • Last, but certainly not least, always update your plugins. When developers release an update it is to enhance or fix the plugin, and some of these can be critical. The new auto update features make this easier, but never let your site get behind. I can’t stand seeing a number in the updates available area so if I have an update pending more than a day something is wrong or I am on vacation – usually the former and not the latter.

Free vs. fee

In addition to the free plugins in the WordPress library, many of them have pro or premium versions. The same rules apply. The upside to fee-based plugins is two-fold – you get enhanced capability (normally) and the developer is compensated for their efforts. In most cases, this compensation stimulates the developer to continue work on the plugin adding new features and capabilities (capitalism at its finest).

If you find a fee-based plugin offered for free, do not jump at the opportunity to save money. In many cases, these can contain malware. Other risks include the lack of support, violation of license agreements, and taking away business from the developer – leading to abandoned projects.

My go to plugins

I have a rather extensive list of plugins at my disposal that meet all my criteria and while many of them are excellent, I am always looking for ways to reduce the number I use. Fortunately, the theme I use includes some added capabilities the reduce the need for some plugins.

Fee Based

  • Jetpack – this plugin on a self-hosted site can cause the site to run slow if it is not configured correctly. Jetpack, which is maintained by Automattic, comes in a few various feature levels that have varying costs. I use Pressable, an Automattic company, as my hosting company which includes a higher level as part of the hosting package and is one of the reasons I don’t plan on going anywhere else.
  • WP Grid Builder – this is my newest plugin and I am so glad I found it. This has replaced the need for four other plugins so far – Facets WP, Directories add-on for Formidable, Directories Pro, and Toolset — and there could be more in the near future.
  • Formidable Forms Pro/Elite – The free version is great for basic forms, but the enhancements in Pro and beyond are critical. It is not cheap.
  • wpDataTables – so far this is the best table and charting solution I have found. This is another plugin that has a steep price, but if you need these capabilities, it is highly recommended. Because I use Formidable Forms, I also have the add-on for this plugin to read the form data (very handy).
  • Post Tables Pro – Until recently, wpDataTables was not able to easily do what this plugin does. Recent enhancements make this plugin less necessary, but I do like the Barn 2 team and their customer support. They released a new document library plugin that may make this plugin obsolete for my uses.
  • RankMath Pro – This is an SEO plugin and while the free version is very capable, the enhancements in the pro version are a must in my opinion. I did use YoastSEO Pro for a while but this is cheaper and has additional capabilities that allowed me to remove a couple plugins (404 monitoring and analytics).
  • Meta Box (formerly use ACF Pro) – great plugin for adding additional information to a post or page.
  • ShortPixel Image Optimizer – I tried a few image optimization tools and this is the one I like best. For a small fee I can optimize thousands of images across multiple websites.
  • Events Calendar Pro – there are a lot of calendaring solutions out there, but this is the one I turn to. It also helps that is integrates with Avada although that integration has waned over the past few releases.
  • Wicked Folders Pro – This is an organization tool that will make you life so much easier. While there are several folder plugins available, tis is the only what that I have found that can be used for all post types and media. It is also the only one with dynamic folders and will look at your post hierarchy as well as file types.
  • Script Organizer (aka SCORG) – this is the last of my new additions. It replace Code Snippets and Advanced Scripts which are good tools. This plugin lets you add php, JavaScript, SCSS, and other types, as well as schedule them.

Free Plugins

Many of the plugins above have free versions, but the difference between free and fee is substantial in almost every case.

  • Advanced Editor Tools (previously TinyMCE Advanced) – if you’re not using Gutenberg, this is a must for the default editor.
  • Broken Link Checker – this is a nice plugin that does exactly what the name implies.
  • Enable Media Replace – a must have if you need to change out images or documents on a regular basis. It will update the links in almost every location.
  • Instant Images – This is a great plugin for getting images from Unsplash. I would use the Unsplash plugin but there is a conflict with Wicked Folders.
  • SafeSVG – a must have if you need to upload SVGs.
  • Yoast Duplicate Post – This is a great plugin if you need to create multiple posts that have all the same setting (categories, tags, etc.). A new capability for rewriting or republishing posts. Since I use Jetpack, this is not needed, but for sites hosted where Jetpack is not free, this is a good replacement.

While these are my go-to plugins, I don’t use them on every site or all at once (usually), but these are where I start. If you have questions, comments, or other plugin recommendations please feel free to leave a comment.

Featured image photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

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Stephen Walker
Amateur photographer, husband, father, grill master, cook, traveler, dreamer, optimist, web guy. The order changes depending on the situation.

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