The best thing about WordPress is that anyone who can send an email with an attachment can build a Web site with it.
The worst thing about WordPress is the same thing.
Yes, the ease-of-use of WordPress can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
Good, for obvious reasons.
Bad, because it’s really easy to mess things up, in both technical and non-technical ways.
In an article from 2012, entitled “Because we can”, I talked about the non-technical ways one can mess things up.
In this article, I want to talk about some of the technical issues, specifically related to WordPress plugins. Adding and activating a plugin for a WordPress site can be as easy as clicking twice. But there are potential hidden perils behind those clicks. Read on to understand what those perils are and how they can be avoided and addressed.
(I know: this article probably seems like a thinly-veiled pitch. I suppose it is. But I’ve been asked “Do I really need to hire a WordPress developer?” so many times by friends and family and clients that I finally decided to commit my answer to writing.)
What is a plugin?
If you’re new to WordPress, here’s the short answer:
A plugin is a computer programs (“script” or sets of scripts written in the same language WordPress is written in) that extends or alters the core functionality of WordPress.
And here’s the current official definition from WordPress.org:
A WordPress Plugin is a program, or a set of one or more functions, written in the PHP scripting language, that adds a specific set of features or services to the WordPress weblog, which can be seamlessly integrated with the weblog using access points and methods provided by the WordPress Plugin Application Program Interface (API).
Potential Technical Problems Related to WordPress Plugins
There are three main potential problems with WordPress plugins. Without going deep into the weeds (a topic for another article), here they are, with very simplistic explanations:
- Security Vulnerabilities
Poorly written plugins — and plugins that employ third-party libraries that have been compromised — can allow hackers to do damage to your site.
- Impaired Site Performance
Bloated and/or inefficiently coded plugins can dramatically slow your site down.
- Imminent Obsolescence
As WordPress is updated (which happens several times a year these days), plugins that are not maintained by their authors can become non-functional or, worse, create conflicts with the core WordPress code.
How can a WordPress Developer Help with Plugins?
Here are some of the things you can expect professional WordPress developer to do when it comes to finding plugins for your Web site.
- Professional WordPress developers continually monitor the ever-changing landscape of WordPress plugins by participating in Internet discussion forums and reading articles they find from newsfeeds from the best and brightest WordPress developers, including many who contribute actively to the WordPress project.
- They look at compatibility ratings and carefully read through plugin reviews at WordPress dot org — especially the negative ones.
- They inspect changelogs to see how frequently and recently plugins have been modified and how.
- Once they find a plugin that is a candidate, they investigate other plugins by the same author(s).
- They read through the plugin documentation.
- They pour through the support forums to find out what problems people are encountering, whether the issues have been resolved, and, most importantly, how responsive the plugin authors are.
- Then they download the software and inspect the code. Is it lean enough? Is the plugin well documented? Does it include hooks that would allow a developer to extend it?
- Once they’ve earmarked a plugin for use, they spend hours, and in some cases days, testing it out in a real-world scenario on a development site.
- If and when they encounter problems on a site — things that stopped working after a plugin was installed and activated — they methodically diagnose potential plugin conflicts.
It’s Your Call
Are you likely to do all — or even any — of those things?
Do you have the time?
Do you have the background?
Sure, you could spend a few minutes asking around on Facebook for plugin suggestions and then choose the first one mentioned.
Or you can make your plugin decision after reading a cursory review on a blog written by someone who has done nothing more than paraphrase the features, functions, and benefits described on the plugin’s Web site.
And then you can cross your fingers.
(Or you can hire a professional WordPress developer.(Extremely thinly-veiled pitch))
The nSiteful Tech Blog (the official blog of nSiteful Web Builders, Inc. since January of 2013) is where I (Jeff Cohan) and (occasionally) associates will be posting articles of potential interest to like-minded techies, nSiteful clients who are playing active roles in the maintenance of their own Web sites and blogs, and pretty much anyone interested in how Web strategies and tools can help them reach their goals.