Everywhere I look lately, people are reluctant to use WordPress plugins. So reluctant that many of them are opting to alter their theme files instead (which is far more dangerous and scary, in my opinion). I found myself thinking about where this irrational fear comes from and why it’s so pervasive.
Where FOP (Fear of Plugins) Comes From
(1) Crappy web hosts. You know what a lazy hosting support person tells you when s/he doesn’t want to deal with your issue? “You’ve got too many plugins. Your WordPress site has poorly coded scripts.” Never mind their overloaded, ancient servers! It’s so much easier to make it your fault instead!
(2) Experience. Ever have a plugin update break your site? Ever have your site hacked through a vulnerability in an old plugin? If so, you might be a little skittish about installing anything else.
(3) The WordPress community. For such a massive group of people who use and develop plugins on a regular basis, we sure do frown on them. There are reasons – plugins can cause slow load times, stylesheet conflicts, PHP errors, and any number of other scary issues – but I think sometimes we underestimate how a beginning WordPress user might interpret our anti-plugin leanings.
Good job, internet – we’ve convinced people that plugins can be bad. But I don’t think we’ve ever taught them that plugins can also be awesome.
Times You Should Use a Plugin
- Major structural changes: If you need ecommerce, membership capabilities, forums, or other “beyond a blog” functionality, of course you’re going to need a plugin. Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t hire some random guy in Siberia to make a “custom” one for fifty bucks. Stick with well-known developers or companies who keep their plugins up to date and provide good support.
- Capabilities that aren’t tied to your theme: Unless you want to rebuild your custom post types or create a new contact form every time you change themes, it makes a lot of sense to use a plugin for anything that needs to exist on your site regardless of what theme you’re using.
- Backend functionality: If you use a lot of custom functions or need to organize your WP dashboard, use all the plugins you want. Plugins that don’t load stylesheets and scripts on the front end of the site aren’t going to hurt your load times. (Sidebar for Genesis users: Pasting a function into functions.php and pasting it into Simple Edits are the same thing. It works the same way. Quit driving yourselves nuts trying to do things without plugins!)
- Anything that is necessary but beyond your abilities: Don’t install 65 plugins just because you can. But if you need something on your site for reasons that matter to your visitors and you don’t know how to code it yourself, go ahead and find a plugin. (FYI, that means avoiding plugins that don’t benefit your readers or customers in some way.)
Times You Should NOT Use a Plugin
- “It’s outdated, but it’ll be fine!” If a plugin hasn’t been updated in the last six months, I wouldn’t use it. Period. Abandoned plugins are a huge security risk, not to mention the fact that they may not work with newer versions of WordPress.
- “This is much faster than Googling an answer!” Don’t be lazy. For example, there is NO EXCUSE (!!!) for installing a plugin that places your favorite photo in your sidebar. It’s called HTML, it’s really easy to learn (especially for adding images), and it’s just a search away.
- “I’m actually not using these anymore, but I’ll just leave them here.” Do me a favor – go to your dashboard right now and get rid of any inactive plugins you don’t plan to use. Inactive plugins can still be a security problem, and some of them execute scripts on your site whether they’re active or not. (Some also make database or .htaccess changes that don’t go away even when deleted, so watch out for that.)
- “I have no clue what this does but [some important blogger] recommends it!” If you don’t know how to use a plugin properly or don’t even know what it does, why in the world is it on your site? Get rid of it!
- “I just love GIFs/background music and my readers will, too!” If it moves or makes noise, it needs to go. Your readers will thank you.
Time to Stop the FOP
Fear of Plugins is very real, but you don’t have to let it stop you from building the site you want. As long as you use some common sense, you’ll be fine, I promise. Please don’t risk breaking your site to paste in a bunch of PHP if you aren’t sure what you’re doing! When used in moderation, WordPress plugins can be fantastic tools.
What’s your take on WordPress plugins? Do you love them? Hate them? Avoid them like the plague? Is the FOP strong with you?