When You Should (And Shouldn't) Use a WordPress Plugin
WordPress is easily the most widely-used and powerful blogging platform available, and a large part of its success is due to the wide array of plugins that are offered to those who use it.
On the one hand, plugins can provide a great deal of functionality and can benefit your site in quite a few ways, helping you to combat spam, getting Google to index your page and improving your page's overall load time.
There is no doubt that these are all great advantages, but there are some cases where you should think twice about using certain plugins.
Using plugins habitually, or simply for the sake of having more plugins, can get to be a major problem for your page, with one of the worst being increased loading time (even with the cache plug-in that is designed to improve load time). It can even eventually knock down your search rankings, since Google uses load time as a metric for SEO.
Bloggers can, in a way, get "hooked" on plug-ins, believing that they need a lot of them, or assuming that, "maybe just one more plugin will be that silver bullet that gets me a ton of traffic."
Looking at plugins in this fashion is a mistake, and it can ultimately lead to your blog being choked out and slowed down.
Therefore, the question you need to ask yourself is, "Do I really need this plugin and is it essential to the functioning of my site?"
If a certain plugin doesn't benefit your site in a functional way with no alternative solution, it's probably not necessary to have to begin with.
To help you answer the question, let's discuss the arguments for and against WordPress plugins.
When You Should NOT Use Plugins
Plugins should be used in response to a need, rather than a means of hopeful benefit or a manufactured need.
For example, you shouldn't use a plugin simply because you're speculating that it could bring you more traffic or make your WordPress site more popular. Likewise, you shouldn't have to come up with excuses for plugins as you're looking for new ones to install.
Secondly, when the functionality that the plugin provides isn't necessary for the overall benefit of your site (and those who read it), you probably don't need the plugin at all.
A good barometer for when you're deciding whether or not you need a plugin is to ask yourself whether or not the problem it's solving even requires a plugin, or if a plugin is the best possible solution to that problem.
For example, Broken Link Checker is one that you could leave out, simply because there are other tools available to check for broken links, like the W3C validator, making the plugin redundant. Additionally, Easy Tweet Embed and Pinterest Auto Pin are unnecessary for the same reason.
If the issue can be solved (with a reasonable amount of convenience) without a plugin, then you probably don't need to search through the WordPress plugin repository for your solution.
When You SHOULD Use Plugins
On the other hand, when a plugin provides a solution or functionality that isn't easily obtained or dealt with outside of that plugin, you're probably good to go.
Even under these circumstances, it's best to keep your list of plugins to only the bare bones-- usually less than ten.
When deciding which ones make the cut, think about which plugins are essential, in that there isn't a non-plugin solution or a viable alternative. Plugins that improve SEO and help with your search engine standards, like the WordPress Jetpack, are usually the ones you'll want to target.
WordPress JetPack is an eight-in-one, easy-to-install plugin that offers you up-to-date information on your WordPress.com Stats, After the Deadline, LaTeX, WP.me Shortlinks, Gravatar Hovercards, Twitter Widget, Sharedaddy and shorcode embeds, all of which make managing your WordPress site much easier.
Likewise, WordPress SEO by Yoast and the Disqus Comment System are widely-used, reputable plugins that serve a necessary and functional purpose.
SEO by Yoast will allow you to control which pages Google shows in its search engines, as well as which pages you don't want to show. As WordPress itself only shows canonical link elements on single pages, using this plugin makes it output canonical elements everywhere.
The features offered by Disqus are many (threaded comments and replies, subscribe and RSS options, spam filtering, etc.), and it's a popular service tool for web comments and discussions. Simply put, using this plugin makes commenting much easier and more interactive. When it comes to engagement, Disqus is the winner in that it connects websites and commenters across the thriving discussion community, which is definitely something you want to aim for.
Another plugin that I highly recommend is Solo Build It! for WP, which gives you powerful keyword research tools, and then allows you to target specific keywords with specific pages or posts. Combined with Yoast's onpage SEO, this is an incredible combination to help ensure your content is reaching the right people, and well worth the additional plugin.
Don't Overdo It
It's easy to ignore protocol and go way overboard with the plugins on your site, so don't fall into the habit of trying to solve all your problems with them. While they' might be ideal to use in certain situations, keep them on the sidelines until you're sure they're the right solution.
Image courtesy of Titanas, Flickr.
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By Camille McClane
Camille McClane is a freelance writer and online entrepreneur in Southern California. For her, WordPress offers many features that really can’t compare with other blogger platforms, and she loves to take full advantage of what it has to offer.