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What are WordPress Plugins? A Beginner's Guide to Best Practices Using Plugins

By now, you’ve probably heard of plugins for WordPress. On the WordPress.org marketplace, there are thousands of plugins available for a wide variety of purposes, from security and SEO to eCommerce and analytics. Simply put, WordPress plugins add functionality to your website, like downloading apps for your smartphone. They allow you and your audience to interact with your website in various ways, but they can also help secure your website, block spam, or change the page builder you currently use. 

With so many options available, how do you know which plugins are right for your website, and how many plugins are necessary? Let’s dive into 7 things you should know to use WordPress plugins to your greatest advantage.

1. Limit Your Number of Plugins

The first question you should ask yourself before diving into plugins is, do I really need it for my website? Because there are thousands of plugins available on the market, it can be very tempting to download dozens of free plugins because they sound like a great idea. But are the plugins essential to your website performance, and will they ultimately achieve the goals you have for your website? Only download what is absolutely necessary for your website, and avoid anything that simply sounds good. Make sure you have a goal for each plugin you download and install. 

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2. Download from a Reliable Source

Not every plugin is created equal. One of the easiest ways to tell if a plugin is high quality is to have a look at its official website. If there is no official website, it might be worth a closer look to see how reputable the plugin is across the internet. Remember, only choose plugins that have a solid reputation behind them. If the developer name is not clearly seen, there are no regular updates being added to the plugin, there are very few active installations of the plugin, or if there is no information available for technical support, it might not be a plugin you want to download and install. Always do your research when it comes to plugins, just like you would for any other product you purchase.  

3. Perform Regular Updates

One of the most important practices when using WordPress plugins is to keep them updated regularly. Although it can be tempting to use all free plugins or free versions of premium plugins, these might not be regularly updated by the creators. When plugins are not regularly updated, they will pose long-term security risks to your website. 

Instead, choose plugins that have a well-established reputation for being superior in quality and security. Make sure security updates are ongoing and regular, and some level of support is available when you need it. 

Choosing a fully managed WordPress hosting service through a provider such as Flywheel can help you avoid many security issues you may encounter with WordPress plugins. Flywheel offers free malware cleanup, auto-healing technology for your website, and nightly backups of your website to ensure all of your content is protected. 

4. Delete Old Plugins

As part of your routine maintenance, make it a priority to delete any old or unused plugins to avoid creating security risks for your website. Try to think of it as trash collecting inside of your house -- ultimately, it will create internal problems for your website. Schedule regular maintenance on your website to ensure your plugins are cleared and up to date. This is one of the best ways to maximize your time, investment, and security. 

Other Factors to Consider

  1. Space: Keep in mind that your web hosting plan limits the amount of space you have for your website, and each plugin will take a piece of your allotted space. 
  2. Speed: Another important factor to consider is the speed of your website, and utilizing too many plugins at once might slow down your website.
  3. Troubleshooting: Lastly, remember that when something goes wrong on your website, troubleshooting can take a much longer time as you sort through all of your plugins to determine which (if any) are causing a conflict on your website. For these reasons, it’s important to only use what plugins are essential to your website, and always delete any plugins that you no longer use. 
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About the Author:
Some people look at the sky and see stars; others see constellations. Some people look at lines of code and see a website; Julia saw a path to empower women in building their dreams. As a (former) military wife, self-taught web developer, and lover of location independence, Julia has taught over 2,400 women to say “YES” to any WordPress request, but not only that, “YES” to themselves, and “YES” to creating life on their own terms. Empowering women and seeing others succeed is the biggest motivator for Julia. And so, she created a program to teach others the skills that allowed her to take back control of her life and start living on her own terms.
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