What are plugins?

Plugins, extensions, modules; depending on the CMS, these are all different names for the same thing. They are a piece of software code intended to allow and application or program do something it would not be able to do on its own. There are plugins for pretty much everything – social media, video playback, etc.

Websites host plugins to allow you to customise your site to your needs. These can range from adding relatively simple functionality, such as allowing you to add a form to your web pages, to making your website more secure and even adding ecommerce functionality.

Choosing the appropriate plugins 

Choosing the appropriate plugins depends on the website you are using. Let’s look at WordPress, for example.

There are thousands available on WordPress, some are free whilst others are available at a cost. Rather than choose the first one you find, you should start by taking a look at the WordPress plugins directory. Here, you can find all of the plugins the site hosts and can research them to find which one would be best for you. 

How do you know which is best?

Like with any product you want to buy/use, it’s important to read reviews before settling on which to use. Seeing how they have worked for others, if they provide what you need to the right standard, will help you in your decision. 

Checking the number of installs can also be a good indicator of the quality of a plugin – a high number would show how popular it is, and therefore means it’s likely to be well tested across the community or is well supported.

In the case of WordPress, you should check which version is supported on WordPress along with the last updated date – it doesn’t have to be true for all cases, but if a plugin hasn’t been updated for 5 years, then there may be issues with it. The WordPress system develops and changes over time and any security or other issues found within the plugin are less likely to be fixed.

Considerations when installing plugins

It can be tempting to install as many plugins as you can find, to add all kinds of functionality to your website. But you should be aware that the more you add, the more issues may arise:

  • More plugins likely mean more scripts, and styles are loaded along with the additional functionality it brings. This can mean longer loading times for your website, and potentially impacting page speed.
  • Plugins can conflict, especially if they aren’t written very well. This could cause problems with the running/display of pages in your website. The more you have installed, the harder it will be to troubleshoot to see where the conflicts lie.
  • There will be more plugins to update. WordPress is constantly updating as the web moves on. More features are being added, removed and changed within WordPress, and security fixes put in place. Plugins will need to be updated based on these changes, otherwise if they fall behind, issues may occur.
  • As time moves on, more security flaws may be discovered, meaning that plugins would need to be updated with patches/fixes for these. If the plugin is no longer being actively developed, then this can become an issue. Most of the negativity towards a CMS such as WordPress in terms of security/hacks would be down to sites that aren’t maintained well, where plugins aren’t updated or chosen carefully. This also applies to updating WordPress, and any themes used.
  • Sometimes, plugins either only offer a small amount of functionality, or offer more when you only need one feature of it, adding to more overhead to the running of the site. It may be better served, or more efficient if it were to be coded into the theme. That may require a developer, or someone with coding knowledge.

Are there any recommended plugins?

If you’re using WordPress, we recommend the following free plugins for your website: 

  • Contact Form 7 – adds the ability to create contact forms.
  • WooCommerce – adds ecommerce functionality.
  • Yoast SEO – adds the ability to check the SEO of any page/post and recommends changes to make to improve.
  • Wordfence – adds malware protection software to protect your site.
  • Redirection – adds the function to easily manage 301 redirections, keep track of 404 errors and so on.