What plugins should you be using?

I’ve heard this question a few times recently. Although I do have a list of plugins that I recommend for most new WordPress sites (more on that in the next post), I’d like to go back to first principles and reframe the question.

Before asking “what plugins do I need?” first ask “What do I want my site to do?”

The best plugins for an online art store are different from the best plugins for a breaking-news blog, because the sites are designed for totally different goals.

Even two sites that seem outwardly similar — two online art stores, say — could have different plugin needs. One artist might be a social-butterfly blogger building a tribe of individual fans, and the other might be aimed solely at selling commissioned pieces to corporate collectors.

Different goals, different needs, different plugins.

Also, plugins are software. They’re pieces of code that “plug in” to the WordPress software that’s already running your site. As you add more pieces of software, you increase the likelihood that your site will load more slowly and be subject to mysterious and terrible things like JavaScript conflicts.

When it comes to keeping a WordPress site running smoothly, I like to invoke Occam’s Razor: Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.

Or, in non-philosophy speak: Use the right tools for the job…and as few of them as possible.

Here are a couple of specific steps you can take to get rid of unnecessary plugin clutter and conflicts:

  • Deactivate plugins you’re not actually using. Ask a web person (hello!) if you’re not sure what a specific plugin is actually doing for your site.
  • Delete inactive plugins. Don’t keep them around “just in case” you might need them someday. It’s better to just reinstall them if the need arises.
  • Upgrade plugins when a new version is available (you can see right on the upgrade screen whether new versions are compatible with the version of WordPress you’re using — which is also the latest, right?).

I’ll be sharing some ideas on what exactly “the right tools for the job” means, as well as some tips for finding and evaluating plugins for use on your site, in coming posts.

Have a plugin question? Ask in the comments, or give me a call during Open Office Hour.