If you have a WordPress website, then chances are you’ve at least heard mention of plugins. They are really useful but they also have the potential to cause quite a lot of problems so I’ve put together this guide to help you do exactly what it says in the title … choose and use WordPress plugins with confidence.

I’m going to cover 3 main points in this post:

So let’s start at the very beginning.

What is a WordPress plugin?

Essentially it’s a piece of code, packaged up into this thing called a plugin, that you add to your WordPress site to provide some extra functionality that isn’t included in the standard WordPress installation.

It means you don’t need to get involved with the code because you can easily add plugins from the WordPress dashboard 🙂

Plugins are a fantastic feature of WordPress

Using plugins you can get WordPress to do pretty much anything you want.

There are plugins to save you time, plugins that allow you to sell from your website, plugins to keep your website safe, plugins to build your email list, plugins to help increase your visibility, … I could go on.

And what’s more, loads of these plugins are free. AMAZING!

BUT …

Plugins can also provide a route into your website for hackers, they can slow your site down, they don’t always behave as you want, they can stop other things on your website from working or they can completely crash your website. Ouch!

Don’t let that put you off exploring the wonderful world of WordPress plugins though – just follow my tips to choose and use them wisely and safely.

4 Tips for Choosing Plugins Wisely

1. Ask yourself whether you really need this plugin.

It is good for security and speed to keep the number of plugins on your website to a minimum so before you install a plugin make sure it’s really giving you useful additional functionality. And if you install it then find you aren’t using it, remove it.

2. Do your research.

Plugins are a major blog post topic within the WordPress community so whatever you want to do you’ll probably be able to find a blog post that tells you the best plugins for the job.

E.g. I’ve just done a search for ‘best social sharing plugin’ and the whole 1st page of Google’s results is full of recent articles with titles like

Research plugins

So there’s no shortage of information out there. Just make sure you are sticking to articles published in the last year because things change quickly.

3. Try to choose plugins that do just what you want.

Sometimes you’ll find a plugin that does what you want but that feature comes packaged alongside a whole load of other features. In general, the closest you can get to a plugin doing only what you need it to do, the better.

4. Check plugins in the WordPress repository.

Most plugins are listed in the official WordPress repository at https://engb.wordpress.org/plugins/

When you are considering a plugin, look it up in here and you will see information like this:

Plugins in the WordPress repository

There’s a description of what the plugin does together with information about the difference between the free and premium versions where relevant.

I would recommend that you always look at the following information from the right-hand side:

  • Last updated – ideally you want a plugin that has been updated recently because this shows it’s still being actively supported and developed.
  • Active installations – a large number here is reassuring.
  • Tested up to – you want something that has been tested up to a recent version of WordPress (and ideally the version you are using).
  • Ratings – obviously you’re looking for lots of high ratings and very few low ratings.

You can also read reviews of the plugin.

So, you’ve done your research and chosen a plugin, the next stage is to install it on your site.

5 Steps for Installing Plugins Safely

1. Back-up your site.

Make sure your site is backed up before you install a new plugin. That way if anything goes horribly wrong you have the option of reverting to your back-up.

2. Install the plugin.

In the WordPress dashboard go to Plugins | Add New and either search for the plugin and Install or, if you have the plugin in a zip file, Upload. Once you have installed the plugin you need to Activate it and follow any additional instructions it gives you.

3. Check everything works.

Visit your website and make sure everything looks okay.

4. If not, you can deactivate and delete the plugin.

To get rid of a plugin simply go to the WordPress dashboard and Plugins. Find your troublesome plugin in the list and click Deactivate.

[WARNING: More advanced techie info!] Very, very occasionally, installing a plugin will cause a really serious problem that prevents you even from getting into your WordPress dashboard. If that happens then you can resolve the problem by accessing your website files via ftp or the File Manager in your CPanel and deleting the specific plugin folder from within the plugins directory.

5. Keep plugins up-to-date.

To keep your site as secure and hacker-proof as possible, as well as benefitting from any improvements, you should keep your plugins up-to-date. WordPress will alert you when plugins need updating with a number next to the Plugins menu item in the dashboard and you can simply go into there and update them. You can also do this via Dashboard | Updates.

Plugin updates
Updates in the WordPress dashboard

So, that’s it: You should now be able to confidently choose and use WordPress plugins and benefit from the amazing array of functionality they can add to your website. Always remember to check that you have an up-to-date back-up before making any changes to your site and then you really can’t go wrong.

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