It is estimated that WordPress powers 34% of all sites on the web and as much as 60% of the website managed by a Content Management System (CMS) and with such a wide install base there is a very large market of 3rd party developers creating plugins that target these websites. Before you start downloading and installing one of the 50,000 plugins in the WordPress.org Plugin Repository it is important to understand a few important things so you can make an informed decision for your WordPress site.
What Are Plugins?
A plugin is a piece of modular software containing a group of functions that can be used to add new or modify existing functions of a WordPress website. They are generally written in PHP and are a way for website owners to add or modify features of WordPress without knowing how to code themselves. A majority of them are free, and with so many websites powered by WordPress, if you are looking for a function that you think a website should have, there is probably already a plugin for that.
Why Use Plugins?
Plugins can benefit many WordPress users from skilled developers, website administrators, to the casual blogger. The main appeal is that plugins can save you a lot of time. For a person trying to set up a website or budget using a free, or sometimes paid ready-made plugin, it can be much cheaper than trying to implement something yourself.
The modularity of the plugin system offers unparalleled flexibility in terms of features and functionality. As something released publically, available on the WordPress Repository you can also see how many downloads a plugin has had, how users have reviewed it, and easily get known reliable and tested code, something you would have to do in-house with a custom solution.
What Else to Consider
With the above description, plugins may seem wonderful and you may want to start browsing the repository right away there are also several factors to consider.
A plugin is only as good as its developer. Poorly implemented plugins can slow down your page speed and all the negative effects that entail, from driving away visitors to reducing your SERP. They may also inadvertently introduce new vectors for attack. According to a whitepaper released by WPScan as much as 54% of known WordPress vulnerabilities come from plugins.
Finally, having too many plugins may cause them to conflict with each other and interact in unexpected ways. In general, it is a good idea to only have as many plugins as you need, and research your plugins to make sure they are well maintained before installing them.
There are thousands of plugins available for WordPress and as a site administrator, you will have to weigh the risks and benefits of each individual plugin. Free plugins may come with ads or lack support, paid plugins may require subscriptions or annual commitments. Before installing or purchasing any plugin be sure to research it, check the reviews, its discussion thread, and be sure to test it on a staging site to see if it works as expected before going live with a new plugin.
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