If you use WordPress as your blogging software (and why wouldn’t you ;)) you’ll know all about the extended functionality you can add to you blog as via Plugins.
One of the first things I get asked when I hand over the key to a new WordPress blog is “what plugins do I need?”, which always leads to the conversation about what you want to use the plugins for.
Sometimes you don’t need a plugin at all as the functionality is in the theme.
It can be a heady thing seeing the variety of plugins and knowing that there are free as well as premium plugins that will take your WordPress site beyond just blogging.
An example of this is “breadcrumb navigation”, if you use the Genesis framework this is a standard feature. If you use another theme (Thesis) it may not be a standard feature and you may have to code it in or use a plugin.
Coding VS Plugins?
Coding every single time…. if you can’t add some code to your child theme then talk to someone who can. There’s also the Genesis Extender Plugin if you have the Genesis theme which will add parts to your .php files and function files without you getting into a mess. Note – Don’t code directly into WordPress itself as you’ll lose that code when the next update comes through – always add the code to the child theme. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to get in someone who does.
If you have no budget you can attempt it yourself, but be prepared to have to get an expert in if you wreck your blog :), yup, when you own a blog it’s like owning a car; when you drive it off the forecourt its your responsibility, if you wrap it around a tree then you pay to get it fixed.
One of the ways you can tell a WordPress blogging expert from an amateur is how soon in the conversation they say “there’s a plugin for that” when you are talking about blogging functionality. If it’s too soon, ie when you say “can my blog do this…” and the reply is “there’s a plugin that does that”…you know you are being led up the garden path. Why? Firstly a plugin is NOT the answer to everything when it comes to functionality. Somethings are just not possible and if they are, they may not get on with your existing plugins… And that’s why plugins are second in the conversation, and the first part of it is WHY do you actually want to do something.
Talking of blog wrecking… what do you do when your plugins go nuts?
Well, one of the signs is the White Screen of Death. You type in your URL, press enter and you get a white screen. This is almost always caused by a plugin. It could also be a plugin that uses up a lot of memory, a theme that is poorly coded and conflicting and in some cases it can be a hosting issue. In my 8 years of blogging, every single time I’ve seen the WordPress White Screen of Death it’s been caused by plugins.
When does it happen? Sometimes (75% of the time) after the plugins or WordPress is upgraded you’ll get the White Screen. The cure? Go into your FTP / Cpanel and disable all of the plugins. Then check to see if your site is back? If it’s not, delete the current them and let it default back to the basic theme… still not working? Now is the time to get help.
When you know its the plugins / theme you can correct it and get your site back to normal.
In some rare cases you will need to increase your memory limit. That would be when you contact your host or you can try it yourself. In most cases for this, you’ll see that your site doesn’t actually display a white screen but an error code where it tells you that you’re at your memory limit.
Too much of anything can be dangerous, moderation is best, except for when it comes to chocolate ;) There are two things to keep in mind when installing plugins:
- Too many plugins can slow down your site and eat up bandwidth.
- Too many of the same plugin type can cause conflicts and clashes.
Even the best plugin can also let unexpected security risks slip through your “doors” — if they are not regularly updated.
Now, you can have 100 plugins on your WordPress website and it work perfectly because the plugins are coded perfectly by some great people. And then again you may have a plugin that hasn’t been updated for 2 years and it won’t play nice with all the others. It has to go. No whining about how much you loved it, it’s causing a problem and you have the option of paying someone to upgrade the plugin or code in the functionality.
How do you know that your WordPress plugin is nicely coded? When you look in the WordPress plugin repositary, you’ll see that the plugins are rated, tell you what version of WordPress its compatible with and how many times the plugin has been downloaded and what it needs to work… You need to look at this information before you install a plugin.
When purchasing a premium plugin you’ll need to do a little research prior to purchasing.
Again you’ll be looking for things like updates / downloads and compatibility, but that information isn’t always available.
Plugin developers provide new versions frequently.
They provide updates to address glitches and bugs, but often the reason there’s an upgrade is because someone has discovered a security leak, or leak potential etc in the plugin’s coding. So to help prevent plugin conflict you need to update your plugins often.
How to De-bug Faulty Manual Plugin Installations
One of the most frequent causes of plugin conflict can be through manually installing a plugin via your FTP. Occasionally this manual upload process via FTP won’t work. There are two things you can do to fix it…
Make sure your plugin is there – Open your FTP program again to make sure it’s actually in the right folder (wp-content/plugins). If it’s not there (it does happen!) upload it again.
If it is there breathe a sigh of relief and delete right from the server, then upload again
If it still doesn’t work, check out your unzipped plugin folder very thoroughly: Is there a second folder within the folder (“double wrapping”)? If so, delete the unsuccessful upload and start again, this time using the folder within the folder only. I get caught by this all of the time.
Plugins: To Zip or Unzip?
Remember, if you’re manually uploading via WordPress, keep your plugin folder zipped.
If you’re uploading via FTP, unzip first (unless the plugin developer states otherwise). Remember to click “Activate”, once your plugin appears in your installed plugins page.
Read the instructions first when it comes to installing the plugins you want, it’s the difference between a perfect blog and a mess that you have to sort out over a day or so whilst you are trying to do other things.
Dealing with a plugin conflict
If you have a plugin conflict, deactivate the last plugin you installed and chill out for a moment. Is the plugin essential? Is it vital, will your whole world fall apart without it? If so then the next step is deactivate all of the plugins and then reactivate them one by one to see which one is causing the grief. 4Can you live without that plugin? If so, un-install it and delete it. As I recently found out even un-installing and deleting some plugins isn’t enough to get rid of them and the hassle they have caused! In which case you need to pick up the phone and call someone in as quite clearly it’s a plugin gone rogue.
Of course there can be other reasons why plugins go nuts
Too many of the same types of plugin can cause problems. Do you really need 6 different versions of stats on your blog? Or 4 different SEO plugins? Chose one type and stick with it. When you change plugins for one thing often, you undo the work that you have already done. Some SEO related plugins take a little while to kick in and if you are not using them correctly then they may never deliver the results that you think they will. Installing another SEO plugin on top of that is not the cure
Incorrectly configured plugins may be a pain, again read the instructions, and dare I say it… do as you are advised.
Remember less is more when it comes to plugins
Share with us your tips for dealing with plugins that have gone nuts.