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Understanding WordPress Plugins

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I used to wait to talk about plugins until later in the process of developing a Professional Services Website. But what I have discovered is that virtually none of my beginning students ever back-up their sites and I think it’s because up I leave talking about backing the site until the end. In order to backup our site, we need to use a plugin.

Since we just created our pages we have something to backup. We will continue to back the site up as we create more content and add styling. You are going to back up your site the way you ought to back it up which is as you are working on it. This way when something goes wrong, you can restore back to an earlier position and you don’t lose all of your work.

As I said, in order for us to back our site up we have to install a plugin and that is why we are going to start talking about plugins now.

What is a Plugin?

So what is a plugin? A plugin is a program that adds some functionality to your site. It may add content to your site, it may not. It may add some other utility to your site. People may see the effect of it on the website when they come visit, but they may not. It’s facility might only show up in the administration. It is basically some block of functionality that is bolted on to WordPress.

Plugins that Come Automatically Installed

When you install WordPress from one of the big hosts, like BlueHost in this case, they add all kinds of junk to the plugins. I refer to it as junk not because it’s necessarily bad to use, there may be some benefit somewhere along the line, but because it’s primarily designed to sell you stuff. And I think that’s confusing for beginners. They end up thinking they need to pay money for things that they don’t need to pay for.

Let’s take a look at the plugins that came automatically installed and activated when I installed WordPress. We’ve got Akismet, Hello Dolly, Jetpack and MOJO Marketplace.

Why I Delete these Plugins

And my first principle in dealing with plugins is to delete all of the plugins that came pre-installed when you install WordPress.

Akismet can be a viable viable tool but it costs you money. Hello Dolly only exists out of affection for the first WordPress plugin the WordPress guys made. It doesn’t do anything useful.

Jetpack is a plugin made by WordPress.com and has lots of features. But before you either employ or purchase those features, you want to research all or at least some of the alternatives before you embrace this massive plugin. It is many times the size of WordPress and if you’re not careful, it will slow your site way down. And then MOJO Marketplace is some way of Bluehost selling you stuff.

How to Delete Plugins in Bulk

I’m going to show you how to delete these plugins all at once. Come over here and click on this button below bulk actions and it will select all the plugins. But before you can delete all of these, you have to deactivate them. So, first I’ll choose deactivate and press apply. And then we’ll do that one more time.

Actually, I just want to note something. Some of the plugins are missing from here. You don’t have that MOJO marketplace or bluehost button up here. You don’t have the marketplace button over here.

Let’s take a quick look at the site. I’m logged in so you can’t see it but if you came to the site not logged in, you would see a Coming Soon page that is implemented by this MOJO marketplace plugin. People are often confused about why they can’t get rid of that Coming Soon page on their site. The answer is because of this plugin here.

Now I’m going to delete them all. Deletion failed, internal server error. Okay, let’s try it again. That time the deletions worked.

Review of the Plugin Admin Menu

Let’s take a look at the plugin admin menu. Actually, I’m going to need to show this to you on a different site now that we have deleted all of those plugins. I’ll show it to you on byobwebsite. Here we are, installed plugins. This is the plugin admin menu right here. It says plugins.

The plugin admin menu has three sub-menus.

  • Installed plugins
  • Add new plugins
  • Editor

Installed plugins shows you the whole list of plugins you currently have installed. The add new allows you to add plugins. The editor, you must never use. If you are taking this class, then you should never use this editor. In the first place this editor is a poorly conceived idea that allows editing of plugins and live site. This allows you to edit their PHP code, it’s a horrible idea.

Only seasoned professionals should use the editor. I just don’t think it has any place in the beginners’ website but it’s there anyway. So you are going to ignore editor.

Installed Plugins

Let’s start off by looking at the installed plugins. You have some viewing options. You can set the number of plugins you want to see by page up here in screen options. I’m showing 50 per page so that I can see all of my plugins on one page but I think the default is 10. Let’s see. Number of items per page, a thousand.

It used to be set up at like 10 or 12 you’d have to page through your plugins. If you are in a host where this is set to a number less than you’d need in order to be able to see every plugin on the same page, all you have to do is just change the items per page there. That is the case for all kinds of things in WordPress so it’s something to bear in mind.

This is the installed plugins menu. This is essentially the plugin navigation section along here. You can search here for installed plugins or you can look at all of the active plugins, all of the inactive plugins, all of the recently active and all of those with an update.

Then we have two special kinds of plugins. These are plugins that you are not installing yourself. They are the most used plugins and the drop-ins. These are generally installed by your host when you install WordPress. We’ll come back and take a look at some of those in a few minutes.

How To Determine a Plugin’s Status

If you click on this you see the 37 active plugins on byobwebsite or the 6 inactive ones or the 4 that have updates available to them. Each one of these different states gives you a visual clue.

So, if you’ve got a plugin in the light blue and the blue hard line here, that plugin is both active and up to date. You can also see its got a deactivate button here. If it’s all white without that line, this is a plugin that is up to date but not active. So you’ll see an activate line there.

This is an example of a plugin that is active so it’s has a blue line but it also has a newer version. The same thing is true for this and for this. Here are two plugins that are not active but are up to date. There isn’t a plugin here that is not active and not up to date but you know it looks just like this except it’s white without the blue. This tells you that there is a plugin that needs to be updated.

Add New

The add new section, which you can get to from here, has a couple of different sections. Again this is plugin navigation here. All of these plugins that show up here in this plugin navigation are part of the WordPress plugin directory.

Search for Plugins

These are the plugins that are not currently on my site but that I can find by searching. For example, if I want to find a contact form, I can search for “contact form” and this goes out to the plugin directory and finds everything that matches that term. Unfortunately, you can’t sort them but you can search for them by keyword.

You can also look at featured plugins. That’s what this opened up with, these things here. You can look at recommended plugins. Actually, I don’t know how they get that status. Maybe it’s because they’ve got the best recommendations so that’s probably how it happens. It’s worth taking a look at the recommended plugins.

Then there are favorites. You can login to your WordPress.org and save favorites and then those would show up. In any case, more often than not what you’re going to do here is search for a plugin.

Upload a Plugin

The other thing you can do is upload a plugin. Typically premium plugins that you buy, you have to upload. You can’t download them directly from the stores because these stores only connect to WordPress.org.

So if you’re going to use a premium plugin you usually have to go to the plugin site purchase it, download it, and then you would use this upload plugin to install it.

Why I Recommend BackUp Buddy

Well that’s the case for BackUp Buddy. It is a premium plugin and is, in my estimation, the world class backup system for WordPress. It handles the most complicated situations and it is very highly secure. It’s relatively simple to use and they have a spectacular support.

It is what I use on everything except for my sites that are at WPEngine where they have their own backup system that I use there. But if the site is not located at WPEngine, then it is being backed up by BackUp Buddy.

You can download BackUp Buddy from the course page and you can do it without feeling badly about getting it for free because BackUp Buddy is a GPL-Licensed plugin which means it can be freely distributed. It charges you for automatic updates and for support. But if you’ve got a copy of it, you are free to use it any way you’d like. In this case, for me it means that I make it available to students in this class so they can begin immediately backing their site up.

Once you find out how great it is, chances are you’ll go ahead and purchase it so I don’t have any qualms about giving it to you.

Download and Install BackUp Buddy

You can download it from here. Once you’ve done that, you can go over the site and hit add new. Then upload a plugin and choose the file. This is in my downloads folder where generally it should be for you as well. I’m going to search for BackUp Buddy, and there it is. Hopefully this one 7.2.2.4. And install it.

Rules for Choosing Plugins

I got a little bit ahead of myself here in my plugin introduction so while we’re waiting for it to install, I want to give you some rules for when you’re considering plugins.

Use Minimum Necessary – Plugins Affect Site Speed

The first one is that plugins affect site speed. Some of them affect site speed more than others. Plugins that show up on the front side of your site one way site or the other affect site speed more than plugins that just show up on the admin side. But nevertheless, whether you like it or not, plugins affect site speed and they tend to slow your site down so you want to keep them to a minimum.

Know the Source – Plugins Add Security Vulnerabilities

Plugins also provide security vulnerabilities and because of that you need to know the source of the plugin. That means you should never install a free plugin unless you really trust the source. For example, I offer some free plugins and boxes and if you don’t trust me then you don’t want to use those. You want to trust the source otherwise you don’t know whether or not my plugins are going to install malware on your site.

Free Plugins

So you should be very careful about the plugins you want to install on your site. Most malware comes in the form of free plugins. They are giving it to you free to entice you into installing it and then potentially infecting your site.

Poorly Made Plugins

There are also sources of poorly made plugins or plugins with vulnerabilities even if you pay for them. A good example of them is Envato. This is a very large theme and plugin sales company that has had many of its plugins be the source of thousands and thousands of hacking attempts. It’s not necessarily the fault of Envato but you just have to make sure that you trust the source.

If you don’t trust the source or there are questions about the source, you just don’t not want to use it because plugins can introduce security vulnerabilities.

Hacking Prevention – Keep Your Plugins Up To Date

Rule number 3 is you want to always keep your plugins up to date. This is the most often reasons why sites get hacked. Sites get infected by malware because their plugins, their themes and/or their WordPress installation is not up to date. You always want to keep your plugins up to date. Often a plugin update is to fix a security vulnerability that they find.

Don’t Use Caching Plugins During Development

Rule number 4 is never use any caching plugin during a development. We will cover and look at these must-use plugins. You’ll see that there are 2 caching plugins here, there’s the Endurance Browser Cache and the Endurance Page Cache. These 2 caching plugins were installed by BlueHost when we installed WordPress.

How to Disable During Development

So at the beginning you want to disable this. It is incredibly frustrating to try to do development on a website and have to wonder if you are doing what you’re supposed to do when you can’t see the results of your changes right away on the site. If you can’t see the changes the reason is because of caching.

Either your browser is caching an old web page or the server is caching an old web page or the WordPress website is caching an old web page.

If you install WordPress from HostGator, they go so far as to install WPSuperCache and they activate it at the very beginning. Caching these days is the cause of 25% of my answers on the forum, 25% of my request for support. If you have a problem where you are not getting what you expect what you should be getting, chances are the answer is you’ve got some kind of caching on your site.

You may want to just make sure that in this must-use section, if there are caching plugins you disable them. Some other names are WPSuperCache or WPRocket but there are all kinds of caching plugins. If you a plugins and it looks like a caching plugin, disable it while you are in development.

However, when your site’s all done, by all means, consider using caching. We’re going to talk more about caching later in the course. But don’t use caching until your websites are a 100% complete.

If You Don’t Know What It Does, Delete It

We’re at rule number 6. Never keep a plugin if you don’t know what it does. I run into this all the time when I’m helping out members of the site. I’ll look at their plugin list and see that they have a bunch of plugins in there. Some of them are deactivated, some of them are activated and they have no idea what they do.

Never keep a plugin when you don’t know what it does. This point goes back to the two most important things I said in the beginning about plugins. Plugins affect site speed and they provide security vulnerabilities. If you don’t know what it does, then you don’t need it and you should delete it.

Delete Pre-Installed Plugins

The next rule is generally throw away pre-installed plugins which is what we did at the beginning of this.

Can Deactivate Utility Plugins When Not Using

Finally, if you’re using utility plugins, you can deactivate them once you’re done with them. For example, on byobwebsite I do use some utility plugins that I only activate when I need them.

For example, Search Regex is something I activate only when I need it. And, actually Regenerate Thumbnails should be deactivated because I am not using it right now. It is also a utility plugin that doesn’t need to run all the time. WP Post Cloner is not active right now because I don’t need to clone posts at the moment.

So when you’ve got plugins that you’re going to use but you don’t need right away, just go ahead and deactivate them. They’ll sit there and they won’t slow down your site that much and you can always go back and re-activate them later. However, make sure that you still keep them up to date. Whether you like it or not, you need to keep them up to date.

Somebody just asked me about the most reliable source of free plugins. Your most reliable source is WordPress.org. The most reliable source of free plugins can be found right here under add new.

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