John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you, by McDougall Interactive. We’re an Internet marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today my guest is Rick Floyd, and we’ll be discussing WordPress Plugins. Welcome Rick.
Rick Floyd: Hi John.
John: Rick, what are WordPress Plugins?
Rick: WordPress, as most people who might be listening to this probably know, is a website content management system which you build your website in. Plugins are ways to extend the functionality of those programs, of WordPress. Think of it as a small software program, that you add to the software that runs WordPress.
John: They can add in some additional features, that maybe didn’t originally come with your WordPress theme. If you built it from scratch, then it adds some additional functionality to it.
Rick: Correct. For instance, a contact form, something to help you do redirects. It goes a lot further than that. Something to help you share content on social media. There are plugins that are more of a site management tool, like a backup tool, or a database optimization tool for example.
John: Organizing on media, like photographs, or things like that.
Rick: Correct. Photo galleries. It really runs again, almost anything you can think of.
John: Are plugins free?
Rick: Some are; some are not. Generally a paid plugin has a development support team behind it, which means it will be kept up to date. If you experience issues with your plugin, you have a place to get help, which is always nice. This doesn’t mean that the free plugins are bad, per say. I’ll give you an example.
The free version of the Yoast SEO plugin is a great example that is kept up to date, and where the developer is likely to answer your questions in his online forum, just because there are so many people using it. The more a free plugin is downloaded and used, the more likelihood that there will be support available from other users online, due to its popularity.
Can plugins break my WordPress site?
John: Can plugins cause problems with my website? I’ve heard some people saying, “You want to avoid plugins,” or some people saying, “No. Plugins are fine.” Do you run that risk of installing a plugin, and then having something go wrong with your website?
Rick: You certainly don’t want to avoid plugins. One of the reasons you want WordPress is because of the plugins. You can so easily add things to your website, that if you weren’t on WordPress, you’d be paying a developer to do.
John: There’s so many people, who use WordPress. That’s one of the advantages, like you said, of WordPress. There are so many developers out there using WordPress, and writing plugins for WordPress. No matter what you want to do on your website, there’s probably a plugin out there that will do it for you, without having to go to a developer.
Rick: Yeah. Correct. The important thing to check with any plugin though, is whether it’s compatible with your current version of WordPress. WordPress puts out versions, just like any other software. They update it from time to time. One way to check that is WordPress.org, is where all things WordPress live.
You go to WordPress.org/plugins, and each plugin listed within that will say right next to it, “compatible up to version xxx.” Up to Version 4.2.3 refers to the most recent version of WordPress that the plugin will work with. If you then click on an individual plugin listing to see more information about it, there will also be a note that’s saying that, “This requires WordPress version X, or higher.”
It’s giving you the lowest version it will work with, and that’s what it requires or higher, and then the highest version it will work with. It’s possible you could have a plugin, or find one on WordPress.org. You’re using WordPress 4.5, and it’s says it’s only good up to 4.4, you want to avoid that plugin.
Updating WordPress Plugins
John: Maybe they found out that something that they had in the code doesn’t work with the latest version of WordPress, and you want to make sure about that. What if you’re running a bunch of plugins, and then you decide that you want to upgrade your version of WordPress?
Do you have to go back and look at all of your plugins, and make sure that they’re still compatible?
Rick: You should. Definitely. That’s a great point. If you’re using a lot of plugins, and most WordPress installs I’ve seen, do have a lot of them, before you upgrade WordPress you want to see that your plugins are all going to work. That goes back to free, versus paid again too.
If it’s either a paid plugin, or a really popular free plugin, the developer probably knows well in advance that WordPress is going to release a new version ‑‑ they make that very public ‑‑ and probably has taken care of that in advance.
John: They tend to keep those things right up to date, so that they know that they’re going to work with the latest version when it gets released.
Rick: There are a couple other things, when you see a listing on WordPress.org for a plugin. In the same area that it says the version information, and which versions it will work with, there’s a Last Updated date. If it’s 2015 and you see the last time the plugin was updated was 2013, I would try to avoid that.
It means it’s not being supported, it’s not being updated. The likelihood it’s going to work with your current version is not too good, much less a new version of WordPress.
John: Do you think that you want to make sure that it’s been updated sometime in the last year, or sometime in the last six months? Does it depend?
Rick: I tend to look for last six months or so, particularly if I know that I’ve updated WordPress. There’s no schedule of WordPress updates. Let’s say WordPress has released three new updates this year, and the plugin…I might be a little more wary of it if it was three months, six months, that’d be fine.
If it was over than that, could be a problem. It totally depends on the version you’re using. I know people who are very happy with versions of WordPress at 2.5, and all their plugins are 2.5, and everything works perfectly fine. That’s like six years old at this point, but it’s all working.
That’s the other part of the story. If it’s working, it’s working.
At some point, the other thing to be concerned with is you’re probably going to run into a security hole, if you’re using older versions. The developers aren’t just developing new versions for functionality. They’re patching security holes as well.
WordPress Security Updates
John: These new versions of WordPress that are coming out, are fixing problems with security.
Rick: Correct. Sometimes like on a big security, WordPress will release version let’s say 4.x, and then they find a security hole in it right away. 4.x.1 will come out right away, or very soon after. That’s why it’s not an even release date sequence.
John: If I do install a plugin, and then I experience some problems with my website, what should I do then?
Rick: If you think a plugin is causing problems, and you know that it’s listed as being compatible with your version of WordPress, the general cause of action is to go through one by one, and disable your other plugins. I disable plugin A, then I go back to website, see if I’m still seeing the problem.
If I’m not, then that’s probably not a conflict of that particular plugin with the new one you put in. It’s probably not the new one, you put in. One by one, you just check them out. If you disable a plugin and the problem goes away, then that’s probably the issue.
Then you have a choice of either not using the new one you put in, or trying to see if the one that’s causing the problem has been updated, because the developer knows that there’s a problem. Now having said that, most good plugins are quite aware of that issue.
If they know that their plugins are having a problem, let’s say Yoast SEO…that’s a very popular plugin. If the guy who developed that knew that he was having a problem with Contact Form 7, which is a very popular WordPress contact form plugin, he’s probably going to address that pretty darn quickly.
Where to Get Support for WordPress Plugins
John: Where can you get some support for WordPress, if you are having issues?
Rick: If you’ve got a paid plugin, you’re probably paying for support, so you go to the plugin developer. If it’s free in cases of very popular plugins again like Yoast SEO, he tends to give some support, just because so many people use his product. If you’re having some of the more popular plugins like that, or like Jetpack, these have been installed over a million times.
You can almost guarantee that someone’s had the same problem. WordPress.org, also has WordPress.org/support. There are forms there. You type in the problem you’ve been having, somebody else ‑‑ I almost guarantee you ‑‑ will have had that same problem, and you can start looking up answers that way.
John: All right. That’s great advice and good information, since WordPress is so popular now with websites, just a huge number of websites that are using the WordPress platform as a CMS. That’s really great information to have on plugins. Thanks for talking with me today, Rick.
Rick: Thank you John.
John: For more information about digital marketing, visit mcdougallinteractive.com. Make sure you subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, and Stitcher. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.