A software application should indeed do what it was designed to do, but when users want ‘extra’ functionality, that’s where plugins come in.
Plugins have long been an essential aspect of computer programming, web browsing, and content creation. As a result, they have played a critical role in ensuring that even the most fundamental tasks, such as accessing documents or creating forms, run well.
If you are wondering what exactly plugins are and how they influence applications you are using, don’t worry. Here’s a quick and brief rundown.
Plugins or Extensions?
Plugins are software extensions that allow users to customise software applications, web browsers, and web content. While plugins are still used as add-ons to customise applications, their use in web browsers has waned. In turn, browser extensions have taken their place. These days plugins basically mean extra pieces of software that you install to add additional features to your WordPress website.
It’s evident that there is synergy between website plugins (such as SEO Yoast) and browser extensions (such as Grammarly). They are both achieving the exact outcome of adding more to an existing product function. Despite the differences, plugins or extensions allow you to swiftly add or delete additional functions from your software or browser without affecting its core functionality.
Let’s put that into perspective by taking an example of a browser extension.
Say you are drafting a blog post and using an application like MS Word or Google Docs. After you are done with your writing, the application you used would only do minor corrections like spell checking and basic proofreading. Here MS Word or Google Docs seem limited, and you will need an additional application — or its plugin/extension — to do your editing: say, for instance, Grammarly.
Whenever such limitations arise, plugins or extensions appear. They provide a mechanism to get to essential functions without using in-software solutions. Software plugins use the existing program code structure to provide specific functions, similar to how a television plugs into your home’s electrical infrastructure to allow on-demand media access.
There are a variety of free and paid plugins available for you that utilise standard components to provide more robust functionality without modifying the underlying code. We’ll have a look at some of the few examples shortly.
Why Do Plugins Matter?
Plugins are vital because they allow users to add the functions they want when they want them, rather than relying on generic software solutions. Furthermore, because plugins do not alter the underlying code, they are simple to add or delete without affecting the software’s overall performance.
Plugins are also essential for streamlining the structure and function of a website. Website plugins offer key functionality without worrying about specific software restrictions or operational conflicts that could take websites offline. For example, various plugins help website owners create and distribute marketing emails to personalise user content and analyse traffic data.
WordPress Plugins — What’s That?
A WordPress plugin is a software application that may add a set of functionalities to a WordPress website. They are used to enhance the functioning of your WordPress blogs or add new features to the default setup. They allow you to go beyond what the basic WordPress installation offers.
In a way, a default WordPress installation is like a phone on factory settings. It has several things pre-installed that are valuable and covers the core functionality of what a phone needs to do. Often, you want more. You want features that are specifically useful to you. To do that, you install the apps you like. With WordPress, plugins are just like those extra apps you install to do all kinds of things.
WordPress plugins are built in PHP and work in conjunction with and on top of the WordPress platform. They help you with SEO, performance, contact forms, social media buttons, gallery creation, and much more. And just like there are apps for anything, there are over 50,000 WordPress plugins available that all do different things. Since most plugins are free, it is essential to note that they usually do not come with tech support, so be careful when choosing which ones you want to install on your site.
Moreover, WordPress is developed in such a way so that other developers can modify it and add their own code. The WordPress plugin API provides a robust collection of hooks and filters that developers can use to change or add new functionality to WordPress. Each WordPress plugin you install on your site is saved in the WordPress database. You have complete control over whether or not they are active.
Free vs Paid Plugins
Since thousands of free plugins are available from the WordPress directory, why would anyone want to buy them? Well, here are two main reasons why!
While many plugins are available for free from the official directory, paid plugins usually offer full-time support personnel and developers that maintain the security and compatibility with the latest version of WordPress and other add-ons.
Usually, plugins play nicely with the core of WordPress and with other plugins, but sometimes a plugin’s code will impede on the functionality of another plugin, causing compatibility issues. With a paid plugin, it’s good to know you have a support team that can help you out if anything goes wrong.
What Are Some Good Plugins to Have?
Here are five plugins for customising your online browsing, content production, and favourite apps and programs. These plugins can help you alter the design and content of your site as well.
Yoast SEO:Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that provides real-time page analysis to optimise content, images, titles, meta descriptions, and keywords on your pages. Yoast SEO can also construct URLs for you, create legible XML sitemaps, and give you more control over cookies.
Gravity Forms: It allows you to quickly and easily create complicated contact forms without technical skills. You may also develop order forms with pricing options and a format that makes user-generated WordPress content on your site.
SearchWP: This allows the readers to locate the stuff they are looking for with a plugin that’s a big step up from WordPress’s useful built-in search feature.
How Do Plugins Work?
Most applications, including WordPress sites, are written so that other developers can add their code to them. This algorithm allows plugins to work, resulting in either enhanced performance or added functions to the default environment, application, or site.
A plugin adds different functionality to the original code. For example, if you are using WordPress, you may install a plugin that adds a modal window to a page of your site. The plugin adds its own code to the standard code of the site, so the modal window is generated as a part of the site.
Plugins take advantage of easily customisable code structures to interface with the current environment of the application or the WordPress site. Plugins can request specific resources or actions from larger software systems of the computer, allowing them to provide consumers with customised capabilities.
Adding a plugin to your site is heavier than you think — as a dynamic site depends on a lot of different pieces of code working seamlessly together. Adding a plugin to the site means introducing a foreign code into the atmosphere. It may function perfectly, or you might get an error. This is why it’s always best to test the plugins in a development environment.
Where Can I Get Plugins/Extensions?
Every web browser has a dedicated website where you can get plugins and download them (also called “add-ons” or “extensions”). Before making plugins available for download, the web browser publisher (e.g., Google, Mozilla, Apple, etc.) confirms that they are not malicious.
In addition, many WordPress plugins are available in the official WordPress plugin directory. The WordPress Plugin Directory is the largest directory of free and open-source WordPress plugins. You can find out how to host your plugin on WordPress.org. Since plugin development is constantly evolving, make sure to keep up with the latest changes from the official directory.
Pros & Cons of Using Plugins
Although plugins have many pros, some cons make a few plugins disastrous for your privacy and device’s infrastructure.
Here are the major pros and cons of using plugins.
Plugins can help you achieve different goals at a given time. To make it clear, it can help you with multitasking, which is tiresome and repetitive.
Plugins can allow you to measure the analytics of your blog, website, or application.
Plugins can assist you in connecting with your customer on social media, allowing you to communicate outside your website’s niche with them.
Plugins can make your website or blog vulnerable and less secure. The security issues with plugins can make your website prone to being hacked. (Here’s what you can do: Use verified plugins from the authorised sources and developers.)
If you install too many plugins, it will absolutely impact your website’s speed performance and slow it down. (Instead, use plugins that complement each other and aren’t opposing each other with their functioning.)
Less is More.
Plugins are helpful because they enable your site to accomplish things it wouldn’t have been able to do in the first place. However, the more plugins you have, the more likely you will experience issues with your site. Plugin troubles might range from the unexpected to more particular concerns.
Furthermore, each active plugin will cause your site to slow down somehow. Assume that each active plugin causes the site to slow down by, give or take, five milliseconds. If you have 20 active plugins, each page will take a tenth of a second longer to load than if you don’t have any active plugins.
Delete the Plugins You Don’t Use.
Several people have a collection of dormant plugins on their websites. Because you can deactivate a plugin, leaving it on your server may appear enticing. However, even disabled plugins can offer a significant security risk, so if you aren’t utilising the plugin, uninstall it completely. If you change your mind later, you can always reinstall the plugin.
Avoid Plugins That Overlap.
Overlapping plugins in services waste significant space and bandwidth and provide additional security issues. There’s no need for four redirection plugins, six SEO plugins, and eight separate social networking sharing plugins. It’s not only slowing down your site, but it’s also an unnecessary liability.
Your Site Might Stop Working!
If you’ve just added a plugin and your website has crashed, a plugin conflict is almost certainly to blame. As a result, the easiest way to identify the problem is to disable all your plugins and then gradually restart them to find the one that’s causing the problem. Once you’ve figured out which plugin is causing the pain, you can assess the situation and its effective solution(s).
By now, you must have a clear understanding of what plugins are and how to use them on your website. You must also have distinguished between software plugins and browser extensions.
Using plugins relies on your necessity. Having something that boosts your productivity is always a win-win. However, you should take the drawbacks of some plugins into account. We recommend you use plugins for better results using them; however, it’s on your website’s need in the end.
All in all, the benefits of using plugins outweigh the minor drawbacks they come with. Having technology do monotonous tasks is time-saving and less tiring, and plugins are there for this very reason. If you still need more help in understanding the best practice use of plugins and ways of implementing them, feel free to reach out to us here!
Do you need a trusted digital solutions partner to help optimise each area of your digital presence - drive more high-quality traffic, generate more qualified leads and turn more prospects into customers?
We understand that software development and digital marketing can be challenging and daunting areas for any business to navigate, so that's why we are here to help you.