WordPress, the content management system that has taken the world by storm, is always a popular item of discussion among real estate “Web heads.” Whenever you get two people who run WordPress sites in the same place together, chances are the conversation turns to plug-ins.
Out of the box, WordPress does a great job of solving some problems that have been around as long as businesses have been hiring Web developers:
- Make changes to your website content without having to call your Web designer.
- Make the content easily portable through RSS and other geeky stuff.
- Add a blog to your site on your domain.
Not bad for free software. But after you’ve been playing around with WordPress for a little bit you’ll want to start doing more. That’s where plug-ins come into play. WordPress plug-ins are bits of software that extend what WordPress can do.
For example, there are plug-ins that make it easier to integrate video into your pages. There are plug-ins that make it easier to get all kinds of social media buttons on your site. Plug-ins for real estate listings and IDX feeds.
Plug-ins for adding widgets and tweets and backing up you content and adding Google Analytics and adding Woopra and integrating Facebook comments and generating QR (quick response) codes and making fancy image galleries and tricking out your search engine optimization and … you get the idea. There’s a lot of plug-ins.
But there are a couple of hidden problems with the nearly infinite flexibility that WordPress and all of these plug-ins create. Here are three tips for avoiding plug-in problems.
1. Only use plug-ins that solve a business problem
There are so many plug-ins. Many of them do something “cool” or really up the “wow” factor. And let’s be honest: when your competitor adds a shiny new thing on a website, you might get a little bit envious.
Many people discover new plug-ins for WordPress by seeing them in action on another website. That’s great for a demo, but it doesn’t help you stay focused on your business. Even if the other website using the new plug-in is a real estate website, that doesn’t mean the way you do business online will be enhanced by the plug-in you see on that site.
When deciding whether to use a plug-in or not, start by thinking about your business. Think about how you would like people to use your website. Then, use your Web analytics to tell you how people use your website.
If you can make these two things — how you’d like people use your website and how they actually use your website — more similar by using the plug-in, then give it a try.
2. Check for plug-in conflicts
One of the dangers of being able to install all of the additional functionality you want on your website is that some of the things you install will break other things you’ve installed. Testing this stuff is a hassle. It’s why your Web developer gets to charge so much.
Whenever you try out a plug-in, go through your site and make sure that none of your other plug-ins stop functioning. This process is one of the reasons to keep your plug-in count low: it makes finding conflicts easier.
If your new plug-in passes your test and doesn’t blow up any of your other plug-ins, then go ahead and give it a try.
3. When they don’t help, stop using them
You’ll notice that both of the previous tips ended with “give it a try” and not “install it and forget about it forever.” There’s a reason for that.
As you add plug-ins and functionality to your WordPress site you’re adding more computer code. The more code you have the slower your site will get. Some plug-ins will make your site slower than others. But all plug-ins will have an impact on site performance. Slow sites are bad for people and they are bad for search, as well.
If you took the time to identify the business problem that your plug-in is solving, then you should know if the plug-in is working to solve that problem. Maybe you won’t know right away, but you should know sooner or later. And if it’s working — that’s awesome. If it’s not working, remove it.
Cleaning out plug-ins that don’t help your business makes your site faster and gives you less things to worry about.
Another tip: The best SEO plug-in … ever
I often get asked about my favorite WordPress plug-in for SEO. I have a favorite. But I’m not really going to tell you what it is in this column. Not because it’s a big secret, because it isn’t.
The reason is that the best SEO plug-in for WordPress is actually your time. Whatever plug-in you’re using right now to handle SEO on your site (even if you’re not using a plug-in and just using out-of-the-box WordPress) is probably OK.
Take the time you spend worrying about whether you’ve got the best SEO plug-in, researching SEO plug-ins, and asking everyone you know about SEO plug-ins to make more content for your site.
Making more content for your site will almost certainly help your search-engine rankings more than whatever the SEO plug-ins can do for you.
Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.