WordPress plugins are designed to add supplemental features to a website without having to hard-code those features into the design. They’re not supposed to be used as Band-Aids for programming problems or choosing the wrong theme.
Unfortunately, plugins have become trendy and are often unknowingly used for the wrong reasons, or installed in excess. Too many plugins can make an entire website ineffective by slowing it down and creating security holes that are easily hacked.
Making the best use of plugins begins with understanding their purpose and impact on your website before you decide to make them a permanent part of your design.
- Follow the rule that less is more
“Less is more” is wisdom that applies to nearly every aspect of life, especially websites. The less clutter you present to visitors, the easier it is for them to navigate your site. Plugins don’t always present visual clutter (although they can). However, they create clutter on the back end that can slow down your site’s performance.
- Question popular navigation plugins before using them
Not every popular plugin is effective. Mega menus are popular but largely unnecessary for most websites. In fact, mega menus encourage you to link all of your pages, which doesn’t necessarily help your visitors. Bigger is not always better. There’s nothing wrong with using the standard menu that comes with your theme.
Simple menus are more effective because they meet a visitor’s needs. Professionals like the Hardison & Cochran Law Firm understand this; they’re using the simple high contrast menu built into their WordPress theme. Despite having plenty of pages, they only link main pages in their navigation. Clean and simple navigation helps visitors make the right choices from the start.
Another popular menu style people seek through plugins is the hover menu. These menus are frustrating and should be avoided, plugin or not. The belief is that a hover menu saves the visitor a click. However, hover menus cause frustration; they disappear if the mouse is moved off accidentally.
The worst is when a hover menu forces a user to move their mouse along a narrow, defined path to make a selection. They can’t take the fastest path to the sub item they want because if the mouse leaves the narrow sub menu area, the whole menu will disappear. This is called a hover tunnel, and was probably created accidentally. Nonetheless, it’s a source of major user frustration.
Everyone’s doing it – but should you?
Social sharing plugins are another popular example, but unless you have content people can’t wait to share, it may not be beneficial.
Have you ever seen someone share a plumber’s guide to snaking your own toilet? Or how about a guide for safely removing asbestos insulation in your walls? If you’ve never seen this type of content shared on social media, it’s a good indication of the content people don’t share.
It’s possible that your content isn’t suited for social media, and that’s okay. If your content isn’t getting shared, be willing to remove the plugin. If you do run a plumbing business and someone gets excited about your article on snaking toilets, they can still share it by copying and pasting the link.
Sometimes shareable content doesn’t require share buttons
The whole point of installing a social sharing plugin is to make share buttons available so users don’t have to copy and paste the page URL. Even if your content is completely shareable, you don’t necessarily need those buttons.
This blogger ran an experiment to find out how removing social sharing buttons from his site would impact the number of shares. The result was 1,829 shares with sharing buttons and 2,144 shares without. People had no problem copying and pasting the URL. That’s actually a sign of great content.
- Know what each plugin will do for your site
When considering a new plugin, ask yourself what it’s going to do for your website. As with every piece of content, you should be able to pinpoint exactly what each plugin will do and how that function contributes to your bottom line. If you can’t make the connection, the plugin is probably just a fun toy.
Minimize the number of plugins you use
What counts as minimal? There’s no absolute number that applies across the board; however, you want as few plugins as possible. Plugins should always serve a definite purpose. If the absence of a plugin doesn’t contribute to your site’s effectiveness, you should skip it.