I talk about plugins sometimes, but I know a lot of people don’t have access to them, so I thought I’d give a quick overview so you know what on earth a plugin is and what you are/aren’t missing out on.
There are a gazillion plugins out there, give or take a few. They’re bits of code that do a specific function, or set of functions, that WordPress doesn’t already do on its own. They’re called plugins because you can stick them in and pull them out without having to change anything in your site’s code.
Plugins are accessible for bloggers who are self-hosted or have the WordPress.com business plan or above. My understanding, which may well be wrong, is that plugins can break your site or cause security vulnerabilities. If you’re self-hosted, you’re free to break your site as much and as often as you want and it’s nobody’s problem but your own. On WordPress.com, people on the higher plans pay for it to become WordPress’s problem.
The plugin I think quite a few people wish they had is the classic editor plugin, which gives you the pre-Gutenberg WP experience. This plugin is created and maintained by the WordPress.org team, who say it “will be fully supported and maintained until at least 2022, or as long as is necessary.” I don’t think the existence of this plugin has anything to do with pandering to people on the high-end WordPress.com plans, because chances are, those folks are paying for more functionality, not less. My guess is that this is about people on WordPress.org wanting to create more options for themselves.
Search engine optimization (SEO) plugins don’t automatically make your site a Google magnet. They provide the framework and you do much of the work. Yoast is probably the most popular. It gives you feedback on your posts and suggests changes to make them more search engine friendly. You can also enter what’s called a “meta description,” which a search engine would typically use as the little snippet of text it shows in search results. To go back and optimize old posts takes a buttload of time, and the amount of time to optimize all of your new posts is fairly substantial, so it’s definitely not a sit back and wait for it kind of deal.
There are various other plugins that get more specific, which probably aren’t all that interesting for the average blogger. One I like is Redirection, so if I delete a post, instead of someone trying to get there and getting a 404 error page, I can automatically re-route them to another post. I get satisfaction from weeding out posts that are no longer relevant, so Redirection is my friend.
Images can be big, which can use up a lot of room as well as make your posts/pages take longer to load. There are websites that you can use to compress images one at a time, but an image compression plugin can automate that.
There are all kinds of plugins that add little bits and pieces. For example, the little arrow that shows up in the bottom right corner of my site that you can click on to go to the top of the page – that comes from a plugin that does that and nothing else.
There’s a plugin that lets you add a Pin-it button to all your images. I used to use it, then decided it was slowing down my site so I got rid of it, and now it’s back. In general, the more plugins you have, the slower things get.
Are you missing out?
Probably not, aside from the classic editor plugin, if the classic editor is something you miss. If you do care enough to make a decision based on that, you’re probably far better off going self-hosted than upgrading to the business plan.
Being able to use plugins can really boost the traffic coming in from search engines, but you’ve got to put in a lot of work, and the traffic that comes from search engines isn’t going to engage with your site the way WordPress people do. So is it worth upgrading or switching to self-hosted for the average blogger? I don’t think so. Going self-hosted is a far cheaper way of going about things, but the downside is that you can break your site as much and as often as you want to, if you’re so inclined.
Have you ever thought about upgrading your plan or switching to self-hosted to have access to more features?