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WordPress (CMS) Tips for Using Plug-ins

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I want to start by talking about the use of plug-ins for WordPress. I started a web-site for a company I was working for a few years ago; I had extremely basic knowledge of HTML. I am a Graphic Designer by trade so I invited the opportunity as a challenge and a chance to learn another skill and get paid for it. Content Management Systems (CMS) are a good tool for beginners and seasoned pros as well. These tips will be most useful for beginners to mid-range bloggers or designers.


With the simple WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) visual HTML editors you can start designing with little or no experience. First of all what is a plug-in? A plug-in in this case is a website program or a script that has been designed for a specific function involving web-design. Plug-in uses can range from a photo viewer or image gallery to a script that performs a specific function for your blog or website, such as adding a sidebar or what is commonly referred to as a "widget."

Let’s start off with some things that should be avoided while searching for and installing a plug-in.


THE PROBLEM:
1. Not every plug-in is tested by the WordPress, or the CMS system you are using.

2. Plug-ins can crash your blog or web-site.

3. Authors of Plug-ins can include damaging code that installs on your blog or web-site. This doesn't necessarily have to be on purpose. Someone might have good intentions but not have the skill required to do correct scripting.

4. Some Plug-ins ask you to change permissions in your Database, or the permissions of a file or folder in your site, like your .htaccess file. (You should ask someone with more experience before changing permissions).

5. Many of the functions offered by plug-ins are possible with a little bit of HTML, PHP, or scripting knowledge.

6. Excessive use of plug-ins can cause your Blog or Site to run "sluggish". They increase page load time which is bad for SEO (search engine optimization). Plug-ins add tables to your Database that may be emptied after you uninstall them, but leave the empty table behind and sometimes the data remains in the Database. This is not something that can be fixed by a novice user which means you will have to hire someone to clean up the mess.

7. WordPress updates its software quite often. Many plug-ins are rendered useless after a WordPress update leaving you with a broken function. Some authors are good about keeping plug-ins up to date, while others just drop them leaving you to find a replacement or just lose the feature all together.

While plug-ins and the WYSIWYG visual editor can be helpful by letting you jump right into designing a blog or web-site they can also teach bad habits. Relying on a plug-in and the Visual editor can hinder the learning process. That being said I know not everyone that has a blog or site plans to be a designer; even if you do you may never need to learn JavaScript or other scripting languages. Plug-ins can be useful and allow you to acomplish things with your site that you wouldn't be able to do without them. My purpose is not to "dog", or condemn plug-ins. I am trying to inform you of the positives and negatives.

Here are some alternatives or solutions to the problems listed above.


THE SOLUTION:
1. Check the ratings and the amount of times a plug-in has been downloaded.

2. Set up a test site to check the plug-in before using it with your live blog or site. There are several programs that you can use to set up a testing site. The easiest way I have found to do this is through a free program called BitNami. You can download it here: http://bitnami.org/. It is available for several CMS systems including; WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Ruby, Altfresco, and MediaWiki. This is very simple and useful for testing without breaking your site. NOTE: If you are using a wireless router make sure you use LOCALHOST as the IP address, I learned this the hard way. I helped my son start a site and worked on it all day. We woke up the next day just to find we couldn't access it without a lot of trouble changing configuration files.

3. See solution (2)

4. Make sure it is a trusted author, if you aren't sure seek the advice of someone who knows. WordPress and other blogging or CMS systems have a community like following that are more than willing to give you direction or advice.

5-7. Before going to the plug-in directory to achieve a certain function, ask the experts at Expert Exchange (Expert Exchange has many experts with extensive knowledge of Wordpress).  You can also do a Google search to find a solution for your function, then decide if it is something you can do or learn with out the use of a plug-in.

Here are a few plug-ins that I use and recommend:


NOTE: To learn more about the plug-ins mentioned click on the name of the plug-in. You can see how many times they have been downloaded by going to the "Stats" link in the Plug-in's Wordpress page.

I hope this helps you avoid some of the problems I ran into during the learning process.
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Administrative Comment

by:Eric AKA Netminder
Congratulations, jeremyjared74!

Your article has been published, and has been awarded Community Pick status!

Keep up the great work!

ericpete
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Author Comment

by:jeremyjared74
Thank you ericpete, I will apply your suggestions. When I do, how do I implement them into the article. If you will tell me how this is done, I will improve the article ASAP. Again thank you for reading and suggesting on my article.
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Administrative Comment

by:Eric AKA Netminder
jeremyjared74,

You should be able to edit your article. I'll get a notification of it, and we can go from there.

The main thing, of course, is that adding the URLs to the specific "recommendation" pages for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. will give people an idea of where to look, and what to look for.

ep
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