It started with custom features
#wordpress has amassed a justified reputation for ease of use which has made it the “go-to” blogging and website management service for millions of people worldwide.
Its intuitive design and “plug and play” functionality has drawn attention from plugin designers of all ages and skill levels in a quest to give users a better experience and more custom functions without needing to understand more than rudimentary HTML coding or CSS language.
This has made WordPress the blogging world’s answer to Apple’s “There’s an app for that!”
Many plugins faulty and neglected
However, with this gold rush of plugin development comes problems for end users who have to deal with slow websites, plugins that don’t work as advertised or at all, and plug-ins that interfere with other plugins.
While having 8,462 plugins on a WordPress site may look impressive on paper, what users often don’t realize is all that so-called “functionality” is worthless if the plug-ins can’t work and play nice together.
For this reason, knowing how to identify and remove faulty plugins is crucial to making a WordPress site as seamless and smooth-running as possible.
Identify which plugin did it and remove it
In many cases, the plugin simply won’t work or will display an error message in the admin screen.
This is good news, although it may also cause visitors to your site to see an error message as well and might raise some questions about just how professional your site really is.
Typically, but not always, the error message will indicate which plugin is acting up.
1. Simply deactivate the plugin, let the developer know, and be sure to delete the plugin.
2. Find a different author with a plugin that features the same functionality or better.
Worst of the worst plugin faults
Worse by far is when the admin screen crashes, aka “the white screen of death.” This can result in being unable to access the admin screen, making it impossible to find or fix the problem from the admin side.
When this happens, the only real hope is to contact WordPress support and hope you can remember what plugin you installed just before the system went down.
At the extreme end of the bad juju spectrum, the site crashes and takes the entire public-facing site with it. Not only does this result in lost traffic and productivity, but it could mean a time-consuming and costly cleanup once the faulty plugin is identified.
To prevent all this, follow the steps below and be careful to obtain plugins only from WordPress-approved sources. It’s not bulletproof by itself, but used in tandem with good admin practices and intelligent plugin use practices, it will help eliminate most if not all potential problems before they have a chance to get started.
Identifying “Deadwood” Plugins
Very few users need more than 5-10 plugins at any given time. Most of these are for media and forms, with maybe 1-2 for security and anti-spam.
A user with more plugins than that is asking for a WordPress plugin conflict that could take hours or even days to resolve.
Thus the primarily rule of plugins is, before installing one, ask “Do I really need this?” If the answer’s “no”, don’t bother.
- Go through your plugins list somewhat frequently for plugins you don’t actually use
- Deactive them – not all coding was tested thoroughly before going into the WordPress Plugins directory, so some plugins may cause a speed bottleneck if created poorly.
If a user has a lot of plugins that are “essential,” they should come from a trusted, reputable designer. Doing a little homework on who’s offering the plugin can save a lot of downtime on a website.
Many plugins are created by amateur programmers or hacked together by college kids working on class projects, and they work okay until another plugin is installed that conflicts with what these plugins are trying to do.
Create a backup before you review your WP plugins
Before checking plugins to identify the problem, make sure the database and all files are backed up on the system using Updraftplus, for example. This should never, but never, be anything but the very first step a website or blog owner undertakes!
This way if a plugin is deleted erroneously, the backup can correct the mistake.
The next step is to review every plugin individually for active status and how long it’s been since the plugin was last used. WordPress started in 2003, so a website launched that same year on the WP platform may have hundreds or thousands of inactive or uninstalled plugins.
The problem is, just because a plugin is uninstalled from the active system doesn’t mean it doesn’t retain a footprint in the database. This is especially true of plugins created by amateur programmers, who frequently don’t include a clean uninstall command in their work.
Not all the way gone: uninstall your plugins thoroughly
Therefore the “uninstalled” plugins may still be trying to run in the system, bogging down an otherwise perfectly good website. Chris Spooner of Line25.com recommends using the Clean Options plugin periodically to erase old database information from plugins that don’t automatically delete themselves when uninstalled.
If the database is backed up, this is the time to optimize the database. Spooner describes optimizing as the cloud equivalent of defragging a hard drive and reclaiming unused space as well as eliminating orphaned bits of code. Spooner advocates WP-DBManager for this purpose and scheduling database maintenance monthly at a minimum.
Update your WordPress
Finally, making sure all plugins are up to date with the latest code version and WordPress compatibility can help avoid conflicts. This will require checking each plugin manually to make sure it has been updated. If it doesn’t auto-update, check the source site to see if there’s a more recent version.
Plugins which haven’t been updated in more than six months by the developer should probably be scrapped in favor of newer plugins that deliver the same function unless they are particularly well-designed or uniquely designed for a specific website.
Note: DO NOT, under any circumstances, use the auto-backup feature on WordPress, because while it will automatically backup the plugins, it may also result in conflicts that weren’t there previously.
Instead, Tom Ewer writes on WPExplorer.com, update and check each plugin manually.
It takes a little more time on the front end, but will save a massive headache and even more wasted time on the back end.
This will create a virtual testing space for the site on the desktop. This allows the user to test each plugin without affecting the live site operation before transferring the updates to the end-user-facing site. In the testing cycle, each plugin should be checked for further conflicts. Be sure to turn off all plugins and check each one individually. For more on this, see the “Themes” section below.
Check The jquery Count
This will require going to the source code to figure out what plugins are issuing jquery requests at the same time. By examining the source code, the site owner determines that three different plugins are issuing jqueries at once.
Check For WordPress Plugin Conflicts With Theme
Things start getting really interesting here, because themes are the second most developed WP processes after the plugins themselves. To do this, after backing up the database and any files, check out the sourcing of the theme.
A lot of excellent freeware themes exist, but they may have limited functionality. If an allegedly premium theme came from a free-source site, it is probably loaded with malware and designed only to mask the WordPress source code instead of working with it as it should.
There are a lot of excellent sources for WP-compatible themes, and these should always be the first resort. Paying a little upfront for the theme can save big problems later, especially when using free plugins at the same time.
Debugging WP Theme vs WP Plugin Conflicts
The first step is to identify whether the theme or a plugin is at fault. To check this, apply the default theme setting for 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014. If everything runs with no problem, it’s probably the theme. If not, identifying which plugin is causing the issue becomes the next order of business.
To do this, deactivate every plugin and then load each one individually. Don’t leave each plugin on, but turn it off again after you test it. If all your plugins work individually, then it’s probably a plugin to plugin conflict causing the problem instead of a plugin with theme conflict.
Therefore the test will have to be run again, this time using multiple plugins instead of going one at a time. How many active plugins will determine how long this takes, which is another strong argument for the “less is more” school of thought with plugins!
Once the problem plugin or plugins have been identified, it is time to prioritize. Which one is more essential to the smooth operation and function of the site? If the answer is, “They’re both equally essential,” then it’s time to look for a replacement for one of the plugins and then repeat the experiment.
If this solves the problem, then you can upload the corrected safe-space site to the live site. If not, try again with the other plugin. If this still doesn’t resolve the problem, it is time to decide whether the cute rotating calendar with the flying pigs or the nifty guest count tracker/guestbook combo is more beneficial to the site.
WordPress: Resolve Plugin Conflicts
The best way to resolve plugin conflicts is to have as few of them as possible. Even a really high-end website with thousands of viewers per hour simply won’t benefit from most of them, so having them as a status symbol makes no sense. However, if updating and testing the plugins individually hasn’t worked, it’s time to consider a few more drastic measures. Here are some questions to ask when doing a plugin audit on WordPress.
1. Does this plugin have support and updates?
No, this doesn’t mean do a lot of people like it on Facebook.
This means “If this plugin crashes my site, can I talk to somebody who can help me fix the problem?” Plugins which are not currently supported or haven’t been updated in two years are almost certainly obsolete, security risks, or riddled with bugs that may cause other plugins or themes to malfunction.
Most WordPress-approved plugins found through the site itself will have a warning banner alerting the user if a plugin is not supported or is out of date.
2. Does this plugin come from a reputable source?
Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s no good, and just because it came from a well-known and respected source with a commensurate price tag doesn’t mean it will work for what you need it to do. Even so, it’s always a good idea to do some due diligence before downloading anything for use on a public-facing site.
Things to check include the source’s history, how many times this plugin has been downloaded, other plugins the developer has created and user feedback. Reputable developers generally enjoy better feedback and less problems, and are conscientious about letting users know if a problem is discovered.
Also be sure to check for possible security problems with the plugin. Has anyone found a backdoor for it? Are there any known security problems and if so, is there a verifiable patch for them?
If the answers to these questions are yes, yes and no respectively this is probably a plugin to pass on.
3. Apply plugins one at a time.
A lot of people make the mistake of surfing through the plugin store and grabbing everything they can carry, especially if the plugins are free. This is always a bad idea. Instead, select plugins the same way as buying a car. Ask if the plugin really fills a need for the site or its visitors, or if it’s just “cool.” Also, always be sure to field test each plugin in the “safe-space” environment on the desktop before turning anything loose on an active site. This will allow users to screen for potential problems and plugin conflicts before they become a problem for site visitors.
Sources For Quality Plugins
Finding high-quality plugins that deliver powerful functionality doesn’t have to be a scary proposition, but it does require some work. There are a number of good sources to check for plugins, but some research will still need to be done before installing any of these.
WordPress.org Plugins Repository
This should be the first stop for anyone wanting to find new plugins.
Benefits: Easy to use; updated relatively frequently
Drawbacks: Sorts only by relevant keyword; includes all the plugins ever created for WP, which can make finding a specific plugin time-consuming and frustrating if the user doesn’t know exactly what to look for.
This is one of the best plugin directories for WP users around.
Benefits: Curated repository, which means hypothetically only the best plugins from the WP repository get in; multi-tag searching makes finding plugins much easier and more efficient than the WP repository search engine
Drawbacks: Not all WP plugins are listed, which can make finding very specific word-of-mouth plugins difficult or impossible through this system.
This plugin repository is highly recommended for well-built Jquery plugins.
Benefits: Curated repository with lots of support and tutorials
Drawbacks: Limited exclusively to Jquery plugins
There are a lot of these out there, and depending on the individual user’s needs a premium plugin solution might be best. Wordimpress.com has a good roundup of premium plugin providers and developers including Foo, Yoast and Pippin’s Plugins. This list should be considered a prime starting point when seeking out premium plugins.
What If I Want To Get The Functionality Of A Plugin Without The Plugin?
Unless the user knows enough about HTML and CSS coding to feel comfortable writing their own plugin that works with the plugin whose functionality they’re trying to extend, the short answer is you can’t. There are online tutorials available to show how to do this, but knowing exactly what language to include for a given effect on a custom build is a matter of training, practice and trial and error.
Programmer Ian Dunn says the user would be better off contacting the developer directly and explaining the specifications needed to see if the developer would be willing to write in new features. This may cost some money, but will save a lot of time and frustration for the user and help the developer earn a living as well.
Free Isn’t Always Good
Many people who see a free plugin are willing to take a chance on it. After all, what do they have to lose? If the site is a personal blog or a website dedicated to a very small group, the answer is probably not much. If the site crashes, maybe twenty people even know about it. For high-traffic, high-volume sites such as dedicated business sites, such a crash can be devastating, costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in downtime and lost revenue while the cause of the crash is found and fixed, not to mention potential missed impressions and reduced credibility among end consumers. For this reason, “free” may not always be the bargain it appears to be. Investing even $100 in a high-end plugin versus losing $10,000 on a poorly-coded free knockoff version of the premium plugin would be money well spent just in terms of continued site availability.
At the same time, high-end plugins may not always work to spec either, especially if other plugins are running that may conflict with its function. Some developers offer “safe-space” test versions of their plugins, allowing the user to verify the plugins will work before they lay out the money for the live version. Of course, the live version should be tested as well for an added layer of security.
The Best And Safest WP Plugins
Despite everything above, there really are some great WP plugins out there. Most of these are premium, but they’re well worth the money for anyone looking to develop a more professional-looking and more efficient website. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the functionality of these plugins will help enhance both the end-user and the admin-user experience on the site, and even increase one’s search engine rankings. There are many other excellent free and premium plugins available, but which plugins are best for a given site depends largely on the site’s intended use and audience.
SEO by Yoast: This powerful SEO tool assists Google’s crawlbots in analyzing a website’s SEO content and offers a suite of customizable SEO functions to site admins.
Jetpack: Jetpack allows social network integration, e-mail subscription and site traffic monitoring, among other admin functions.
iThemes Security: For anyone whose site has ever been attacked by hackers in the past, this plugin detects vulnerabilities and attempts at site attacks, automatically backs up database information, and helps protect login information for authorized users.
Were you disappointed when your plugin lost support? How did you find a fix for your site?