WordPress Unplugged, Pt. I: The Keystone WordPress Development Philosophy

We won’t blame you for envisioning web developers playing jam-band songs on acoustic guitars when you hear the phrase “WordPress Unplugged.” Fortunately, that’s not what we’re not talking about. We’re referring to our WordPress development philosophy here at Keystone. Of course, the reason we started developing in WordPress is due to its excellent extensibility - WordPress has a vast repository of plug-ins that can be used to add functionality to a website without the need to write code. That's obviously a good thing, so why would we talk about going "unplugged" with WordPress? 

If you think back to the MTV Unplugged show, you'll remember that the artists weren't actually unplugged. Their microphones and acoustic guitars were plugged in. So unplugged didn't mean unplugged. It meant that the artists were playing leaner, more stripped-down versions of their songs. Leaving out the superfluous parts allowed their songs to better speak to the audience. That’s how we approach WordPress development here at Keystone because a faster, cleaner site communicates better to your audience. We’ll get into practical application in a follow-up post, but for now, here are the four criteria we use when deciding when to use WordPress plugins.

1.    The plugin should be created by a reputable author.

The WordPress core team is made up of really smart people who work extremely hard to keep WordPress secure. But they can’t continually police each of the thousands of plugins in the WP plugin repository. A non-reputable (i.e., “shady”) plugin author might include a hidden link back to their own site to improve their SEO rankings. That might seem innocuous, but it could hurt your site’s SEO. The plugin could also include poorly written code that could contain security vulnerabilities. A reputable plugin author will keep their product compatible with current WordPress releases, and keep it up to date with continually evolving security standards. That brings us to rule number 2:

2.    The plugin should be updated regularly.

Many of the best WordPress plugins are free, and that’s one of the main benefits of WordPress. But someone who develops a free plugin doesn’t always have the motivation to spend the necessary development time keeping it updated.

The longer a plugin goes without an update, the more vulnerable it becomes...

The longer a plugin goes without an update, the more vulnerable it becomes to those creepy people who live in dark basement rooms and stare at giant monitors full of cascading green code (at least, that’s how they’re portrayed in movies). If we see a plugin that hasn’t been updated in six months, we don’t use it.

3.    The plugin should do something that we can’t do ourselves.

If we can duplicate a plugin’s functions without using the plugin, we’ll do it. Here’s an example that will explain this idea: There’s a handy plugin that lets us set blog post excerpts to custom lengths. It’s an easy way for a non-developer to add this functionality to their site. But, we can add that same functionality by writing five lines of code- and we’d rather spend a few extra minutes doing that because it’ll help your site perform better. It’ll also be one less plugin that you need to worry about updating, which makes it easier for us to troubleshoot issues you might experience in the future.

4.    The plugin shouldn’t have too many features that we won’t use.

There are lots of WordPress plugins that offer similar functionality. Do a search for WordPress contact form plugin, and you’ll see what we mean. To help their plugin stand out, developers add features. Sometimes, those features are handy, like Contact Form 7’s MailChimp extension. But sometimes, there are too many bells and whistles. For example, if we need a plugin that will simplify contact form creation, do we also need that plugin to add an animated fox that jumps out from behind the submit button with a sign that says, “Click me to submit this form!!”? The answer is, “YES, we DO need that functionality." But, aside from that exception, if a plugin has a ton of features that we don’t need, we’ll go with a simpler plugin for the reasons that we outlined in #3 - better performance and easier ongoing maintenance.

These four rules are the basis of our WordPress Unplugged philosophy. We’ve probably come across as elitists who are too cool to use WordPress plugins. But we promise - we’re not. Stay tuned to find out what plugins we recommend, and for what situations we recommend them.