I work with WordPress on a daily basis. Whether it’s design, theme development, customization or performing maintenance – the open source CMS makes up the vast majority of my workload. Over the years, I’ve really come to love the flexibility and the sheer number of options available that allow me to create just about any type of website.
But, sometimes, all of that choice and flexibility means a piecemeal approach to site development – particularly if you’re (like me) not a master developer. What are the potential pitfalls? What in the world am I talking about? Don’t worry, I’ll explain!
A Collage of Functionality
When developing a WordPress website, we often have our own set of trusted plugins we turn to in order to add specific functionality.
Each plugin does its own thing and comes from a diverse group of developers. Each one of these developers has created their plugin in their own unique way.
Much of the time, this all works out just fine. While there may be plugin or theme conflicts from time-to-time, a site can hold up remarkably well considering all of these various pieces being thrown together.
This also means that, should a particular plugin no longer meet our needs, we can swap it out for another – usually without too much pain.
Here, There and Everywhere
While the traits mentioned above are all good things, there is also a downside to this approach. If you’re building a site that needs to perform multiple functions that are at least somewhat related, administration and data can be spread out all over the place.
To give you a real world example, I recently worked on a site that needed to perform a few different functions involving Ecommerce:
- Sell physical and virtual products via WooCommerce.
- Sell event registrations where a user can both register themselves and multiple colleagues. Information is collected for each person being registered. This is handled by a third party plugin that works in parallel (but not fully integrated) with WooCommerce.
While the front end functionality of the site worked well enough, both backend management and exporting data were much more difficult than you’d think.
Each event registration created a WooCommerce order, but didn’t include any additional attendees in the order. The attendee information was in its own separate spot. That was fine until I realized that exporting attendees wouldn’t provide me with order information without some creative coding. Tying it all together was a wild goose chase.
Of course, this is a bit of a niche use case. But it goes to show that, when we’re choosing plugins, it’s easy to overlook both how administrative tasks are handled and where the data gets stored. We’re often unaware of these items until we start working with the plugin.
Running into situations like this is a reminder that utilizing a collage of plugins from various places isn’t always the best approach.
In cases where you require data and administrative UX to have a more uniform structure, it often makes more sense to buy into an ecosystem of functionality.
Take WooCommerce, for example. There are tons of available extensions from both third-parties and WooCommerce itself. Choosing to run within this ecosystem can bring a more predictable experience for everyone involved.
But even then, as my experience showed, you still have to be incredibly careful about choosing plugins. Despite the fact that the event registration plugin worked with WooCommerce, it didn’t integrate to the point where both data and administrative functions were seamless with Woo.
While there are probably some valid reasons for this, it leads to a more difficult experience for the user.
That’s why it’s important to learn as much as you can about mission-critical plugins before taking the plunge. Read any available documentation; look at support forums and user reviews. And, perhaps most important of all – ask questions.
There are so many aspects of a plugin that may not be represented in the documentation. So it’s best to think of how the plugin would be used and interacted with on both the front and backend. Get a list of questions together and ask the developer.
Learning about those processes beforehand can save you a lot of headaches later on.
A Blessing and a Curse
Building a seamless experience with WordPress, particularly on the back end, is no easy task. While having lots of choices can be a great thing, it can also lead to a scattered mess if you’re not careful.
Thus, the process of choosing plugins is far more complex than just installing them and hoping for the best. It takes research, and often a dialogue with developers and other users alike, to make a truly informed decision.
Your due diligence may very well lead you to a plugin that is a perfect fit for your needs. Or, it may lead you to realize that a custom built solution may be the best choice.
Either way, it’s always better to find this out while the site is still in the planning stages. Switching gears after a site has already launched is often much more difficult.