In this article, we cover WordPress plugins. We look at how they work, how to choose a plugin that is right for you and how you can use plugins to improve your website.

What are WordPress plugins?

In order to understand what a WordPress plugin is, think of a modern smartphone…

phone with apps loaded on it

mobile phone apps customise your phone to your wants and needs

Out of the box, a phone comes with apps offering basic functionality. Some of these may not be necessary but they’re general purpose and mostly useful. Think camera, phone, browser, etc. And of course, there are a load of things happening under the hood that none of us would care to think about; power management, connecting to Wi-Fi, touch interface, etc.

Over time, you start to install apps. Perhaps you want to add new functionality. A game, or a social network app. Or maybe you want to extend existing functionality. Perhaps an advanced camera app or an alternative maps utility. The apps on your phone are customised to your specific wants, needs and requirements.

WordPress works the same. WordPress is the phone. It offers a core set of functionality. You may not use all of the features and functionality it offers. But the majority of it is useful. And there’s a load happening under the hood that’s essential to running your website. Plugins are the apps. They can add functionality or extend existing functionality to offer specific features and behaviours. When a carefully selected suite of plugins is set up and installed correctly, they, along with some additional customisation, will deliver the features and functionality that will make your website unique.


Where to get WordPress plugins

The first thing to do is to identify the functionality you need. From there, Google is your friend. Inevitably, you will end up at one of three places:

  • WordPress plugin directory: This is the official repository of WordPress plugins. If you are building your community yourself, it should be your first port of call. We won’t lie, it can be a bit of a daunting place. There are almost 50,000 plugins offering a staggering array of features, functionality, tweaks, modifications and options. There are lots of plugins that duplicate functionally. Some will charge and some will be free. But all publicly available plugins worth their salt are here.
  • Developer website: Many established plugins will also have their own website where you can deep dive into everything you need to know about the software. Take time to read these pages. It will often give you a good idea on where the developers are focusing the plugin. If you find that the functionality you are looking for is not a priority feature of the plugin, it could be a good idea to look elsewhere.
  • Commissioned: If you can’t find a plugin that delivers the functionality you need, then it can be worth looking at commissioning the development of a plugin. Often, it’s not as expensive as you think. As an added benefit, it can be tailored to your specific requirements. Zipline offer custom plugin development.

Of course, if you commission Zipline, we will apply our knowledge of the plugin ecosystem and do any and all research for you.

Worth noting: If you are using you will not have the ability to install plugins. You need to have a self-hosted version of WordPress.


Quality control

The best way to review the quality of a plugin is to look at the code. Realistically, If you are not a developer that’s going to be tough! So take time to read the reviews of the plugin. These can be found on the WordPress plugin repository. Something we often do is get in touch with the developers to ask specific questions related to our planned use of the plugin. A quick, considered response can be a great way to help you make a decision. Ultimately, if you are in doubt, contact a professional.


To pay or not to pay

Some WordPress plugins are free while others are paid for. Many plugins sit in between. They will offer a free-to-use version with limited functionality and/or support and a premium version. Before you pay for any plugin, we would recommend doing a bit of research. This will help you discover if there is a cheaper, better supported, or free alternative to the plugin you have found. And as we mentioned before, research can help

Ultimately if the features and functionality that are offered by the plugin are useful to you, then paying for a plugin should be considered reasonable.

Good to know: Zipline Custom Communities only use the most robust and stable WordPress plugins. We purchase licenses when necessary. Where and when required, these licences will be passed to you.


How Zipline approaches WordPress plugins

Ensuring our clients are handed a platform that is secure, stable, fast and customised to their exact requirements is our primary goal when we build a Zipline Custom Community.

We use WordPress as a foundation for Zipline Custom Communities, From here, we add BuddyPress. BuddyPress is a WordPress plugin that offers a suite of social functionality. It ensures we have a secure, robust and stable foundation on which we can create a community built to our client’s exacting needs. From here, we will add additional plugins, based on the project requirements. When sourcing appropriate plugins we have a few rules:

  • Well written code: We don’t want our client’s communities to be bloated with poorly written software.
  • Fit for purpose: We build communities to fit our client’s briefs, not to fit available plugins.
  • Customisable: Finding a plugin that is fit for purpose is only the start, There is often a need to customise the plugin to fit requirements. A well-written plugin will support customisation without extensive development work.
  • Well supported: Software is complex and sophisticated. It’s vital that the developers of the plugin provide on-going support.
  • Secure: Plugins, just as with any piece of software can be vulnerable to attack. We run tests to ensure that and review code to ensure potential security holes are
  • Works seamlessly with other plugins: Delivering a feature can require two or more existing plugins. In these instances, plugins have to work in concert. Our development team can resolve these issues, but we’d rather concentrate on creating new functionality, rather fixing problems!


Zipline Exclusive Plugins

Zipline develops WordPress plugins in-house. We call these Zipline Exclusive Plugins. They are created when:

  • A great plugin is not already on offer – Clients rightfully expect their custom communities to behave exactly how they want. We build our own plugin when a requested feature can’t be delivered with an existing plugin, .
  • When functionality we need requires too many plugins – this happens more often than you think. To achieve the exact behaviour a client has requested takes 3 or more plugins all working together. At this point, it can be unrealistic to expect them all to work together. In addition, you end up running a lot of code that simply isn’t necessary. This can cause communities to run slow and exhibit errant behaviour. Not good. The best path in this instance is to develop a solution in house.

If the plugin we develop can be useful to other clients, we make them available for their use. You can find a list of the current exclusive plugins we offer over on our list of features.


Need some help?

We are WordPress experts, with a speciality in building communities, websites and apps with a social focus. If you need any help, from support customising a plugin to a full build, get in touch.