WordPress: Plugin Roulette

We’ve all played “plugin roulette” at some point in time or another, and it catches all of us by surprise when it backfires. You know you’ve done it. I know you’ve done it – downloaded a plugin and installed it without thinking of the possible consequences and preparing for them. Or you might have updated plugins you already have just by using the “update all” option.

If this is not you, congratulations, you are one of the lucky ones. Plugins can do really strange things to your website, up to, and including, taking it down completely. I call it “plugin roulette” for a reason – sooner or later you will loose. In this post, we’re going to talk about how to prepare to install updates to WordPress and plugins, and what to do when things  go awry.

Backup, Backup, Backup

If you do not already have a backup solution for your website that includes storage in multiple places (cloud, download and on the site), get one. We find our clients do well with BackupBuddy, from Ithemes. Backing up your site regularly is a must. Things can and do go wrong. Having multiple copies of your site in different places ensures that at a bare minimum, you will be able to restore your site from the backup in the case of a catastrophic failure. Before you make any changes in the functionality of WordPress (installing plugins, updating WordPress or plugins), always do a full backup.

Choose your plugins wisely.

In this post, we talked about how to choose your WordPress plugin when looking through the plugin database. It is important to screen your plugins for quality, as most of them are free, and supported at the will of the developer.

Installing/ updating plugins

Install or update your plugins one at a time. After each install or update, take the time to test the functionality of the new plugin and the general site before moving to the next plugin. This way, if you have problems, you know which plugin is causing it. If it does break,  you can use your backup solution to restore the folder for that plugin for a quick fix. You will eventually have to get the update working or replace the functionality if you want to keep it. Which leads me to…..

Troubleshooting a bad plugin install

There are two major causes for a plugin to cause the site to malfunction, conflict with another plugin, or conflict with the current WordPress theme. There are other reasons, but they are beyond the scope of a single post (We’ll look into this type of thing later).

  1. Plugin conflict. A plugin conflict can be found by disabling all the plugins except for the new one. If at this point in time, something is still wrong, move to #2. If things are now working, find the conflicting plugin by turning the plugins back on, one at a time, until it breaks again. Once it does, you have found the conflict! Now you can make an executive decision to find another plugin to replace one of the two that don’t behave, enlist help from a pro, or just forgo one of them.
  2. Theme conflict. If things are still broken with all the other plugins disabled, there’s a good chance it’s conflicting with the them. At this point I might suggest finding a replacement plugin, but if you are already attached, or curious to see if it is your theme, read on.
  3. To see if your new plugin is conflicting with your theme, just temporarily switch themes. Don’t be afraid when things don’t look right (at all). At this point, all we are worried about is if the plugin works in a different theme. If it does, then you have your conflict. If it doesn’t, you have a plugin that isn’t functioning correctly – time to find a replacement!

Wrapping up

Obviously, this post doesn’t and can’t contain a complete and comprehensive troubleshooting guide, but if you’re newer to the platform, this can give you a start in being confident in managing your own site. Chime in in the comments section if you have any horror stories of Plugin Roulette gone wrong.

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