3 Reasons Not To Use A Page-Building Plugin

published April 22, 2017

You’re launching a new website. Congratulations. You’ve decided to use WordPress. Wise choice. It’s an exciting time. So many ideas! So much enthusiasm!

A word or two of caution though, when it comes to plugins.

At the time of this post there are over 49 thousand plugins available for WordPress.

Whether this is your first WordPress site or your hundred and first, you should know that many of the plugins available today will be abandoned by their developer. Maybe a few months from now, or a year, there will be an update to WordPress, and many of these plugins will no longer work. If you’re using them when they stop working, you’ve got a problem.

WordPress plugins, all 49,765 of them, fall into two broad categories:

  1. those that change the way your site looks
  2. those that change the way your site works

If they’re well-written the second type, the plugins that expand functionality, are half the reason I love WordPress as much as I do (which is a lot).  The first type, the ones which alter aesthetics, even when well-written miss the whole point of WordPress for me. There are days when these clever little visual manipulators make me want to throw in the towel and go live on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Think of your website like a house.

Like a house there’s a process that goes into its construction. The first thing you need is a location. For your website that would be its domain, the unique identifier that ends in .com, .org, etc. You’ve already chosen WordPress as your foundation. Next you choose a design.

Design is important. At a certain stage in the process it is most important. You’re going to be living in this house for years and you want to love it. You want the design to be powerful and evocative. You want people to walk in and say to themselves, “this place is so them.”

1. Design should not be an ongoing process for the life of your site

If you’re still designing a house once you’ve moved in, you’ve done something horribly wrong. The point of figuring out where you wanted the bathtub and the fireplace was to determine where the plumbing and the chimney needed to be. Sometimes changing something once you’ve moved in is no big deal, but if you decide you need to move the sun porch to the other side of the house, you failed miserably during the planning stages.

2. The purpose of WordPress is to create and deliver content

You build a house to live in it, not so you can move the furniture around every morning or constantly have a construction crew on site pulling out windows and putting in ceiling fans and re-configuring the hardwood floors. Seriously? If you wanted Parquet, why did you lay down Herringbone? A WordPress site should be built for speed. You jump on, create some content, publish it to your ever-growing audience, and go about the rest of your day.

3. Visual Plugins Break Stuff. Frequently.

If your site was built to display images and text, quickly and automatically, in a variety of ways, installing a plugin that adds or alters visual elements will likely break the formatting that’s already in place. It might even disrupt functionality. Things like buttons, are technically design elements, but it’s really important that buttons work when people click them, especially when the button says something like, “Buy.”

When it’s okay to use them (if you must)

1. If you’re using a Theme developed by the same company

If they built the plugin, they’ll need to insure compatibility with their own Themes every time they update either. When WordPress has an update a good developer will make sure that their themes and plugins work with the newest version of things. I don’t particular like this argument because it locks a person into a specific ecosystem. If you want a new look and feel to your site you either have to stick with that one company that built your plugin or start over.

2. If you’re using the page-building plugin during the design phase

These plugins can do some amazing things. Truly. I’ve used them at times when I’ve got a new client and we’re still hashing out where we want things to go and how we want the site to look. They’re excellent tools for design mock-ups, when nothing on the site has to actually work. You want 2 columns instead of 3, or you want to try an embedded video in this position or that? Page-building plugins can do those things in minutes.

If they didn’t have the drawbacks I mentioned above, I’d install them on every site I built and it would greatly reduce development time. It’s just not worth it to me, and I can’t recommend them to any of my clients.

Why? Because every time WordPress or another plugin updates you have to hold your breath and hope your site is still there and still looks right. Every plugin, even the ones that add crucial new functionalities, can break something. The priority though, for me at least, should be the site’s functionality, stability, and integrity. If you use a plugin to create forms, gathering the information is most important. If you’re using an events calendar or an online store or SEO optimizer, the functions those plugins provide are so much more important than the ability to position a particular photo or access several hundred fonts or add a funky icon.

Yes, these GUI-builder plugins are cool. Some of them are very cool. But if you’re using a content management system, these design-on-the-fly plugins are allowing you to do something you should have done before you launched your site. And they’re often giving you this “ability” at the cost of WordPress’ simplicity and stability.

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