Bluehost Hosting and Speed

It isn’t uncommon for new food bloggers to somehow end up hosting with Bluehost. I am here to tell you that if you want to compete with other food bloggers, you probably have to move or pay more at Bluehost. My experience is that Bluehost is a bad host and having your food blog on it will make you less competitive. I was an early adopter of Bluehost, with my account first opening with them in 2008 or 9, but have since moved away. Today, I am going to share how you can tell if your hosting is bad, why it is happening, and offer a few suggestions to get on a good host.

How is Bluehost impacting you?

So, you started on your blogging journey and everything looks just the way you want it! It looks beautiful! Great. Things should start looking up for you. People should start showing up and seeing your recipes.

Unfortunately, server speed might be impacting your ability to get traffic. Great content is the most important factor in writing a blog or building a website, but the speed of your server is an important tool. It is both important for your users and also for Google searches.

Website Speed

If you have not run your page through Google PageSpeed Insights (GPSI), I suggest you do so now and become familiar with it. This score and the opportunities it reveals is a good indicator of your user’s experience on your website. Also, it is a glimpse into how Google views your site and might help them rank your page

Full Screenshot of GPSI score for a recipe

The resulting number is not the end-all-be-all of best practices and speed, but it is important to pay attention to. If you score really low on this, Google may penalize you. This could impact where you show in Google results or perhaps if your recipe shows as a snippet or rich result. Ultimately, it can impact how many people visit your site.

Let’s say you make the best Ding Dong Cheesy Casserole (yuck) and when people are searching “Ding Dong Cheesy Casserole”, you want YOUR recipe to be the first that shows. There are several things that impact this, but the speed you find in Google PageSpeed Insights can be one of these things. If your score is really low, you could be penalized by Google.

If you are on Google’s naughty list, they might put other websites ahead of you or not give your site the advantage of having a rich recipe card that shows at the top of the page.

One of the opportunities that might show up for in you on the GPSI report is Time To First Byte(TTFB).

Time To First Byte

In the bottom area of your GPSI screen, you may have an area that shows Opportunities and one of them may be Time To First Byte. In fact, if you are using Bluehost, it probably does show. That is how much confidence I have in their speed. 

Time To First Bite Opportunity as shown in GPSI.

This measures the time it takes from a person’s browser makes a request to the website until the server sends back the first hint that something is actually there. There are oodles of data that need to be sent from the server to your browser. Text, CSS, HTML images, javascript, and emojis all need to be sent from someone’s server to your browser, but TTFB only is concerned with the first contact. Here is Google’s explanation of what TTFB is.

TTFB Is A Hint To Other Speed Issues

TTFB shows up in the GPSI opportunities, but that is only part of the picture. As a user navigates your webpage and scrolls, it may make additional requests to the server. While the TTFB might reveal a lag in your page’s initial load, it may also be an indicator on how the server treats all requests.

Google has indicated several times that page speed is important and TTFB is like starting a marathon with a 20lb weight on your back. Beyond Google considerations, it is important to consider how it might impact your users. According to this Google article, the probability that your users will leave (bounce) goes up dramatically as your page load time increases.

If all of the requests have similar speed as your TTFB, then it could be an overall indicator that your website is just dang slow and your server isn’t helping.

Can Slow Speed Be Other Things Besides Server Issues?

Yes, it can. When GPSI measures TTFB, they are not concerned with which server you are on, but only the time it takes to get that first byte. Any time delay can cause this opportunity to be shown. Another reason that this could happen would be that there is a blocking layer of code between the requesting application (GPSI or a person’s browser) and the code being able to send any HTML back.

It is a possibility that things like themes and plugins could impact this and it would need to be addressed by the developers. I can’t think of a great reason for any theme or plugin to significantly impact an application from starting to send back any information to the client (the person requesting a website page). 

A slow TTFB time could be caused by something other than hosting. If, however, you are on a Bluehost server and you are getting this opportunity in GPSI, hosting would most certainly be my initial instinct. If I first visit your website and everything looks like a reasonably well-designed website and then see TTFB being shown as an error in GPSI, my first question would be where you are hosting.

The simple reality is that hosting is the most likely culprit if you are on a known offender! Bluehost is one of them.

Why is Bluehost so Popular?

Marketing and price. It is that simple. They offer rock bottom prices with an entry-level of $2.95/month, but that comes with a trade-off. You are sharing space with other websites. Other hosts have similar plans, but Bluehost really digs deep to the bottom of the corporate barrel in terms of price.

To top off their stellar marketing program, we must mention their affiliate program, which is likely a huge driver of sales for Bluehost. For the uninitiated, an affiliate program is when a company offers a bounty on a sale. So, if I sign up for the Bluehost affiliate program and a user buys a hosting plan after being referred from my website, I get a chunk of money. This really is common practice, but Bluehost offers large sums of money. Currently, they offer $65 per sign up. You read that right. A person’s little account nets the referrer $65.

Why Would A Trusted Source Send Me To Bluehost?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, money is the huge driver, here. $65 for every sign up is a significant amount of money for a single sale. While I don’t know all of the affiliate programs, I believe it to be the best in the industry. The simple reality is that money is the biggest why people recommend Bluehost, not quality.

Outside of quality is money. The referrers often don’t know or don’t care that Bluehost is bad. 

Are There Legitimate Reasons Food Blogger Recommend Bluehost?

I think there are some pure reasons why people might recommend this host and I am really trying to reach here and give folks the benefit of the doubt. There have been some people I know to be great bloggers and good people that recommend Bluehost. In fact, at Ramshackle Pantry, I even had a page up for a short while that had a referral link up.

A case could be made that for the price it is a good host and it is better to get started than not start. That $2.95-$10 price point provides something you cannot find, for the price, from other hosts. That is true. Additionally, my experience is that Bluehost does make it easy to set up a WordPress installation. 

If your goal is to occasionally put up a recipe and you don’t really care much about execution, Bluehost is fine. If you are not concerned with things like ‘getting traffic’ or growing, Bluehost is ok for you and might be worth the $2.95 price.

If you are reading this, however, I suspect you are a little more than a casual blogger. Anybody who wants to compete in the food blogging niche simply cannot do so on the lower-cost plans at Bluehost. I cannot speak to the higher cost ones, as everybody I know moves off of them once they figure out they are a weight.

We are all running marathons. We are all in the middle of long, difficult paths to find our traffic.  We put out content week after week. We toil over photography, content, recipes, and SEO. Being on Bluehost is like starting that marathon with a 20 lb weight on your back. Just move.

It Isn’t Just Bluehost

Bluehost is owned by Endurance International Group(EIG). This is a big conglomerate that owns several hosting companies including a few popular ones like HostGator. 

In my eyes, all of these companies fall under the same umbrella, with Bluehost probably being the best in class. I have never personally hosted on anything other than Bluehost that has been owned by EIG, but I have seen a few speed tests. If the name of your host is on that list, run. 

I Have Seen a Fast Bluehost Site in Our Niche

I have. One. Just one. I suspect there was some caching stuff going on to make it happen. But maybe it is just the lower tiers of hosting that have problems. Perhaps some people get lucky and get put on a cluster of fast hosting? I don’t know.

What I am trying to say is that it is possible to be on Bluehost and have a fast website, but it is rare. 

So What Host Do You Recommend?

If I am going to talk a little smack about Bluehost, I suppose I should recommend a few, eh? In full disclosure, the two of the links below are affiliate links, so I will get a few bucks if you sign up for hosting from them. I am only doing this for products that I actually use. My goal is not to sell you hosting, but to inform you.

I use a few different companies. I like Veerotech and have gotten great speed from them. I would say that the support is prompt, efficient, and fast, but you can definitely tell they are not really geared to customer support. They also heavily pushed me to use LiteSpeed caching (don’t worry about it if you don’t know), as they have some integrations built-in. I wasn’t opposed to trying, but WP Rocket worked better and it took me time and effort to show them. 

It is as though I was supposed to use this caching ‘just because.’ Well, Google PageSpeed Insights don’t lie. I am all for integrations that improve my speed, not being pushed into worse products. So, I like Veerotech and plan on sticking with them, but it is a bit of a push/pull relationship in terms of support.

I also use Cloudways. They are barebones and very reasonably priced at $10/month on the base plan. There are two downsides to them. First, support is just ok. Everybody is nice. It is what you might expect from overseas customer support. They can be a little near sighted, in that they have a tough time thinking about some pretty common website setups. “No, I don’t need to change my DNS… That is not the problem… I just have a Web Application Firewall between the domain and server.”

The second is that you are missing a few common things that you find in other hosting like email and the cPanel (although I think you can get it now). Both of those are not huge deals if you have the capability to do it yourself, but it can be a bit more of an issue if you don’t want to deal with the technology part of things.

On the positive side, they are LIGHTNING fast. Also, I feel the interface is really nice. In general, I really like Cloudways for the price, but support is going to be a little on the light side. I think the support are all capable, but they sometimes lack real troubleshooting skills.

Another host that I don’t use, but is good is BigScoots. They are attentive to their customers, are fast, and reasonably priced for what you get, IMO. They are a little spendier than the other options I mentioned, but people really seem to like them.

Quality of Hosting Can Change Over Time

What I am presenting in this article is not static. The quality of hosting can change and 2 years from now, the hosting landscape might be much different. I get the impression that this is a tough business with low margins. 

That means that sometimes people just stop doing it, or some stop taking on new customers. It also means that some of the smaller, or boutique, hosting offering might sell out to larger hosts and the quality might change (usually for the worse). Large companies might also get better as time goes on.

Perhaps at some point Bluehost realizes that they are a punchline to nerd jokes around the globe and do something to provide better services. Today, however, I just can’t recommend them. 

A Challenge to Bluehost

I doubt that anybody at Bluehost will read this. Heck, I have serious doubts that anybody will, but I am always open to learning and changing my perspective. There is a reality that Bluehost could be better at some point in the future. They might have a great plan somewhere that is wonderful for food bloggers.

They might be ultrafast with great support and no downtime on some plan I just have never heard of. Sure, I would love to hear about it or a demo. 

My goal with this post is about facts and not some grudge I have against Bluehost. I hold no grudge against this company.

Also, if you have had a great experience with Bluehost and also have a great GPSI score and are in the food blogging niche, I would love to see it!


Here is the deal. If you are wondering why your website is slow and you are on BlueHost, know you have an easy thing to investigate. Hosting and TTFB are only the beginning of speed issues, but also one of the easiest to solve. If Time to First Byte is slow for you and you are on Bluehost, you know to look at your hosting. Consider moving over to a quality host and get a leg up on your competition.

General Philosophy

Food Blogging, Making Decisions, and a Pinch of Philosophy

Sometimes it can feel like there are so many decisions we need to make as food bloggers and business owners that it can be paralyzing and cause anxiety. To add to the anxiety, there seem to be a million experts out there telling you what you need to be doing and how it needs to be done… and now. As though if you fail to act, your blog is going to disintegrate right before your eyes! I am here to talk you off that ledge and help to try and help you make better decisions and know when to act.

Infinite Decisions To Make

There is always something to learn and we always seem to have something that needs to be done. Whether it is some odd image size that needs to change or a random Google SEO change, we might have thoughts of editing every single post on any given day. It can be crippling.

I like to think that I am pretty good at writing, but there are at least a million courses I could take on writing or ways I could improve my writing. The same for Instagram, photography, SEO, technology, and recipes. Interestingly, food is the highlight of what we do, but probably one of the least talked about subjects in most food blogger forums. 

The possibilities are infinite. The infinite can be a scary place and it can become easy to become trapped in it. If you let it, food blogging can become a never-ending maze of course work, self-improvement, and planning without ever actually doing anything.

I want you to do something.

The Choice Is Ours And That is Great

The good news is that we have infinite choices we can make! These choices are an expression of our freedom, which is awesome. We have the freedom to make any choice we want to. It is as simple as making them. 

anxiety is the dizziness of freedom

Soren Kierkegaard

So, we have the freedom to make choices and that is great. Now, you need to make decisions and execute them.

How NOT to get stuck in Analysis Paralysis

The following are a few tips and tricks to help you from getting caught up in negative or self-destructive habits that can prevent you from making decisions.

Have Fun

Lighten up! This is a food blog. Particularly if you are trying to make an income from this, it can sometimes feel like a serious business rather than food blogging. In fact, I see many experts out there advocating to treat this like a serious business. 

Look. I understand that there is a side to this that can be serious. All I an asking is that you don’t forget why you started to do this. And if it was only for the money, you are likely going to be let down anyway. Make room to play and have fun!

Always Be Posting

You are a food blogger, so blog! A critical piece of having a food blog is that you need to be writing recipes. I see so many new bloggers get so caught up in the nuances of getting started that they never start.

You don’t need to create a masterpiece. You can come back and change it in the future. In fact, I can assure you that in a year you will look back and want to come back and change what you did. It’s ok and good. You should be growing as time goes on and future-you will hopefully be more informed than today-you.

If you are constantly posting, some decisions are just going to be made for you. At a minimum, you are going to be putting new content out there!

Incrementally Improve

Every time you make a post, just make an effort to be a little bit better. I have heard Bjork at Food Blogger Pro talk about 1% and I agree with this. Just try and be a little bit better every time.

In between this week’s post and next week’s post, you don’t need to ‘figure out’ Pinterest. Maybe, you figure a thing about Pinterest out. Even the biggest and best Pinterest experts still have a black box of unknown things when it comes to Pinterest. 

A master potter doesn’t become that way overnight. That potter must make some pottery to hone his craft. Some of the pottery, in the beginning,  might be as ugly as sin, but they were necessary to end up as that great potter. Without the ones at the beginning, he wouldn’t be the great potter he is today. 

This blog is an example for me. I wanted to get started, so I did. I will be making changes as time goes on, but I am just moving forward with the business of getting things done. Meanwhile, I am trying to improve a little bit every day!

It Is OK to fail!

When you make decisions, rarely is it so dramatic that it will mess up your blog permanently. As long as you are not doing obviously spammy or shady things, you can make mistakes. In fact, failure, for me, is always an opportunity to reflect and learn. Like our master potter, he failed at least once at making a simple bowl in his past.

Now, that master potter is probably making things that he still sometimes fails at. The master potter challenges himself, because it is important to do that.

Time Box Your Decision Making

Sometimes, you want to investigate something or make a decision on how to move forward. One way you can help prevent getting stuck in the decision process is to set a time-frame, or time box, and stick to it. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to whatever you see fit. Maybe it is even a 3-month decision.

Let’s say you are thinking about changing themes, it might be a decision that will take some time. Do you use a templated theme or use a custom developer? Do you hire someone or do it yourself? These are all important decisions and making a plan of action is important, but part of that plan-of-action should include a timeline to make a decision.

The point is that you set yourself a deadline for making a decision and then commit to it. If you can do that, you can help prevent indecision. While many things do need a bit of research and thought, the action is important in this activity we call life.

Make a To-Do List

I am not going to get into the details of my lists, as my personal to-do list(s) are pretty detailed and maybe a little insane to your average person. The main thing here is that a to-do list gives you a map for your plans of action. I think of my to-do list as a silent accountability buddy. If I don’t get things done, that is ok, but it is good to check myself on what I said I was going to do.

Make Room to Be Inspired

Inspiration sparks action. Allow yourself to be inspired. Getting caught up in the day to day struggles can muffle our passion for cooking and blogging. Making sure to make room for inspiration is important. Whether it be taking a cooking class, photography class, reading, or watching your favorite show, make time for it.

Inspiration can be the foundation of some beautiful work!

Money is a Thing – Decisions and Money

It isn’t just a problem with time, either. Also, money. So many people want our money. I swear a rich person could go broke with all of the resources vying for our money! Some people have never even had a food blog or even a blog. This does not mean they aren’t experts in their area, and some are absolutely great at what they do, but it does often make me raise an eyebrow.

The thing about decisions and money is that while we may have infinite decisions, most of us don’t have infinite money. So, we are limited by our budget. That is ok. The limitation of money can sometimes help narrow down our decisions, which can be good.


We have so many resources on how to do things in the food blogging world that sometimes we might have the opposite problem of being paralyzed in infinite decisions and only doing what the crowd says. While there is certainly value in listening to the crowd, there is also value in your crazy ideas! Despite what some people say, there are more than one way to do things. In fact, I think some of the coolest and most impressive bloggers out there (or any artists, really) are the ones that heed no mind to the technical mechanics of blogging and just make excellent stuff!

Take a look through the Saveur Blog Award winners and finalists list. You are going to find some bloggers here that make mistakes. Well, mistakes from the standpoint of people who get nerdy in the how-to-blog world. Many of these people are writing from the heart and even if they do make some ‘mistakes’, it still resonates with people. THAT is the most important part!

Escape the paralysis of the infinite, but also don’t forget to listen to your gut when making your decisions. You don’t need to be like everybody else, even if the experts might seem to be telling you otherwise. I think it is imperative that when you make decisions, you make sure to put your own flavor on it, even if sometimes it might be a little out there. 

Determine what is important for you and roll with it!

One of my big struggles is with Pinterest. So, I spent money on a Pinterest course that many people like. I didn’t. There were a few helpful tips here and there, but I felt like the information was outdated (like maybe 9 months old) and not as relevant as it could have been.

I didn’t make the best decision. That is ok! Next time, I will know better. I spent my money and while I wish I would have gotten a better product, there is no use dwelling on it. I know where I am at and know what I want to achieve. Today, I can make the decisions I need to move forward.

Good To Great and the Flywheel Effect

At my last corporate job, we all read the book, Good to Great. There is an idea in Good to Great about the Flywheel and a sort of inertia in moving our business from good to great. There is no magic bullet, but rather a collection of decisions we make and actions we take that all contribute moving us forward. 

So, I would argue that worrying too much about any individual bad decision isn’t as worthwhile as just making a whole bunch of good decisions. Do your best to make the best decisions you can and move to get that flywheel going!

Inspired by Philosophy Podcast

This post was inspired by a podcast I have been binging lately called Philosophize This! It is a fun and great podcast, but there is a specific episode [Spotify link] [Transcript link] that specifically made me think of food blogging and all of the decisions that can go into it. So, if podcasts are your jam and you are into asking navel-gazing questions, check out Stephen West’s podcast!


We have so many decisions in front of us every day as food bloggers and it can be a struggle to really decide what we need to be doing. Planning and learning is important, but don’t forget to take action! I hope this little post helps you on the way to getting you one step closer to making good decisions!

If you liked this article, check out my actual writing at Ramshackle Pantry!

Plug Ins

How To Evaluate A WordPress Plugin

One of the great advantages of WordPress is that there is an enormous community of contributors that add functionality all of the time. This includes the code in WordPress, itself, but also in the form of plugins. I use them, you probably use them, we all use them. That is what they are there for. But, that does not mean that all plugins are great. Many are not even good. Today, we are going to look at the art of choosing plugins and hints to tell if they are good or not. Enjoy

What are WordPress Plugins?

Plugins are a community built a bit-o-code that users can install onto their WordPress installation. These bits of code are intended to solve some problems that you, as a website owner, are trying to solve. While it doesn’t have to be listed, you can find many great plugins in the searchable WordPress Plugin area or you can search for them in the Plugin area of your WordPress Admin area. 

Why Evaluating Plugins Is Important

It is more of an art than a science to separate the good from bad plugins, but it is very important to make an effort to do this when you are searching for a new plugin. Being able to look at a plugin and make a good guess on the quality of it could save you time in the future, as bad plugins can wreak havoc on your website (and your time). 

Plugins Can Be A Security Risk

A plugin can bring your website down if it is written poorly, which is always a harrowing experience, but that isn’t all of it. It could put your visitor’s personal information at risk, if you keep that sort of information. Nefarious hackers might highjack any advertising you have on your website or add their own advertising, which can steal from you. Sometimes, I have seen this kind of advertising result in porn ads being injected into sites.

I have also seen hackers redirect all traffic from a website. The hackers literally make it impossible for your readers to see your content. It can even be more frustrating, as they may have done so in a way that makes it difficult for you to get to your admin area. 

While there certainly are other security risks that can cause these things to happen, plugins are one of the primary causes of problems.

Plugins Can Slow Your Website Down

Food bloggers are particularly sensitive to page speed and a plugin definitely can impact that. There are several reasons that a plugin can slow your website down and some of them are even valid, but evaluating your plugins before you introduce them to your environment is a great way to determine if a particular plugin is right for you and good for your website.

When your website is slow, it can impact your user experience, time on site, and bounce rate. Ultimately, these metrics can impact your bottom line.

Plugins Break Websites

All plugins have the potential to break websites. Even good ones. It does happen. There are massive companies like Google and Facebook that employ thousands of developers that still release bugs. It is silly to think that little plugins with a few people working on them might not do so occasionally, as well. Even though we know that bugs will happen, we can somewhat control our exposure to those bugs that might break your site.

Working to weed out the bad plugins brings your total risk down. Not only can it help prevent traumatic events like website crashes, but it can help eliminate the small things that break. If you ever find your website or admin area doing odd things on a regular basis that just don’t seem right, it might be a bug. Identifying bad plugins before they make it onto your website can help reduce these.

Deleting a Plugin Doesn’t Mean It Is Gone

Once you install a plugin, you might find that it isn’t so easy to get rid of it! Even after a plugin is deleted, both code and data can get left behind. Even though it may not show up in your plugin page, there might be remnants of those plugins left. Controlling the quality of plugin gets installed in the first place can help you in the future.

There are certainly valid and great reasons why plugins might do this, but there are also some not so great or valid reasons. Have you ever deactivated a plugin and realize you lost all your settings? Sometimes that really sucks. Or even removed a plugin to troubleshoot and then realized a bunch of data was missing? That can be disastrous. Evaluating the plugins you install into your WordPress environment can help keep the bad ones out of your environment.

A General Note About Adding Plugins To Your Website

Plugins are an awesome part of WordPress. The plugin ecosystem is the primary reason that I chose to use the WordPress platform for my food blog. It is why a food blogger can be up and running with the latest SEO, recipe schema, and speed enhancements lickety-split. All without knowing the first thing about code. Plugins also, however, are some of the most dangerous and risky parts of using WordPress.

Each plugin you add to your website adds code. Each line of code on your website adds an element of risk. Security, site speed, and functionality all are at increased odds of being compromised with each new plugin you install.

Not only do the plugins have to play nicely with WordPress (which changes), but they often have to share space with a bunch of other plugins. Often, they have to work on the same things, and this brings risk. This means that every plugin is expected to work with 55,000 other plugins that are shown on the WordPress plugin page. That doesn’t even include the ones that aren’t listed in the plugin search area.

It is nearly impossible to know if one plugin is going to work well with the other 49,999 plugins. Even the developers don’t know that. Hopefully, they are following some best practices that help reduce conflict or errors, but no one is performing a full test suite of one plugin with a all possible combinations of the other 49,999 plugins. 

Think of WordPress as one giant sandbox and each plugin is a child. 55,000 children running amok in a giant sandbox with limited adult supervision. Can you imagine what that might look like? Even the best of those kids might get into a tussle or fight if left long enough. The same things happen with the Plugin ecosystem. You have your own sandbox (your website) and if you invite a bully into yours, you might have some problems.

Remember that many plugin developers are doing this for free!

We expect plugins to just work the way we want. For as much as I agree with this, I also believe in the old motto, ‘you get what you pay for.’ Often, these are completely free products and the developers are donating their time to a plugin out of the sheer joy of development. 

While I think there is an argument that if they provide a product, they should support it and be honest with it’s users, it is still merely a labor of love for many developers with no financial incentive. If they are skilled developers, they might be foregoing actual income for this problem they found interesting enough to solve for people like us. They might be providing a plugin just because they like it.

Imagine if you were doing something for fun, but people were belligerent and demanding? Most of us food bloggers love what we do, but we are running a business that often relies on FREE products from volunteers. People who likely have day jobs and families that need taking care of. While it is important to evaluate plugins and good to request support, I think it is fair to approach this process with the knowledge that some people build these things as a hobby and for free. It is part of what WordPress was built on and I think it is important to respect the people who donate time. If you get something for free, remember that it is free. 

Don’t Be Afraid Of Plugins, but Be Vigilant

The power that plugins bring can be a bit scary if you look at it like I have laid out. I am not intending on scaring you, but I do think it is important to talk about the risks of plugins. Your job as the manager of your site is to look at these plugins and see if they are the kind of kids you want in your sandbox.

I am going to give you a few simple things that you can do to look at these plugins without knowing any code and get a feel for what you can expect from the plugin. I want you to be able to look at a plugin and determine if it a stinker and also how to recognize quality.

If you are vigilant about protecting your environment from outside code, you are going to have a website that is easier to use, faster, and less prone to problems. Being vigilant about the plugins you use will help with this. Pick your plugins wisely!

How to Choose a Plugin

Finally! We are here at the list. If you follow these instructions when thinking about using a plugin, it will help you have a better running website. It will not assure that you will be problem-free, but it will start you on a path of taking better care of your WordPress installation and eliminating future headaches. This is also not a sure-fire guide to finding perfect plugins that never have problems, but more of a guide that can help you along in a journey to making better websites.

Is Your Potential Plugin Really Solving a Problem?

When thinking about a plugin, I think it is important to ask yourself what problem it is really solving. For example, remember that Hello Dolly plugin that WordPress installs right off the bat. It literally solves NO problem and also adds no actual value. While I doubt there are any real security or speed issues with the Hello Dolly, it is a waste of space. I delete that right off the bat.

The Hello Dolly plugin is a simple example, but there are others I have seen that are not quite as simple of a decision. One convenience plugin that many people have installed is the Ultimate Nofollow plugin. Forgive me, Ultimate NoFollow plugin. I am going to pick on your plugin a bit today. It is a little plugin that gives the admin a checkbox to add nofollow to your links, as encouraged by Google for paid links (they have updated to include a few other values, but they are all essentially nofollow-like).

This plugin makes it pretty easy to add nofollow links in your visual editor (Classic only), but did you know you can add this really easily without a plugin? By just flipping to your text editor and manually adding a ‘rel=”nofollow’ to the html (see tutorial)?

This plugin is solving a problem for many people. I think if I were to put this down in the form of a user ask, it would go along the lines of “As a post creator, I want to be able to easily add nofollow to my links without using HTML.” 

The Ultimate Nofollow plugin says that this is a problem they solve. And it appears really simple! 

Is it solving a problem that needs solving?

So, we have established that it does solve a problem, but now we need to ask ourselves if the risk of adding a plugin is worth the problem it is solving. I might be fine with editing HTML. If that is the case, why would I install this? I might be willing to learn a small bit of HTML and editing these on my posts just aren’t a big deal. If that is true, why would I install this?

I should look at my other plugins and see if there are current plugins installed that already solve the problem. For many of us food bloggers, there was a time when it was advantageous to have both Social Pug and Tasty Pins. Social Pug updated its functionality so that I did not need both. In this case, even though the Tasty Pins team is great, I just did not have a need to have two plugins solving the same problem. 

Back to Ultimate Nofollow. The plugin does solve a problem, but in the scenarios above where I know I can, and am willing, to do it myself, why would I install the plugin? It adds code to my website, which inherently adds risk.

Who should move forward with looking further at this plugin?

If you have no interest in touching the HTML, this might be a plugin for you. If you understand HTML, but just feel it is too much of a burden, this might be a plugin for you. If you know that this solves a problem that you want to be solved, consider moving ahead with looking at the other criteria for installation.

A note about currently installed plugins.

As an aside, it is just as useful to go through your plugin list and look at the problems they solve. Many times, a plugin solved a problem at one point, but it no longer is useful. These are great candidates for removal. Getting rid of unused plugins is a great way to decrease your risk and maybe speed up your website.

Evaluate the Plugin Stats

If you are looking at a WordPress plugin page on a desktop browser, you should be able to see a plugin stats overview on the right-hand side of the screen. These statistics are very important in evaluating the quality of a plugin. It includes metrics like last-updated, active installations, tested up to, ratings, and support. These are good things to look at and evaluate

Image of Ultimate NoFollow in WordPress Ecosystem

Last Updated 

This is the last time the plugin was updated and it is a great way to get a feel for how active the developers are in maintaining the plugin and adding features. While there is no hard and fast rule on this, I want to see that they have updated it in the past few months, at least. Any number over a few months and my spidey sense starts to tingle. Anything over a year and I would have some pretty grave concerns. Anything over 2 years and it would almost be a definite no-go for this guy.

At the time of writing, Ultimate Nofollow was updated 3 months ago. This would make me wonder a little, but it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me. Mind you, if there is a super small, single-use plugin that is written really well, it might not need to be updated often.

If it is a big plugin that promises to do everything and throw in the kitchen sink, but hasn’t been updated in six months, I would be more worried than a plugin like Ultimate Nofollow that has limited functionality. 

Active Installations

How many people are using this? This is an important question when evaluating a plugin. It isn’t that hard to put a plugin in the WordPress ecosystem, but the rubber really starts to hit the road when people start using the plugin. Many plugin developers (and all developers) unfortunately put testing on the backburner. This means that YOU are the testers. 

If there are a million people who have this installed, you likely are getting into a plugin that has been well tested and has enough goodwill to draw people to it. If you look at a plugin like Redirection, it has a million+ installs. It solves a problem for many people and niches. It has been proven to be a trusted source.

The plugin we have been looking at, Ultimate Nofollow, has 50,000+ installs. This is a great number, as well. Remember that some plugins solve problems for niches or certain groups, so they may not have the number of installs as some of the big guys. For Ultimate NoFollow, a user probably has to be interested in and know about SEO. The number of installs on the Ultimate Nofollow plugin would not concern me.

When you start getting down into the 3 and 4 digits, I would start to worry a bit. It would make me scrutinize the other statistics even more, but still may not be a deal-breaker for me. The number of installs is one snapshot in the picture book of this plugin. This individual picture might be out of focus and make me uncomfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire picture book is. I would need to look at the rest of the snapshots to get a better feel. 

Tested Up To

This is important to look at. What version is WordPress currently on? What version has this been tested up to? If it is more than a few minor versions, it is important to take this into consideration. While I am not sure on the specific rules, at some point this comes with an additional warning on the plugin page from WordPress that it hasn’t been tested in a while and may not work.

If that WordPress warning shows up, I would be worried. It would make me wonder if the developers are working on this and if they care that WordPress is marking them. It still might not be a deal-breaker, but this would definitely cause concern. At the time of writing, the Ultimate Nofollow plugin was not showing this warning.

Advanced View

There is an Advanced View link under that top section that can give a little bit more information. Specifically, it can share the number of downloads over time. More interestingly, it shows Active Install Growth. If this is declining and a negative number, I would wonder why. Once again, not a deal-breaker, but something to stay aware of. 

Ratings and Reviews

How many ratings are out there and what does it look like? I would look at the number of people that have left ratings and then also what distribution they had in terms of quality. If a plugin has 10 ratings and they are all one or two stars, I would be concerned!

The redirection plugin has about 500 ratings and it is obvious that most people rate it really high. If we look at Ultimate Nofollow, I start to worry a bit. I see that there are 15 five-star ratings, but 6 one-star ratings. The number of ratings would not worry me as much as to why there are so many bad ratings compared to good ones.

Fortunately, there is a link right there that brings you to the details of the ratings and reviews. Now, I am starting to get a clear picture. At the time of writing, the last three ratings over a 1-year span say that it doesn’t work and leave one star. Based on those reviews, I am getting the sense that it doesn’t work with Gutenberg. 

Additionally, those reviews have no responses from the plugin writers. That would definitely be an issue for me in evaluating a plugin. Do they not care about the reviews or addressing the issues in the plugin ecosystem?

From personal experience, I can confirm the plugin doesn’t work with Gutenberg. To be honest, I still use this plugin on an install that has classic and it has been fine for me, but I know it’s time is limited in my WordPress world.

If you are using Gutenberg, these reports should tell you that this plugin is likely going to be problematic for you. These ratings and reviews should help you determine if this is going to be a good plugin for you and give you a sense of how much they care about this plugin.

Support Section

This consists of two parts. The first part shows recent issues. The summary tells you how many issues have been opened and resolved in the past few months. If the number of issues is high, I would start to question why. If the number of issues is high and none of them have been resolved, I would be more worried. At least if they are resolving some, it looks like they are actively participating in the development. 

The second part shows a link to the WordPress Support Forum. Take a peek at that. How many issues are showing in this area. Are the developers responding to them? Is it an active and vibrant forum or is a desert echo-chamber with no results.

In our example of the Ultimate Follow plugin, they have a stickied comment that says to go to a different, non-WordPress page to submit support tickets. Unfortunately, it is a dead link. 

Perusing through the comments in the support forum, it looks like ownership has been transferred to a different company than the original owner. It also looks like they made the last update a few months ago and have been somewhat active in the forum. That there are still stickied dead link posts (at the time of writing) pointing to the old owner and a dead link is still concerning. It feels sloppy.

Support Plugin view for Ultimate No Follow
Ultimate No Follow Support Page

A Note About Plugins Not Showing In the WordPress Plugin Ecosphere.

Be wary! Some plugins don’t show in the plugin ecosystem. This can be by choice of WordPress or by choice of the plugin developer. There are certainly some legit ones out there, but it comes down to your trust of the authors. Do you trust the author? Do they have a website? Does the website look nice? Can you ask them questions and do they respond? Do they have testimonials on the webpage? Can you find other users that use them?

Who Created The Plugin?

This shows on the Plugin page and there should be a link. Check out the company. Is it a single person just writing stuff as an after-school project or is it a company? If it looks cheesy, it probably is cheesy. In our example, we already saw that there was a dead link in the support forum to the company that used to own it.

Upon further look, the company that currently owns it has a link on the plugin page. It is also a dead link currently. This is concerning.

How big is the plugin compared to the problem I need to be solved?

What we have already looked at is a great start to evaluating a plugin. There is a more nuanced item that is worth mentioning. Some plugins promise to do everything for everyone and this always makes me a little wary and at least standing back and looking a bit further.

The more a plugin does, the bigger it probably is. It very likely will have more code, more risk, and more potential for failure. It is important to look at the problem you want to solve and weigh how much the plugin actually does.

A while back, when it became apparent that Ultimate NoFollow did not work with Gutenberg, I started looking for other solutions. Apparently, even though it really seems like a small problem, it is not trivial to solve in Gutenberg.  I saw another plugin that promised to do the same thing, but it was part of an entire suite of tools that were mashed into the same plugin. 

The nofollow bit was probably 2% of the functionality of this plugin. Because of this, I hesitated to recommend it. If we need to hang a picture in our house, there is no need to bring in a sledgehammer to do the job. In fact, there is a pretty good chance you will smash one of those fingers trying to nail in that tiny nail. 

There are some companies that do this really well. In the food blogging niche, plugins like WP Rocket, Jet Pack, and Yoast cover a whole gamut of functionality. They do it well. 

On the other hand, if there was ‘some dude’ that put together the Taj Mahal of plugins, I would have doubts that it works well on a mass scale and even if he did, I would doubt they would be able to support it well over a long period of time. 

One segment that I think tends to do this really poorly are page builders. Granted, this is a super complex problem. To be able to allow your customers to drag and drop anything to anywhere AND have it be graceful code is an enormous feat. They literally have to make it work for everybody. What is sacrificed? Often, speed is what is sacrificed. 

When evaluating a plugin, just try and find the right tool for the job.

What does your niche community say?

There are many great communities out there that provide feedback. For food bloggers, there are great Facebook groups like Food Blogger Central and forums like Food Blogger Pro where you can get feedback on plugins or search for past feedback. 

As time moves on, standards change and the plugins de jour change. These communities can help you keep abreast of what people like.

Backup before you add a plugin

Yes. Do this. If you start installing new plugins all willy nilly, you are cruisin for a bruisin. Back things up. Always.

Test In Google PageSpeed Insights Before and After

Speed is important for us. Using Google PageSpeed Insights before and after installing a plugin is a great tool for showing the impact of a plugin, particularly if it is a plugin that impacts the front end (as opposed to Admin) of your website.. Mind you, that you might get different results when you run this multiple times, you will want to test it a few different times before you really get a sense of the impact it has.

What can GPSI tell us?

It can give a general sense of any items that might slow or weigh your site down. If new ‘opportunities’ show up in the result and your speed is impacted significantly, it is worth investigating those items. It might even be worth removing the plugin if it impacts your site enough.

Cache and GPSI

If you run your site through GPSI, you have to do it a few different times. When you change something on your website and you have a caching tool, it is very likely that your pages need to pull more information. This means, the first time a page is hit, it will be slower. 

On top of your cache causing issues, Google tends to cache GPSI results. If you notice the GPSI tool showing a result instantly without appearing to process anything (it usually takes several seconds). 

Take your time testing this and test it several times before and after. If you do this, you will have a better sense of what really is impacting your site.

Would I recommend Ultimate NoFollow?

No. Between the reviews, the support area, and the dead links, it would be concerning enough for me to not recommend it. 

The thing is, however, is that I still have a site using the classic editor that has this plugin installed. For this site, I do not. For the site I do use it with, it will probably be gone soon.


You made it this far? Well, you should have a good sense of how to evaluate a plugin. If you spend some time looking each plugin you intend to install, you can reduce the risk to your website, help ensure it remains fast, and help prevent outages. Evaluating a plugin is an important skill for every WordPress site owner and I hope you enjoyed. Check out Ramshackle Pantry, where I blog for reals. 🙂


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