RSS Feed Plugins: What Can Go Wrong

Bringing your blog to the homepage of your WordPress site — even if your blog is offsite — is easy to do. When we build a website, we usually include a blog feed on the homepage as part of the custom theme, and your theme might do this, too.

Here’s how the blog you’re reading right now gets pulled into the homepage:

blogfeed1

 

If your theme doesn’t have this feature, it’s still easy to add it with a plugin. Plugins are a library of small pieces of software developed for WordPress that let you add significant functionality without requiring a developer — they’re already developed, and you can install them quite simply from the admin area of your WordPress website.

Use the sidebar navigation to go to the Plugins area and click on “Add New” as you see in the screenshot below:

plugins-addnew

You’ll be taken to the Install Plugins screen which you see below.

You can browse the popular plugins — including rss — or you can use the search box to look for a particular plugin. Once you’ve chosen one, you click “install” and let WordPress install the plugin for you.

Doesn’t that sound easy?

That's the thing about WordPress. It is relatively easy, but it's never as easy as it sounds. Click To Tweet

By this time, I have a collection of favorite plugins that I use often and know well. The process described above is basically my experience with plugins — now. However, when I decided to install a plugin to bring two blog feeds to the homepage of a new site we’re building, I was reminded of the initial WordPress plugin experience.

So let me share it with you: all the things that can go wrong.

WP RSS Aggregator

I started with WP RSS Aggregator. The description sounded like just what I wanted, and it had a nice little video (see it by clicking the link above) showing how to install it. After installation, it showed up in my side navbar —

And that’s the first thing that can go wrong with plugins:

#1: You install it, and then you can’t find it.

Some plugins show up in your navigation sidebar on the left. Bless them. Others show up in Tools, or in the Widgets section, or under Settings. Some have a link in their description in the Plugins area. Some have a little pop up Tool Tips box that directs you to the right page. The best advice: keep searching till you find it. If you installed it, it’s in there somewhere. Don’t forget to look at the plugin’s documentation — it might not tell you this important thing, but it might.

In any case, WP RSS Aggregator was easy to find. It had nice, clear instructions, plus the video. I put in the URLs of the feed, and was pleased to see that the plugin also gives you a handy button to push to install the short code on the page. What’s not to like?

Quite simply, it didn’t work. It recognized and previewed the feeds, but it didn’t import them. I checked the documentation page and saw that other people were having the same problem, did some troubleshooting and then regretfully moved on.

RSS Feed Parser Pearlbells

Next up was RSS Feed Parser Pearlbells. With this one, you simply install it and then use shortcode to add the feeds to the page where you want them to show.

It might work beautifully for all I know, but I didn’t wait around long enough to find out, because this plugin brought up popular problem #2:

#2: It breaks your theme.

Incompatibility between the code of one plugin and another, or between one plugin and your theme, is extremely common. So much so that, “What was the last plugin you installed or updated?” is the first question your webmaster will ask you when you call frantically saying that your homepage’s sidebar has jumped to the bottom of the page.

Pearlbells caused the slider on the homepage to quit working, so it had to go. I do want to emphasize that this isn’t something wrong with the plugin. It’s just an incompatibility. Thousands of other websites will be able to use this plugin just fine, but the one I’m working on can’t. You won’t be able to resolve it, so remove that plugin and move on.

RSS Feed Widget

I didn’t really want a widget, but I tried it out, because it sounded interesting.

blogfeed3

I immediately saw a typo in the post it was pulling in, but that’s not the fault of the plugin. However, this plugin had common problem #3.

#3: It doesn’t work very well.

To my eye, the lines are too close together, and I can’t change that. The lines also go clear across the page, and that makes it less readable. It doesn’t pull the title of the post it’s pulling in, and that seems important. What’s more, the dots beneath it suggest that you can read more posts, but clicking on them doesn’t bring up more posts.

I think this just isn’t a very good plugin, but it might be perfect for your purposes. You have to try a plugin out to see whether it will work for you or not. There are so many plugins that there is bound to be an alternative, so you don’t have to use something that doesn’t work very well. Just move one.

RSS Feed — WordPress Default Widget

While I was in the Widgets area, I noticed the default RSS feed widget and pulled it into the footer. I don’t have a sidebar on the homepage of this website, so the footer is the only location for a widget.

blogfeed2

It’s a nice little widget. It would look good in the sidebar. However, it has two large problems when it comes to using it on the website I’m building. First, it just pulls the titles. The client wants a proper feed with a nice excerpt from each post, so this isn’t what I need. Second, it’s way too tall for the footer.

There’s nothing wrong with this widget, but it’s a great example of common problem #4:

#4: It doesn’t do what you want it to.

I’m including this widget in a discussion of plugins because many plugins are also widgets. If a plugin (or the widget it created) doesn’t do what you want it to do, there’s little point in trying to force it to work with your website. There are lots more where that came from.

WP RSS Multi Importer

Next up, WP RSS Multi Importer. It’s less sharp in the installation and back end than WP RSS Aggregator, but it does the same job — and works.

blogfeed4

It was at this point that I encountered the fifth common plugin problem.

#5: You’re doing it wrong.

The screenshot above shows WP RSS Multi Importer pulling in the feed — twice. This is because I absentmindedly put the first URL in twice. This is not the fault of the plugin. I changed the second URL and solved the problem.

I mention this because sometimes we go haring off to the support forums about a plugin’s problems and the only problem is user error. Check for that before you start looking for other solutions.

blogfeed5

Here it is, after correction, pulling the feed into a column on the homepage. It is illustrating the next common problem.

#7: Adjustments are needed.

#7 is not the same as #6. This blog post looks great on its own website, and it looks just fine on the Latest News page. However, the column width of this page and the way the illustration is placed in the blog post give an odd effect here.

As it happens, I’m the blogger for the blog feed we’re pulling in, and I don’t mind changing the way I place the images. I’ll just experiment to make sure that the images look good on this site as well as on their home site. If that weren’t the case, I might need to pull the feed without the images or to make some other changes in the settings of the plugin.

Some plugins let you make changes, some can be edited in the code, and some don’t really have enough options to make it worth trying to adjust them.

For me, this plugin will work just fine — not only to pull in the RSS feeds, but also to illustrate the most common problems you’re likely to encounter when you want to add a plugin to your WordPress site. I hope you’ll bear these points in mind, too, the next time you hear someone complaining about a plugin. Sometimes the plugin is a bad plugin, but sometimes the problem was one of the others listed here. It may still be worth trying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *