How to Choose WordPress Plugins

As of today there are 29,118 plugins on WordPress.org and counting! There are also numerous premium or paid plugins available on other sites such as Code Canyon and many other private companies. With so many choices, where do you begin? Here are some simple tips to help make your selection process easier:

1 – Start with a Google Search

First off, if you want to find a free plugin at WordPress.org, you will NOT finding it using their search box. The WordPress search is notoriously unhelpful. Search for plugins using a Google search. Be as specific as you can such as:

event registration wordpress plugin

Once you have some results, you can start evaluating them based on the following criteria.

2 – Pay attention stats, support, and documentation

If the plugin is free, it will be on WordPress.org. Don’t download free plugins from any other site except WordPress.org. If you do, you might be downloading an old version, one that isn’t maintained any longer, or is malware.

Wordpress plugin overview

When you view the plugin’s page on WordPress.org, look at the following information:

  • Compatible up to: The plugin should ideally be listed as compatible up to the current version of WordPress.
  • Last Updated: The plugin should have been updated within the last two to three months. Some simpler plugins may need fewer updates, but typically, you want a plugin that is regularly updated or shows sign of some ongoing concern for its functionality, which is most obviously evidenced by recent updates.
  • Downloads: When choosing between two plugins, it’s almost always best to go with the one with the greater download numbers. Download numbers might be skewed if a plugin is old, so look also at Stats tab to see the recent history. Typically, I don’t use a plugin that has few downloads as I’ll question whether or not it will be maintained over time due to the lack of interest in the plugin. I’ll start to wonder why I need this plugin no one else seems to need — perhaps it’s because there is a better one, and I need to do a better job in my search.
  • Ratings: Star ratings may not mean much if there are too few ratings or too many, but it’s good to see if there are a lot more 5s than 1s.
  • Authors: Check out the other plugins the authors have developed. Are they engaged with the community and therefore have a reputation to maintain? That’s important to be user your plugin is going to get future attention.
  • Support: View the support forums. Are questions being answered regularly?
  • Changelog: Click the Changelog tab and view the updates. Is the plugin author actively involved in solving problems and releasing updates?
  • Instructions and documentation: Is the plugin well documented?

All premium plugin sites are a bit different, but there should be a support forum that you can view or product reviews on other blogs you can read to give you a sense of whether or not the plugin will meet your needs. Code Canyon is a popular premium plugin site and has stats, change log, and support questions you can review to make sure the plugin is regularly updated, has a good following in the community, and an actively engaged developer.

3 – Only purchase plugins from well-known, community-supported developers

A few popular premium plugin developers include:

There are many others, but be sure to read independent reviews of the plugins on sites such as:

Take advantage of the plugin developer for pre-purchase questions. This will be a good test of how responsive they are and help you make a good decision. Ask about refund policies as well.

4 – Keep your plugins up to date and delete unused or outdated plugins

To avoid security and compatibility issues, always always always keep your plugins up to date. Not doing so can create errors on your site and security loopholes. Hacks often occur from outdated themes or plugins. It’s the number one way hackers have of attacking your site. So, update update update. Replace no-longer supported plugins with ones that are current with the latest technology.

5 – Don’t over do it!

Use plugins with caution. There is no magic number of how many plugins you can use, but beware of compatibility issues with your theme or other plugins and any errors in  your error log on the FTP server. Not all plugins are created equal and some don’t play well with others.

Be sure to see my list of Top WordPress Plugins to get you started on your search.

 

Happy Blogging!

🙂

Angela Bowman

Front-end WordPress developer since 2007 building highly custom websites for nonprofits and small businesses. Experienced in nonprofit administration, grant writing, and technical writing. Love high altitude hiking and backyard chickens.

5 comments on “How to Choose WordPress Plugins

  1. Why is it that plugins cannot always run together and why does running a well-established plugin cause problems in a well-established theme?

    Could the WordPress core get some kind of upgrade that would make incompatibility problems impossible?

    • Hi Dan, I worked for a company in the 90s called Quark, makers of QuarkXPress. The owner, Tim Gill, took out a patent on all processes that caused another application to freeze. Basically, if your software caused other software not to work, he owns the patent for that so you have violated his patent. It was all good tongue-in-cheek humor. Back in the day, troubleshooting was all about conflicts. Conflicts with fonts, printer drivers, other software, etc.

      Conflicts are always going to exist in the coding world due to the different practices of developers. In the WordPress world, these conflicts come in a few varieties:

      1 – Conflicts between scripts and styles. These are very common and are taken care of if the developers “enqueue” their scripts — basically following WP best practices to make sure their scripts and styles don’t clobber the scripts and styles loaded by other plugins. The issue here is that many less experienced or apathetic developers don’t enqueue their scripts, therefore being like a bully at school.

      Here’s a good article on that process – http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/the-ins-and-outs-of-the-enqueue-script-for-wordpress-themes-and-plugins–wp-22509

      2 – Other conflicts might result from the plugin developer using generic variable or function names in their code, so two plugins call for the same function or variable. This is not best practice, so the more experienced and well-developed plugins will be much more precise in their naming conventions.

      3 – Since I don’t know what specifically you are referring to when talking about “well-established” theme and plugin, I can guess the problem might be more style related. For example, The Events Calendar plugin formats a class called entry-content to be 98%. However, many themes use this same class in other areas of the site, causing some conflicting CSS styling. This is very common and easy to remedy in the theme styles.

      4 – WordPress 4.5 upgrade did update jQuery which could cause issues with themes and plugins that haven’t updated their jQuery or are not enqueuing their jQuery properly. If you see any issues, visit the theme or plugin support forums to see if the developers are aware of the WordPress 4.5 issue and have an update to the theme or plugin.

      Let me know what you find! I’m so curious which theme and plugin you are writing about.

      Angela

  2. Thanks! I’ll add a link to all the Automattic plugins. This post is a re-write of that previous post. Next, I’m going to rework my WordPress resources list.

  3. Great article Angela! Good breakdown of the selection criteria. Under ‘Authors’ I’d add that the WordPress development team and Automattic are unimpeachable sources for plugins. Like JetPack. It adds a host of useful features and works reliably. Same for Akismet.

  4. Great post, as always. I’ll have to share this with the WordPress for Website Owners (non-coders) workshop. I already send them over to your top plugins post, so will just add this link to the slides, as well!

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