WordPress: Choosing Plugins

WordPress is awesome.

Where else can you get a platform that has been around for a long time, has tons of user involvement, can handle just about any type of website plus a blog, gets constant updates and has a great support community backing it? And all that for free!

But all is not a field of roses in Worpress-land. The day will come when you need WordPress to do something that WordPress just isn’t built to do, but that tiny piece of functionality could make or break your website. You, my friend, are going to need a plugin.

This is one of the places where WordPress can be intimidating for newer users. A simple search can return hundreds of results when searching for a way to extend your website, and all plugins are not created equal. Just like WordPress, most of the plugins that you might use to extend it are developed by the community and are free. We all know, however, that “free” often has it’s caveats. I’ve created a small list of tips to help you find the right way to make WordPress behave:

  1. Your first, and usually best option, is to contact a pro. They can navigate the potholes of plugin selection because they’ve driven the road….. a LOT! But….. If for some reason, you have to venture on alone –
  2. Check reviews. Not only check for overall review (0 to 5 stars), but make sure there are enough reviews to show that a lot of people have used it and are satisfied. Actually read the individual reviews. You can learn a lot about what can go wrong here.
  3. Check number of downloads. Again, this is to make sure to the best of your ability that the plugin is in use by enough people that the kinks are getting worked out.
  4. Check support responses. Read the support thread and see if the developers are on top of issues, or if they just let users stew in their juices for a while. Remember that if you are using a free  plugin, the developer is supporting it on their own time, so they may not be able to answer issues right away.
  5. Check updates. Has the plugin been updated recently? Some plugins are in the system that are no longer being supported – they might be for older versions of WordPress or have just gone defunct.
  6. Check compatibility with your version of WordPress. Make sure that your version of WordPress is included in the compatibility.

Well, there you have it. Your checklist for finding your first plugin for WordPress and being reasonably certain you found the right one. Do you have any stories about your first plugin search? Let us know in the comments below – and stay tuned for more WordPress know-how. Next week we will look at preparing to install plugins on your site and troubleshooting/ recovering when things go south.

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Comments

  1. Nice basic checklist for beginners.

    1 – As a pro, myself, I concur! For those who are not absolute newbies, just backup your website, then install and play with any plugin that looks interesting.

    2 – I’ve found that negative reviews are many times in relation to a user expecting the plugin to do something it simply does not. The user doesn’t understand the plugin, so gives it a negative rating.

    3 – A low number of downloads could mean a plugin is brand new, or addresses a very specific problem/situation, so may not be needed by the masses.

    4 – Developers addressing support issues is a good one. Though it should be noted – I have a handful of plugins in the repository – By default, WordPress.org forums do not notify developers of new support questions. Also, simply because a developer decided to give away his work for free… This shouldn’t commit him to answer every question from here to infinity, with no benefit to him.

    5 – For the most part, a plugin should be updated regularly. That said, many simple plugins do not require any updates – ever. I regularly use a few plugins that have never been updated (2+years) – and they’re as functional and and secure as they were 2 years ago.

    6 – Compatibility is absolutely important. That said, just because a plugin has not yet been marked as compatible with the latest version of WordPress doesn’t mean it is not compatible… Just check it out for yourself.

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