There are thousands of plugins for WordPress and it can sometimes be difficult deciding which ones are best for your website. What should you look for when choosing a plugin?
Where to find WordPress plugins
The best place to find plugins is the WordPress website. Why? Because the plugins that appear there must comply with the rules and regulations imposed by WordPress, and the plugin is checked before being listed.
Here are the Detailed Plugin Guidelines that developers must comply with in order to be accepted. If bad plugins are discovered, and this sometimes happens, they are kicked out of the repository.
This means that every plugin at the WordPress site has passed basic tests to ensure that it is safe, free of spam and malware, and is well written. Are they all perfect? No, but these checks help.
There are plugins outside of the WordPress.org repository and some are excellent, but be aware that no-one has checked them and the developer may not have followed good programming practises to create the plugin. You might not be able to see other users’ reviews and comments, so it can be a bit of a gamble.
A common situation is that there is a free version of a plugin in the WordPress.org repository, but a paid version can be purchased from the developer’s website. This is fine. You can check out the free plugin, see ratings and comments from other users, and get a good idea of the quality and usefulness.
Related: Not sure how to install or update plugins? See the courses
Use WordPress.org to find the best plugins, then follow the links to the developer’s website if you need more powerful versions, add-ons, extensions and extras.
You can go to the plugins repository from within WordPress itself by clicking Plugins in the admin sidebar and then clicking the Add New button.
It is better to go there by entering the URL in a browser and only after deciding which plugin you want, use the Add New button in WordPress.
There are two sections that are popular – Featured Plugins and Popular Plugins. If you are new to WordPress I would look at the Popular Plugins first. Click the See All link to see what other people are downloading and installing.
Check the active installs
Look at the number of active installs for a plugin to get an idea of how popular it is. The best plugins have lots of installs and Contact Form 7 for example, has more than 5 million!
A high number of active installs implies that a good plugin is good.
Not all plugins have such high numbers and when you dig down into niches there may be just a few tens of thousands. That’s OK, just focus on the most popular in the niche.
Is it tested with WordPress?
In WordPress admin, go to Dashboard in the sidebar and then click Updates below. It tells you which version of WordPress you have, in case you don’t know.
Check that the plugin has been tested with your version of WordPress and beware of those that have not. Plugins that have not been tested may be OK, but this is not guaranteed.
Even up-to-date Plugins can clash with each other and you won’t know until you try them, but you can at least make sure they are compatible with your version of WordPress.
Check the star ratings
The star rating is an important consideration when looking for plugins because it is what users think about the plugin. Look for plugins with great star ratings. A 1 or 2 rating should definitely be avoided and a 4 or 5 is recommended. A rating of 3 is neither good nor bad. You probably need to dig a bit deeper and read the comments.
Beware of low numbers of ratings. If there are 7 five star ratings it means only the developer’s family and friends have rated it. They may have been generous with the score. You can fake a few star ratings, but you can’t fake hundreds or thousands.
When was it last updated?
Click the plugin to go to the plugin detail page and on the right is an information panel. The Last Updated date is important and a recent date means that the plugin is under active development, bugs are being fixed and new features are being added.
If a plugin was last updated more than a year ago then it may have been abandoned by the developer. This is definitely true if the last update was two years or more ago.
Plugins often require updates to keep them functioning with new versions of WordPress. Avoid abandoned plugins because problems are likely to arise in the future even if there are none right not.
Check the reviews
On the plugin detail page is Ratings. Each rating is a clickable link and it can sometimes be useful to click the 1 Star ratings and see what problems people are having.
A popular plugin may have a lot of 1 star reviews. That is not important and what you should do is compare the number of 4 and 5 star reviews with the number of 1 and 2 star reviews. The 5 star reviews should vastly outnumber the 1 star reviews.
Click the See All link to the right of Ratings. This shows the reviews in date order with the most recent first. It is possible for a good plugin to go bad – a recent update could break things, so be checking the recent reviews you can see if there is a recent problem.
The opposite can happen and a buggy plugin can be fixed, so all the 1 star reviews may be in the past. Lots of good recent reviews is a good indication that a plugin is safe to install.
How good is support?
just below the ratings on the plugin details page is Support. Below it shows the number of problems reported and the number fixed. It is hard, maybe impossible to fix every problem, so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, but beware of plugins with a lot of unfixed issues.