Plugins make WordPress powerful – we can change and add almost any functionality to WordPress easily just by using a plugin. However, not all plugins are created equal. While some plugins can extend features on your site, others may downright stop your website from functioning.
There are even cases of plugins that could plant a serious security hole in your website.
Choosing the best plugin is far from an easy task. Nonetheless, there are (or at least there should be) a few considerations you can take to heart before deciding on whether or not to install a particular WordPress plugin.
Here are some of mine.
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1. What comes with the feature?
This might seems obvious since we look for plugins based on the feature it provides. However, even though two plugins may serve the same purpose, in terms of usability, this may vary for each individual plugin.
I usually will compare two or more plugins that do the same thing then look at whether the features are sufficient for my needs.
2. Is it updated and (still) compatible with WordPress?
WordPress is updated once every 6 month with new features and often also by deprecating some of the old ones. In the WordPress official plugin repository, you will find the information of when a plugin was last updated, and its compatibility against the updated WordPress versions. You will also have to take into account the WordPress version you are using.
One good thing is that WordPress usually warns us if a plugin has not been updated for two years. It’s an indicator that the developer may have abandoned the plugin, so the plugin wouldn’t probably see another update in the future, and you best be moving along.
3. How are the ratings and user reviews like?
Do you trust ratings? I don’t, well, not completely. A Rating does not tell all when it comes to the quality of a WordPress plugin. And honestly The WordPress rating system is vague. Plugins with lower ratings do not necessarily indicate that the plugin is bad.
Perhaps it was, but remember that plugins get updates, and the earlier rating may not reflect correctly on the quality of a revised plugin.
This is where the section in each WordPress plugin page, Review, comes in handy. There, you can find other users telling you about their experience with the plugin. You can also see when the review is posted as well as the star ratings they have given. These are a more accurate measurement to adopt when deciding to install or leave the plugin.
Here’s a 5-star review and a 1-star review stacked next to each other. It happens.
Also, you might want to do some research on who is using the plugin. WordPress has a wide-range user-base from small independent sites to large corporate websites like the New York Times and TechCrunch.
If you found major websites using particular plugins, it may indicate that the plugin is good and trusted. You don’t supposed that their development team would the site at risk by installing bad or harmful plugins, right?
4. Who is/are the developers?
A WordPress plugin relies on its developer’s dedication to maintain and fix the bugs. Otherwise, their users will be on their own when something untoward happens in the plugin.
Usually, if the plugin is supported by multiple developers, a company, or if the developer has some sort of financial support by way of offering premium features, the plugin will likely be continuously updated. Any and all problems will probably get fixed in a relatively short time.
However, if the plugin is handled only by a single developer, speaking from experience, plugin abandonment is inevitable. That said, this also depends on who is behind the plugin.
I won’t have second thoughts of installing a plugin if it came from those who involve are directly with the WordPress core updates like Samuel Wood, or reputable developers such as Pippin Williamson, Greg Priday of SiteOrigin, and Lester Chan. Sometimes the plugin developer’s reputation precedes them.
5. Is the design appealing and thoughtful?
This may boil down to personal preferences but the plugin design and aesthetic may play a role in one’s decision to try out a plugin. Generally a plugin will add a new Settings page in WordPress dashboard. Yet, some plugins create and style their own version of the Settings page. Sometimes the results look completely out of its element when it comes to WordPress.
I personally would like a Settings page to embrace the WordPress style guide, or at least look similar overall. Here’s a comparison between the Settings page of BPS Security and iThemes Security plugin. For me, the iThemes security Setting page is neater. The menu is well organized, sensible and logical.
And speaking about sensible choices, if a plugin adds an additional menu, the menu name should be short and sensible for common users. For example, if the plugin is about securing WordPress, hence naming the menu “Security” is sufficient instead of naming it as “Ultimate SEO” or “All in One SEO” etc.