So, you need your WordPress site to learn a new trick. You’ve searched wordpress.org/plugins, or googled for the “best wordpress plugin for _____”, but now you have a pile of options to search through. Which is best for you?
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Whether you need something as fancy as a forum, complex as ecommerce, or simple as a plugin for stopping comment spam, there are 7 simple steps you can take to make sure you’re getting the best.
Below we’ll use the example of a webform plugin, but these tips apply regardless of the type of plugin you’re looking for. We’re staring with a search for “form” at wordpress.org/plugins.
First, a quick note about using the WordPress.org search to find plugins. There are tons of fantastic, popular plugins that didn’t turn up in my search for “form” because they have names like “Contact Form 7” or “Ninja Forms.” Begin by checking blogs you trust like wpbeginner or wpmudev for plugins they recommend before turning to WordPress.org’s search.
1. Check when the plugin was last updated
One of the best indicators of a feature-rich and secure plugin is frequent updating. Avoid plugins that haven’t been updated in over a year.
Why? Plugins that have gone a long time without an update might not be actively maintained or supported anymore. Outdated plugins are one of the biggest security vulnerabilities you can introduce to your WordPress site, because they’re the easy targets for hackers.
However, for plugins that add very simple functionality, going a few months without an update isn’t a problem. They’re rarely impacted by changes to WordPress core, so they just don’t need updates as often.
2. Look at the number of reviews
A quick way to determine the popularity of a plugin is by checking how many reviews it has. We’ll take a look at what the reviews have to say in a moment, but start by checking the numbers.
Why? If lots of people are taking the time to leave fairly positive reviews of a plugin, it’s likely a good one.
However, you don’t have to write off a plugin due to lack of reviews. It might just be new.
3. Choose a plugin with many active installs
Like reviews, the number of active installs a plugin has can tell you a bit about its popularity. The more active installs a plugin has, the better.
Why? Popular plugins are more likely to be supported in the long term.
However, don’t only avoid one just because of a low active install number. It could just be a niche tool that just a few people need.
4. Make sure it has all the features you want
Once you click on a plugin on the search page, you’ll see its description. Look for helpful instructions and lists of features on this page. If the Description page for a plugin doesn’t give you enough information to answer the question above, be wary. If the developer was too lazy to write up a bit about what their tool does, what else did they neglect to do?
Why? Developers who put effort into writing up feature lists and instructions likely also invested a lot of energy in creating the plugin itself. You’re not getting someone’s hack job.
5. Be certain the support forum isn’t a ghost town
The right sidebar of a plugin’s page will tell you how many support threads have been marked resolved in the last month. Avoid plugins with a majority of unresolved support requests. Click View support forum to see what kinds of problems others might be having. Are these real issues with the plugin, misplaced feature requests, or a case of user error?
Why? Developers who ignore their support forum probably aren’t investing a lot of time or effort in their plugin, and they won’t be around to help you if you run into trouble.
6. Read the reviews
4.5 out of 5 stars is a great rating. But it might not tell the whole story. Check the Reviews page for a little more info.
Why? Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a plugin with reviews that look great…until you get to this page and see that there are 30 1-star reviews submitted in the last two weeks. This can happen if the latest version has a big bug, or the developer has recently abandoned it.
7. Look for experienced developers
In the sidebar of the page, you’ll see a bit of information about the developer, including how many other plugins they’ve listed on WordPress.org. Look for developers who’ve created more than a couple.
Why? A seasoned WordPress plugin developer is more likely to know how to avoid security vulnerabilities and understand how to code plugins that work well with WordPress Core.
If everything else looks good, but the developer doesn’t have any other plugins, it’s not a deal breaker. Use this information to understand who your developer is, or make a decision when weighing two similar plugins.
These 7 steps should only take you 3 minutes, and after running through them you’ll be secure in the knowledge that the plugin you’ve chosen is functional, secure, and supported.
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