WordPress plugins are one of the main reasons why WordPress is so popular. They are useful snippets of code that allow you to take your website to the next level and add all kinds of features to it, without having to learn how to code.
However, WordPress plugins can also be a double-edged sword because poorly coded plugins can negatively affect the performance of your website and leave your site vulnerable to ever-increasing security threats. In addition to that, it’s not unusual for a plugin to stop being maintained and you wind up having to find a replacement.
In this post, I’ll share tips on how to choose the best plugin for your site needs so you can make sure you won’t choose a plugin that will make your site more vulnerable or a plugin that will go extinct within months after the installation.
Get Clear on What You Want the Plugin to Do
Before doing anything, it’s important to get clear on what you want your plugin to do. Consider writing down all the features you want the plugin to have and make a checklist out of it that you can cross off to ensure your chosen plugin has everything you need. This can include things like backup, anti-spam features, login security, image compression, and similar.
You’ll also want to make sure that these features aren’t included in your theme or provided for your host. For example, many WordPress managed hosts don’t allow installation of caching plugins as the host handles it on their own. Similarly, you don’t need to install a plugin for Google Fonts as many themes include them on their own.
Start Your Search
Once you’ve narrowed down what features and functionality you need, it’s time to start your search for the plugins. The most obvious place to start is the official plugin repository as the plugins there have been vetted by the WordPress community and ensured they are of high quality and that they comply with compatibility requirements. On top of that, the plugins in the repository are free which means they won’t break the bank.
Another way to search for plugins is to use Google and use the plugin’s desired features as keywords for your search. Keep in mind that when you search for plugins on Google, you will get both free and premium plugins as a result; at which point you’ll need to evaluate whether you want to pay for the plugin or save the investment for later and try to find a free option.
Make sure to always use trusted resources and websites, like CodeCanyon, when downloading plugins from outside the official repository. This will minimize the chances of downloading a plugin that could pose a serious security threat to your website.
Check Plugin Functionality and Description
Once you’ve found the plugin, it’s time to check if the plugin does what you need it to do. Read the plugin’s description and see if the list of features matches your expectations. In some cases, you can also check the plugin’s screenshots or the plugin demo to see if it has the functionality you want.
If the plugin has all the features you need, the next step is to read the plugin’s reviews. While this may seem like a waste of time, it can save you a lot of headache down the road. Usually, you’ll want to download and install a plugin that has at least a 4-star rating.
The reviews will tell you how happy other users are with the plugin as well as highlight potential issues with the plugin.
Make sure to check both positive and negative reviews and, if possible, look for plugin reviews on other websites that publish WordPress tutorials and news. By doing so, you will be able to get a more accurate picture of how satisfied plugin users really are.
Research the Plugin Author
Reading reviews alone is not enough. Do your research and check the author’s reputation. You can easily do so by clicking on the developer’s name. You will be able to see how many plugins they have contributed to the repository and if they are otherwise active in the WordPress community. You can also check if they have a website listed and click on over to learn more about them.
Another thing to look for is if they offer plugin documentation or support as well as how many support threads have been resolved so far. The last thing you want to do is download a plugin whose author isn’t responsive to support requests or isn’t experienced in WordPress at all.
Make Sure Plugin Is Maintained
Directly tied to the point above, you want to make sure that the plugin is maintained. A plugin that isn’t actively developed or updated will only cause problems later down the road. Check when was the last plugin update released and take a look at the changelog to get a general idea of how often the updates happen.
Avoid plugins that haven’t been updated for longer than a year as this can indicate that the author has no interest or desire in maintaining a plugin, not to mention it can lead to security and compatibility issues.
Test the Plugin Before Installing It
Once you have found the perfect plugin for your site, take a few extra minutes to test it before you install it on your live site. Here are a few resources that will help you test the plugin before the installation as well as after:
- If you’ve found two plugins that do the same thing and have a hard time choosing which one to download and install, use a comparison tool like the one provided by ManageWP.
- Use a website like WPScan Vulnerability Database to check if your plugin is listed as having a security vulnerability. You can also enter the plugin’s name manually and search for it if you don’t see it listed immediately.
- Check your website speed before plugin installation and then once more after you install, activate, and configure the plugin. This will help make sure the plugin you installed isn’t slowing down your website.
What to Do After Successful Plugin Installation
If you’ve gone through all of the above steps and encountered no problems with the plugin, then congratulations are in order. You have successfully found a plugin for your site needs.
All that’s left to do now is to leave a review for the plugin after you’ve used it for a while. This will help the plugin author to better understand how to proceed with plugin development as well as other users who are considering installing and using the same plugin.
What to Do If the Plugin Is Not Working
In some cases, you might find that the plugin is not working as intended or at all after you install it and activate it. The first thing you should do then is contact the plugin author and see if they can help you troubleshoot and resolve the issue.
To get in touch with the plugin author, follow the instructions that come with the plugin or check how to get help on the plugin’s page. A good place to start is to open up a support thread. You can then get help from other WordPress users as well as the plugin author.
Be sure to include all the steps that you’ve performed that caused the problem with the plugin and provide screenshots if you can.
WordPress plugins are a great way to extend the functionality of your website but finding the right plugin that will meet your site needs and won’t cause any problems down the road is a daunting task. With the tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the best plugin for your WordPress website.
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