One of the great things about WordPress is that it is easily extendable through plugins. The plugin directory on WordPress.org contains over 40,000 plugins that can be used to expand the functionality of your site! In addition to all of these plugins that are free to use, there are premium (paid) plugins for a variety of needs. This means that the solution you are looking for probably exists… but finding it is rarely an effortless task. When you are looking for a new plugin to add to your site, how do you possibly choose which one is best? In this post, I will share a few tips that will make this task seem somewhat less daunting.
#1 Make a list of your needs
Make a list of features that you absolutely need. Make another list of features that would be nice to have, but do not confuse wants with needs. Always start by determining what is absolutely essential in the plugin.
Tip: Only install a plugin when necessary and to solve a specific need. Adding unnecessary plugins creates more maintenance work for you and additional opportunities for security vulnerabilities and problems.
#2 Perform a search
Perform a search to gather an initial list of options. I like to use Google for the best search results. You can search within the WordPress plugin repository if you want to only look at free plugins, but Google should do a fine job of bringing up these options if they are significant.
The top search results are a good place to start. It is also helpful to look for articles that suggest some good options to consider – often, someone else has already done the work of comparing plugins and it may be helpful to get their insight.
#3 Narrow down your options
You will want to quickly determine if a plugin is worth your research time. In case you have a long list of plugins that are possible candidates, here are some tips on narrowing down the list. You can get the following information from the plugin details in the WordPress repository, if the plugin is listed there.
- When was the last time the plugin was updated? If it has been over two years, it is more than likely not being actively maintained and you do not want to install it! If the plugin is fairly complex, you should see it being updated on a very regular basis.
- How many installs does it have? Many plugins that are worth something have a lot of active installs. Some plugins have over a million installs! But in general, numbers over 10,000 are good.
- How is the plugin support? If you are worried that the plugin has not been updated in awhile, a good next step is to check the support threads. Are the plugin authors actively responding to user concerns?
- What are people saying? Check plugin ratings and reviews. If a lot of people are saying the same thing about a plugin, it is probably true.
A Word of Caution: Do not download plugins from an non-reputable source. You can generally rest assured that if a plugin was accepted into the WordPress repository, it will not contain malware. However, that does not mean that it will not contain vulnerabilities. By choosing a plugin that is properly cared for by the authors, you are reducing security risks. Do your homework before installing software on your site!
#4 Research your final candidates
Hopefully you are down to just a few final candidates by now. Start with the plugin that you think is most promising, and do some research on it until you know if it can handle your entire list of needs. As you are researching, make notes of any other features that caught your eye that might be nice to have.
If the plugin is located in the WordPress plugin repository, review the Description, FAQ, and Screenshots. If there is an external site with more information, visit it. Gather as much information as possible! If you have the means, install the plugin on a test site and experiment with it. This is one of the fastest ways to get a feel for if the plugin is a good fit for you.
Free or Paid?
When you have the choice between a free or paid plugin, consider the following:
- How vital is this functionality to my website and/or business? If the paid plugin is clearly better quality and it is something that is important to you business, it will probably be worth the price.
- Do I need quality support? If you know you are going to need help working through the configuration of the plugin, go with the paid plugin. Often, you will have direct access to their support team, support threads, and detailed documentation.
- What might my needs be in the future? Maybe you don’t need a specific feature now, but do you anticipate the need for it in a year? If so, will it be easy to switch plugins later? Often, the answer is no. Make sure you choose a plugin that will accommodate any anticipated growth.
Tip: Some plugins have pro versions or extensions. This is often a good sign, because that means they are a legitimate company that is invested in their software. They will often be more dedicated to providing support and timely updates, even for the free versions of the plugins. Overall, they will probably be more dedicated to the constant improvement of the software. Another benefit is you can try the basic version of the plugin to decide if you like it overall before committing to a premium solution. Some examples, to name just a few: