WordPress plugins are awesome and if you want your site to have a specific function, or add additional functionality, the chances are there is a plugin out there for it. If you’d like to learn more about what WordPress plugins are, refer to our WordPress plugins introduction.
On the WordPress’s repository there are over 57,000 plugins. With so many choices, sometimes it can be hard to find exactly what you are looking for. Often, there are multiple plugins that could fit your requirements. When you’re faced with such a decision, it might be tempting to just pick the random one.
However, you should not. There is a well tested process you should follow before picking a plugin for your WordPress website. This is exactly what we will explain in this article. We’ll tell you about the things to keep in mind when searching for WordPress plugins for your website.
Table of contents
What to do before you start searching for a WordPress plugin
Before you start looking for a plugin, the first thing you should do is create a list of requirements. This is a list of all the functions that you want the plugin to do. Do that in the order that is important to you.
For example, when choosing an activity log plugin for your WordPress website, you should check how broad is the activity log coverage and if the logs are comprehensive enough. This will help you determine whether the plugin fits your needs or not.
The order of features’ importance matters because sometimes you won’t find a plugin that does everything you need. You might find a couple of plugins that work well together and do what you need. In that case, install those 2 plugins. The total count of plugins doesn’t matter, the quality does. Many plugins have too many features and try to do a lot.
So by preparing a list of requirements the search is more targeted and it’s easier to find the best plugins for your needs.
Start your WordPress plugin search
While searching for a plugin you’ll most probably come across both free and premium options. The free plugins are usually a good place to start. This is because they require no investment and depending on your needs, the free version might work just as fine.
For such plugins the best source is the WordPress plugin repository. There are many plugins available with the same or similar functionality, all FREE, so it’s a perfect starting point.
On the other hand, premium plugins are not expensive, and they also come with better support, and more features, which are criteria that you should definitely consider when choosing the best plugins for your site.
In either case – you should only download plugins from trusted and well-known sources. Use recommendations from well known blogs (such as WPBeginner1) to get an idea on how to find high quality plugins.
Also, you should definitely avoid illegal free downloads or cracked versions of premium plugins. Not only is this unfair to the developers who put their time and effort into creating the plugin, but the chance these plugins are injected with malicious code that can potentially harm your website is quite high.
How to choose the best WordPress plugin for your needs
A WordPress plugin page on the WordPress repository contains detailed information about the plugin, what it does, how to use it, etc. Use this information to decide whether this plugin is the best fit for you. Once you decide what you need and start searching through the WordPress plugin directory, pick a few plugins which will suit your needs. Use the tips that we are sharing below to choose the best one.
The easiest thing to do when choosing free WordPress plugins is to check out the overall rating.
On the WordPress plugins repository users have the option to rate the plugin, by choosing from one to five stars. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from plugins that don’t have an average of at least four (or almost four) stars.
Anything lower than that is typically not a good sign. A plugin becomes popular because it is well maintained, works as advertised, users get responsive support, and any reported issues are always addressed on time.
What better way to determine the quality of a plugin than to hear about other users’ experience? This is a great way of knowing if a plugin is broadly appreciated or not.
Another thing to look for here is the total number of ratings. Let’s say, a plugin only has one or two people that have rated it, then this is not really a significant number. Nevertheless, if those one or two people left a decent reason for their rating in the review, then this would make their rating notable for others.
Number of active installations
A plugin that has been downloaded by millions of users is of course different from a plugin that has been downloaded just a few times. Obviously, if a plugin is installed on many WordPress websites, it’s likely doing a fair job.
The number of downloads may give an indication of popularity, but how do you know the latest status? Checking the number of active installations a plugin has is always a good way of knowing the current trends. This gives you the right picture of how the plugin is faring.
You can see the number of active installations in the plugin’s WordPress.org repository page, as highlighted below.
Updates and compatibility
When a plugin isn’t updated regularly by its developers, or it has been a very long time since it was last updated, most probably it is not well maintained. Although in this case there might be some exceptions; some plugins do not need updates very often, like the WordPress activity log extensions of one of our plugins. So such a criterion has to be analyzed and considered on a case by case basis.
Furthermore, plugins should ideally be updated in line with WordPress’ core updates, in order to ensure compatibility. The regularity and consistency of updates is also a good way to measure the plugin developer’s level of active implication.
Fortunately, in the WordPress plugin repository you can check exactly when a plugin was last updated. You can find that in the Details section as seen on the screenshot below.
In addition to that, in a plugin’s WordPress repository page you can find a log of all previous updates. So if you wonder what the developers have been up to since the plugin’s initial release, navigate to the Development tab and check the changelog.
In regard to checking the frequency of the plugin’s updates, it’s also a good idea to check the compatibility of the plugin with your current version of WordPress before installing it.
We strongly recommend you to pay close attention about the issue of compatibility, because plugins that aren’t compatible with your version of WordPress may stop existing plugins from functioning, or in the worst case scenario, they can damage or crash your website.
To simply check which version of WordPress you are currently running, just head over your dashboard in WordPress, and scroll to the bottom of the page as shown on the screenshot below:
All plugins that are on the WordPress plugin repository have a support forum located within the Support tab. If you see regular activity within those forums, that is a good sign that the developer is responsive, and is actively working to update and patch user reported issues. Apart from the forums support (for free plugins) if you are evaluating a premium plugin, you should definitely check the plugin’s website and see how easy it is to get support, send a test email or perhaps ask a pre-sales question to get a good idea of how responsive the developers are.
If a plugin has lots of unresolved threads, and the author has not responded to any of them in the last couple of months, then that is an indicator that most probably the plugin has been abandoned. It could still work for you, but it may not be supported in the long run, so be careful.
Double check what Google says
In addition to trustworthy sources, you should also search for the plugin on Google. By doing so Google will return a ton of detailed reviews from bloggers or other websites.
The top results for plugin recommendations are usually published by WordPress experts. This means that their suggestions will be for the best plugins available, so you can be assured these plugins work on your site as expected.
In some cases when you search for a plugin on Google, you’ll stumble across video tutorials that again will give you an idea of the plugin’s functionality.
To wrap up
Choosing the right plugins for your WordPress website shouldn’t be difficult if you follow our guidelines. You just need to put some effort into it. Look at it as an investment; it’s always better to take the time to review and test the plugins before installing, rather than not doing so, and ending up having to change a plugin a few months after you installed it. Also, only activate the plugins that you find worthy.
Things you should remember to look out for when choosing the right plugin for your WordPress website:
- Plugin ratings
- User reviews
- Active installations of the plugin
- Updates and compatibility
- Documentation and support
- Double check what Google says