Someone recently asked me this question during a WordPress clinic: “How do I know if a WordPress plugin is a good one to use?” An excellent question, though the answer is a little less straightforward than I’d prefer.
WordPress is an open source community and as such, anyone who wants to create a plugin can do so. WordPress.org maintains a plugin directory but the guidelines for submission are primarily centered on licensing and keeping people from doing illegal things via plugins.
One would think a premium plugin (meaning one you pay for) would be “better” than a free one, but I’ve not always found that to be the case either. I’ve paid for several plugins in the past and been driven half mad trying to work with them.
What follows is my personal strategy when evaluating plugins. Let’s suppose I want to add a photo slider to my website and I’ve gone to the Plugins menu of the WordPress dashboard and search for “slider.”
Each plugin that appears in the search results has several things. The name, description and author are less important to me than the information at the bottom of each plugin entry. What interests me most is the rating, number of active installs, when it was last updated and if it has been tested with my current version of WordPress.
Rating: a plugin can have a 5-star rating, but if only three people have rated the plugin, that doesn’t tell me much. I’d rather see that a few hundred people have rated the plugin and that is has four or five stars.
Number of active installs: this is important to me because the more people using a plugin, the better the chances are that author will continue supporting it and releasing security updates. Additionally, if a plugin has a lot of users, chances are very high that it’s functional and well-written. If the plugin is very important to my website’s functionality (like security or SEO), I’m generally going for something with 1,000,000+ active installs.
Last updated: here I wanted to see that it’s been a month or less since the last update. If it’s been too long, there’s a good chance the plugin author isn’t actively supporting the plugin. That gives me pause in terms of security and holes not being patched. Additionally, WordPress itself is updated rather frequently, and if a plugin is not updated regularly there’s a good chance that your fine-until-now plugin may randomly stop working or begin to cause conflicts with other plugins after a WordPress core update.
Compatible (or untested) with current version of WordPress: once again, a plugin that has not been tested may not work properly or may cause conflicts with other plugins. If it says “untested” I stay away from it.
I wish I could say that all plugin authors have excellent documentation on their plugins, but that is unfortunately not the case. There have been occasions where I’ve used this plugin evaluation strategy and installed a plugin only to find that the documentation either stinks or is non-existent. That’s fine if it’s obvious how to configure the plugin, but if I have to struggle with it and guess at things, I abandon it and look for something better.
For a future post, I’m thinking of publishing my current list of favorite plugins. Stay tuned!