If you choose the wrong plugin for your WordPress website, you could be left “making do” with something that does not quite meet the business need, or be creating a headache for yourself because it’s caused you technical issues. There are literally hundreds of thousands of WordPress plugins out there, both free and premium, some are amazing, some are terrible. How do you decide on the right WordPress plugin?
Here is a snapshot of some of the main checklist criteria that we consider when selecting the right WordPress plugin for ourselves or for our clients.
It is important to take the time to write down exactly what you need to achieve with your WordPress website. Often writing out your objectives and goals can surprise you, as it can change what you are looking for, but if can also focus you in on key features you need. Then take the time to review the feature lists and documentation of the plugins you are shortlisting to ensure that they match your requirements. Often we have seen cases where someone has seen the phrase “Event Plugin” and assumed it will meet a wide variety of needs beyond just listing a range of events. For example it could be missing:
- Taking payments
- Listing events in order of upcoming
- Integration into third parties such as Eventbrite
- … and so on
In short, don’t get excited and install a plugin, populate the data only to find in a few days when you need to achieve XY and Z that there is no ability to do so sending you back to the drawing board.
WordPress is an ever evolving project and over time certain functions are depreciated in favour of new more efficient ones. When shortlisting your plugins, make sure that the plugin has declared compatibility for your current version. At the time of writing we are rocking 4.2.3 of WordPress. Check out the theme compatibility reference, heres an example from the WordPress plugin directory:
You can see here that the plugin is guaranteed to be compatible up to version 3.9.7. Now this does not mean the plugin will not necessarily work, however you should be sure to test on a clone of your site. If the code base is ageing, and regular updates are not being made to keep it current, then there could be a risk that WordPress will rapidly leave an older plugin behind. It would also be worth having the code reviewed to check if they are using any functions that might be ready for retirement in the next few versions of WordPress.
On each plugin in the WordPress directory you will see a section called ratings. Be sure to check this out. How many stars does the plugin have? Don’t be tempted to install straight away if they have hit 5 stars, be sure to check how many ratings/reviews they have actually had. (For example a plugin with 5 stars may have only had 5 reviews and 20 downloads. We tend to get more excited about plugins with 10s of thousands of downloads and plenty of reviews.
If you are using a premium plugin and purchasing through CodeCanyon or another marketplace then again be sure to check out how many sales have been made and what are people saying about the product.
If the plugin you are going for is open source, then make sure there is a vibrant community around it helping each other out via forums, or on the WordPress plugin directory support section. For example: Regenerate Thumbnails. You can see here pages of support requests and at the time of writing several really helpful responses from the community even within the last 24 hours.
When purchasing a premium plugin, you are usually also paying for a level of support with an SLA. Be sure to check out what level of support is promised. Take a look at the support forum if they have one publicly available, and check out the activity. If we can’t find any activity online, we might run a search for reviews on the particular plugin on Google. It is hardly surprising that when someone has had an epic (or terrible) support experience, they blog about it and we have found many great reviews both good and bad that have helped us in making a decision on a product. This method does not just apply to how good the product support is, but of course to other areas such as performance, reviews, etc.
Before you install any plugin, it is always wise to have the code checked over. With the best will in the world, some developers may be using poor code that is going to hose your installation over time. Other less honourable may be trying to load in affiliate links under the radar (it happens), or be pushing ads into your wp-admin environment. Also ensuring the code is cleanly laid out, well commented and uses best practices can be an indicator of the quality of the product, and a reassurance that if support is needed, the code would be easier to support as a result.
We recommend this every time: Install the plugin in a development environment (preferably a clone of your existing site with similar server specs), then check out the plugins performance.
- Does it meet business need
- Is the user interface intuitive
- Does it impact on the speed of your wp-admin or site
- Does it load a tonne of js/css into your theme header/footer
- Are any console errors generated on the site or in wp-admin
- Are there any issues created with any other plugins/features within your site
Tools that will help you in your analysis:
What do you look for when choosing a plugin?
Why not share your own strategies for choosing the right plugin for your WordPress website/business in the comments below? What tools do you use to analyse performance?
If you are struggling to select the right WordPress plugin, then we do offer a discovery service. To find out more, please contact us.