How to Choose the Best WordPress Plugins for Your Site?
Plugins are a great way to extend the features and functionality of a WordPress site. If you want your WordPress site to have a specific function, chances are there is a plugin out there for it, or you can build one by hiring WordPress plugin development experts. However, if you’re willing to go with pre-built plugins, finding the best WordPress plugins that meet your site needs and will not cause any issues is a challenging job.
On the WordPress plugin repository, there are over 58K plugins to choose from. With so many options available, it can sometimes be hard to find the right plugin as there are multiple plugins to fulfill your specific requirements. Since installing a plugin distinctly means adding new code to your WordPress site, picking the right plugin is crucial. A poorly coded plugin can:
- Open your site up to security vulnerabilities
- Make your site sluggish, buggy, and unresponsive
- Cause 500 errors
- Result in the white screen of death
- Crash your entire site
So how do you choose? Let’s start from the beginning and learn how to pick the right and best WordPress plugins!
Before You Start
Before you even start looking for a plugin, there are two things you need to do:
#Determine Your Needs:
The first thing you should do is create a list of requirements. Write down all the functions that you want the plugin to do with ‘cannot live without’ functionalities at the top, followed by other less essential features.
The order of importance matters because sometimes you won’t find a plugin that does everything you need. In that case, you can install multiple plugins that work well together to meet your requirements. This simple act will save you a lot of time and money.
#Update Your WordPress:
The next thing you need to do is update your WordPress to the latest version if possible. That’s because most of the best WordPress plugins don’t work with a very outdated version of WordPress. Instead, they are designed to be compatible with the most updated version of WordPress. Hence, if you have not updated your WordPress for months or even years, a complete update is highly recommended.
Choosing the Best WordPress Plugins for Your Website Needs
Now let’s take a look at a handful of things to remember while choosing a WordPress plugin:
#Start Your Plugin Search:
When looking for a plugin, you’ll most probably come across two options: free and premium. However, plugin developers use four different billing approaches:
- 100% Free: No need to ever pay money!
- Premium: You have to pay one-time or a subscription.
- Freemium: The plugin has a limited free version, and you have to pay money to unlock all the features.
- Free Core with Extensions: The core plugin is free, but you have to pay for separate “extensions” to add specific functionalities.
While the official WordPress plugin directory is the best starting point for any website owner, you can also get plugins for your site from other third-party websites and marketplaces, such as CodeCanyon, CodeGrape, and Codester.
For plugins listed on the WordPress plugin directory, you can install them right from your Dashboard. Go to Plugins → Add New and search for the functionality you want to integrate with your site. You’ll get a whole list of relevant plugins.
For third-party plugins, you can install them by uploading their Zip files.
#Look at Reviews & Ratings:
User reviews and star ratings are a great way to gauge how high-quality the plugin is. A good rule of thumb is to go with the plugins having a 4-star or higher rating. The main thing to look for here is the total number of ratings. A large number of ratings means a better plugin.
Click on the individual rating bars to read the user reviews. This will give you an idea of other users’ experience with the plugin and help you become aware of the potential issues the plugin may have. For instance, here we have clicked on ‘3 stars’.
In short, pick the plugins that have higher ratings and a sheer number of positive reviews.
#Number of Active Installations
While a higher number of downloads is a good indicator of a plugin’s popularity, the number of active installations (websites using the plugin) gives you the right picture of how credible the plugin is. At the plugin’s WordPress.org repository page, you can check the number of active installs on the Details tab, as highlighted below:
Ideally, the higher the number of active installations, the better the plugin will be. However, if the plugin offers a particular functionality, it may have a low number of installs. In such a case, you should consider other factors, such as reviews, ratings, support, and updates.
#Updates & Compatibility:
Outdated plugins are one of the primary reasons why many WordPress sites get hacked. In other words, if the developer doesn’t update the plugin regularly, it’s less likely to be secure. There are many instances when a plugin flaw puts thousands of websites at risk.
Generally, a secure WordPress plugin is the one that is regularly updated in line with WordPress’ core updates to ensure compatibility. Luckily, on the plugin’s page, you can see when the plugin was last updated.
Moreover, you can check the plugin changelog under the Development tab to see what the developer has been up to since the previous release of WordPress.
As a rule of thumb, you should pick the plugins that get frequently updated (at least within two months) and are compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
#Support & Documentation:
All plugins on the WordPress plugin repository offer a support forum, which you can access by clicking on the ‘Support’ tab in the plugin menu bar. This section gives you a good idea of how actively developers are working to resolve user-reported issues.
You can also see the number of threads resolved in the last two months on the plugin’s home page.
If the plugin has numerous unresolved threads to which the author has not responded yet, it’s not actively maintained. Be cautious of such plugins!
Furthermore, you can also go through the plugin’s FAQ section to know what kind of documentation the developer offers.
This will help you assess the usability of the plugin!
#Check Plugin Screenshots:
Most WordPress plugins in the official repository offer a screenshots section just below the description. Reviewing these screenshots is a quick way to determine how the plugin looks and what it exactly does.
In other words, plugin screenshots are live demos, which show you what the plugin is truly capable of doing. So be sure to check plugin screenshots.
Can I Add the Desired Functionality Without Using a Plugin?
Yes, it’s possible, but for that, you’ll need to seek help from WordPress theme customization experts who can develop custom code and integrate the desired functionality into your WordPress site’s existing theme.
What to Do If a New Plugin Breaks My WordPress Site?
99% of the time, installing a new plugin goes off without a hitch. However, there are some rare cases where installing a new plugin gives an error, breaks a specific section, or shuts your entire website down. This usually happens as a result of:
- A poorly coded plugin.
- The plugin conflicting with another plugin or theme
- An outdated plugin that is incompatible with the version of WordPress you’re using
- Any conflicts between your plugin and web server
If this happens to you, you should try:
- Deactivating the offending plugin to have your site go back to normal.
- Using the plugin’s support forum to rectify the issue.
- Ask the developer for help directly if you have paid for a premium plugin.
If nothing works, you can always hire expert WordPress developers to rectify the issue.