With over 50,000 free WordPress plugins to choose from, it often feels like we are spoiled for choice. However, as an open-source platform, anyone can create a plugin and whilst some developers are seasoned experts, others have a far more limited understanding of a user’s needs. This means there is a huge variation in the quality of the plugins available.
If you’re one of those WordPress users who gets tired of installing and testing plugin after plugin until you find the right one, in this post, we’ll explain how to find a good quality plugin before you install it.
Here are 7 things you should check to find a good quality WordPress plugin
1. Check when it was last updated
The WordPress repository clearly states when a plugin was last updated and, if you are accessing it through your dashboard, will inform you directly if it is compatible with your current version of WordPress.
Whilst this is important information, what you want to know is that the developers are still maintaining the plugin to keep it up-to-date. You can check this more thoroughly by clicking on the development tab on the plugin’s homepage and looking at the changelog. This should give you details of the most recent updates and what they involved.
If a plugin is regularly updated, it means it will be less vulnerable to hackers, more compatible with other plugins and themes and will have regular enhancements to its functionality. If it’s not been updated recently, it could indicate that the developer has moved on to other projects and is no longer interested in keeping this one going.
2. Find out the last version of WordPress it has been tested against
WordPress is constantly updating its core files and when it does, this can have implications for the compatibility of some plugins. To stay functional, some may need to be updated. The ‘Tested up to’ version is always clearly stated on a plugin’s repository page.
Again, this is a signal of how well the developers are taking care of their creation. If the plugin is still important to them, they will have tested it up to the latest WordPress version within a few weeks of the update. If this hasn’t happened, there’s a reasonable chance that it may one day become incompatible and will need to be replaced.
3. How many active installs does the plugin have?
Until recently, WordPress used to inform you how many times a plugin had been downloaded, these days, it gives the far more valuable statistic of how many active installs it has. Active install data is useful because it is an accurate figure of how many sites are actually using the plugin at that moment.
When looking for a good plugin, you do not necessarily need the plugin with the highest number of active installs but those which have higher numbers give a clear indication that many WordPress users find the plugin works for them.
However, by clicking on the Advanced View link, you’ll be able to compare the total number of downloads with active installs. WP Super Cache, for example, has over 1 million active installs but has been downloaded over 16 million times; this tells us 15 million users didn’t stick with it.
Comparing downloads and active installs is perhaps a better method. Some newer plugins might have fewer active installs but you might find out that they have a better download to active install ratio.
4. Check the ratings and reviews
Ratings are useful because they are independent evaluations from WordPress users who have actually used the plugin. Overall, you want a plugin with a high rating but do be wary if some of these have a high proportion of five-star and one-star ratings. This could indicate the plugin works fantastically well for some sites but is useless for others.
If you want to drill down for more detailed information, you can read the reviews that go with the ratings by clicking the “See all” link. Here you’ll be presented with a list of reviews and by clicking on the title of each, you can read the review in full. Often these reviews throw up issues you may not have thought of, so it is worth checking them out. Try to avoid older reviews as some of the issues they point out may have been resolved.
5. Read the developer’s profile
Each developer has a WordPress profile which can be accessed by a link at the bottom of the plugin’s page. Visiting this can give you an idea of the experience that the developer has with WordPress and which other projects or plugins they have worked on. From this, you can get a pretty good overview of how good their plugin is likely to be.
6. How good is the support?
The importance of developer support for users is such, that WordPress now clearly shows how many issues have been resolved in the last two months. This is possibly one of the most crucial criteria for choosing a plugin because if your website relies on it, you want to make sure that any problems are dealt with quickly.
Ideally, you are looking for a plugin with a low number of issues and a high percentage of them being resolved. High issue numbers suggest that there are lots of things which can go wrong and a low number of issues being resolved tells us that the developers are not dealing effectively with user problems.
You can also click on the ‘View Support Forum’ button to see the actual issues which have been raised and the quality of the response from the developers.
7. Is there additional advice for the user?
Another way in which a developer can help a user is by providing extra information about the plugin. Sometimes this is posted on the plugin’s page in the form of installation advice, FAQs and screenshots, etc, and sometimes there is a direct link to the developer’s website.
Generally speaking, a developer which provides this level of support for its users is far more likely to maintain the plugin over the long term and look after those who use it.
The multitude of free plugins is one of the best things about WordPress. They enable you to add many additional features to your website or to extend its functionality, all without cost. However, there are so many available that it is possible to get swamped by them all. Hopefully, the information in this post will help you make the best choice in future.
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