How To Pick A WordPress Plugin That You Won’t Regret Installing On Your Website
While WordPress currently powers websites of giants like The Walt Disney Company and Microsoft News, at the end of the day, it is a content management system that enables users to create a website.
There is no denying that WordPress is an excellent tool. However, when it comes to building a website, the features offered by WordPress give website creators limited abilities.
Thankfully, there are thousands of plugins that WordPress website owners can utilise to make their website more interactive, engaging, beautiful, and performance oriented. This means, even if you offer a service like reseller SEO service where you are expected to have an excellent website, the WordPress platform can make it happen with the help of the right combination of plugins.
WordPress websites and plugins have become so popular that now there are over 56,000 plugins currently available for download through the WordPress Plugin Directory. While having a choice is usually not a bad thing, choosing one plugin from a list of thousands can be an overwhelming decision.
This is especially true when you know that a subpar plugin can mess up the user experience of your website or compromise its security.
The choice becomes even more difficult when one discovers that there are several options for plugins that all solve the same problem. For instance, when you search the WordPress Plugin Directory with the search term “forms”, you get 49 pages worth of results of plugins that are all designed to help you add a contact capturing form on your WordPress website.
So how do you choose the right one without being overwhelmed?
Figure Out Why You Need A Plugin
To make this process less overwhelming and confusing, we will begin by changing our perspective a little. Instead of thinking in terms of plugins, we will begin by thinking in terms of problems we are trying to solve.
Because there is a great chance that a single plugin will not be able to solve your entire problem. Let’s understand this with an example. Let’s say, you want to create a gated content resource and host it on your website to generate leads.
For this, you might want to create a landing page. You’ll need a set of plugins that help you create and host an SEO friendly and conversion focused landing page. For this, you may need an SEO checker and other tools that will help you optimise the page.
Similarly, you will also need a contact form plugin to capture leads. You will also need an email plugin to send your subscribers an instant automated email after they have filled out a form.
There is no single WordPress plugin that will help you perform all the tasks mentioned above.
That’s why, it is important to begin the process of finding the right plugin(s) with a clear objective of what you want to achieve.
Once you have done that, you can list out the subsequent tasks that you must perform to secure that achievement and go on to research plugins that can help you perform one or more tasks on your list.
Make A List Of Available Relevant Plugins
Once you have figured out what you want to achieve, it is time to find the plugins that will help you fulfill your goals.
The best place to start researching for plugins that help you perform specific tasks is not the WordPress Plugin Directory, it is the Google search engine.
Sure, the directory is dedicated solely to the kind of products you need. However, if you are a beginner, you may not know what kind of plugins are needed to perform specific tasks.
Drawing from the example in the previous section, you cannot search the WordPress Plugin Directory for “how to host a heavy piece of content on my WordPress website without affecting site speed”. You can only do that on Google.
On the other hand, if you already know about the kind of plugins and technologies that help you do what you need to do, you can search for them on the WordPress directory. For beginners, the initial Google search will help build the awareness and knowledge required to search for plugins that serve specific purposes.
As mentioned earlier, when you finally conduct a search, you will be presented with hundreds or thousands of options to choose from. Now, you need to figure out which plugins are worthy of further research. The SERP (search engine result page) of WordPress Plugin Directory gives you all the information you need to make a decision here.
Let’s look at what a typical search result looks like in the WordPress Plugin Directory SERP:
As you can see, there is a bunch of information available to help you make your decision. However, out of all this information, three data points are especially revealing (highlighted in the red boxes):
- Rating: Browse the first page of the results and look at the number of reviews each tool has. The objective here is to move on to the next step with tools that have a good rating and a healthy number of reviews next to it.
- Name Of Developer: If you are aware about great WordPress developers, and recognise a name in the list, that option is definitely worth checking out. This usually happens when you are already using a plugin from the same developer and have had a positive experience with it.
- Number Of Active Installations: This is another way to verify that the plugin you are choosing is credible and trustworthy. Why else would it be used on 5,000+ websites? The higher this number, the better.
Based on these three parameters, you can take the decision of further investigating certain options present in the search results.
Next, click on the listings that you have shortlisted and you will be taken to a page that is dedicated to that specific listing. This page has many elements for but this step, we will only be focusing on the “Details” section.
When you read through the detailed description of various plugins, you will be able to decide whether or not they offer the features that you require to achieve your goals. To further cement your decision, you can check out the list of features that is right below the description section and scan it for features that might be relevant to you.
At the end of this step, you should be left with only a few options that offer the features you need, have a good rating, and a healthy number of active installations.
I know that you have already checked the ratings in one of the previous steps but this is different. Checking out specific reviews will enable you to gauge the kind of challenges people face with the product you are about to attach to your beloved website.
Now, no plugin in the world has a healthy number of reviews with all positive reviews. In other words, the plugins that have made it to this stage of the selection process would all have at least a few 1-start and 2-star reviews.
Our objective in this step is to read through these reviews and analyse:
- The kind of problems mentioned in the reviews
- The way the developer has replied to the review
The way a brand deals with negative reviews speaks volumes about their business ethics, which are reflected in their products and the support associated with those products.
If you find that the developer has not replied to too many negative reviews, or has provided the users with replies that aren’t helpful, you are better off looking for other plugins.
Check Last Updated Date
The next thing we are checking is the date when the plugin was last updated. This is important because the developers of WordPress are working tirelessly and continuously to improve their offering. As a result, the WordPress platform gets regular updates.
Naturally, the tools and plugins that are compatible with WordPress will also need to be updated regularly in order to ensure they are still compatible with the newest version of WordPress.
So, if you are about to install a plugin that hasn’t been updated in the last two months, it could lead to security and compatibility related issues in the future.
When checking for the last updated date, it is also a good idea to take your research a step further and check out the Changelog of the plugin.
To do this, simply click on the “Development” tab at the top of the plugin listing page. Then, you should be able to locate the Changelog by scrolling down a little.
The Changelog, as the name suggests, is a record of all the changes that the developer has made to the plugin.
In this list, which may look rather overwhelming, our objective is to find updates that were aimed at fixing the issues mentioned in the negative reviews we analysed in the previous step.
This way, you will know that the developer is serious about their product and is working regularly to improve their plugin based on the suggestions he receives from his users and customers.
Check Support Forums
You can find the button to view the support forum under the “Support” section that appears on the right side of the plugin listing page.
When you click on the button, you will be taken to a list of support threads initiated by various users of the plugin. Here, your objective should be to gauge the quality of support you can expect from the developer in case you run into challenges or bugs in the future.
Besides checking out the way the developer handles the queries and support requests, you can further strengthen your research by filtering out the “unresolved topics” from the list of filters present on the right hand side of the support forum page.
While it might be very difficult to find a plugin with absolutely no unresolved queries, you must choose the ones that have only a handful of unresolved queries.
As a general rule of thumb, the number of resolved topics should be exponentially higher than the number of unresolved topics.
Free V/S Premium Plugins
Finally, even after all those steps, you might be faced with a difficult choice.
You may find your final list of shortlisted plugins filled with free and premium tools that have passed through all the previous steps. It may also be the case that both free and premium tools are solving the same problems for you.
So choosing the free plugin makes the most sense, right?
The answer to that question is a big maybe.
There are bad premium plugins and there are great free plugins.
However, chances are that the developer that is charging premium will have more incentive to keep their plugin updated and functioning smoothly.
This is not to say that all free plugins have poor code or security. In fact, there are many developers that offer a free version of their plugin with limited features and a premium version that is loaded with more advanced features.
Moreover, many of the free plugins on the WordPress directory enjoy superb support from their community in the form of donations. This way, they are able to stay afloat and keep working to improve their plugin to perform better.
So if you do end up choosing a free plugin and like using it, make sure you are supporting the developers with a small (or substantial) donation.
With that said, the best way to decide whether a free plugin is right for you is to test it. Doing this is incredibly easy. Simply install the plugin on your website and activate it. Then, use GTMetrix or a similar testing tool to check how the plugin has affected the load speed of your website.
Next, deactivate the plugin and run the test again. If you notice a substantial drop in your website’s performance, you might want to try a different plugin.
Bottom line, don’t let the price tag attached to a plugin tell you how good or bad it is. Try out the plugin and decide for yourself.