There are millions of free and paid WordPress plugins. Obviously, you can’t try them all to see which work and which don’t. How do you choose the best WordPress plugin? In this guide we will show you the things you should do to evaluate the usefulness of a plugin before you install it.
1. The Best WordPress Plugin vs. the Best WordPress Plugin for a Particular Purpose
As with everything in life, “best” is very subjective. What I consider great might be totally useless for somebody else. Even more so, in one situation one plugin is the best for you, while in other the same plugin could be a poor choice.
What you need to figure out is the particular purpose you need the plugin for and only then can you start your search. For instance, if your site is getting lots of international traffic, then it makes sense to look for a plugin with multiple language versions, while if you don’t get much international traffic, you couldn’t care less about translation.
2. Search the Net for Plugin Roundup Articles
After you make up your mind what you need a plugin for, or if you can’t make up your mind because you don’t know what the options are, hit Google and search for plugin roundup articles or check out our WordPress category for plugin recommendations. These articles review numerous plugins, and since they are written by experts, you will learn a lot. You will learn not only what’s available but also the good and bad aspects of each plugin. Shortlist a few plugins and examine them in detail.
3. Look at the Features of the Shortlisted Plugins
When you have narrowed down your choices to three, five, or more plugins, take the time to look at their features. As with most software descriptions written by a developer, the feature list of your selected plugins might sound hard to understand because of all the terminology you hear for the first time, but if you don’t understand everything, don’t let this discourage you. Based on the feature set, narrow down your selection further.
4. Check the Number of Installs and Stars
Depending on where you get your WordPress plugins from, there might be one more way to judge if they are good or not. If you get your plugins from WordPress.org, you can use the number of installs and the stars a plugin gets as a decision factor.
With WordPress plugins, a high number of active installs usually means it’s a good plugin – otherwise nobody will keep it on their site. However, the opposite isn’t true – a low number might mean that the plugin is not well known yet. It’s quite common to see a plugin with a low number of installs which has some cool features but is unfairly unpopular so far.
Ratings are a different story. Though they are not totally useless, they aren’t a reliable way to measure the quality of a plugin because first a small percentage of users bother to leave a rating, and second you don’t know how honest the user is. I’ve seen great plugins with an average rating of two stars and awful plugins with five stars. Don’t let ratings mislead you – you’d better ignore them completely.
5. Check If the Plugin Is Compatible with Your WP Version, Theme, and Other Plugins
You might have found the perfect WordPress plugin, but all of a sudden you discover it’s no good for you because it has compatibility issues. While you can never know this in advance, you can avoid some of these unpleasant surprises if you check the WordPress version the plugin is for.
Since most free plugins are developed as a side project for their owners, many plugins don’t get updated for years. If the plugin hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, it’s not safe to use it because even if it installs, it might break your site.
Similarly, the plugin you’ve picked might not be compatible with the theme you use and/or the other plugins you have already installed. In such cases you might have to either ditch the theme or the plugin. Sometimes you can make them work together, but don’t count on this.
6. Read Reviews
You can’t trust reviews blindly, but if you encounter lots of unfavorable reviews and lots of user complaints about a plugin, chances are this plugin is a pain. You might want to see for yourself if it is that bad, but basically you’re better off simply moving to the next plugin and forgetting about the troublemaking one.
7. Make Sure It’s a Responsive Plugin
If it’s a plugin that adds features to your theme, you’d better make sure it’s a responsive one. With the plethora of screen sizes available today, you can’t go with a plugin that doesn’t change its size respectively. The worst scenario is that it might break your theme and cause it to break the responsive rules (which in turn is bad for your search ranking). If you can’t find a responsive plugin for the task you need, as a last resort you can go with an unresponsive one, but in my opinion this is a huge tradeoff.
With so many great WordPress plugins for almost any purpose, it’s hard to say which one is the best. Even free plugins almost always offer anything you need (and beyond). If you add paid plugins to the list, then the choice is really overwhelming.