With more than 40,000 plugins available in the WordPress repository alone, and many more that are not there because they are premium (paid for), you will inevitably face several options to choose from when you search for a plugin for your website.
So how do you choose the best one – that is, one that:
- Will do what you want it to do
- Is safe in that it will work properly and won’t break your site
- Is tried and tested
- Is currently being supported in case you have questions
- Is being maintained and updated (to protect it against security threats)
Luckily the information you need is readily available, but let’s first look at an example of what can happen if you choose poorly.
I was recently asked to help resolve a problem in which the site owner could no longer add photos to photo albums.
It turned out that the Easy Photo Album plugin that they were using had not been maintained or updated in over 2 years and it finally gave up the ghost when WordPress 4.5 was introduced.
If you’ve had a plugin installed for a long time it’s quite possible that the owner may have given up on it with the same result: it eventually stops working or, worse, breaks your site.
In this case, however, the website was new – the plugin had only recently been installed.
The problem was: they chose the wrong plugin.
So how do you choose the right plugin?
This image, which is taken from the description page of any plugin you’re reviewing on WordPress.org (from where you would choose plugins to install) will help (the explanations are below the picture):
Here’s what to look for:
In the group of items that’s circled number 1 you want:
- The ‘Requires’ number to be the same as or lower than the WordPress version you’re using
- The ‘Compatible up to’ number to be the same as the current version of WordPress (which is, hopefully, the version you are using!)
- The ‘Last updated’ time to be as recent as possible. Treat with great caution any plugin where this figure is ‘1 year ago’ and absolutely do not install anything where this figure is ‘2 years ago’ (as in the image above)
- The ‘Active installs’ figure to be as high as possible. I generally prefer 20,000+ installs.
In the group of items that’s circled number 2 you want as many 5 star ratings as possible, with as few as possible in the other categories. The pattern in this image is good – the plugin clearly worked well while it was supported.
In the items that are circled number 3 ( two of them) you want to see current, active support posts, in which the plugin author provides prompt, polite and effective responses to questions. The figure of 1 support item resolved in the last 2 months is a warning, but check the support forum (the menu item is at the top) to make your own assessment.
As for deciding whether or not to install this plugin, there are a number of items that should be absolute roadblocks:
- The ‘Compatible up to’ number is only 3.9.1 (the current version of WordPress is 4.5.3 at the time of writing)
- The ‘Last updated’ time is ‘2 years ago’
- The ‘Active installs’ is only 7,000
- Only 1 support thread has been successfully resolved in the last 2 months
Had those items been different, though, the ratings figure was good. Clearly this plugin worked well while it was being supported, but it wasn’t supported for very long: it was launched when WordPress was at version 3.7 but was only compatible up to 3.9.1 (probably somewhere around 9 months).
So, with those statistics, this plugin should not be installed on a new site.
What does a good plugin (one that’s safe to install) look like?
Here’s a plugin whose statistics meet all of my criteria for installation:
A plugin with those statistics would be safe to install. It:
- Would provide the functionality you need
- Is compatible with the current version of WordPress (at the time of writing)
- Has been installed 80,000+ times
- Is well supported by the plugin author
- Has been recently updated
- Has a great ratings pattern
It’s all too easy just to find a plugin that seems to do what you want, and where the author has done a great sell job in the description, and click the ‘Install now’ button.
But you need to check those statistics I’ve highlighted carefully, and treat all plugins with suspicion until you’ve done sufficient research to satisfy yourself that the plugin you’re installing is safe and functional.
As a principle, we at Abledragon generally use premium plugins on sites that we build. This is because we are more comfortable that the plugin is well written and well supported. The author is making money from their plugin, after all, so it’s worth their time to build and support it properly.
However, we do use free plugins where they pass our criteria for safety and functionality – and there are some very good free ones.
If you have any questions related to assessing plugins for installation do please get in touch: