Plugins make WordPress a dream come true for beginners. However with over 30,000 WordPress plugins available in the official plugin directory, users find it very difficult to find the best WordPress plugin for the job. In this article, we will show you how to choose the best WordPress plugin by following the same checklist criteria that our team at WPBeginner and other WordPress experts follow.
Disclaimer: While these factors won’t guarantee that you’ll pick the right plugin 100% of the time, it will definitely increase your chance of success.
Before You Start
When looking for a plugin, the first thing you should do is write down exactly what you want this plugin to do. In our experience, it helps if you create a checklist with features that you’re looking for (in the order of importance).
The order of importance matter because sometimes you won’t find everything in one plugin. The importance factor will help make your decision easier.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be one plugin that does everything. If you find two plugins that work well together to give you what you need, then install those 2 plugins. The total count of plugin does not matter, the quality does.
Having that said, let’s take a look at how to choose the best WordPress plugin.
How to Search for a Plugin
WordPress plugin directory is the starting point for most people. It has thousands of plugins available which is great except that this abundance also makes it a little difficult to find the perfect plugin.
The search feature in WordPress plugin directory is not very good. We would recommend using Google search or search through WPBeginner’s plugins category first.
Alternatively you can start by browsing the most popular WordPress plugins in the directory. See if there is a plugin that fits your need. If you can’t find a plugin in the first two pages of popular plugins then run a search.
WordPress plugin directory search shows results based on relevancy by default. You can sort the results by newest, highest rated, and most popular. We would recommend you to stick with relevancy otherwise the results will become less relevant, and you will be shown plugins which are not at all useful for you.
Below each search result you will be able to see the number of times a plugin has been downloaded, its rating, last updated date, and a link to author profile. Ideally you would want to look for a plugin that sounds relevant to you, has a decent number of downloads, a good rating, and recently updated.
Comparing Plugins – Which One to Download?
Once you have found a couple of plugins, you can open these plugin pages in new tabs to compare them. WordPress plugin page contains information about the plugin, what it does, how to use it, etc. You will need to use this information to decide whether or not this plugin is the best fit for you.
The sidebar on plugin page contains useful information about the plugin. The first section in the sidebar shows the minimum WordPress version required to run the plugin. It will also show compatible up to WordPress version. If it doesn’t show the most recent version, then there is no need to freak out. Although plugin authors check their plugin with each update, they only update the plugin if it needs it.
Below this you will see the date this plugin was last updated and the number of times it has been downloaded since first uploaded to WordPress plugin directory. The number of downloads is a good indicator of a plugin’s popularity.
In the sidebar of plugin page, you will also be able to see plugin ratings. The number of stars indicate ratings where five is the highest and one being the lowest. You should always keep in mind that a lot of WordPress users use the plugin without rating it. It is possible that a plugin downloaded by thousands of people may still not have enough people rating it.
When a user rates a plugin, they are asked to write a review for their rating. You can see these reviews by clicking on the rating bars. For example, if someone has given a plugin one star then you can click on the 1 star link to read their review. Another thing to notice here is the total number of ratings. For example if a plugin only has one or two people rating it, then it is really not a significant number. However, if those one or two people left a good reason for their rating in the review, then this would make their rating significant for others.
The support section of the plugin page’s sidebar will give you a quick overview of number of support threads opened for a plugin during last two months. It will also show you how many of these threads are resolved. You can see support threads by clicking on the support tab in the plugin menu bar. Just like the reviews, keep in mind that unresolved support threads does not really mean that the plugin has some issues. However, if a plugin has many unresolved threads and the plugin author has not responded to any of them in last two months, then this could be an indicator that the author has lost interest. The plugin may still work for you, but it may not be supported in the long run.
The compatibility section allows users to check a plugin version (latest stable is default) with a WordPress version (again latest stable is default). Below this you will see votes for that particular combination. If the number of people saying it works is significantly higher than the number of people voting it broken, then the plugin is probably compatible and should work for that particular combination of WordPress version and the plugin version.
However, we have seen this a number of times that plugins marked as broken by quite a few people still has many downloads and work just fine. The reason for that is that often people only vote when the plugin is broken. If it works, then most people don’t bother leaving their rating.
Plugin screenshots are a quick way to see how the plugin looks on the front-end and on the back-end of your WordPress website. Sometimes we find screenshots to be more helpful than the actual plugin descriptions which could be lengthy and confusing. With screenshots you can actually see how the plugin will look, what it actually does and then you can quickly find out whether or not you should try it.
Check FAQs and Other Notes:
When you are looking at a plugin don’t forget to check FAQs, and Other Notes tabs. These sub pages usually contain useful information about how to use a plugin. Many times people end up complaining that a plugin does not work without even reading how to use it.
When you are trying a plugin, make sure you read those pages so that you can configure and use the plugin properly on your website. It is also possible that you will find some other cool tips there. For example, if you are a looking for plugin that adds a widget you might find out that it also provides a template tag which you can use in your theme or a shortcode which you can use in posts and pages. You may also find out plugin author’s advice on how to add your own CSS styles to plugin output.
Testing a Plugin
Poorly written code that does not follow the WordPress coding standards could slow down your website or cause unnecessary load on your server. To check for this problem go to pingdom or any other site speed checking service. Enter URL of your website and run the speed test. Note down the results and then go back to your website and activate the plugin you want to test. Come back to speed testing service and test speed again. If the plugin adds a significant amount of time to your site’s speed, then you should try finding a better plugin.
For example, in the screenshot below you will see that a plugin has added extra 2 seconds to our test site’s load time making it significantly slower.
Giving back to the WordPress Community and Plugin Authors
WordPress is a community software and so is the WordPress Plugin Directory. Plugin authors put a lot of their time, hard work, and creativity in writing those plugins. You can help them in many ways and here is a list of things you can do:
- Donate: If you find a plugin useful and the plugin author has donate URL on plugin page, then please consider donating some money. It is not the price of the plugin, it is a token of appreciation.
- Rate the plugin: As we mentioned earlier that a lot of users don’t feel much inclined to rate a plugin that works fine. You can help break this trend. When you find a plugin that you like, then leave a rating and a review. A few lines are good enough to let people know about your experience with the plugin.
- Compatibility Vote: Go to compatiblity section of the plugin page and let others know whether a plugin works or it is broken.
- Mention the plugin on your blog, Twitter or Facebook.
What to do When a Plugin Doesn’t Work
If a plugin gives an error or does not work, then the first thing you would want to do is find out if it is having a conflict with another plugin or theme. Deactivate all other plugins and activate default WordPress theme. Try testing the plugin again. If it still does not work, then you might want to open a support thread.
Visit the plugin page on WordPress plugin direcory and click on Support tab. Scroll down till you find the support form and fill it out.
Remember, that WordPress plugins are open source which means that they come with no warranty at all and the plugin authors are not required to answer your questions. However, most plugin authors care about their code and will try their best to answer support questions whenever they can. Checkout our guide on how to properly ask for WordPress support and get it.