When this article was written there are around 45K free plugins available in WordPress repository. Besides these free plugins there are hundreds of thousands of free and premium plugins offered through third party services. For example, one of the popular marketplaces – Codecanyon has 4400 plugins for WordPress. When there are too many choices for every single need, it is a daunting task for site owners to look for the good plugins. In this article we will discuss important points you should consider before installing and activating plugins on your WordPress site.
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Why Do You Need a Plugin?
If your theme (custom or free) as such includes the specific needs like social sharing there will be no need of installing plugins or at least you need very less plugins. Since WordPress shares functions between theme and plugin development, it leads developers to consider certain functions as a plugin and and not part of a theme. In addition to this factor, themes are built for general purposes while most of the plugins are developed for specific needs. In a nutshell, whatsoever the costly theme you buy there will be need of plugins to run a WordPress site with complete features like you wish.
Preparing the List – General Vs Specific Need
You may need two types of plugins to support your WordPress site – general and specific. You may need a general purpose plugins for one of the following needs:
- Search engine optimization including webmaster tools related stuff.
- Social sharing icons and follow profiles.
- Security plugins for stopping multiple logins, IP ban and protect from brute force attack.
- Spam protection for comments and contact form submission.
- Backup plugins for backup or cloning your site.
- Setting redirection for modified posts and for migrated posts with different extension.
Specific purpose plugins depends on the specific needs of individual site owner and some of the examples are as below:
- Creating custom post types like glossary, eBook, deals.
- Adding customized tables on your site.
- Plugins needed for displaying advertisements and affiliate links.
It is easy to find a quality general purpose plugins whereas it is really difficult to find the one for your custom needs. So list down all your plugin requirements and classify it as generic or specific along with the options you prefer.
|Purpose||Type||Preference||Where to Get||Price|
|SEO||General||Yoast SEO, All in One SEO||WordPress Repository||Free|
|Social Sharing||General||Easy Social Sharing Buttons||Codecanyon||$19|
|Affiliate||Specific||WP Affiliate, Thirsty Affiliate||Third party site||$49|
The idea to prepare such a list is – in case of an issue you already know the alternative, where to get it and the budget.
Free Vs Premium
Almost all free plugins available offer limited functions and ask you to upgrade for premium version. Though the limited version may be sufficient for your need, generally the free versions lag support. Based on our experience, it is always better to choose a premium plugin especially for specific needs.
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Factors for Choosing a Best Plugin
Once you have a tentative list of plugins needed for your WordPress site then do the following checks before finally installing any plugins on live site.
Searching for a Good Plugin
When you are inside the WordPress admin dashboard, navigate to “Appearance > Plugins” section or go to plugins section of WordPress.org site. You can view “Featured”, “Popular” and “Favorites” section along with an option to search for a keyword. We do not recommend searching here because the results will not guide you to choose the best plugin. Rather you can use Google search or select the plugins under favorite/popular sections. Let us take an example of creating a table in WordPress, searching the keyword “Table” will show the below results on WordPress.org site:
You will get the following results when you search in Google with “WordPress table plugins”.
First, you will get options other than free plugins in Google, second there are sites offering comparison of best plugins for creating tables. Let us pick up the top results in Google – “TablePress” which is a free plugin and check the plugin’s page on WordPress.org site.
Check Review, Last Update and Forum Support
There is much useful information on the plugin’s page you can check before choosing it. Read carefully the functionality explained on the page and check out the demo and additional details on the external plugin page if provided. The “Stats” section shows the daily download status which is an indication of the usage. Check out the information on the sidebar as explained below:
- Requires and Compatible – check the WordPress version required for using this plugin and up to which version the plugin is compatible. As a good practice always keep the latest version of WordPress and ensure the plugin is compatible up to the latest version. You can also view the compatibility information listed at the end of the sidebar.
- Last Updated – this date should be in line with the last updated WordPress version or any specific fix released for the plugin. Ensure that the plugin is being updated regularly; also you can check the “Change Log” for more details on each update.
- Active Installs – the number here indicates the number of sites currently the plugin is running. The more the number the less the issue you can expect since it might have been tested and working on different types of themes.
- Ratings – there are two things to look out here. One is the number of 5 stars and other is the actual issues mentioned in other ratings. Below is the example how “TablePress” author responded to a user rated single star. It indicates the positive attitude of the plugin author to help user for a freely offered plugin.
- Support – here you can view the number of issues reported and resolved in past two months. Again we recommend to open and the forum and read the issues to ensure what types of issues are reported.
- Translations – if you are looking for plugins supporting other languages (than English) then this will be the section you need to look for regarding the languages supported by the plugin.
Checking Premium Plugins
Unlike free plugins, getting all related details of an unknown plugin is very difficult. We recommend buying premium plugins from third parties only if they have presence in WordPress.org site. Also marketplaces like Codecanyon help to find a decent plugin for specific needs. Though the review and ratings details can be found on the plugin’s home page, you need to be careful since the information provided may be fake.
Testing and Updating
Once you have installed the required plugins follow the strict guidelines in order not to affect the live site.
- Always update the plugins or try out new plugins on a localhost or staging site. Never try an update or install of a new plugin on a live site.
- Unless there is a security update, follow your own cycle for updating plugins – may be once in a month is a good idea.
- Always keep the backup of your entire site (including database) before updating the major plugins like WooCommerce.
- You can always downgrade the plugin to lower version if you notice any compatibility issue with your site. Learn more on how to revert WordPress plugins to lower version.
- Avoid updating plugins instantaneously; always wait for a week to see any issues are reported regarding the upgrade. If there are no issues then go for the update as per your schedule.
It is necessary to understand that a single plugin with not much importance can break the complete site. Also it is a difficult task for single site owners to keep track of all updates related to WordPress, theme and all plugins on the site. Keeping the cost, maintenance and time in mind it is highly recommended to keep your requirements clear and ready with your budget before you looking for a plugin. Also be open to buy premium plugins instead of always looking for free stuffs. Carefully choosing the plugin and keeping the maintenance of plugins up to date will ensure your site is safe and loads faster.