Plugins are amazing tools for WordPress websites. Getting WordPress to do what you want often boils down to figuring out which plugins to install and how to use them. If you don’t have any plugins installed, you’re probably wondering how to do any number of things on your website such as add custom content, improve download speeds, and avoid the heaps of spam coming your way.
The answer is plugins. WordPress themes come with varying capabilities, and most need supplemented with plugins to add desired features and functions to your website. You can install plugins to secure your site, back it up, create forms, build emails lists, add random fields of text and images, and just about anything other action you can imagine.
There are nearly 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and developers create more all the time.
Plugins are often very good at doing one thing or a handful of related things. Each one comes with its own personality and user experience. Some are easier to use than others. Some cost quite a bit of money, and many are free. Just because a plugin is free, that doesn’t mean it is lower quality. But, you are often able to obtain more features and capabilities for a price.
Like everything else you download online, you must be careful about which plugins you install. Bad plugins can slow down your site, and some can break it entirely.
There are tried and true methods for finding plugins that are safe, reliable, and do what you want. Consider these four tips as you evaluate which plugins to install:
1. Check the plugin’s reviews and ratings
Ratings and reviews on plugins are available in the WordPress Plugin Directory at WordPress.org. Once you find a plugin you want to know more about, click on its name to display its main page. A quick display of a plugin’s star rating is available on the plugin’s main page in the sidebar on the right.
To read the reviews in depth, click the “Reviews” tab on the menu under the plugin’s name. Ratings and reviews are given by actual users. Of course, the higher the rating, the more likely you’ll find the plugin easy to use or worth your time to figure out.
Be aware, though, that some negative reviews could’ve been given by users who didn’t know how to use the plugin and didn’t read its documentation. Often, you need to read part or all of a plugin’s documentation to learn how to use it correctly, especially plugins that perform intricate functions.
2. Check the plugin’s support forum
On the plugin’s main page, you’ll find a “Support” tab. This is the support forum where users discuss issues they’ve encountered with the plugin’s developers, engineers and other users.
Discussions detailing user problems with the plugin aren’t necessarily an indication that the plugin is bad. Some of the best plugins have extensive support forum discussions and many “bug” fixes.
Rather, the absence of any help from the plugin’s creator in solving user problems is an indication that you also won’t be able to contact the developer for help should you experience any problems.
3. Check to see if the plugin has good documentation
Along with the support forum, documentation is often available to help guide you in installing, setting up, and using a plugin. You can solve most problems you encounter on your own by reading the documentation. Documentation helps you figure out how to make the most of the plugin. “Good” documentation is extensive, easily found and written clearly.
Sometimes, videos and a substantial amount of content is available to help you learn how to use a plugin and manage any issues that creep up. I have been frustrated many times trying to use a plugin without reading the documentation. But I have never been sorry for taking the time to read a plugin’s instructions. It always – always – helps to read the documentation.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading a plugin’s documentation before installing and using it. Many are the well-made, perfectly usable plugins that suffered at the wrath of the “delete” button because people (okay, me) were too stubborn or didn’t know to read the documentation.
4. Check to see if the plugin is updated
The best plugins are often, though not always, recently updated. If the last update was in 2014, you may want to consider another plugin. Some plugins, however, never need to be udpated. Generally, though, recent updates are a sign that the plugin’s developers are actively supporting users and addressing any security or design issues that arise.
Reviewing these elements should give you a pretty good feel of whether the plugin is a good choice for you or not. You can also learn a thing or two by reading the FAQs and looking at screenshots of the plugin that are available on the plugin’s main page menu.
With tens of thousands of plugins to choose from, you’ll have plenty of options. Never feel hardpressed to download a particular plugin. That being said, I’ve written another post, “The 6 Must-Have Plugins For Your Website” that you may find helpful. (Irony!)
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve recently begun your journey into website creation. Welcome! It’s a big, beautiful world!