Choosing the Best Plugins for your Website

Plugins Can be Persnickety. Use These Guidelines to Choose the Best.

(Check out last week’s post here if you’re wondering, “What is a plugin?")

It can be daunting figuring out how to choose the best plugins for your site. How do you know which one to use? How do you know that you’re adding something trustworthy to your website?

We’ve had our own hits and misses when it comes to plugins. Sometimes things work beautifully without any hiccups. Other times, we want to bang our head against the wall. Grin.

While it's still not a perfect process and never will be, we've learned some tips over the years on how to have more hits than misses when it comes to choosing the best plugins. (On that note, check us out next week for a roundup of some of our favorites.)

Here are some of the things we look at when deciding what plugin to use:

We pay attention to the reviews and the developers’ active involvement in the review threads.

First, and perhaps most obvious, check the star rating. You can do this in the WordPress plugin store. (This can also be viewed from within your WordPress Dashboard, under plugins. We generally stick with plugins that have at least a four star rating.

Be sure to go deeper than the star rating and read the reviews. Sometimes, the negative reviews for issues that wouldn’t be a problem for you.

Look at whether or not the developers are actively involved in the review thread. Are they responding with empathy and understanding to concerns and questions?

Note the last date the plugin was updated.

We ran into this just this week with a client. A recipe plugin they were using had great reviews when it was first installed on their site, but the plugin hadn’t been updated in three years. As a result, reviews for this plugin were going downhill fast.

When a plugin isn’t updated by its developers, a couple of things can happen.

  • The site it is installed on can become open to security vulnerabilities through that plugin. (Read: hacking)
  • As WordPress continues to update their platform, the plugin may stop working

We like to see that there has been a plugin update in the last 3-6 months.

Consider your budget.

There are plenty of great, free plugins. Often, the free ones will have premium upgrade options.

Check to see if the developer of the plugin has a website with extra documentation. You may get more clarity on what you’re able to do for free versus what functionality requires a cost.

That said, it’s a good investment in your online presence to shell out some cash for plugins that provide you with functionality that will take your website to the next level.

If the developer is  getting paid, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to continue building and developing out their work to serve you better in the future.

Use Google to Find More Reviews.

Let’s say you’re looking for a plugin to help you with your SEO. You can google “SEO plugin reviews.” Sometimes you’ll come across bloggers who have reviewed plugins and you can gain insight that way.

Get referrals directly… and indirectly.

If you come across a website that has functionality you like. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to the organization directly and ask them what plugin or tool they used.

An easier option, that won’t always work, is to get a "referral" indirectly.

Here's how you do that. If the website was built on WordPress, you may be able to get a list of plugins in use by inputting the URL into this site:

Sometimes plugins are whitelisted or custom built, in which case, this information will not show up. Often, though, you can learn from others and get a "referral" in this way.

Websites, like life, are not perfect.

Plugins don’t always play nice with other plugins. You might find a great plugin, install it on your site, and it doesn’t work like it should.

This may happen because of a conflict with another plugin. If troubleshooting this isn’t an option for you (and I wouldn’t blame you), you can hire someone to help you out or you can always seek out another plugin option that doesn't have those conflicts.

To victories great and small!


April Mann

April Mann is co-owner and Digital Marketing Strategist for Magnified Web. Get more from April on the Magnified Web blog or connect on Twitter.

April Mann, Co-owner of Magnified Web
April Mann, Co-owner of Magnified Web

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