Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

By the end of this post, you’ll have a better handle on how to choose the right plugin for the bit of functionality you want to add to your website.

The problem is that for nearly anything you want to, there are a bazillion different plugins. Some are free, some cost a fortune, some can be built custom, just for you. Do you ever get so overwhelmed with choice that you close your laptop and put off the decision?

In addition, as I wrote previously, plugins can be a major security vulnerability. The plugin might be the best ticketing plugin you’ve ever seen, but if it leaves open holes for hackers to get into your site, it doesn’t matter how good the functionality is – you don’t want it.

Some folks think that the giant Swiss-army-knife plugins with 37 functions are always going to be the best, but that’s just not the case. Sometimes it’s the little guy that’s going to be best for you. Large, do-everything plugins can run more scripts, make more database calls, take more time than you need for your site. While the smaller, one-precise function might do what you need and that’s all. This just makes the decision process even tougher.

And then, other people are worried that their is something better around the corner and spend weeks searching instead of using a good-enough plugin and getting business done. To avoid these problems, here’s how I go about selecting plugins for myself and for clients.

Google!

Bloggers love to put out “best of…” lists, and plugin lists are definitely a favorite. Use Google to search for lists of “the best plugin for [X]”, where X is the functionality you need. Looks at a few lists, and you’ll start to see some overlap. Good candidates for further research will be the plugins that show up on multiple lists. One caveat though, often these lists focus on the more well known plugins, or ones that the blogger has an affiliation with.

WordPress Plugin Repository

WordPress keeps a plugin repository that offers free plugins that are secure and stable. You can use the search functionality to look for the function you need, or you can use the repository to research plugin candidates identified in your blog list reading.

Ask!

You know your colleagues and Facebook friends have opinions. It’s hard to get away from them sometimes! I’ve found that if you ask your groups for recommendations, this is where you can find the hidden gems that may not make the blogger lists of plugins.

Consider Your Budget

Know your budget before you get started because once you identify a good plugin, it’s soooooo tempting. Shiny new tools promise wonderful solutions, and it’s easy to spend too much (I have trouble learning this lesson myself).

Often you can use free plugins to do the same things as some of the bigger paid plugins. However, you’ll be spending time fitting pieces together to make them work, and they may end up more expensive in the long run in terms of time, energy, effort, and sanity. Also, remember that what you’re buying when you pay for a plugin is the support and easy updating.

Once You’ve Narrowed Your Plugin Choices,

Check the ratings & reviews

If you’re on a marketplace or in the WP repository, and sometimes on plugin websites, users will leave ratings. Take and look, and then dig into and actually read the reviews. You will want to know why people rate the plugin the way they do. If some #@$%^ rates a plugin with 1 star because the button is orangey-red instead of true red, the total score can drop. You may just not care if the button is red, blue, or purple. Or, you might be clever enough to change it yourself. Keep those things in mind!

Often, you’ll get the real info in the 3 star reviews. 

Last Updated

The WordPress repository tells you the last time the plugin was updated. Generally, you want a plugin from a developer that keeps it updated. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about how long a plugin can go without updates. But, the longer it’s been, the more concerned I’d be. 

Support Info

Check out how responsive and helpful the support for the plugin is. This is typically done through forums on the WordPress repository or on the plugin’s website. Of course, you want to use plugin software with helpful developers in case you run into a bug or a problem. If the forums are full of angry notes with no responses from the developer, move on.

Tested with WordPress

See if you can find out if the plugin has been tested with the version of WordPress that you’re currently using. For plugins on the WP Repository, that information is easy, and can currently be found on the right-hand sidebar.

Active installations

Another thing to check is to see how many people are using the plugin. Again, if you’re thinking of using a plugin from the WP Repository, that’s easy information to see – it’s also on the right-hand sidebar. Now, just because thousands of people aren’t using a plugin doesn’t automatically mean that it’s not perfect for you. But, it’s useful to look at. If you are comparing plugins, and they both meet your functionality requirements, but 10,000 people are using plugin A and 42 are using plugin B, there’s probably a reason for the discrepancy. It’s worth investigating to figure out why. Is A so much better? Or is B brand new?

Just Pick Already 🙂

The great news is that you can try out plugins, and if they don’t work just the way you need, you can deactivate and delete them, and try again with something new! With approximately 54,000 plugins in WordPress’s repository alone, you should be able to find the right solution for you. 

I love to over-analyze everything. But there is no perfect solution. Do your reading, and then pick one. You won’t know until you give it a try, so don’t spend so many hours in the research phase that you don’t have time to experiment.