WordPress plugins are powerful tools that can really transform your WordPress site. Plugins can work for you in multiple ways like optimizing your SEO, backing up your site, sharing to social, setting up contact forms, and so much more.
With over 55,000 plugins available in the WordPress Plugin Directory, it can be tempting to start adding a bunch of features and functionality to your site. A simple search for “essential plugins” can convince you that you need 5 different ones just for SEO. Next thing you know, you’ve got a cluttered, confusing dashboard at best or a slow performing site – now vulnerable to security threats – at worst (assuming it doesn’t simply crash).
Things to consider before choosing a WordPress plugin
The first thing you’ll want to do is to identify your goals – think about what you want to accomplish by installing the plugin. List any specific requirements you may have to help narrow your search, the more detailed, the better. For example, you may want a contact form that connects specifically with MailChimp or a calendar plugin that syncs with your Google calendar. Your wishlist will make it easier for you to search and compare. Remember – lots of features doesn’t make the plugin better or right for you. Stay focused on your needs.
Things to consider before installing a WordPress plugin
First things first, the plugin needs to come from the WordPress Plugin Directory and not a random website. You’ll still need to do a little bit of research even though those plugins are tested and generally safe to use. Some may be outdated or no longer supported and can compromise your site’s security. The following may seem like a long checklist but I promise you can get through it in 10 minutes or less. All the information you need is right there on the plugin page.
- Make sure the plugin is operating on the latest version of WordPress and that it’s been recently updated (the more recent, the better).
- Check the number of active installs. If a plugin is installed on a large number of WordPress sites (1000+), it’s likely doing a decent job and getting regular maintenance. You may run into great plugins with low numbers for one reason or another so use your judgement with this one.
- Review the changelog (in the development tab) to see what kind of support the plugin is getting. Generally, a lot of progress in the changelog means the developers are actively trying to improve it.
- Scan the support tab for any known problems with the plugin and whether or not they’ve been resolved.
- Read the reviews!
Things to consider after installing a WordPress plugin
WordPress is a community software that relies on developer contributions to bring you all these awesome and freely available plugins. You can give thanks and support the community in several ways:
- Review the plugin! This is the easiest way to show support and costs nothing. Reviews help developers improve their plugins, give credibility and encourage others to follow suit. If you’re disappointed with the plugin for any reason, consider leaving constructive feedback.
- If you’re so happy that you wanna shout it from the rooftops, mention the plugin on social media.
- If you really like the plugin and it’s totally improved your life, get the paid version (assuming there is one). Supporting the developer will help keep the plugin around for the long haul with regular maintenance. As a bonus, you’ll likely benefit from additional features and priority support.
- If there’s no paid version and you’re itching to throw money at the developer to show your love, they may have a donate button on their plugin page.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still confused about what a plugin even is or how to install one, WordPress has a comprehensive rundown with everything you need to know about managing plugins. Otherwise, have some fun dreaming up all the ways you can make your site work better for you and your visitors. If you can dream it, there’s a plugin for it.