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How to Choose WordPress Plugins

Important factors to consider before installing a WordPress plugin.

How to Choose WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are helpful. But they can also slow a site down, invite hackers and even cause a Google penalty. These are my top five considerations when choosing a WordPress plugin.

Five WordPress Plugin Considerations

  1. Plugin is Vetted by WordPress
  2. Popular
  3. Changelog indicates plugin is not abandoned
  4. Support participation and feedback indicates a healthy plugin
  5. Doesn’t overlap with a currently installed plugin

Plugin is Vetted by WordPress

Many paid plugins don’t have a free version. But man of the most respected plugins have a paid premium version and a free version that is vetted and included in the official WordPress plugin repository.

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The fact that a free version has been vetted by WordPress provides assurance (to me) that there is some kind of quality control.

A free plugin should ideally be vetted by WordPress. WordPress provides an official plugin repository where trusted free plugins can be downloaded.

If a serious issue is discovered with a free plugin, WordPress will remove the download from it’s repository. Typical issues can be coding that results in a vulnerability or a state of abandonment. There are many other reasons why a plugin may be removed, as outlined in the WordPress Plugin Guidelines.

It’s not a perfect system for being assured that the plugin is safe to install. But it’s generally safer than downloading a plugin that is not available through the official WordPress depository.

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There are premium plugins available and those plugins may undergo their own private testing. They are generally safe to purchase and download. However it may be useful to research the testing and vetting practices before purchasing.

Plugin is Popular

I’m not totally convinced in the in the wisdom of crowds. However I do feel safety in knowing that a WordPress plugin is popular and well vouched for by many users.

Popularity by itself does not guarantee that a plugin is not without issues. A few of the most popular plugins have been the sources of near catastrophic issues or larding up web pages with needless code.

Nevertheless, popularity along with other factors can contribute to an assurance that that the plugin is likely safe and works reasonably well.

Changelog Indicates Regular Updates

Some plugins may be abandoned. Every plugin’s WordPress page notes when the plugin was last updated. A plugin might not be updated because the function it performs is relatively simple. But in general this is a sign that a plugin has been abandoned.

Abandoned plugins should in most cases be avoided. WordPress is constantly evolving. Installing a plugin that hasn’t been updated could cause conflicts with the current version of WordPress or the version of PHP that your website runs in.

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Support Feedback

Every plugin page in the WordPress Plugin Repository has a support page. The support page may provide evidence if a plugin that has ongoing issues. Typical issues might be that the code conflicts with other plugins. Sometimes the WordPress template may need changes in order for the plugin to function.

The support page will reveal any potential issues you may face before discovering them the hard way.

Plugin Doesn’t Overlap with an Installed Plugin

A common issue I see is when two or more plugins designed to do similar things overlap. This generally happens with structured data and speed optimization plugins.

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The usual result is that you have more plugins than you need. It’s important to use as few plugins as necessary. Overloading your site with plugins can slow down the server. Even a plugin designed to speed up your site may slow down your site if you are using too many of them at the same time.

Before you install a plugin, think hard about how this plugin will solve your problems. If it doesn’t solve all of them, will installing a second or third plugin cause a duplication in functions?

How to Choose a WordPress Plugin

These five considerations are not a complete list of considerations. There are other factors that can be added, like user reviews, the reputation of the company behind the plugin, if the plugin is over-engineered and slows down the site and so on.

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Downloading plugins can seem like the shell game, where a pea is placed under a cup and then shuffled around. Are you making an educated guess or just guessing?  These are what I consider important factors for judging if a WordPress plugin is trustworthy and will help take some of the guesswork out of choosing a trustworthy WordPress plugin.

More Resources

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Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author


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Roger Montti

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Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience. I offer site audits, phone consultations and content and link ... [Read full bio]

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