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Tips on how to pick a WordPress plugin

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26,710. That’s the number of WordPress plugins in the official repository as of 3pm GMT on Monday 2nd September 2013. It is also the number of plugins trying to tell you that they’re the best, that the others are rubbish and that your website is pretty much worthless without them.

Perhaps due to the relatively easy plugin system, or more likely proportional to the sheer mass of WordPress powered sites, there are plugins for almost anything and more frustratingly, dozens all achieving the same thing.

It can seem like a daunting task to find a good plugin, that achieves what you need, without providing eight thousand options for you to wade through. There are two approaches to using WordPress plugins to extend your site:

I’d rather have one or two plugins that do everything I need, I don’t want to end up with a load of plugins and have to keep them all up-to-date.

I’d rather have many plugins, that all specialise in a small task, but do it really well. I don’t mind spending a bit of time every now-and-then doing some updating.

Whichever option you pick, the following advice should help. Personally if we are using plugins in one of our bespoke WordPress sites here at Be Creative, we’ll lean towards option 2 and make sure there is as little overkill as possible, after all, an excess of options and functionality only serves to complicate the user experience of managing a site.

A few things you should consider when looking for a plugin would be:

When was the plugin last updated?

WordPress provides precise dates for when the plugin was last updated. It doesn’t matter how perfect a plugin is, if it hasn’t been updated in 3 years and isn’t compatible with one of the more recent versions of WordPress.

Is it compatible with my version of WordPress?

In the same part of the repository as you’d find the last-updated date, there are also two further pieces of information. The version of WordPress that the plugin requires and the version that it supports.

If you are unsure about what version you are using, you can see it in the bottom right hand corner of the admin screen, or on the dashboard screen that you see when you first log in.

Before installing a plugin, make sure that the version of WordPress you’re using meets the required version of the plugin, but also that the plugin is compatible with it too.

Does it do what I need and can I see it in action?

Read the plugin description and FAQs carefully to decide if it does what you need it to, even better, if there is a live demo of the plugin, check it out, remember to try the live demo on a few different browsers to make sure it’s cross-compatible.

Are the reviews good and the developers active?

These two are critical. A plugin might have a brilliant description and some excellent screenshots, but what do the users think? A lot can be deemed from reading a few reviews of a plugin. Common sense applies, if you see multiple reviews that call out faults with the plugin, it might be worth looking at an alternative.

In addition to reviews, the support topics for the plugin can give a lot away, if the developer responds quickly with help to users having problems that’s a good sign! If dozens of topics have been unanswered then it would be wise to look for another plugin.

In summary. The sheer number of plugins alone can make picking one a daunting task, but by following the steps above, we hope that the next time you pick a plugin, the process and outcome should be a lot more pleasing.

Got any tips or comments to share? Use the comments below!

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