7 Rules For Selecting WordPress Plugins

by | May 8, 2017 | Technology

Do you love shopping for WordPress plugins? I do.

Thanks to the open source community of developers you can find a plugin for just about anything you want to do on your website.

But have you ever installed a new plugin only to find that it crashed your website? Yup, that has happened to me a few times. And not just the freebies. I have had it happen with premium plugins.

These days I am very picky about the plugins I use. Not only are you putting good money out for fancy new plugins, you are putting your business on the line.

And if you think you are safe if it works the first time you install it, think again. Plugin developers are known for dropping support, even on successful plugins with thousands of installs.

I no longer gamble with my website, or my clients. I have a very strict process for sourcing, buying, and maintaining plugins.

Here is my list of selection criteria for plugins. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

  1. Last Update Date – This is probably the most important criteria. It tells you if the developer is actively working on the plugin. As you should know applications must be updated when WordPress has an update, or when a security threat becomes known. Developers should also be actively fixing bugs as the are reported by their users. Lastly, it is nice when developers are adding new features. Most developers like to release a plugin with minimal features and then add to them over time. This is known as Agile development. I prefer plugins that have been updated in the last month, but no longer than 3 months, unless it showing as compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
  2. Technical support – Most plugin developers are too small to have a full scale technical support service. Instead many use the comments section of their plugin listed on WordPress.org. Others may have a support service on their website. Always check to see how active the support comments are, and if the plugin author response quickly to comments asking for technical support. The comment threads on WordPress.org will state how long a reply was posted after the initial customer post. I look for support comments no longer than 2 days.
  3. Number of installs – This is a good indication of a plugins popularity. There is no magic number so I use the number of installs to compare competing plugins.
  4. Ratings – Ratings are important because they tell you what users think of the plugin. While not a deal breaker it is good to see that other users like the plugin.
  5. Compatibility – This tells you the latest version of WordPress the plugin is compatible with. I only select plugins that are compatible with the current or 1 version back. Any older and it is a good sign the developer has lost interest.
  6. Free starter version – If you are looking at buying a premium plugin, it is always better if the developer offers a free version. These are usually the core plugin with some feature restrictions. Normally this is enough to find out if the plugin has any conflicts with existing plugins. If the plugin installs without issues, and there are no ill effects after a thorough testing, then feel free to buy the full featured version. This way you don’t have to risk buying a plugin you can’t use.
  7. Go Premium – Most plugins are priced under $20. One of the best things about premium plugins is that developers tend to continue supporting plugins when they are paid. Funny how that works. But seriously, I rarely find an abandoned premium plugin. It does happen but far less often than a free plugin. The support and documentation is usually better with premium plugins.

Okay, so now you have gone through the process of selecting the perfect plugins for your website. They are all installed and your website is running great.

Now what…

Well the process isn’t over. It is important to keep an eye on your plugins.

For one reason, you will need to apply updates when they are available. While WordPress has made the update process easier, you should use caution with plugin updates.

Here is the process I follow when updating my plugins:

  1. One at a time – Since plugins can cause conflicts with each other even after they are installed it is important to apply updates to one plugin at a time. Run your tests, and if everything is running fine, move on to the next plugin update.
  2. Backup your site – You should have your site on a regular backup schedule anyway, but you may want to run a backup before starting your plugin updates. Some plugins, like WooCommerce, usually suggest you backup your site before applying an update.
  3. Test on a demo site – I have a duplicate site set up on a demo subdomain. Most hosting accounts allow for free subdomains, and it is easy to install separate instances of WordPress. You can then use a  plugin tool like Updraft to clone your production site to your demo site. This way you can test the plugin updates without impacting production. If you don’t have a demo site then I suggest using a rollback tool like WP Rollback to revert a plugin back to an earlier version if the newer version causes problems.
  4. Check the last update date – This is important for minor plugins since they tend to experience more abandonment by their developers. Since this information is not displayed in the plugins section of your site you will have to click on the “View Details” or “Visit plugin site” buttons listed next to the version. If you find that one of your plugins has not been updated in several months, don’t panic. This does not mean it won’t work or that it will cause conflicts. You should simply go through the process of finding a suitable replacement using the selection process outlined above. If you are unable to find a good replacement you can either leave it in and test it when you are testing for other plugin updates. I have a plugin that still works great and has not been updated in over a year.

This process is specific to WordPress plugins. I will have a separate post on how to select a good WordPress theme later this month.

Conclusion:

A WordPress website should always be considered a work in progress. Every part of your website will experience regular updates.
 
Unless you have hired a maintenance service it is up to you to perform regular backups, tests, updates, and occasional replacement of plugins.
 
For this reason I try to find the best plugin in each functional area, even if it means buying a premium plugin. Then I standardize on my favorites for all of my clients websites.

Question: What criteria do you use when selecting a plugin?

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David Cook

David Cook is the creator of Lucid Wisdom Digital Strategies, a creative marketing firm on the leading edge of thought and technology. David has a passion for personal achievement in all aspects of life and loves to pass on what he learns through his blogs.
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