As of this writing, there are 32,764 plugins in the WordPress Plugin Directory, and more premium plugins available elsewhere. How do you choose?
Like apps for mobile phones, there’s a plugin for that. There are plugins available to help you do anything possible on a web site using WordPress. It’s wonderful to have such a choice, but also difficult to know which one to try.
The best way to choose is to get recommendations from other developers. They should be able to give you first-hand knowledge of a plugin and its features. Otherwise, you must search for a plugin that fits your needs.
This article is about searching through the WordPress Plugin Directory to find the best plugin for your site.
The WordPress Plugin Directory
Developers use the WordPress Plugin Directory, also called the plugins repository, to search for a specific feature they need to add to a web site.
There are two ways to search:
- From the backend of your site using Plugins > Add New
- Using the directory at http://wordpress.org/plugins/
On the directory page itself (2), there is a list of Popular Tags on the left side, but that rarely helps to narrow down your choice, as there are well over a thousand plugins under each tag. The tag map, visible on the Install Plugins page (1) or after clicking the More button on the repository page (2), will list categorized options. Most of the time, however, you will simply enter what you need in the search field.
You have narrowed the choices, but you still have to pick one to try, and going though 382 plugins is not easy. Here are a few things to look for.
In the directory, there are four sorting factors on the search results page that might help: Relevance, Newest, Most Popular, and Highest Rated. Relevance is usually the best and will work according to your search term, so the more specific it is, the better. But if you want to see which plugins are rated highest by users, check the Highest Rated and hit the Search Plugins button again, and your results will re-sort. Although this might be skewed by plugins that only have one or two ratings, at least you will have eliminated plugins with poor ratings.
Similar choices are available within WordPress: Featured, Popular, Newest, and Favorites.
The last choice can be very handy. In the directory, you can keep a list of the plugins you’ve used and found useful, called your Favorites. (You must be logged in to WordPress.org to do this.) If you install certain plugins often, choosing the Favorites list within WordPress can save time, especially if you can’t remember the exact name of a plugin.
The blurb under the plugin on the search results page is difficult to decipher in most cases. It’s a shame that it can’t always be a simple description of what the plugin does. That would help to elevate or eliminate some right away. Here’s an example that could improve:
The specs under the description can be very helpful.
If a plugin is on a higher version than 1.0 (or less) and has been updated fairly recently, you know that the author is keeping up with its development. If the plugin hasn’t been updated in over a year, it’s suspect. However, remember that there are plugins that continue to work well without changes—they don’t need updates. Use other factors like support and recommendations to decide.
The number of downloads indicates popularity (but don’t discount new plugins).
The average rating can be helpful, too, but make sure to check the actual plugin page before passing judgement. (See Ratings, below)
The Plugin Page
On the plugin page itself, under the default Description tag, you will see some of the same data that were summarized on the search results page.
Make sure the plugin is compatible with a relatively recent version of WordPress. Currently, anything under version 3.0 is unacceptable.
These might not help in some cases—new plugins don’t have many ratings, for instance. That’s why taking these details as a whole is the key; together with the other specs, how does this plugin compare?
Be sure to click on the links [“5 stars,” “4 stars”] to see reviews. These might reveal some aspect of the plugin you need to know.
NOTE: If you use a plugin and it works well—or not—please leave a rating and a short review to assist other developers.
How many threads have been posted recently and how many have been resolved? This ratio shows whether the plugin author is keeping up with the questions or has moved on to other things. If you have a question about using this plugin, will you get an answer? Admittedly, while using a free plugin, you shouldn’t expect professional support. However, if the author is ignoring problems, then it’s time to ignore the plugin.
Most of the time, the Installation tab will list simple directions for adding the plugin to your site. However, some plugin authors use this spot to include extra information, like more instructions, incompatibilities, links to documentation, and even videos.
Check the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) tab for important information about using this plugin. Sometimes major issues can be listed here and either forewarn or placate you.
Screenshots are great, but not all plugins include them. Maybe the plugin consists of shortcodes and doesn’t need screenshots. For others, hopefully the author supplied at least a few to give you a preview of features.
Other Notes might include sample code or other additional information. Don’t skip it!
Elements to check:
- recommendations of other devs
- version of plugin
- date of last update
- number of downloads
- ratings and reviews
- WordPress version compatibility
- support responsiveness
Use these features as a whole—and compare similar plugins—to make the best choice.
Has this been helpful? Please leave a comment and let me know. If I’ve neglected a useful aspect of searching for a plugin, please tell me.