One of the great things about WordPress is the abundance of free plugins that are available to extend the functionality to meet your website needs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad plugins (think security concerns) out there that make choosing the right plugin a little difficult. Here are the steps I follow for selecting free plugins for myself and my clients.
- Google it!
Yes, WordPress allows you to search for plugins within the admin interface, but I prefer my trusty friend Google. My Google phrase tends to be something like “wordpress explanation of functionality” (ie: wordpress simple seo). I like to open tabs for each plugin I’m interested in then start comparing the metrics listed below.
- Compare metrics.
In the right column of a WordPress plugin page you’ll find a set of metrics that are invaluable for choosing which plugin(s) to try.
- Last updated. This will tell you how active the developers are and how likely it is that this plugin will work with your current version of WordPress and with future updates. Also, active development means the plugin is likely to stay up-to-date with security essentials. Plugins that haven’t been updated for more than two years will display a warning.
- Active installs. In this case, popularity does matter! Active installs lets you know how many other WordPress sites are actively using the plugin. It’s a safe assumption that if a lot of people are using the plugin it is of good quality.
- Ratings. I’m going to assume you are familiar with the way ratings work. I like to pay particular attention to the ration of good to bad ratings and will read reviews of the bad ratings if I’m particularly concerned.
- Read descriptions.
Yes, I read the descriptions after looking at the metrics (because honestly it takes more time to read than look at numbers). Don’t forget to check out the screenshots that are (hopefully) provided. You have a good idea what you’re looking for and you’ll quickly be able to decide if a plugin will meet your needs.
- Try it out!
The only way to 100% know if a plugin is going to work for you is to try it out. Luckily we’re talking about free plugins so the only thing this will cost you is time. Always take a backup of your site before installing a new plugin and, ideally, install on a staging (cloned) version of your site.
Now, sometimes there is not a free plugin that will provide the features and quality that you need and you must find a premium plugin. Luckily a lot of premium plugins also have a free version so you can get a feel for what they provide. When it comes down to it, consider the value of your website and it may be easier to spend money on good quality plugins.