How to Find the Best Quality WordPress Plugins for Your Site
WordPress plugins are a blessing for everyone, but they can cause problems and open vulnerabilities in your website. For that reason, we’ve assembled the best practices for researching WordPress plugins to find the best quality—before you install them on your site.
Browse WordPress’ Featured, Popular, Recommended, and Favorites
You can browse the catalogue of WordPress plugins listed on WordPress.org right from your admin dashboard. This feed is sorted by tabs at the top that will aid you in narrowing down your search.
You can browse different plugins by these tabs:
And, you can add plugins that you’re interested in to the Favorites tab.
(For more on how to search for plugins, see this post.)
Featured plugins are a safe bet—they’re endorsed by the creators of WordPress.org and are widely used to accomplish the basics, such as spam blocking with Akismet and imroving performance with Jetpack.
Popular will show you a list of trending plugins based on what WordPress users are installing (and aren’t curated by WordPress).
Recommended plugins are sorted based on the plugins that you, and other users have installed. So it’s a personalized version of the popular feed.
You can narrow down any of these feeds by using the search bar and search dropdown. In general, the top plugins in these tabs will be a safe bet, but we’ll teach you the skills you need to make sure they work right on your website.
Check Plugin Ratings and Active Installations
The first, and easiest, check you need to make is the ratings and active installs. In a way, these go hand in hand and are very helpful in rooting out bad plugins.
Each plugin card in the results will show you ratings and active installs.
How to Use Plugin Ratings
Ratings alone are not a great indicator, but reading the reviews associated with each rating can be very useful.
In general, as long as the plugin has an overall rating above 3 stars, that’s a good sign that it works as expected for most users. Click the more details link and find the ratings section below. You can then click into each rating level and read the reviews.
It’s best to read a few 5 star reviews, a couple middle range reviews, and definitely any 1 stars. Take it all with a grain of salt because not everyone reviewing plugins knows what they’re talking about.
Not all reviews are created equal, but if you can find one that meets these criteria, they can be helpful in directing how the plugin actually works for different applications:
- Recently posted (necessary due to consistent updating)
- Specific (it should mention specifics about using the plugin)
- Explains why the plugin is useful or not
Here’s a great example of what to look for in reviews:
It never hurts to search for reviews of the plugin you’re considering on Google. In addition to the information provided in the plugin details and screenshots, a decent review article can help shed some light on how the plugin works in practice, as well.
How to Use Active Installs Information
The number of active installs pairs very well with ratings research. This indicates how many WordPress sites have installed and activated the plugin.
As you can see, the Akismet plugin has over one million active installs.
For a universal plugin like this—something everyone is going to use—you want to see a ton of active installs, otherwise stay away.
However for some more niche plugins, a lower number doesn’t necessarily indicate poor quality.
This event tickets plugin is very useful, but won’t apply to every WordPress user in the way the Akismet spam blocker would.
This handy tickets plugin has over 20,000 active installs—a lot less than Akismet. However, the developer, Modern Tribe – The Next Generation of Digital Agency, is the creator of the widely used Events Calendar plugin, which has 500,000+ active installs.
This plugin comes from a reputable source, and solves a pretty significant problem for a smaller niche of users, so it would still be worth trying, at the very least.
Always compare ratings and active installs as a starting point for choosing your plugins. If you still can’t be sure, there are more things to check.
Use Plugin Maintenance as a Guide for Quality
From WordPress, you can look at the record of maintenance on each plugin before you install it.
The place to start is the lower right-hand corner of the plugin card.
If the plugin hasn’t been updated in years, there’s a good chance the developer has abandoned it. Typically, a good rule of thumb is about 3 months. Just keep in mind that if a plugin is working great, there may not be a need to update it.
However, plugins need to be updated to remain compatible with the newest version of the WordPress core software.
If you’re searching through your WordPress dashboard, you’ll see an indication that the plugin is compatible with your current version of WordPress.
Or, you might see this.
You’ll want to stay clear of an untested plugin, unless you desperately need it, or it seems to be reliable otherwise.
NOTE: Always keep your WordPress software and plugins up to date. Just keep your site backed up in case a new update causes issues.
Another useful indicator is the changelog, which you can access by clicking more details from the plugin card.
You can see each time the developer made an update, and what they changed or fixed. A frequently updated changelog shows that the developer is fixing problems quickly and cares about making the plugin work for all the users.
High quality plugins come from dedicated developers.
Read Plugin Documentation and Use Tutorials Before You Install
Even when a plugin’s purpose seems very cut and dried, often times they don’t work the way you’d expect.
Some plugins are more intuitive than others. You might like the outcome, but not the way it works. That’s why it’s important to read the documentation and watch any tutorials that are available.
The FAQ section in the plugin details window is a great place to start.
If you have a pressing question or confusion, there’s a great chance that one of the millions of WordPress users has asked it.
Also, if you want a good idea of how the plugin looks, or how the interface is set up, review the screenshots.
You’ll find the documentation under the Description tab in the plugin details window. Typically, this documentation will tell you everything you need to know about installing, configuring, and using the plugin correctly.
You should keep this handy as a reference guide when you actually start using the plugin.
Often times plugin developers have created a whole website dedicated to documentation and support.
This type of support is the most important part of validating plugin quality. The ratings, active installs, and plugin maintenance are great indicators at a glance.
But to really know the value of a plugin for your project, the support and documentation are essential. The more resources that are available to help you with the plugin, and show you how it works in a detailed and straightforward manner, the more you’ll be able to accomplish with it.
I’ve installed a plenty of plugins only to find that I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted because the documentation wasn’t thorough.
Getting Started with Plugins
To help you get started with researching and installing plugins, we’ve created a checklist that breaks it down for you.
Click to download our WordPress plugin checklist.
Once you’ve completed the checklist, come back and learn to install your plugins.
Plugins are one of the things that make WordPress unique, inexpensive, and magical, so get started today!
Have a question about how to find the best plugins, or want a suggestion from a WordPress expert? Let us know in the comments below!