Are you wondering how to choose the best WordPress plugin for your website?
Plugins are like apps for your WordPress website. However, with over 60,000 WordPress plugins available in the official plugin directory, it can be difficult to find the right WordPress plugin for the job.
In this article, we will show you how to choose the best WordPress plugin by following the same checklist that our team at WPBeginner and other WordPress experts follow.
Disclaimer: While these factors won’t guarantee that you will pick the right plugin 100% of the time, they will definitely increase your chances of success.
Before You Start
When looking for a plugin, the first thing you should do is write down exactly what you want this plugin to do.
In our experience, it helps to create a checklist with the features you are looking for (in order of importance).
The order of importance matter because sometimes you won’t find everything in one plugin. Considering the most important factors will help make your decision easier.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be one plugin that does everything. If you find two plugins that work well together to give you what you need, then you can install both. The total number of plugins does not matter; the quality does.
Having said that, let’s take a look at how to choose the best WordPress plugin.
How to Search For a Plugin
The WordPress plugin directory is the starting point for most people. It has thousands of plugins available, which is great, but this abundance also makes it challenging to find the perfect plugin.
The search feature in the WordPress plugin directory is not very sophisticated. This is why we always recommend using Google search or looking through the WPBeginner’s plugins category first.
You can also combine the best of both approaches by typing your keyword into Google search and adding wpbeginner at the end of it.
Alternatively, you can start by browsing the most popular WordPress plugins in the directory. See if there is a plugin that fits your needs. If you can’t find one in the first two pages of popular plugins, then it’s time to run a search.
By default, the WordPress plugin directory search shows results based on relevance.
For each search result, you will be able to see the plugin’s name, rating, description, number of active installs (websites using the plugin), author name, and which version of WordPress it has been tested with.
Ideally, you want to choose a plugin that sounds relevant to you, has a decent number of active installs, has a good rating, and has been tested with a recent WordPress version.
Comparing Plugins – Which One Should You Download?
Once you have found a couple of plugins, you can open their pages in new tabs to compare them.
Each WordPress plugin page contains information about the plugin, what it does, how to use it, and more. You will need this information to decide whether this plugin is the best fit for your WordPress website.
The sidebar on the plugin page contains valuable information, including the plugin version, the last updated date, active installations, and the minimum WordPress version required to run the plugin.
A plugin’s last updated date and active installs are good indicators of a plugin’s popularity.
This section will also show the tested up to WordPress version. If it doesn’t show the most recent version, then there is no need to freak out.
Although plugin authors check their plugins with each new WordPress release, they may only update the plugin if needed. Please see our article about installing plugins not tested with your WordPress version for more details.
In the sidebar on the plugin page, you will also be able to see plugin ratings. The number of stars indicates a rating score, where 5 is the highest, and 1 is the lowest.
You should keep in mind that a lot of WordPress users use a plugin without rating it. A plugin downloaded by thousands of people may still not have many user ratings.
When a user rates a plugin, they are asked to write a review along with their rating. You can see these reviews by clicking on the rating bars.
For example, if someone has given a plugin one star, then you can click on the 1-star link to read their review.
Another thing to notice here is the total number of ratings. For example, if a plugin only has one or two people rating it, then it is really not a significant number.
However, if those one or two people left a good reason for their rating in the review, then this would make their rating significant for others.
The support section of the plugin page’s sidebar will give you a quick overview of the number of support threads opened for a plugin during the last two months. It will also show you how many of these threads are resolved.
You can see support threads by clicking on the Support tab in the plugin menu bar. Just like the reviews, keep in mind that unresolved support threads don’t necessarily mean that the plugin has some issues.
However, if a plugin has many unresolved threads and the plugin author has not responded to any of them in the last two months, then this could mean that the author has lost interest. The plugin may still work for you but might not be supported in the long run.
For most WordPress plugins in the directory, you will see a Screenshots section below the plugin description. Looking at plugin screenshots is a quick way to see how the plugin looks on the front and back end of your WordPress blog.
Sometimes we find screenshots to be more helpful than the actual plugin descriptions, which could be lengthy and confusing.
With screenshots, you can see how the plugin will look and what it does. In this way, you can quickly find out whether or not you should try it.
Check FAQs and Other Notes
Don’t forget to check the FAQs and Other Notes sections below the plugin description (some plugins may not have them).
These sections usually contain useful information about how to use the plugin. Sometimes users complain that a plugin does not work without even reading how to use it.
When you are trying a plugin, make sure you read these sections to configure and use the plugin properly on your website. You might also find some other excellent tips there.
For example, if you are looking for a plugin that adds a widget, you might find out that it also provides a template tag that you can use in your theme or a shortcode that you can use in posts and pages.
You may also see the plugin author’s advice on how to add your own CSS styles to the plugin output.
Testing a Plugin
WordPress plugins can slow down your website if they are poorly written or don’t follow WordPress coding standards.
To check for this problem, you can go to Pingdom or any other site speed checking service. Test your website’s page speed before activating the plugin. Then, you need to take screenshots or note down the results.
After that, go back to your WordPress website and activate the plugin. Now test your website speed again.
If the plugin adds a significant amount of time to your site’s speed, then you should try finding a better plugin.
For example, in the screenshot below, you will see that a plugin has added an extra 0.8 seconds to our test site’s load time, making it significantly slower.
For more details, you can see our complete guide to WordPress speed and performance.
Giving Back to the WordPress Community and Plugin Authors
WordPress is a free community software, as is the WordPress plugin directory. Plugin authors put a lot of their time, hard work, and creativity into writing those plugins. You can help them in many ways:
- Donate: If you find a plugin useful and the author has a Donate URL on the plugin page, please consider donating some money. It is not the price of the plugin but a token of appreciation instead.
- Rate the plugin: As we mentioned, many users don’t feel inclined to rate a plugin that works well. You can help break this trend. When you find a plugin you like, consider leaving a rating and a review. A few lines are good enough to let people know about your experience with the plugin.
- Mention the plugin on your blog, Twitter or Facebook.
What to Do When a Plugin Doesn’t Work
If a plugin creates an error or does not work, then the first thing you will want to do is find out if it is conflicting with another plugin or WordPress theme.
You need to deactivate all other plugins and activate a default WordPress theme. Try testing the plugin again. If it still does not work, then you might want to open a support thread.
Visit the plugin’s page in the WordPress plugin directory and click on the ‘Support’ tab. Scroll down till you find the support form and fill it out.
Remember that WordPress plugins are open source, which means that they come with no warranty at all, and the plugin authors are not required to answer your questions.
However, most plugin authors care about their code and will try their best to answer support questions whenever possible. You can check out our guide on how to properly ask for WordPress support and get it.
We hope this guide helped you choose the best WordPress plugin. You may also want to see our expert pick of the essential WordPress plugins for every website and our guide on how to install a WordPress plugin.