3 things you must absolutely check before choosing a WordPress plugin


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Looking for a WordPress plugin? Tired of glancing through plenty of “Top 10 plugins for”-like posts without making up your mind yet? Not sure how you should pick the right one?

Forget about functionalities (yes, this is an important aspect but the WordPress ecosystem is so huge that, no matter what you’re looking for, chances are you’ll find several plugins with almost equivalent features) or price (“cheap” is a very relative concept, specially if you value your time, a free plugin that wastes hours of your time will turn out to be quite expensive).

Instead, head on to the WordPress.org page of the plugins (plugin not on WordPress.org? that’s a very bad start, discard and move to the next one; all plugins in WordPress.org go through a minimum quality control process and, even if they can be to some extent manipulated, WordPress keeps track of some public stats) proceed with these 3 simple checks for each plugin:

Plugin info in the repository

  1. Is the plugin under active development? No matter how good was the initial version of the plugin, at the pace WordPress changes, all plugins need to evolve continuously. An abandoned plugin may cause a lot of compatibility problems in your site. Check the “Latest update” and “Compatible up to” fields and the changelog tab of the plugin to see its latest changes. Even if the plugin author believes the plugin development is completed, updating these fields shows the author keeps monitoring the plugin (e.g. testing its compatibility with new WordPress releases).
  2. Is the plugin actively supported? You will have problems / questions with any plugin. Even if the authors were very careful it’s impossible to account for all the different WordPress configurations that exist out there. Therefore, you should not waste your time in plugins for which no support is available (maybe only available for paying customers, but this goes again in the “cheap” category discussion above). First of all, if the author has abandoned the development of the plugin, it is likely she won’t be providing support either. The opposite is not necessarily true so head to the Support forum for the plugin and see if threads get responded (and if so, if questions are really answered/fixed and not just closed) and at least some of them by the plugin author (there is only so much other users can do to help you).
  3. Are other users happy with the plugin? A plugin may be in active development and quick support but if nobody likes it, it clearly indicates there’s something wrong with it despite all good efforts by its author/s. WordPress.org includes a reviewing system for each plugin so this is the most immediate feedback with respect to the quality of the plugin. Nevertheless, it’s important that you don’t just look at the average rate number. Read also the comments next to each review and check there are positive reviews beyond those from the plugin authors (that usually can’t help but vote for themselves, in the end, they do like their plugin :-)) And remember that until around one year ago it was still possible to leave anonymous reviews. This was used by quite a few authors to play with the system and get better ratings. I won’t give names but I’ve seen plugins where all the 5-star reviews were anonymous and all the 1-star ones were not (coincidence? mmmm I don’t think so).

You may think this advice is too generic and won’t be useful to narrow down your options. Well, I beg to disagree! Let’s assume that you’re interested in a Split Testing plugin for WordPress, (I can already tell you that Nelio is the best option so the rest of the post is not a lame attempt to publicize ourselves in a more or less hidden way, I choose this area because due to my expertise in the area it works better as an example for the post). There are 23 split testing plugins in the WordPress repository.

Let’s see how they match against my 3 previous rules: Only 5 of them claim to be compatible with WordPress 4.0 and almost half of the 23 have NOT been updated in more than one year. From the 12 at least updated once in the last year (to put the limit somewhere, I think it’s safe to say that you do NOT want a plugin abandoned for more than one year) only 5 have at least one “external” positive review. And from those 5, only 2 have also more than 50% of the support threads in the last months resolved.

Analysis of plugins in the WordPress repository

So even before looking at the functionalities or price of the split testing plugins we have been able to discard most of them based on “real” data. Try this method the next time you need to choose a plugin!

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Jordi is a former member of Nelio, now leading a software engineering research group at UOC.

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