5 Ways To Choose The Right Plugin
You’re desperate, you need the feature, but you don’t have the time, money or inclination to develop it yourself. So you do what almost every other WordPress site manager does. You go to the Add New plugin page and see what is available in the Plugin Library. This is the easy way, but it is not a good way to perform plugin management in WordPress. Let’s review 5 ways to decide whether to install a certain plugin or not. The same rules could apply to whether you want to keep an existing plugin or not.
1. Last updated date
This is the single most important variable when deciding on a plugin. All plugins by definition rely on the core WordPress code to function. The WordPress development team is extremely active updating and improving the framework. In fact if you take a look at the WordPress Development History page you will see that on average they release 2 to 3 major updates every year. In fact, in the Making WordPress Releases Easier blog post that 3 releases a year is going to be the standard cycle from now on – perhaps a release in March, July and December. Each major release normally has a few minor releases that fix any bugs or apply security patches.
This means, that if the Last update date is more than 4 months, the chances are that it hasn’t been tested on the latest major release of core. If it is over 8 months it could 2 major releases behind on testing. This is worrying, it tells us a few things about the plugins developers. First, they are not actively supporting the plugin, second, they are not keeping up with WordPress security patches.
Something most WordPress mangers will not take into account is the PHP release schedule. According to their website The PHP Group release a major version update about once per year. If the plugin you are investigating has not been updated in over a year then chances are it has not been tested with the latest versions of PHP. Untested plugins means there are almost certainly deprecated functions and unpatched security issues.
Ifn our case, we prefer that the plugin has been updated in the last 3 months, anything over 6 months would set alarm bells ringing.
2. Number of active installations
This one is a little more subjective. Absolute numbers are not necessarily indicative of quality, and we all know that popularity contests can be manipulated. But, when looked at in context, and when compared with plugins in a similar niche the number of active installations should give us some insights into the effectiveness and reliability of the plugin.
The key here is active installations, the logic is impeccable. If the plugin did not do the job, then chances are it would be uninstalled or at least deactivated. Let’s be clear, this is not a veto, if the plugin has not been updated, is not well tested even if it has thousands of active installations we still would not use it. But this is a great metrics for filtering if there are a lot options available to you.
3. Tested up to version of WordPress
A key pillar of plugin management in WordPress is to ensure the plugins active on your site are updated to the latest version of core. As we mentioned above, WordPress core gets updated about every 4 months. If a plugin you plan to use has not been tested up to the latest version of core think twice.
The WordPress core generally fices usability or security issues. We would expect all plugins to be at least updated to the previous core update, at time of writing core is at 5.8. If a plugin isn’t at least tested up to 5.7 it’s a no-go.
A caveat, if core has been release a month or two, then we would expect the plugin to be tested on the latest version. It seems like a small thing, but exploits exist, and if a developer is falling behind with testing then chances are your site will suffer.
4. Plugin rating and comments
You may not have expected this one. There are over 50,000 plugins in the WordPress plugin library. That means there is a lot of competition. A look through the comments will give you an idea of the quality of the plugin and any issues reported by other users.
Similar to the number of active installations above, this is a comparative metric. Like Amazon reviews, plugin ratings and comments are entirely subjective, but they are useful to compare like for like plugins. So if you are trying to decide on an SEO plugin for example, comparing the rating and reading the comments for the top plugins will help you decide which is the best fit for your site.
5. Developer responsiveness
For us, this is an important one. Every plugin, and we mean every plugin, will have problems and bugs. Even the best developers will need to fix something on their plugins. So it is very important to know how the developer responds. Especially how quickly the developer responds, and how long it takes to find a fix. So how can you measure developer responsiveness?
There are two ways to test responsiveness. First, on the plugin home page look for the Support section and specifically where it says “Issues resolved in last two months”. How many issues have been solved? If the number is low compared to the total number of issues then perhaps the developers are not taking issues seriously, or not finding the time to implement a fix.
If you want to dig a little deeper, click on the Support tab and take a look at the a few of the posts. Look for bugs or functionality issues and see who long it take the developer to respond to support requests. With the most popular plugins you would expect to say a response same day, with any plugin you want a response within a day or two. Think about it, if you have a plugin you rely on for your business, can you wait a week or more for a support request? It is doubtful.
WordPress Plugin Management
It’s tempting to just install the first plugin that seems to fit the bill, we have been there. But those of us who manage plugins in WordPress we need to play smarter. Make sure the plugin has been recently updated, ideally in the last 3 months. Check the number of active installations, if lots of people are using the plugin it is likely it works. Ensure the developers have tested the plugin up to latest core version of WordPress, do not risk a security issue, it is not worth it.
If you have several options available, then compare ratings, comments and the support responses. These will help you decide if a plugin is going to work for you or not.
Let’s face it. plugins are awesome, until they are not. We can avoid the not with good WordPress plugin management doing our due diligence before installation.