I love tools that make life easier. I keep a garden glove in the kitchen. Why? Because it makes it so much easier to get a lid off a jar. In fact sometimes it is not about making it easier to get the lid off, it is about being able to get it off at all. So yes, even a glove can be considered a tool in certain circumstances.
Plugins can be just like that.
Are you an intrepid website owner who has taken charge of creating your own site? Or have you taken charge of maintenance and edits, after the site was delivered by your web designer? Chances are you have come across something you want to do that you found was not possible with just WordPress or your theme, as is. Fear not. When that happens, turn to the huge repository of plugins on WordPress.org. (if your site is on WordPress.com, this does not apply)
You do that by logging into your site admin area and clicking on the “add new” under the plugin menu. You can then either browse the popular plugins (a less effective method) or search specifically for a plugin that fits your needs. Power tip: Using Google search instead of the WordPress search might bring better results, and will also bring up paid premium plugins, not just the free options in the repository. See image below:
How do you know what to look for in a plugin?
Do chose your plugins with care. Not all plugins are created equal, and there are usually many plugins to chose from to accomplish the same task.
In the repository, you can see how users have rated the plugin. So the first step is to pick a highly rated plugin. That way you minimize the chances of running into frustrations as you start using it.
The second step should be to look at how many downloads the plugin has. A highly rated plugin with 100 active installations may not be as reliable as a highly rated plugin with 100,000 active installations. Essentially, if a plugin has a whole lot of active installs, it indicates a plugin of high quality. Otherwise it would not be in such wide use.
The third step should be to check how recently the plugin was updated, and if it states that it is compatible with the most recent version of WordPress. While there are times a plugin is so simple in it’s function that it has not needed an update for some time, typically you want to go with plugins that are being kept up-to-date. It is not always necessary to chose a plugin that states it is compatible with the latest version of WordPress. Right after a WordPress update has occurred, you may see more notices of “Untested with your current version of WordPress” than usual.
Narrowing down the field
Once you have found 2 or more choices that fit the above criteria, it’s time to do some further research to figure out which one is a better fit for you. To begin digging a little deeper, click the “more details” link or directly on the plugin name.
This brings you to a new screen that yield a lot more information. The first screen you see will be the Description of what it does. Choose from the additional tabs to get further information. Very simple plugins may not have many additional tabs, but you might see things like for Installation instructions, FAQ, Screenshots that give you an idea of how the plugin functions, and reviews that offer more details than the more generic star ratings.
Explore all your candidates to make your final decision.
Having done your research, go ahead and install and activate your new plugin and start using it. Hopefully the research paid off, and you are happy with your selection. If not, deactivate, delete and try the runner up candidate.
A word of caution with plugins:
- Only install the plugins your site absolutely needs. Why? Plugins can conflict with each other, and the more of them you install the greater the risk that two of them won’t play well together. Having lots of plugins installed can also cause your site to slow down, which is bad both from a user experience perspective and for SEO purposes.
- Only use plugins from known sources. Never download a free plugin you find with a Google search, that cannot also be found on WordPress.org. Note: You will not find paid plugins on WordPress.org, but if it’s free to use, you should find it in the repository. The majority of paid plugins also offer a free lite version on WordPress.org so that you can test before buying.
- Always keep your plugins up to date (as well as WordPress core and your Theme).