Tips from a digital foot soldier
WordPress’s popularity and downright domination of the digital world has bred over 35,000 active plugins. Plugins are helpful, usually free, packages of code which act as a solution for all types of internet hurdles. A plugin can build a contact form, provide a forum, create private membership pages or turn your blog into an eCommerce platform. Plugins, for a lot of people, are the saving grace and often the reason for choosing the WordPress platform. The open source nature of the WordPress plugin community has led to an oversaturated market. Plugins have also been found to be a main gateway for hackers. It’s very important to choose the right WordPress plugin for your site. Here are a few rules I live by when choosing a plugin:
1. Star Ratings and Reviews
Let the WordPress community do the legwork for you by relying on others, usually more robust users, to rate their experiences with the plugin.
If a plugin has a low star rating I’d recommend staying away. Sometimes a rating with a very low rating count can be hijacked by one bad rating. Take a few minutes to read the reviews and figure out if the one star rating is relevant to your issue. “I’m rating this one star because it did not do XYZ.” If the plugin does what you need and has a pretty good rating, the one star rating can often be overlooked. If the plugin is consistently rated low, don’t ignore the pattern.
2. The Last Time the Plugin was Updated
The WordPress plugin library has a few very important metrics. For me, the most important metric is the last time the plugin was updated. WordPress is constantly releasing updates and security fixes. Sometimes the newest release will break older plugins and sometimes the older plugins will contain security flaws which can be used by hackers to infect your site. Because WordPress is the most popular blogging platform, it is also becomes sought-after by hackers.
If the plugin developer keeps their plugin up to date and makes new versions regularly there is a high chance the plugin can be a trusted source. If the plugin developer is working to keep their product functional and safe we can assume the plugin will be in our toolkit for the long haul. I’ve been stuck using an old outdated plugin at the risk of being hacked. It’s not a good feeling and can be avoided by always checking the last update date on the WordPress website.
3. Active Developer or Active Community
The WordPress plugin website has the option to link each plugin to it’s own support section. Check on the last time the support section was updated, if there is an active forum and if the developer is in the forum helping people with issues. Nothing is worse than getting knee deep into a plugin, but being stuck without any help. A lot of the issues you will have, other people will also have with the plugin. Many of my questions have been answered in the plugin forum or the plugin FAQ section. It’s important to know you are not alone in the fight.
The last and one of the most important features a good plugin should have is solid documentation. The documentation should contain simple instructions, code examples, known issues and helpful links to find more information or more examples. Being a developer, I know documentation can be the last thing on your mind, but for those using the plugin it’s important to have proper explanations for each feature. Having good documentation can also help to avoid the one star rating. A lot of the one star ratings are associated with the lack of understanding, not the plugin technically malfunctioning.
What You Can Do!
Help keep the WordPress plugin site active by being an engaged user. Review the plugins, help others who have simple questions and recommend good plugins to your community. If you find a bug, report the bug to the developer. The WordPress community has a long history of open source development. We, as developers, need your help to continue to make it grow.