Your WordPress website is ready to go, but you really need that special piece of extra functionality your theme isn’t providing. You need to search for a plugin. WordPress plugins add extra functionality and features to your WordPress website.
In search of a plugin, you visit the WordPress plugin repository or try some search terms from your WordPress dashboard. You find results, but how do you know when you’ve found the perfect plugin? Are you even looking in the right place?
Most people search the WordPress plugin repository (in the dashboard or on the WordPress website) when they’re looking for a plugin. Start with Google instead. Google specializes in search and will quickly give you a curated a list of some top choices in a plugin category. You may even find some plugins on Github or elsewhere that aren’t in the official repository.
Example: You’d like to mix and match different sidebars on different WordPress pages. Search for wordpress sidebar plugin and take a look at the results. This is a great jumping off point for finding the right plugin.
Extra tip: If you want to narrow your search results to “only” the official WordPress directory, add the
site qualifier to your search:
"site:wordpress.org/plugins sidebar plugin"
(we excluded “wordpress” from this search because we’re already restricting the search to the WordPress website)
Look at recent reviews
WordPress started using reviews for plugins in 2012. From any WordPress plugin page, click on the Reviews tab. Don’t get focused on a specific star rating, or shy away if you see a bad review. It’s more important that the plugin actually has some recent positive reviews, which indicates it’s being used and is working well for those using it.
Example: If we look at the reviews for the Custom Sidebars plugin you’ll see three positive reviews from just this month (August 2013). That’s a really good sign. You’ll also notice a one star review on the first page. Don’t get hung up a single bad review. It could be someone with a wacky WordPress setup or a conflicting plugin.
Is the plugin regularly maintained?
Plugins usually require some regular maintenance to stay up to date with changes in WordPress. You don’t want to be stuck with a broken plugin six months from now. Look at the top of the sidebar on a plugin page (example) and you’ll see a small list. Be sure to check the Last updated value. This will give you a good idea of the “freshness” of the plugin.
One handy trick is to compare the Last updated value to its initial release date. If it’s been recently updated, and was originally released years ago, you know the developer has been reliably updating the plugin for quite sometime. Find this information by clicking on the Developers tab on the plugin page, and then clicking on Development Log under the Browse the Code heading.
Example: Take a look at the development log for the Custom Sidebars plugin. It was first added three years ago and was last updated in April of this year. This plugin has been regularly maintained.
Go for the simple option
You’re looking to add Pinterest support to your site. You stumble upon a massive social sharing plugin that provides support for Pinterest and 25 other social services. Keep looking. Try to find a plugin that focuses only on Pinterest.
Bigger, more complex plugins have more potential for bugs and performance problems. If you need support for some of the other social services (remember you don’t need sharing buttons), try to find individual plugins for each service. There is no penalty for having lots of plugins, and you’d rather have three simple and functional plugins, than one massive bloated plugin.
What about commercial plugins?
This post mostly covered free plugins available in the WordPress repository. Commercial plugins are a bit different, as some of the tips mentioned above don’t apply. We’ll save that for another post.
Any other tips and tricks?
Hopefully this helps you in your search for great WordPress plugins. Let us know if you have any other tips and tricks you use to find that perfect WordPress plugin.
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