How to Pick the Best WordPress Plugins for Bloggers

WordPress is one of the most common blogging platforms out there, and many bloggers take advantage of it.  Besides the easy to use editing interface, WordPress can be customized in to major ways.  The first is installing a WordPress theme.  Think of a WordPress theme as how you want your site to look and feel.  The second way is a WordPress Plugin.  Sometimes these WordPress plugins do change the way your site look and feel, but mostly they change what you want your site to do, or integrate your site with another system or platform.
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For anyone without an engineering or technical background, this can get intimidating quickly if you were to try and do it yourself.  That is why WordPress plugins exist!  Today, I want to focus on WordPress plugins, and some guidelines for bloggers when they are looking at new plugins for their site.  My goal is to provide simple guidelines for bloggers without a technical background to follow.

Why Do Bloggers Need to Understand WordPress Plugins?

It is important to understand what a WordPress plugin does, and the purpose it serves.  This is because it is changing the way your WordPress site operates.  Unfortunately not all WordPress plugins are created equal, and you can negatively impact your site by installing the wrong WordPress plugin.
For example, on one of my other websites I really wanted to be able to add some custom text to a tag URL on the site since tags are such a great way to group content.  The theme I was using did not allow me to do this, so I had to search for a plugin to make it happen.  It took me a couple tries, but eventually I found one that works great.  Through researching that plugin (and the many others I have tried, used, or even uninstalled in the last five years), I came up with some helpful guidelines to help bloggers select the best WordPress plugins.

How to Choose the Best WordPress Plugin

So how do bloggers make sure they are choosing the best WordPress plugin for their site?  The first is to answer this simple question:
What problem (or problems) am I trying to solve?
By focusing on this, you can make sure you start your WordPress plugin search in the best way possible.  If you have multiple problems you are trying to solve, make sure to take note of them all.  Sometimes you can even solve multiple problems with a single WordPress plugin, so it is worth it to spend some time thinking of what you want to do with your site both right now and in the future.

How to Research the Best WordPress Plugin

It takes a bit of research to figure out which is the best WordPress plugin for your purpose.  The best place to start is right in WordPress itself, or with google.  The first thing you are going to do is to make a list of the WordPress plugins you are considering.  Let’s review how to research plugins using these methods

Researching the Best WordPress Plugins Right From Your WordPress Site

You can start looking for WordPress plugins to solve your problem, right while you are working from your site in WordPress.  Simply click Plugins in the left navigation pane, then select Add New:
find best plugin wordpress
Then just search for what you want a plugin to do!  In this example I searched for AMP, or accelerated mobile pages.  Stay tuned for an in-depth article on Google AMP, and if it is right for you!
best wordpress plugin search
Starting your WordPress plugin search this way you some great information you can use to evaluate if this plugin is the best fit for your site.  We are going to go over these details in depth soon.  I like this method if I am already logged into WordPress and looking for a new plugin.  This gives me a start without ever leaving the comfort of my own WordPress site!
You can also find the information you see in the above image from the official WordPress plugins page, which is a great resource for learning more about a WordPress plugin.
After you have made a list of a few plugins to consider, the next step is to simply Google the WordPress plugin name, which we are about to talk about.

Researching the Best WordPress Plugins From Google

You can simply type “thing-you-want-to-do Wordpress plugin” into Google to find out a whole slew of information and possible plugins.  When you search for WordPress plugins with Google, there are a number of places will see information such as:
  • Official WordPress Plugins Site
  • The Plugin’s official site (many WordPress plugins have their on website beyond the WordPress plugin page
  • The plugin’s github page (some WordPress plugins have full github pages with code and additional information)
  • Reviews and articles about the plugin
This is all great and very useful information in the quest to find the best WordPress plugin to solve our problems.

How to Evaluate a WordPress Plugin

Here are the criteria I use when I evaluate a WordPress plugin, and why each one is important to consider.
  • WordPress Plugin Number of Installs.  You want to see a lot of installs for a WordPress plugin.  That means people are using it, and likely finding problems with it, and these issues are hopefully getting fixed.  This number is very relative and will vary based on plugin.  Try to compare different plugins with a similar function  to get an idea of how many people are using it.  This is not the only metric to pay attention to, because I have found sometimes WordPress plugins with fewer users end up being the better one.  If your choice is between two plugins, and one has 300,000 installs while the other has 300, this is probably not the case however.
  • WordPress Plugin Last Update.  You want to see active development on a WordPress plugin.  While sometimes development cycles can be long, you do not want to use a plugin that has not been updated in years.  Be sure to check read up on the WordPress plugin to see update history, so you can determine if the development cycles are long or the plugin has been abandoned.
  • WordPress Plugin Compatibility.  Do not install a plugin that is not compatible with your version of WordPress!  Plain and simple, you want to make sure your plugin has been tested with your WordPress version to avoid issues.  Likewise, you do not want to update your WordPress version until your plugins are compatible with the latest and greatest WordPress release.  This ties heavily to our development cycle discussion, if WordPress plugins are often updated, chances are you will not have to wait long at all for it to become compatible with a new WordPress version.
  • WordPress Plugin Rating and Reviews.  What are people putting in the review section of the WordPress site?  Do they love it?  Do they hate it?  How many stars does it have?  Remember, ratings are based out of five stars.
  • WordPress Plugin Cost.  Does the plugin have a cost associated with it?  Is there a free version and a paid version?  How much does it cost, and is it worth it for you?
  • WordPress Plugin Reviews From Peers.  Go beyond the review section of the WordPress site, and look for write ups from your peers on the WordPress Plugin you are looking at.  In depth reviews can help you make your decision, and often also contain tips and tricks for using the plugin.
Remember, you can get most of this information from the WordPress plugin page for your plugin.  Simply search for your plugin topic or name on the site.

What If You Pick the Wrong WordPress Plugin?

WordPress plugins an easily be deactivated and uninstalled.  If it was a free plugin, you have not lost much more than your time, which is of course still valuable.  If you paid for the plugin you have lost a bit more than your time.  When it comes to picking a paid WordPress plugin versus a free one, I tend to spend more time evaluating the WordPress plugin.  Often, WordPress plugins have a free and paid version, so you can start with the free version to evaluate if the WordPress plugin solves your problem, then purchase it if you like using it.

Overall, if you pick the wrong WordPress plugin, you can continue your search and get rid of the one you picked.  Try not to sweat it, we all make mistakes!  I recently spent hours trying hard to make a WordPress plugin work for me, and eventually just gave up when I realized how many more hours it would take to work.  These things happen in the life of a blogger when it comes to WordPress plugins!

WordPress Plugins Are Great!

All in all, WordPress Plugins are great!  They allow you to easily customize your website or blog, and most often require little to no programming to make these changes and customizations.  Picking the best WordPress Plugin takes time and trial and error, but after you go through this process a few times, you will become a WordPress plugin pro!

Do you have any more tips for picking the best WordPress Plugin?  Be sure to let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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