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Ever needed a plugin for your WordPress-based website? Of course! After all, that's how WordPress is extended, isn't it?
If you're a beginner to WordPress, or even a power user, then you're likely familiar with the WordPress plugin repository, premium plugins, and so on. The thing is, there are so many plugins available that do many of the same things, it can be difficult to determine which is best suited for your particular needs. This raises the question: What do you do to find the perfect plugin for a particular need?
In this post, we're going to see how to find the best plugin for exactly that.
One of WordPress' greatest strength can also be one of the greatest challenges: Anyone can release a plugin for WordPress. I'm not trying to be condescending, but it might be dangerous for you to install a plugin that may ruin your database or get your site hacked. Therefore, it's essential that you be careful about your choices on WordPress plugins.
So, what do you need to do to find a decent, solid plugin? I thought of a few simple steps to take; feel free to join in and suggest more in the comments!
Step 1: Do You Really Need a Plugin?
First, ask yourself if you really need a plugin. For example, does WordPress offer functionality natively that can be used? Some other examples include:
- "Do I really need that kind of functionality?"—When you dive into the world of WordPress plugins, it's easy to think that you need everything! Ask yourself if you need a "related posts" plugin for a corporate website that's going to have 10 to 15 blog posts, at most. Ask yourself if it's going to be logical to install a social sharing plugin to a blog that can be accessed by users who must login to the view the content. If you're absolutely sure that you will need a plugin for what you need, move on.
- "Is the functionality I need already provided by my theme?" I know that it's not cool to invade the "plugin territory" in themes, but if a theme has option fields about, say, SEO and that fit your needs, then you may consider using the theme's SEO functionality as long as you're absolutely sure that you're not going to change your theme ever. (Remember: If you change that theme, your SEO settings won't work anymore.)
- "Is there a web service that can work for me without installing a plugin?" This one's a no-brainer: If you can use a web service like AddThis to provide your visitors with social sharing buttons, use the web service instead of wasting your server's resources with plugins. For example, I'm using Disqus on my own blog and I don't even use Disqus' official plugin. Instead, I'm using a few lines of code to integrate Disqus into WordPress and it works like a charm. This is especially important for people using shared hosting plans but even if your website is on a dedicated server, optimization is always a good thing.
Step 2: Where to Search for Plugins
As mentioned at the start of the articles, there are a variety of places in which WordPress plugins are available. Though more experienced users are likely familiar with how to find them, beginners may need a tour of some high quality places.
Based on your criteria, you may find any or all of the following useful:
- WordPress.org: This is the first logical place to search for free WordPress plugins. You can search this repository right inside your administration panel, too. While it doesn't give us many filtering options (other than tags and ordering by popularity), you can find pretty awesome stuff if you perform Step 3, too.
- Tidy Repo: With the tagline "A curated list of the best WordPress plugins", Tidy Repo offers us a smaller list of plugins that are working just fine and not causing troubles. Creator of Tidy Repo, Jay Hoffman, explains that all the plugins are tested in a live WordPress installation, run through the Plugin Performance Profiler and being chosen among the ones that are actively maintained and provided with technical support. Being a one-man operation, the collection is growing a bit slowly but it's a great idea to put together a curated repository.
- CodeCanyon.net: Powered by Envato (who powers ThemeForest and this great blog you're reading), CodeCanyon has a huge section for WordPress Plugins where you can search, filter and order really cool (and inexpensive) plugins. It's definitely worth checking out if you're willing to pay a couple of dollars for the plugin that meets your needs.
- Google, Yahoo or Bing: Even if you can't find what you're looking for in the websites above, that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have what you need—maybe you're just searching with the wrong terms. If that's the case, search engines might help find the plugin you need by listing blog posts about plugin round ups, reviews and comparisons.
Step 3: When You Think You Found a Plugin...
So, you're saying that you've found the perfect plugin? I've got one more question for you: Are you sure?
As cheesy as a question this may be, it's an important one, and if you want to make sure that you've found the right plugin, it's a good idea to follow this checklist:
- Check the plugin's number of downloads or sales.
- Check the plugin's rating.
- Check the reviews, if any.
- Check if the plugin's being updated regularly.
- Check if the plugin's compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
- Check for forums to see if the plugin causes any kind of problems that aren't solved yet.
- Check if the plugin has its own website.
- Check how the support system is by looking at the knowledge base and/or the FAQ of the plugin in its website.
- Check other plugins coded by the same person or company, see the quality of their work.
- Check competing plugins which do the same job. Repeat this checklist for those plugins if necessary.
You may think that it might be too much for choosing a simple plugin, but believe me, these are all essential if you care about your website. Because of a security flaw in a comment subscription plugin, my entire blog was hacked. In another case, my host suspended my account because the database grew too large because of a poorly written anti-spam plugin.
All that to say, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Do you have better ways to find a decent, working plugin? If so, share your comments below. And if you liked the post, don't forget to share it with your friends!