Things you should check before installing a WordPress plugin

To quote WordPress.org,

“Plugins are tools to extend the functionality of WordPress. The core of WordPress is designed to be lean, to maximize flexibility and minimize code bloat. Plugins offer custom functions and features so that each user can tailor their site to their specific needs.”

In other words, plugins add specific bits of functionality to your website.  Some examples:

  • A contact form plugin – easily add a contact form to your website
  • An SEO plugin – add the ability to easily manage SEO meta data for your pages and posts

The official WordPress plugin repository contains thousands of plugins that do all sorts of things. Plugins can easily be added from your WordPress admin interface – simply go to Plugins -> Add New and type the plugin name to find it.

But hang on a second…

..before you start adding plugins left, right & centre, there are some things you should consider.

First and foremost, anyone can create a WordPress plugin.  And although there are certain standards and guidelines that have to be met before plugin is listed in the official repository, it’s not a completely failsafe mechanism.

Eight points to consider when choosing a WordPress plugin (from a ‘non-techie’ viewpoint):

  • Firstly, do you really need this plugin?  Try and keep the number of plugins installed to a minimum, as they can often bloat the website and slow it down.
  • Often a plugin will be ‘overkill’ – it will do what you want it too, but loads more too.  Is there an alternative?  (or if you have access to a developer or can code yourself, it may be far more efficient to add a simple function via functions.php for example).
  • How recently has the plugin been updated?  This is usually a good guide as to whether the plugin is still actively being developed or not.  Where possible, avoid plugins that haven’t been updated for months – they are more likely to conflict with newer versions of WordPress and/or be vulnerable to attack.
  • Have a look at the number of downloads.  This has to be taken with a pinch of salt – obviously something very specialist is likely to have fewer downloads than a very generic plugin.  But as a general rule, the more people that are using it, the better.
  • Another good indicator is a combination of the star rating and the number of reviews.  Obviously 5* is good, although treat with caution if that 5* rating is generated from only 2 reviews (being very sceptical… possibly the plugin author & his friend!).  4.5* from 1000 reviews means a whole lot more than 5* from 2 reviews.
  • Some plugins automatically place a link on your website, back to the author’s site.  Perhaps I’m just mean, but I don’t really like this and always tend to avoid such plugins.  I guess it’s something that’s more important on the commercial sites that I build, perhaps less so on personal sites.
  • Watch out for plugins that require a subscription or upgrade to get at the functionality you want.  There are plenty of brilliant ‘paid’ premium plugins out there (Gravity Forms and Advanced Custom Fields to name a couple), but make sure you know what you’re getting first!
  • Is the plugin likely to slow down your website?  Often the only way to find out will be to install the plugin and see… but be aware that plugins that are pulling in content from external sources (e.g. Facebook, Twitter widgets etc) can increase the page load time significantly.  That may be a valid playoff – but it’s just one to consider.

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