The Ins and Outs of WordPress Plugins
What is a WordPress Plugin?
Basically, a plugin is an add-on you install, either through your WordPress dashboard or through FTP, that extends WordPress and gives it added functionality and customization.
It is important to note that, WordPress plugins are designed for self-hosted WordPress sites, and not the sites you can create on WordPress.com. If you don't know the difference between self-hosted WordPress and WordPress.com, we've written this handy guide.
Choosing a Plugin
Choosing the right plugin can be difficult. There are so many. Not only thousands upon thousands in WordPress' free plugin repository, but also on sites like ThemeForest, and sold directly from a developer's website.
So, how do you know if the plugin is any good?
Say you are looking for a plugin to help optimize your website's SEO or easily integrate Google Analytics? You search WordPress' repository for "SEO" and over 1000 results are returned. How do you choose? (In the case of SEO, you totally want to use Yoast SEO).
Just like what we covered when choosing a premium WordPress theme, there are things you can look for:
1) Does it work with the current version of WordPress?
If it does not work with the most recent version of WordPress, walk away from it. That means it's not supported and could introduce security issues, break your theme, and cause a whole bunch of other issues.
2) When was the last time it was updated?
You can get an idea for how well it is supported by looking at the "last updated" date. WordPress is always releasing micro-updates and good plugin developers release updates to their plugins either a couple days before WordPress released an update, or within a couple days after. Tracking when a plugin was last updated compared to a WordPress update can be difficult to keep up with, so pay more attention to the "Compatible up to" area.
3) How many active installs does this plugin have?
Let's keep with the Yoast SEO example. It has over one million active installs. Over one million people can't be wrong, can they?
Sometimes, plugins will have only a handful of installs, and they are still good. The reasons why installs would be low could be: 1) They are brand new; and 2) They are for a very specialized functionality.
So there are other things we can look at, besides the above. You could look at ratings, but as you can see from the above Yoast SEO ratings, there are not a lot of ratings despite over 1 million installs. As long as all of the ratings are not one-star ratings, it is okay to spend time looking at a few other things.
4) The Support and Reviews Tabs
When you look at a plugin on WordPress' site, there are a variety of tabs to help you make your decision. One of the tabs you want to look at is the "Support" tab. Just quickly click the support tab to get an idea of how responsive the developers' are to questions and issues. It also doesn't hurt to click on the "Reviews" tab to see what people are saying about the plugin.
5) The Screenshots and FAQ Tabs
It's always nice to be able to look at how easy (or complicated) it is to setup a plugin before deciding to install it, realize it's a pain to use, and then uninstall it. So check out the screenshots.
Also, if you are lucky enough to run into a developer who offers an FAQ, read that. Those usually give some very useful information to help you make your decision.
If you have the knowledge to read a changelog, that tab is another good thing to read. It let's you know what changes have been made to a plugin on each release. Even if you don't have the technical background, you can still read it and look for things like, "Security update," or "bug fix." Seeing those words in a changelog is a very good thing.
Also, sometimes in the description and FAQ, there will be a link to the developers' website with either more information or a demo. Look for those.
7) Ask Skookum Monkey for Recommendations
And if all of this is very overwhelming, or if you've searched and you are still not sure if the plugin is a good choice, you are always free to send us an email and we are more than happy to make recommendations. Plugin recommendations are part of Skookum Monkey's free consultation services.
To get you started, here is a list of eight plugins that we can't live without. We've recently added Featured Image Generator to that list. Finally, for security, we use both iThemes Security and Wordfence Security. We use the paid version of Wordfrence and highly recommend it, but the free version is also very good.
We use iThemes Security on client sites for things such as changing the default login page so that it's harder for hackers to find, and we use Wordfence Security for its superior firewall and real-time scanning. You can use either or both, depending on your needs and be fine. Both are highly trusted in the security world.
Next up in this WordPress basics series, we are going to start a walk-through of the WordPress dashboard, starting with Settings.
If there is a topic you would like us to write about, again, please feel free to send us an email at anytime and we'd be more than happy to include it in this series.