One of the best things about WordPress is its expandability. With a vast network of developers and users, WordPress boasts a huge number of free and paid add ons called “plugins." These are small self-contained programs that add new features, connect WordPress to to other systems and further extend the usefulness of this CMS. It’s not all daisies and roses in the world of WordPress plugins, however.
Because WordPress is an open platform, anyone can create a plugin and offer it for download regardless of its quality, features or compatibility with the CMS. Before you download and install a shiny new plugin for your site, review our guidelines for assessing the quality of WordPress plugins.
Some criteria to consider when you want to download a WordPress plugin:
If the plugin is compatible and tested with your version of WordPress
When the plugin was last updated
How many downloads the plugin has
How many ratings the plugin has and how good they are
If there are any good reviews available for the plugin
How responsive the plugin author is to issues and requests
There are also some less obvious issues you may run into while evaluating a plugin:
Compatibility issues with other plugins installed
Compatibility issues with your theme
Broken functionality with newer WordPress updates
Not all features available in the free version (for commercial plugins)
Although there are some challenges with selecting and using WordPress plugins, don’t let that stop you from exploring the world of plugins.
To have a smooth experience expanding your WordPress site with plugins, try these five tips as you consider the plugin.
1. Do some research
Do some basic Googling to see what others experience when they use the plugin. Typically if a plugin has major issues or users are struggling with compatibility issues, there will be posts in support forums, negative reviews or other information available to help guide you.
2. Contact support
Even if you haven’t purchased the plugin or if it’s a free offering, contact support during testing if you run into any issues. This lets you evaluate the author's responsiveness and helpfulness which can be critical down the road when you are relying on the plugin to work in your production environment.
3. Use a test site
If possible, install and test the new plugin on a test version of your site. If you do run into issues it won’t impact your live site.
4. Install and test one plugin at a time
Always evaluate one new plugin at a time. If a plugin causes issues or has compatibility problems, you may not know which one is causing the issue if you’re testing more than one at once.
5. Understand plugin inception
This may sound complicated, but some plugins also have their own plugins. For example the popular forms plugin, Gravity Forms, has a very useful set of free and paid plugins to add even more functionality to this excellent plugin.
Again, don't let the fear of hurting your site keep you from using WordPress plugins. They can save you tons of money as you don't need to go through the effort of developing the functionality yourself. Just be sure to look the plugin from multiple angles and test it out before it impacts your live site. If you need additional guidance, reach out to our team at ArcStone and we'll have our developers take a look!