One of WordPress’ biggest strengths is its plugin architecture combined with open source. This allows infinite possibilities for running a WordPress site.
One of the best places to source plugins is the WordPress plugin directory. The directory hosts open source free to use plugins. The feature set of the plugins found in the repo can be anything from small tweaks to full-blown applications. We host our free OSS Pluginize plugins in the WordPress plugin directory.
With over 44,000 plugins, navigating the WordPress plugin directory and finding exactly what you need can be cumbersome. Every plugin found should be evaluated and tested before installing on a production site. The WordPress plugin review team does an excellent job with the initial upload review of a plugin, but after that a plugin can be broken and unsuitable for use.
In this post, I’ll go over how to spot plugins that you should consider and ones to avoid. Some plugins may not have been updated in a while but still may be of use–we’ll cover that scenario as well.
Never rely solely on the description of a plugin when evaluating its worthiness.
All plugins should be tested before installing on a live site. There are a couple of ways to handle this. My favorite is using DesktopServer, which is a free option for running a WordPress site locally on your hard drive. DesktopServer sites are quick to create and delete.
I have a few different set ups for different types of sites so that I can test plugins that would run together. I have a BuddyPress site where I test plugins that are related to running a community. I also have both a WooCommerce and an Easy Digital Downloads site. You can even set up a Multisite locally! I have a local site set up running the latest WordPress so I can test new versions of WP.
If your host, like WPEngine, has a staging option, this is a great way to test plugins with an exact copy of your entire site. Staging creates a duplicate of your site where you can update things as needed and test to see if they are still working before updating on the live site. Whatever path you choose, it’s a good idea to create “development” copies of your site so you are not making changes that can break something!
WordPress Plugin Directory
The WordPress plugin directory is vast, at 44,000 plugins and counting. Searching doesn’t always give you the results you expect. Learning these inconsistencies helps determine a good plugin.
When you visit the home page of the directory, it lists a few featured plugins. These plugins are WordPress OSS sister projects and/or products of Automattic (the company that hosts the .org directory and makes great contributions to WordPress the open source project).
Other top-level filters are:
- Popular – This includes plugins with most active installs.
- Favorites – You can create a .org account and you can favorite plugins for viewing later. You can even see these favorites in your sites admin if you use the same email for the .org account.
- Beta Testing – WordPress adds new features through a process of “feature plugins.” You can help test new features by installing these plugins and checking them out there! Note: Only use these on a test site!
- Developer – If you develop open source plugins, you can host them in the directory.
The first step entering a search term into the “Search plugins…” input in the menu bar. At first, try one word to describe what type of plugin you want–a keyword. Keyword is the default search filter, and searches the titles and descriptions of every plugin available. The results are listed in order of last updated.
A recently updated plugin is a good candidate. It’s an indication that the developer is maintaining the plugin and it will receive fixes and/or enhancements.
Typing a string of terms will search any of those terms. If you want to search the exact string, wrap your terms in quotes. This will return only plugins with that term.
If you didn’t find a plugin with the functionality you were looking for, you can try a tag search. Tags can be more granular in search. However, some plugin developers abuse tagging and skew the search results so there plugin returns for unrelated functionality.
Example: You search tags for “SEO” and get a plugin about cats because the developer added SEO as a tag. Tags can be found on each plugins single page at the bottom.
You can only search one tag at a time. If you have multiple terms in the tag to search, like “Facebook badge” then you need to separate the terms with a dash, like so: facebook-badge. If the words are not separated with a dash or no results are available for the entered tags, the search will redirect you to the popular tags cloud.
So, now you’ve found a plugin that seems like a good fit for the functionality you want. It’s time to evaluate its worthiness.
Never solely rely on the description of a plugin when evaluating its worthiness.
Determine if the plugin is maintained, if it has gotten good reviews, or if the developer responds to support.
Note: Plugin developers are by no means required to help or offer you support, but look for it as a plus if they do. The plugins on .org are offered up as free for you to use as you see fit. Everything hosted on .org has a GPLV2 license. That means you can take a plugin and reuse or edit it anyway you want. If you do edit the plugin and want to give your changes back to the community, please, attribute the original author of the plugin!
On a plugins single page in the directory, you can get good information in the right sidebar. This info is your first step in determining if the plugin will work on your site. Is the plugin compatible with your version of WordPress? Has it been updated recently? The amount of active installs can, but doesn’t always mean its a good plugin. The plugin may be on a million sites, but could be incompatible with your install and/or hosting.
A word about plugin ratings: Ratings are like any other service who offers ratings. They are highly subjective. Some reviews are more gripes about the plugin not having the functionality they need than about the quality of the functionality actually offered. Remember–these are free plugins that may not always be 100% of what you need (consider it an opportunity to hire someone to build exactly what you want, or learn to do so for yourself!).
That being said, read the reviews because the plugin author may have not had time to update or fix issues and the reviews might signal it’s broken.
Just like reviews, perusing the plugin support forum is a good way to get an idea of the plugin’s health. Are there a lot of issues for the plugin? Does the plugin developer respond timely and/or offer fixes?
If you install a plugin from .org, then the support forum on .org is where you’ll find support. Do not email the developer or contact them on social media. It’s likely they’ll refer you back to the support page anyway, so cut down your time by going straight to the source. You may get faster support by posting in the .org forum as other users of the plugin can see your support request and offer up solutions.
Also, keeping the support open in the forums allows you to search the forums for issues. Others may have had the same problem and have already found a solution. So, please read through the support forum for the plugin in the WordPress plugin directory before contacting the author.
You may really want a plugin to work and it hasn’t been updated. If you do not have the coding skills to fix a plugin, then your options include: hiring the author of the plugin, finding another freelance developer on a site like the newly released Jetpack.pro, or even buy development time from our own service, Maintainn.
I hope this post helps you find good usable plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. There are many quality and frequently updated plugins for use to enhance your WordPress site.
Have you found any great plugins? Comment about them below!