Choosing the Best WordPress Plugins

by Brittany Horton on July 28, 2011

WordPress.org Plugin DirectoryIt may seem like there is an art to choosing the best plugins for your WordPress blog/website, but really it just takes the right tactics and research. As we introduced when we first started our journey to help tinogona.com website, we had to choose specific plugins that fit our clients needs to help their website excel. Here is how we choose the plugins that we use.

Researching and Finding the Right Plugin

First, we visit www.wordpress.org (make sure that if you host your own WordPress site that you go to wordpress.org and if you have you website hosted through wordpress.com that you go to wordpress.com to look for plugins) and go to their Extend>Plugin page and do a basic search for the type of plugin that we are in need of. If it is a cache plugin, we type in cache.

Plugin Directory Features

At the plugin directory page on wordpress.org, not only do you get the full description, installation instructions, screenshots, FAQ, other notes, and the changelog, but you also will get to see the compatibility chart, where you can actually enter your WordPress version to see if this plugin is known to work with your version, the rating, and even see what other people are saying. Other than of course the features of the plugin, these two are the most important factors to us: the compatibilityCompatibility and Comments inn Plugin Directory and what other people have to say about it. When we look to see what other people are saying, we like to look if the author of the plugin is responding to questions or problems quickly, if there are a lot of problems, or if there are specific problems noted about features that we particularly like/need.

If you want to do even more research, you can now take the name and author of the plugin you are thinking about using and do a Google search to see if any other bloggers have talked about it, or go to the author’s website to get more information or even a demo.

Now that we can see the different options of all of the cache plugins, how did we continue to choose from the 1,000+ search results? For this example, we started with one of the most popular cache plugins that was highly rated, WP Super Cache. We had heard about it on other blogs, it got a very good rating on wordpress.org, it was compatible, and the responses in the comments were good. So, we installed it, and started to use it.

Implementing the Plugin

Add New PluginHow did we install the plugin you ask? Once we find a plugin that we like, we do not generally download it from the plugin page on wordpress.org, we nor do we come search for it at wordpress.org for any future installations, we install it directly from the WordPress dashboard. Log in to your dashboard, go under Plugins to “Add New,” and type in the name of the plugin you just did all that research on. Then, click on “Install.” In most cases, the installation goes flawlessly, you can activate the plugin, then go to that plugins settings page to set the settings you want. Not in all cases though, sometimes you may run into installation problems, like the plugin not fully downloading, a file not unzipping, or worse, the white screen of death. We have more troubleshooting tips for solving that white screen in wordpress, here. You can also go to the website of the creator of that plugin if you are having difficulty implementing a specific plugin, they will usually have FAQ or installtion guides that will help you walk through a more difficult install.

Not all plugins are available for download in your dashboard, specifically, plugins that cost. You will have to download those plugins using the link provided to you after your purchase, and install those using the Upload tab in the “Add New” plugin page.

Once you have the plugin installed, and you have set your settings, you will then one to go to the front-end of your site to ensure everything is still working properly.

Testing the Plugin

Testing is an important step in the plugin installation for WordPress, if you just start adding plugin after plugin, and don’t test your site in between, you may run into problems with plugins not working well toegther (which is sometimes the reason for the white screen issue).

To continue with our previously example, the cache plugin. Caching a website is very important for speed, and you can read a little more about it in a recent post, but it can also cause a few issues. Shortly after the installation of this specific plugin on a few of our websites we continuously ran into the white screen issue and had to start troubleshooting to see what the problem was. After a lot of websites and a lot of troubleshooting, we started to find a common problem: the WP Super Cache plugin. This specific plugin did not work well with a few other plugins. Our other plugins at that point were more important to us, so we went back to the research board to find a new cache plugin that did not react as badly with out other plugin choices. This is a common issue, since these plugins are free and provided by third party authors, they are not guaranteed to all work flawlessly. Plugin authors also can’t really spend the time troubleshooting why their plugin doesn’t work well with another plugin; they want to continue to give you new features or build new plugins. You can sometimes find some helpful tips if it is a known issue, but in most cases, it is best to choose one of the plugins to stop using and uninstall it. Other issues that will cause you to stop using the plugin is that it is no longer compatible with your WordPress version, or you upgraded it and it now has a bug, in these cases you will want to deactivate the plugin. If you can not get to it in your dashboard, you can log in via FTP to deactivate it. I do not recommend deleting the problem child plugins at this point, especially if the problem is with your WordPress version. It is most liekly that a feature upgrade to the plugin or to WordPress may help with your issues, and you can try using it again at that point.

You want to make sure when you test your plugin that you also test its speed, as some plugins can slow down your website, and you want to make sure that you are not using a plugin that is going to take a huge chunk of load time. Look at one of our posts on Making your WordPress Site Fast, Lean, and Swift for other tips on page load times.

Plugin Love!

Rate your favorite WordPress PluginsNow that you have researched, implemented, and tested your plugin, and you love it, please go rate it on wordpress.org and let other wordpress users know how awesome you found the plugin to work! This not only helps other users to see that this plugin really is a good choice, but it also helps to share the love of all the hard work the author put into building the plugin.

Do you use any specific tactics or guidelines when you find new plugins? If so, please list them in the comments below.

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