How do you know if the plugin you want to use is the right one?
If you're like me, then you have felt the pain and frustration of adding a plugin to your WordPress site, only to see the whole site break, fall apart, or turn into a white screen. And if you're not technical, it can feel like it's game over. You'll read online that you should test each plugin separately and that will have you scratching your head. What does that mean? How? How will I know if there's conflict? So instead of solving the issue, let's look at preventing it – by looking at ways to head it off at the pass.
Four Strategies for Plugin Selection
It will be no surprise to you that the best approach to solving the challenge of finding the right plugins for your WordPress site is to leverage the community around you. After all, the beautiful thing about WordPress and open source as a whole is that the collective wisdom is continually developing and it's all available to you at any point. So how can you leverage this community? Here are four strategies.
If you browse the entire list of plugins that are available online (like at WordPress or CodeCanyon), you'll discover that the one way to know for sure what NOT to download is to look at the accompanying data related to the plugins. What kind of data? Look at things like the number of downloads, the rating, comments, and in the case of Code Canyon – the number of purchases. All of this tells you whether a plugin is getting traction or not. Another important thing to look at is the creation date or last updated date. If the code was created (or last updated) more than a year ago, it may not be something you want to pull down.
Another resource to consider when looking at plugins is recommendations by well-known WordPress folks in the community. Joost de Valk is a great resource who is writing some reviews on plugins and themes. But he's not the only one out there. There are many folks out there that provide tips and resources as they review themes and plugins. As you get to know them (Lester Chan, Andrea Rennick, Justin Tadlock, Brian Gardner, and the list goes on and on), you'll discover their expertise and the places where they can provide valuable insight.
Trusted Authors or Vendors
Much like trusted reviews, the power of knowing who to trust is huge. Folks like those listed above – Lester Chan, Andrea Rennick, Justin Tadlock, Joost de Valk – all offer pluggins (some of them more than one) and once you know you can trust them, you can grab most of what they're cooking. These aren't celebrities. Instead, they're contributors – people who have worked hard to offer value to the community. You can't really make tons of money selling plugins, so they don't do it for the riches and fame. They do it because they can, because they had a problem and they wanted it solved, and maybe because they'd solved it so many times already that it make sense to turn it into a plugin. Find the people who are adding consistent value and follow them. Then look at their plugins. They're likely to be good ones.
The last approach is a little trickier because the wealth of trusted marketplaces isn't yet really developed. Code Canyon is offering a marketplace but I'm not yet sure what they're doing to manage quality and the metrics are harder to gather and leverage than what you see on the WordPress.org site. One marketplace that I do like, though it's not free, is the one by the guys from WPMU Dev. It's pricey. So what I recommend is waiting until you find deals for a year's membership at 80% off. These deals come and go every now and then and you can find them at appsumo.com, so keep an eye out there – hint, that link above is live now…check it out. Once you pay to get into their marketplace, all the plugins are available to you to download while your membership is active.
What's your approach?
So that's my take – four ways to help you find the right plugins. You're probably wondering which ones I recommend, right? Well, I'll be publishing an eBook (because the old one was hopelessly outdated) this month that you can get for free, so keep an eye out.
Do you have a different approach? What is it?