Forty-two thousand, two hundred forty-three. 42,243. That’s the number of plugins in the WordPress repository as I’m writing this. Those 42k+ plugins have been downloaded a total of 1,137,420,007. Yes, over a billion times. That is well and truly one of the greatest strengths of the WordPress platform and why WordPress accounts for over 25% of the world wide web’s most popular websites. Don’t like something? There’s a plugin to fix it. It’s the most user extensible website solution in the world.
That same strength can also be a weakness at times, unfortunately. With anyone able to build and offer a plugin and the huge amount of resources it would require to individually and thoroughly vet every single one, some duds slip through. So, how do you know if a plugin’s a stud or a dud? Read this guide!
4 Ways to Spot a Winner
1. Active Installs
Going with the herd is definitely not always the best idea, but you can use active installs as a sort of initial trial. If a plugin is being actively used on tens or hundreds of thousands of sites, that’s a pretty clear indication that it at least works. It might not be the best plugin for your needs, but it’s a great initial indication that it’s worth considering at the very least.
The WordPress repo lists plugins starting with those that have the highest active installs first. Don’t be shy about delving past the first pages and considering plugins that have lower active installs in your search. There’s more vetting still to be done that will help weed out the duds!
2. Update History
Each plugin in your search results will display the date the plugin was last updated. You can also look at the changelog on the plugin’s directory page to see how frequently it’s updated. Recent and regular updating indicates that the developer(s) is actively nurturing the plugin. That’s a big bonus because it means staying up to date as WordPress evolves, keeping code current, and addressing security issues as they are discovered.
On the flip side if recent and regular updates aren’t occurring, that should raise a red flag. It shouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker because some parts of WordPress evolve much more slowly than others and updates may just not be needed regularly. It’s certainly a mark against though, and if there’s a competing plugin that does receive regular love, it’s potentially a safer bet.
What others are saying about their experience with the plugin can help you determine what yours might be like. Take each individual comment with a grain of salt. This is the internet, after all. The WordPress community is pretty great though, and the general trend of comments can be very insightful. If you’re looking at a plugin with overwhelmingly positive 4 or 5-star reviews, chances are there’s quality to be had there. The reverse is also true.
Like regular updates, good support should be a sign that there’s active developers showing the plugin and its users love, right? Right. But be careful drawing too many conclusions about the level of support activity on the plugin’s directory page.
Sure, if there’s active support happening that’s a great sign and a big mark in favor of that plugin. The reverse isn’t always true, however. Many plugins offer great user support, just not through the directory page. The directory page is honestly far from an optimal way to handle professional product support.
Ninja Forms offers outstanding professional support (I’m not just saying that because our support crew brews me some really awesome coffee every morning). Our support channel runs through our website, so you won’t see a lot of activity on our directory support page even though we do our best to stay active there. That’s pretty common among professional grade WordPress plugins. Before you judge a plugin based on lack of support activity in the repo, check to make sure they aren’t doing it better somewhere else!
So none of these options on their own will tell you whether a plugin is a stud or a dud, or even whether or not it’s the perfect plugin for you. Put them all together though and you should be able to get a pretty good idea if a plugin is a good candidate for meeting your needs. It will certainly help you avoid the stinkers out there. If a plugin is widely used, regularly updated, has excited users leaving great reviews, and offers ongoing support, you’re probably looking at a winner. The more of those criteria you meet with your selection, the better a bet it’s going to be a stud. Good luck and happy hunting!Hallmarks of a reliable plugin: widely used, regularly updated, great reviews, offers ongoing support.Click To Tweet