When choosing WordPress plugins, you need to keep in mind that these are open source, therefore each plugin is maintained by someone for free, so some plugins are made by people that aren’t experienced coders (which may result in the plugin preventing your site from loading), or may not have time or resources to maintain the plugin to keep up with new WordPress releases.
This becomes especially important when considering the crucial and complex plugins that make your site work the way you need, as finding a replacement in the future may be prove to be much more laborious than doing a little due diligence beforehand. Imagine, for example, if your photo gallery stopped working when you upgrade to the latest version of WordPress!
Due to this, it’s important to take certain things into consideration when choosing a plugin, and if keep these in mind you’ll probably find that your selected plugins get updated with the new WP releases and are regularly improved. There’s lots of factors that you need to consider when choosing a plugin. Below are some of the major things to think about:
How times has this plugin been downloaded?
Check the stats tab on the plugin page (or see the downloads number when searching through plugin lists). This is important because popular plugins are more likely to be maintained and updated by the author if it’s popular. Do remember to look and see if the plugin is new, as quality plugins are created regularly and that may explain lower download numbers.
How many ratings does it have?
Ratings lower than 4 need to be examined carefully, as there might be something wrong with the plugin. Keep in mind that some plugins may be very good but a disgruntled and impatient user may have given it a bad rating and lowered the average overall rating to give it the impression of being a terrible plugin. As a developer of plugins myself, I can sympathize with that! Don’t let a low number of ratings fool you though, usually a plugin has to be very popular to get many feedbacks.
What version of wordpress does it support?
If the plugin author doesn’t update the plugin for a long time, it will be outdated and might not work with the latest versions of wordpress. Generally, if a plugin works with version 2.8 onwards there is a high probability it works with the current versions of wordpress (3.0 at time of writing). Note that often a plugin works perfectly well on the latest version, but the author never updated the plugin details to reflect this (can be time consuming if you author many plugins).
When was it last updated?
If it’s not updated recently, it may be that the author won’t improve it further and in the long term it might not work anymore. If you see a plugin hasn’t been updated for over a year, you can probably assume that it’s not being maintained anymore and there’s a good chance it won’t continue working on WordPress for much longer (if it doesn’t already break your site). As I said previously though, plugins that work in 2.8 and up have a high chance of still working, especially the less complex ones.
What are people saying in the support forums?
On the plugin page you’ll see on the bottom of the right sidebar recent forum posts, if people have problems they might post a complaint there. Popular plugins may often have their own support forums too, so check there as well. It’s also good indicator if the author responds to the complaints and feedback, that means they’re listening and have interest in maintaining the plugin.
Does the plugin author have a dedicated plugin page?
If the plugin has a dedicated page on another website, there is usually a higher chance of the plugin being supported regularly by the author.
Has the author produced any other quality plugins?
This is especially important when you are considering a new plugin. If the author has other plugins that are popular and well received, chances are their new plugin will be of similar quality.
Keep in mind that a plugin isn’t necessarily bad if it doesn’t meet all these criteria, but from my experience, plugins that fulfill more of the criteria above have a higher chance of being a great plugin. However, that doesn’t mean that every plugin must meet these…. as I said, these plugins are provided for free by hard-working developers. I strive to maintain all my plugins, but it’s not uncommon for me to not update a plugin’s list of supported WP versions for example.