Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

How to choose a WordPress plugin

How do you choose which WordPress plugin to install?  If you want to add some functionality to your WordPress site, that can usually be accomplished with a plugin. Here are some tips on choosing which plugin to install. 

The Problem:

I wanted to add Pixabay to one of my sites. Pixabay is a source of free images. You need to be careful with images on your sites due to the danger of running afoul of copyright trolls. These are scum sucking bottom feeders that make a living out of threatening or filing lawsuits for copyrighted images on your site.   A tool such as Pixabay, while not foolproof, gives you a level of protection.  

Finding a plugin

I knew from previous experience that the tool I wanted was Pixabay so I went to Add New Plugins and searched for Pixabay. I could have also searched for Free images. The WordPress plugin results is usually sorted well. Three likely candidates were in the first row. A quick scan of the rest of the page showed that these were probably the three best choices.

WordPress plugin choices
WordPress plugin choices

Another way to find plugins is to simply use your search engine to search for something such as “WordPress plugins free images”.  That should give you sites with relative reviews. You can then search for a particular plugin from the “Add New” option in your plugins.  That will show you the compatibility with your version of WordPress. 

You can also search via the WordPress Plugins page

Criteria

There is some critical information shown for each plugin:

Compatibility

This shows if the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress. I keep my WordPress version as up to date as possible. Incompatibility is not necessarily a deal killer but it is an important factor. There is a possibility that you recently updated WordPress and the plugin hasn’t caught up yet. Another possibility is that the nature of the plugin is simple enough that updates are less important.

It goes without saying that you should be keeping your WordPress installation updated to the latest stable version.

Last Updated

Last updated shows how long it has been since the last time the plugin was updated. Anything more than a year is probably a red flag. This is not an exact science as all the factors have to be considered. If a plugin hasn’t been updated for over a year and it is not compatible with your version of WordPress, that is probably a plugin to avoid.

Active Installations

The number of active installations gives you an idea of the popularity of a plugin. For example, Yoast, arguably the best SEO plugin, has over 5 million installations. SEO however is something that applies to almost all WordPress installations. The number of installations is relative. A more specialize plugin such as WP-Invoices only has 3000 installations.

More Details

If you click “More Details” you will get more information about the plugin. This will take you to a page with reviews, screenshots and some more details.

Reviews

Take a careful look here. Not all plugins are free. You are looking for indications that the free version is very limited. If so, then you need to determine if the paid version is worth the cost. Note that while the rating is important, you should view that in light of the number of reviews. In the case above, the five star rating was based on 2 users.

The other thing to look for are indications of problems with the app. I discarded my first choice after reading the following review.

WARNING: Do not use it
By genweb on October 26, 2019

I completely changed my mind about this plugin. I was recommending it and now I can say that it is DANGEROUS. It only works for post featured images. If you INSERT the image in the blog post, it will HOTLINK pixabay, and your photos will disappear from your post after a few days. Now I am updating hundreds of posts after all my images are gone. Why on hell would you hotlink pixabay? why you do not warn people about it? Thanks for making my weekend a pain.

I didn’t have the time to verify if this was true or not, but I moved on to my second choice. It is possible that the user was not using the plugin properly.

You should ALWAYS have current backups of your sites. There is a small possibility that the installation of a plugin could cause issues with your site.

Possible Pitfalls

There are a number of things that can cause problems if you pick the wrong plugin. A lot depends on the function of the plugin and how critical that functionality is to your site.

If a plugin is discontinued or compromised (that does happen), then you would need to find a replacement. Suppose you used a plugin to provide slideshows and had hundreds or even thousands of posts that used that plugin. If you had to remove it from your site due to compatibility or security issues, then you would be facing a huge workload.

Summary

Choosing the right plugins is important. However, it is not an exact science. You need to consider a number of factors. 

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