3 Helpful Rules in Choosing WordPress Plugins

{Note: This articles pertains to installing plugins on private WordPress installations, not WordPress.Com}

W-gearI’ve always said there might be a thousand WordPress plugins for something you need to do … and they’re almost all cr@p. The main benefit of WordPress, being open source, is that anyone can make a plugin. The main problem is that anyone can make a plugin.

A simple search will yield a list of possibilities, some relevant to your particular need, many not. Some you won’t know for sure until/unless you can translate the description and other details from Russian. And whether or not it will do what you need it to do — without loosing your hair or mind making it work — is yet another story.

We’ve successfully implemented dozens and dozens of now tried and true solutions, often involving hours of research and testing. Our process has been fine-tuned to a few simple rules. So how does Kentropolis choose plugins for our clients?

Rule #1 – Take Advantage of WordPress.Org

First, we use the repository at WordPress.Org almost exclusively. These plugins (and themes), have been reasonably vetted to not contain malicious code. More importantly, they are rated by users to determine quality and compatibility.

The limitation is that they only list free plugins — sort of. Many of these plugins have premium versions with more features (and support). A few are not free at all after you install them, and some require subscribing to some service for them to actually work.

But what of paid plugins? In developing over a hundred WordPress sites in the last few years, we’ve never needed one, even for very complicated needs. The breadth of free plugins available is astounding if you are willing to take the time to search and test. Yes, most are cr@p, but if you can think of any possible functionality, there’s a good chance there’s at least ONE plugin that will do the job.

{There’s a lot to be said for paid plugins, however, but that could be left for another article.}

"[A]nything you can imagine"? Well ... actually, yes.

“[A]nything you can imagine”? Well … actually, yes.

Rule #2 – Analyze Ratings

If you search plugins from a WordPress dashboard, you’ll see a number of stars. If you place your cursor over these stars (in most browsers), it will tell you how many people rated it. This is important because if only a few people rated it, it’s not a wide enough sample to get an accurate idea. If it’s five stars and only a couple people rating it, there’s a good chance it’s the developer and their friends doing all the voting. Could a new plugin barely rated or not rated be the one for you? Sure, but the advantage of looking for one rated by many people is tried-ad-true use. Unless you have no deadline and nothing better to do, why be a BETA tester?


So it’s not only about stars. I’d rather take a four-star rated by many people than a 5-star rated by a few. On the other hand, I’ll only try a plugin with a three-star rating (rarely less) if there are few alternatives.

ratingsBut what else can we know? If you click “details” in the search results under a particular plugin, it will give you additional information, such as the number of downloads, what minimum WordPress version it requires (or more accurately, what version it was designed for), and up to what version it is compatible.

To find even MORE information, “WordPress.org Plugin Page »” and it will take you to much of the same information, but a lot of extras.

Once you’re there, the rating curve off to the right gives further insight into user experience with the plugin. A few on the bottom end are to be expected — not everyone likes everything, no matter how good it is. Also, a million things can go wrong when it comes to software, and it may have nothing to do with the plugin. Incompatibility with other plugins, the version combination, even the web host’s server environment can cause a plugin to not be able to do its job.

“Last Updated” also gives you a hint if the plugin is actively being improves and bugs being fixed. But the proof in the pudding would be to see how the plugin’s author responds to tech support requests. Oh, wait, there’s a link for that!

Rule #3 – Look at the Support Forum

support-compatibility-worksToward the bottom right of the page, under the rating curve and list of the plugin’s developer authors, you’ll find sections titled “Support” and “Compatibility”.

Not all developers use WordPress.Org for their support forums, but the ones that do are visibly more accountable to the user community. Just keep in mind that being free plugins, these developers often cannot keep up on support requests all the time, indefinitely.

But once you click “View support forum”, you will have all he insight you need into the sort of problems other people are encountering. Any particular problem may not apply to you, but if you are looking for a specific feature, for example, and people are talking about wanting it to be added and the developer doesn’t respond or says it will be in the next version, there’s you’re answer. Even a quick glace of thread titles will tell you if some problems are particularly common, in which case you can decide if it’s something that would be a deal-killer or if it’s not important.

Under the compatibility section, you can select different combinations of WordPress and plugin versions. Ordinarily it lists the most recent version of each, which is what you should be using. Like ratings, remember that people reporting it doesn’t work could be their unique problem, but if most people say it doesn’t, it’s a good guess you’re ‘going to have a bad time’.


No quickly discernible factor will predict if a plugin will work for you, or even work at all. But using the above practices, we’ve found plenty of high-quality plugins that serve us and our clients well to provide all sorts of functionality.

Another thing I would add is if the plugin you choose turns into regret, no worries. Unless it’s a complicated plugin that messes with the database, plugins are meant to be installed and uninstalled without consequence, like changing the type of light-bulb you use in a lamp. Just don’t try more than one light-bulb at once for the same purpose — it can cause conflicts and you won’t know which one is or isn’t working.

Lastly, I encourage you to ‘pay it forward’ by creating an account on WordPress.Org (if you haven’t already) and rating plugins and reporting compatibility. Open Source works because of those who came before us and participate now. You can be one of those people, and in the process improve the world, one plugin choice at a time.