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What makes WordPress so great is that you can find a plugin to fulfill almost any functionality that you need. You don’t have to be an expert programmer to get the functionality that you need with WordPress. If you want an online calendar, there are plugins for that. If you want to run a social network like Facebook, there are plugins for that. Do you want to run an e-commerce website with a shopping cart? You guessed it. There are plugins for that. All of these types of plugins and more can be found in the WordPress repository.
You can search for the type of plugin by typing it in the search box.
In the screenshot above, you’ll see that there are 35,000+ plugins in the WordPress repository, and not all of them are great. Some plugins can cause other plugins to not work properly or do something even worse. The plugin can cause your website to crash. If this happens and you can no longer log into your WordPress admin panel, then you’ll have delete the plugin via a FTP connection or use your web hosting company’s file manager to restore your website.
It is best practice to back up your website prior to installing a new plugin that you’re not sure about. To show you how to choose a WordPress plugin, I’ll use the stats of a popular contact form plugin called Contact Form 7 as an example. Shown below is a screenshot of the plugins stats. Here is what you need to check before using a WordPress plugin:
- Plugin Ratings – This is the people’s opinion of the plugin on a scale of 1 to 5. With over 1 million active installs and a rating closer to five stars than four stars, this plugin is a hit. I look for a rating of four stars or more.
- Date of Last Update – The more recent the date, the better. WordPress core files are updated several times a year, so look for a plugin that has been updated about a month ago or sooner. If a plugin hasn’t been updated in five years, I wouldn’t install it.
- Number of Websites Using the Plugin – The higher the number, the better. This plugin has over 1 million active installs which means that it’s very popular. I look for plugins that have been installed at least 10,000 times unless I know the plugin author personally or if there are no other plugins of that type.
- Compatibility – You want to make sure that the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress that you are running. If the WordPress version number is lower than the version you are running, the plugin could still work. Just make sure that you have your website backed up before installing, so you can restore it.
- Level of Support – I don’t pay attention to this number that much, but I do click on the Support tab on the plugin page to see how recent the support requests are. I don’t have a problem with most WordPress plugins that I install, but if I do run into a problem, I want to know that someone can help me. I look for support requests that have been answered in the last day or two.
All of the guidelines I gave above have worked for me and are subjective. If you have any questions or if your guidelines are different, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.