I was recently looking for a plugin to display related posts with thumbnails at the end of each post. There are several plugins to do this and I wanted to choose the best one. An average WordPress user reads the description and quickly installs a plugin to see if it works for them or not. Many WordPress users are often spending a lot of time trying new plugins, uninstalling old ones, upgrading or troubleshooting plugins. This is not an ideal situation; the purpose of these plugins is to make things easier so that website owners can concentrate on publishing great content.
So, how do you spend less time troubleshooting plugins? The most wonderful thing about an open source development environment is that it puts responsibility not only on developers but also on users by providing them choices to make smart decisions. In this post we will discuss these choices to find out how we can choose better plugins.
1.1. Read Description of the plugin
Most plugin authors try their best to describe what the plugin does on the very first page. Sometimes if you are looking at a plugin that does something similar to many other plugins, the plugin author would let you know how their plugin is different or better than other plugins. For example, I was looking for “Related Posts” plugin that displayed relevant posts with thumbnails so I sorted out the plugins that matched the thumbnail part.
1.2. Check out FAQs and Other Notes
A lot of plugins have a FAQs page that answers most common questions. Instead of trying a plugin to see if it does something or not you should check out FAQs first. There is a very good chance that author would have answered your question there. The “Other notes” tab on the plugin page is another place where you can find out about known issues, patches, quick fixes, incompatibilities, etc.
1.3. Don’t Forget to Check the Installation Page
WordPress has made it very simple to install a plugin directly from your own website’s admin interface. However, this simple installation does not work for all plugins. Some plugins may need you to place some files in directories other than wp-content/plugins. For example, WordPress-mobile-Edition plugin comes with a theme to be used for mobile users, this theme needs to be placed in wp-content/themes directory and you have to do it manually. Checking the installation page can save you time and trouble.
2. The Right Sidebar on Plugin Page
The right sidebar on WordPress.Org’s Plugin Download page contains a lot of useful information. No matter how tempting the red “Download” button looks, take a moment and glance down to learn more about the plugin you are about to install on your website.
Things that you should look for in the sidebar are:
2.1. Check the date this plugin was Last Updated and Changelog
This will tell you when the plugin was last updated and the changelog will give you an idea of how frequently this plugin gets updated. More regular activity means that the plugin has active author or contributors behind it and it is likely to be around for a longer period of time.
2.2. Look for Plugin Reviews, Questions, and Complaints on Forums
Forums are a great place to quickly find what other people are talking about a plugin. But don’t get confused with the forum posts. Obviously, people come to post on forums mostly when they have a problem and this does not mean that plugin wouldn’t work for you. However, it will give you an idea about how active the plugin author or contributors are on answering questions about common issues people face while using that plugin. You may also find plugin reviews on many other websites, including wplift. Check out our review of 20 Free and Premium Review Plugins for WordPress.
2.3. The Plugin or Plugin Author Website
Many plugin developers write extensive support articles about their plugins on their own websites. It is good to know that the plugin author is actively providing free support and advice somewhere. In the comments section of these support articles you can see other users asking questions and plugin author answering them. You will also learn more about plugin author, their other contributions to the WordPress community and some quick tips to use the plugin more efficiently.
3. Check the Implementation of the Plugin on Other Websites
Many plugin authors would show you some examples of integration of their plugins on their own websites,or with images in the screenshots tab, or they might point you to places where you can see the plugin in action. Plugins such as Digg Digg, come with many options to configure the implementation of the plugin on your website. You can download the plugin and figure out the best implementation by trying it live. But in my opinion it is best if you try these options on a dummy installation. Plugins such as Digg Digg, Simple Facebook Connect, and many others affect the visual appearance of your site. Seeing them live on some websites will make it quicker for you to figure out how you would like them to appear on your website.
4. Testing the Plugin for Appearance, Compatibility and Troubleshooting
I have a dummy installation of WordPress on my own computer. Before trying out a plugin on live websites, I prefer to test them first on the dummy installation. See how you can install WordPress on your PC using XAMPP. This gives me an opportunity to explore the plugin, see how it could be implemented and integrated on my website, troubleshoot problems and understand the functionality. Each WordPress website is different than other and has different requirements. A plugin may not work well with your website’s theme, your cache plugin, mobile plugins, and conflict with other plugins or your web hosting environment. There is a good chance that these problems were faced by other plugin users and you will find easy solutions to solve them on the plugin forums. If you don’t, then you have probably discovered a bug and you can notify the plugin author about this issue.
5. Please Consider Giving Back to Plugin Authors
Plugin authors are people like us with jobs and responsibilities of their own. They take precious time out of their busy lives to write down this piece of code that solves a problem and provides a solution to thousands of WordPress users around the world. Their contribution makes WordPress easier for many people.
There are many ways that you can appreciate, help and give back to these plugin authors.
- If there is a premium version of the plugin available, please consider subscribing it.
- Make a donation.
- Write a Review of the plugin on your website.
- Rate the plugin on WordPress Plugin Repository.
- Recommend it to other people.
- Say thank you to the plugin author by sending them a message, or leaving comment on their website.
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