How to Choose the Right WordPress Plugin

A WordPress plugin is a wonderful tool. Plugins can add all sorts of functionality to your WordPress site, and they’re easy to install and manage.

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On the downside, sometimes plugins don’t play nicely together, hog server resources, or misbehave in other ways when they’re supposed to be working together.

First, A Word of Caution

Before you start installing plugins, think about what you really want them to do for you. Then think about each one, and whether you really need it. Because the fact is, the fewer plugins you install, the less likely you are to experience plugin-related issues and the less time you’ll need to spend on maintenance.

Choose Well Built Plugins

While you may not be able to avoid plugin conflicts completely, there are a few easy steps you can take to make sure the plugins you choose are solid. By that I mean that the programming is professional, they’re up to date, and the coding follows the guidelines for best practices.

How can you tell, though, if you’re not a programmer yourself? Sure, some people can look at thousands of lines of code and know whether it’s good or not. I’m not one of them.

The best way to find good plugins is to get recommendations from websites you trust. If that’s not an option, follow along here, and you’ll greatly improve your ability to choose good quality WordPress plugins for your site.

#1 Search for Plugins

Log into your WordPress dashboard, then click Plugins/Add New.

In the search box, type in one or two words describing the type of plugin you’re looking for. Today I’m looking for a new plugin to help me back up WordPress, so I’ll type in backup.

After a few seconds WordPress will show you a page like this.

how to choose the best WordPress plugins

At the top of each card, you’ll see the name of the plugin. To the right you can click the details or install now link.

The center of the card shows a description of the plugin, and its author.

Below that is the most important information:

  • The star rating (out of 5), and in parentheses, the number of ratings.
  • “Last Updated” date
  • A checkmark if it’s compatible with the version of WordPress on your site.

Let’s look at these important items.

#2 Star Rating and Other Details

This particular search yielded 879 plugins with the word backup in their title. Some of these I can dismiss right away — the one that only backs up images in your Flickr galleries, for example.

Others don’t have a high enough star rating.

Since I’m not a programmer, I won’t use a plugin that doesn’t have at least a four-star rating.

Here’s one which I’ve used in the past called WP-DB Manager. It has four and a half stars, so let’s look a little farther.

WP-DB Manager

Click the More Details link to see more information about the plugin. Here’s what the More Details screen looks like.

best WordPress plugins

Version Number

While the version number isn’t important by itself, you can get a sense of how much ongoing work has gone into the plugin. A version of 1.0 usually means it’s the first version. This one is 2.78.1, indicating it’s the second major version, and it’s had a large number of incremental updates.

Last Updated

This one was updated 6 days ago. That’s fairly recent, and corresponds with the most recent WordPress update, version 4.7.

If there had been a major WordPress update within the past couple of months without a corresponding update to the plugin, I’d be cautious.

WordPress Version

This tells you which version of WordPress it needs to run properly — in this case, version 4.0, and that it’s compatible with WordPress 4.7, the latest version.

Active Installs

Look for a high number of installs. 100,000 is a good number, and the higher the number, the better indication that many WordPress sites use and trust this plugin. This is a better metric than the number of downloads — this is the number of sites that are actually using the plugin. (Someone could download the plugin, then not install it, or remove it.)


WP-DB Manager has received its four-plus star rating from 72 individual ratings. Of these, 11 gave it only one star, but reading through those shows that those raters had problems setting it up (this is a plugin that requires some manual steps).

If a plugin is rated five stars but only 3 people have rated it, that’s a sign to be cautious.

Links to the Plugin Page

The details will include a list to the page for that plugin on the site, and often it also includes a link to the developer’s site. A quick peek shows that this author has developed a number of popular plugins.

Link to the Author Page

Additionally, you’ll see a list of contributors. That doesn’t refer to people who’ve donated, it’s simply a list of plugin authors. There may be one individual, or a large team. Click the link to see all the plugins this author(s) has listed with WordPress.

If an author shows several plugins, but they’re only installed on a handful of sites, proceed with caution.

Each author’s page will show how long (s)he’s been listed with WordPress, a brief bio, and links to several other pages. The activity link shows you the conversations in the support thread in the WordPress forums. This author is active in the forums almost daily.

If there are long activity gaps, make sure everything else checks out well before using that plugin.

#3 Before You Install a New WordPress Plugin

Even though this plugin looks like a safe bet, it could still clash with plugins I’ve already installed. So before I install it, I’m going to back up my WordPress site, just in case.

(Note: I’m using a backup plugin as an example here, because every WordPress site should have one. However, the best time to install a plugin for backups is early on, when you’re first installing WordPress and before you have a lot of content.)

Do you have questions about choosing a Plugin? I’m happy to answer them! 

This post was updated on May 1, 2019.

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