Over my 10 plus years of working with WordPress I’ve probably had a good look at close to 1,000 plugins. While I love advising which plugins you must have, the truth is, what plugins you must have is a function of exactly what you need to accomplish with your site.
But over time I’ve learned what features make a plugin great no matter what it does.
Here’s a brief guide to help you understand just what makes a plugin super.
1. It Comes From A Trusted Source
You can get WordPress Plugins (and Themes) from anywhere but be careful.
Always use a trusted source. Any plugin you get from the WordPress Plugin Repository has been checked for malicious code, common bugs and security issues. This makes it a good bet that the plugin is safe to use.
Also, many trusted vendors, such as Envato Marketplace have similar plugins vetting processes that each plugin goes through before it can be sold.
2. Great Out Of the Box
No matter the plugin I love it when the default settings are just what I want or very close to it. A good plugin knows what the users want for default settings to save them time. If settings need to be made they are few and easy to do.
Also, if the plugin is complicated is there a setup wizard or an easy on boarding experience for a new user?
3. Support and Documentation
If the developer is actively engaged with making the plugin better, it stands to reason that the support and documentation will be excellent.
I’ve noticed that the most attentive developers are the ones that will respond to a question or an issue by email even if it’s a free plugin.
Most plugins – free or premium – have support forums either on wordpress.org or their site. How fast and helpful the response to your question will be is an important consideration.
I’ve also seen documentation that is poorly written for whatever reason. This recently was a factor in my not using a plugin that I’ve used before.
4. Export And Import Capabilities
This is one of my favorite and most important features of a good plugin. Is there an ability to export the settings of a plugin so that I can use it on another site?
Great plugins – like Gravity Forms, Yoast SEO, Redirection, and others – have this feature. For example, say I create a form with Gravity Forms and I’d like to use that form on another site. With an export/import feature it’s easy to transfer that form from one site to another without having to start from scratch.
What a time saver!
What happens when you delete a plugin?
In most cases, if the plugin added tables to your database those tables will remain in place even when you delete the plugin. Should you decide to re-install the plugin the data stored in those tables will still be there.
But that’s not what you may want especially if you want to start over with the plugin.
I like the option to remove all tables from the database when I delete a plugin. While most plugin don’t work this way a few, such as Redirection, give you the option of removing the data tables created by the plugin when you delete the plugin.
Reversibility lets you start all over again as if you never had installed the plugin in the first place.
Plugins or third party services which add an interactive element to your site such as ….
- top bars (aka hello bars)
and others cry out for the need to track user activity. When choosing plugins or services like these make sure there is an analytics component so you can measure how users are using these types of UIs.
Note: this is frequently a premium feature but worth the expense. No sense in not knowing or just guessing what users are doing on your site.
7. Number Of Active Installations, Ratings, And Reviews
On every plugin page in the WordPress Plugin Repository (which has grown to 50,000 free plugins to download), you can see how many sites are using the plugin as well as how it is rated and reviewed.
I always check on how many sites are using the plugin. If it’s a new plugin or one that is a niche plugin, I won’t expect a large number of installs. On the other hand, if it is a utility plugin, such as a backup plugin, I’ll expect a very large number of installs.
As for ratings and reviews, I rarely pay attention to them. There is no way to know how legitimate or accurate that information is.
8. An Active Developer
You want a developer who is serious about his or her plugin. If there is a premium version of the plugin, you can almost be sure the developer is serious.
A good developer will be updating their plugin on a regular basis. It may be a pain keeping that plugin up-to-date, but it’s a surefire sign of a good developer. The updates may – or may not – include new features, but what they are almost certain to include are bug fixes, security patches, and updates to stay compatible with the latest version of WordPress. These are things you normally would not notice, but they will help keep your site safe and sound. More likely than not, they will make the plugin play nicely with your other p