Sundell Solutions

Website Design ▪︎ Maintenance ▪︎ SEO

There are over 58,900 plugins in the WordPress repository – and those are only the FREE plugins available!  Since there isn’t a central repository for paid plugins, it is impossible to know how many premium plugins there are.  

Choice and options are great; it is one of the reasons I use WordPress over another platform, but with that can come frustration and hours of searching to find the right plugin.   

So, to help you navigate the process of choosing a plugin, l will take you through the steps that I use to find a plugin that will:

  • Solve your problem and do what you need
  • Be the best solution to fit your needs
  • Be a reliable plugin
  • But it won’t take you days of research to find

Step #1:  NEEDS vs WANTS

Figure out what you NEED the plugin to do for you and what you WANT it to do.

Why am I making a big deal about needs vs. wants? There are a few reasons:

#1 – You want to make sure that the plugin does what you need it to do and do it well

There are a lot of plugins out there that do multiple things – which you may or may not need but might not do a good job at what you need.  

Also, in some cases, the more items a plugin tries to accomplish, the more resources it takes, which might slow down your website.  

Finally, if a plugin has too many functions and is not maintained well, it might break – and then you have to start over and find a new plugin.

#2 – What are the features you NEED?  And what do you WANT?

I will use the example of a backup plugin.  Some of the features that are often available are:

  • Backup to choice of cloud storage
  • Download backups
  • Automatically save backups to multiple locations
  • Schedule backups
  • Choose how many backups to keep and automatically delete old backups
  • Migration feature – allow backups to be used to create a new website

In the “NEED” category, I have: 

  • Reliable backup – because I want backups to work
  • Schedule backups – because I don’t want to manually backup all of the websites that I maintain for clients
  • Ability to choose a backup location 

In the “WANT” category I have:

  • Automatically save backups to multiple locations
  • Choose how many backups to keep and automatically delete old backups
  • Migration feature – so that I can use a backup as a starting point for a new website

#3 – Next, decide on your budget for this feature

If you don’t have a specific amount in mind, another way to look at it is how important the feature is for your website and business.  For a critical part of your business, such as contact forms, you might consider a paid or premium plugin over a free version.

When looking at free plugins, remember you get what you pay for.   One critical thing to keep in mind when using a free plugin is how well will it be supported in the future?   

We all love free things, but on the other side, there is someone maintaining, improving, and keeping that plugin bug-free.  Many people in the WordPress community develop and maintain free plugins because they have a passion for what they do and want to give back to the WordPress community.  But, how long will they continue updating the plugin and working with it for free?   Hundreds of plugins are abandoned by their developer every year.  When this happens, you need to find a replacement before the functionality breaks, or it gets infected by a virus due to not being maintained.  

Another option to look at when considering free plugins are those that have a pro or paid version – these are often called “freemium” plugins.   These plugins will have a free version with a reduced set of features, and they will also offer an upgraded version for a one-time, monthly, or yearly price.  

We all use products that fall into this category but often don’t think about it.  A good example is Google.  Most of us do not pay for many of the Google products we use – Google search, docs, sheets, chrome.  But there are other products from Google that we do pay for:  Google business email, Google Ads, Nest home products, Pixel phones, and Fitbit watches.  We are all comfortable using Google’s free products because we know they have revenue coming in from other places and thus can continue to support the free products.

Freemium plugins are an excellent option because the free version is supported with revenue from the paid licenses.

Pro, or paid plugins might also be the way to go.  Sometimes the features you need are not available in a free plugin.  Also, paid plugins usually have better support and will respond to user questions and requests faster than a free tool  

So now that you know your needs, wants and price-point, we will add one more criteria to your search process …

#4. Looking for plugins that are reliable, work as advertised, and don’t have bugs or security issues

For this, I recommend using the WordPress plugin repository to compare different free and freemium plugins.  

For any plugin, the first thing I look at is the number of websites it is currently installed on compared with other similar plugins.   I don’t have a specific number that I look for, because it depends on if it is a general plugin that many websites would need, or a specialized plugin that only would be used by a small portion of sites.  Instead, I compare related plugins.  For example one might have over 100,000 active installations and another only has 200.  In that case, I will focus my attention on the one that is installed on more websites.  Why?  Not because it is a popularity contest, but because plugins with more users are often better tested, easier to use, and have more features.

Next, I make sure that the plugin has been maintained by looking at when it was last updated, what version of WordPress it works with, and that it is compatible with recent PHP versions.  All of this information lets you know if the plugin is actively maintained and updated by the developer.

If a plugin has not been tested with the last few versions fo WordPress, you will be warned when you click on the plugin for more information:

Next, I take a quick look at the reviews and support for the plugin I am considering using.  I look for :

  • what problems people have when using the plugin
  • if any features aren’t working
  • any other red flags.  

Read the reviews to get an overall picture and keep in mind that many reviews are written when someone is unhappy or having a problem, so look to see if their problem was solved.  Also, make sure to look at the date of the question or issue – older problems most likely have been fixed.  And finally, is the plugin developer responding to questions and problems?

Let’s take a look at an example

Let’s look at a common plugin – one that will redirect the visitor to a page if the URL no longer works.  If you have a link that points to a URL that no longer exists, or if the visitor types in a URL incorrectly, they will get a 404 error and be directed to a page with an error message.  There are a few options to fix this – for complex websites, you can create a page that helps visitors find the page they were looking for.  For simple sites it is sometimes enough just to re-direct the user back to the home page on the website.  There are many free plugins in the WordPress repository that will do this – so how would I choose which one to use?

  • Does it offer the features I need?
  • Is it up-to-date?
  • Look at reviews (but take with a grain of salt)
  • Look at support tickets

When I look at the plugins in the WordPress repository and use the above criteria, the two options that I choose from are:

I choose All 404 Redirect to Homepage & Broken Images Redirection – developed by wp-buy, when I want the website visitor to be directed to the homepage if they land on a page that doesn’t exist.

If I want to direct visitors to pages based on what they might be looking for, I will use the Redirection plugin developed by John Godley.

Compare and contrast the description and reviews of these two plugins with some of the other similar plugins available, and you will see a clear difference.

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