Jul 21, 2012 by Marc Frechet
One of the things we do at mb/i is research WordPress functionality. We look for plugins that can be visually customized to match our designs, meet functionality specifications, and integrate smoothly with our other favored plugins and the current version of WordPress. While we can’t guarantee that a plugin you find would match our design process, you can use our research method to find a plugin that meets your own do it yourself specifications.
1) Define what you’re looking for
Some plugins, particularly low visibility ones like an SEO module, have a clear purpose and feature set which is dictated by their function. Others, such as an image gallery, have numerous considerations to take into account- where they will appear on a page, what methods they have for navigation, what sort of content they will present- which blend the borders between one plugin and the next. It’s best to have as specific a goal for the plugin as possible, so that those minor distinctions can be effectively used to narrow your choice.
2) Start with a Google search
While wordpress.org has its own search, it will present you with options based on plugin name rather than function. Not all developers match the two. Chances are that a Google search will turn up results from wordpress.org itself, as well as reviews and “top ten” lists.
Those lists are goldmines for our purposes- someone else has already gone through to figure out what works and why.
Any given list is only as trustworthy as its author, but by looking at several of these lists you can usually get a good idea of the differences between one plugin and the next. Right away you can start weeding out those that won’t meet your purposes. By checking out a few different lists from your Google search you should be able to identify the individual biases of the authors, which may suggest some additional cuts. In addition, it gives you the chance to see which plugins are recommended by multiple authors.
4) Check dates and version
Maybe you found an excellent list of the Top Ten SEO Plugins, but when was it compiled?
On more than one occasion I’ve come across a seemingly invaluable resource, only to discover that it was written years before. Are the plugins described compatible with the most recent release of WordPress? Are they still supported by their authors?
At this point, you should go to the wordpress.org website with a specific plugin in mind to investigate. When you’ve found it, look at the statistics column on the right.
- Is the plugin compatible with your version of WordPress?
- Is the plugin’s support forum active?
- Is the author involved in answering questions and resolving issues?
Answering these questions will give you a good indication of whether the plugin still works or not. And while you’re poking around the support forums, do you see any serious issues or complaints being discussed, and if so, are they relevant to you?
Even if the plugin appears to be abandoned, the support forum is also a good place to see if people have discussed alternatives you can check out.
5) Get a second opinion
If you’re still not 100% sold, head back to Google. Put in the name of the specific plugin you’re considering, and see what comes up. If it’s a widely used plugin, you’ll probably find several discussions, tutorials, or examples- all great stuff to help you decide. If it’s a smaller or seldom used one, you may find discussions about different, more widely used plugins that serve a similar purpose.
More widely used isn’t always better, (especially for plugins that fill a very specific niche role) but finding where the plugin you’re interested in fits into the discussion can help you understand the differences between them, and might lead you to discover even more alternatives.
6) Give it a whirl
At some point, you’ll have done all the research that you can usefully do, and it’s time to download the plugin and give it a shot. If it works out- great! You’re done! If it doesn’t, no worries, you should have come across a few alternatives during your search, move on to your second choice, make sure it’s still active (step 4), and give it a whirl.
A good plugin will fit right in and update along with WordPress. A bad one, well at least you caught it now - and not when you have to choose between your new functionality and a critical security update.