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First published in September 2015, this article is recently revised and re-published in October 2016. It is updated with my further-matured point of view and experience of the WordPress plugins.
When I started blogging with WordPress, it only took me a few months to establish that it is important to research, select and invest in well-coded plugins for your blog.
2 years on.
I firmly stand by this statement and believe in it even more than before. However, in my early days, I was not in a position to explain what strategy one should adopt to maximise the benefit of WordPress plugins.
Today, the circumstances are different.
Although I am not a coder or a programmer, in my 2 years of WordPress use, I have explored several plugins as a common user and have my own opinion about them.
“There is no doubt that having a robust set of plugins which is well integrated with your theme and blog functioning is paramount. Good bloggers take this task seriously and I suggest you to do the same.”
Building a solid foundation for your blog (and brand) on quality plugins is a strategic decision that I want you to consider and implement in the early days of your blogging. It does not happen overnight. You have to go through a process to develop this foundation for your blog which is based on solid plugins.
I am going to explain in this article a precise 7-step-approach to choose, test and integrate quality plugins in your blog to build a long term relationship with WordPress plugins. Don’t worry, with each step, I will include an example of a plugin that I personally use on this blog.
Remember, it is not a static goal to fix an ideal set of plugins.
It keeps on changing based on your individual circumstances. My requirements changed as well and I am sure you must have experienced similar situations yourself – installing and deleting a few plugins.
The key is to have a clear strategy in your mind to deal with the changing nature of your requirements with the help of a good collection of solid plugins.
Your ultimate aim should be to develop a set of “most preferred” plugins that you can trust and want to use in your blog. They are the crucial building blocks of your potential blogging skyscraper.
Choose them wisely.
Let us explore the 7 key steps.
1 – Ask Yourself, Do I Definitely Need a Plugin?
There are thousands of plugins available for WordPress users and it can be an overwhelming task to filter your way through tons of options.
Both free and paid.
Often, it is nice to have a plugin but there is no pressing requirement to have that plugin. If you are in this boat, resist your feeling to install and run a plugin straight away.
When your requirements are more mature and demanding, you will automatically start searching for a solution (plugin in this case) to satisfy the demands of your WordPress blog.
“Only go for a plugin if the feature it offers is something you definitely and desperately need. Moreover, this feature should not be achievable through your WordPress theme in an acceptable format.”
Don’t just install a WordPress plugin because it is nice to have and so many people are using it.
Sooner or later, too many plugins can give you some headache – not because of the quality of the plugins itself but as a result of the interaction between different plugins and their interaction with your WordPress theme.
If you are not a coder or expert WordPress developer, it is better to keep the number of plugins in control (more on that in a minute).
My Experience – Social Warfare Plugin for Social Sharing
To make social sharing easy on your blog posts is important in today’s blogging.
I wanted a robust, versatile and highly customisable solution that could offer me social sharing buttons at the bottom of every page on my blog. My theme (Avada) did not offer this option and I had a clear idea in my mind to find a plugin that meets my requirement.
I settled for Social Warfare Plugin for my blog. I am happy with my decision and intend to keep this plugin for foreseeable future.
Clarity in your requirement for a plugin will lead to a better and focused solution for you.
2 – Is Free Option Available?
I don’t like to spend money if something can be achieved to acceptable standard without opening the wallet.
If you need a plugin, this does not mean that you have to spend money to get a quality plugin. Many free plugins are well-coded and intuitively designed. Explore them first.
My first and only port of call is the free plugins repository on WordPress.Org.
At the time of writing this article, there are nearly 47,000 plugins available in this bank. I am not saying that all of them qualify for your attention but the point is that you can easily find some gems in this big collection of plugins.
You need to explore this bank carefully.
Secondly, many paid and premium plugins have their basic and lite versions available as “free” under this directory. An ideal place for beginners like me and you to start with a free quality plugin with an option to upgrade in the future. Yoast SEO plugin is a classic example in this case.
If I can find a plugin which is free to use, of acceptable quality and gives me results, I prefer it over a paid option. I am reluctant to go for a free plugin which seems shallow, half-baked and gives an impression that I will need to change it sooner or later.
My Experience – Table of Contents Plus (TOC+) for Displaying Table of Contents
I wanted a simple but reliable and well coded “table of contents” plugin for my articles. I wanted to give my readers an option to navigate quickly between different headings.
I went for a free option – Table of Contents Plus by Michael Tran.
I can now install a simple and effective “table of content” anywhere on my website – did you notice one in the beginning of this article?
With over 90,000 active installs and an average rating of 4.7/5, it was a no-brainer for me to pick up something light and useful which costs nothing to your pocket.
If Mike decides to start charging for this plugin, I am happy to pay. Otherwise, if he stops supporting this plugin, it will not break my blog to switch this plugin off and search for an alternative at that time.
The key is not to get locked in.
Leave your options open while still utilising the best option available. It can be tricky but you will master this skill with time.
3 – When is the Time to Pay for a Plugin?
Problem is that not all the time free plugins are good enough.
Generally, more refined and more complex requirements demand premium and paid plugins. There are many places on the internet where premium plugins are available.
There are two main types of paid plugins.
- Subscription based where you pay monthly, yearly or based on your quota.
- One off charge.
In both cases, always look for “support” and “updates” clauses.
My ideal scenario is to pay one off for lifetime support and updates, however, this is not always possible. Depending on the quality, scope and service of the plugin, the price you pay is set accordingly by the plugin’s author or distributor.
My Experience – VaultPress for Hassle Free WordPress Backups
Things go wrong and for those days, you need to have an absolute peace of mind that you can recover your full blog using a reliable service.
VaultPress plugin is by the owners of WordPress – Automattic. With over 20,000 active installs and an average rating of 4.5/5, it ticked many boxes before I started paying for this service.
To date, I am well-happy with this plugin.
I know that I can manually backup my site and database using free techniques but when I compared all this work (of manual backing up) to a minimal payment of $5/month on their LITE plan, I fell for it straight away.
The key is don’t be afraid to spend money if you are getting an exceptional value with a huge amount of reliability and performance boost.
4 – Have You Researched Enough?
Whether it is the free or the paid option, research is the key.
I am not saying here to loose your sleep over choosing a plugin. There is plenty of evidence easily available on the internet.
For free plugins, WordPress’s own plugin store has a handy rating system which gives a good indication of the quality of a plugin along with user comments and feedback available as well.
For paid plugins, reviews, feedbacks and user opinions are generally available. Bloggers and WordPress users are usually helpful in providing advice if asked for. You can get a good feel about how well a specific plugin is performing in fellow blogger’s blog.
Talk to people. Ask questions. Send emails.
Seek real-life feedback before making a decision to buy a plugin. You want to make informed and better choices.
Aim for the “right first time”.
My Experience – Choosing Disqus Plugin/System for Blog Comments
There were a few options available to me when I started thinking about which commenting system I am going to use on my blog.
WordPress’s own, CommentLuv, LiveFyre or Disqus to name a few key ones.
It took me a few days to complete my research, analysis and review to come to a conclusion to go with Disqus commenting system (via plugin) for my blog. It was a mixed bag in terms of people’s opinion about Disqus. I had to make a decision based on my own personal circumstances and I am glad that I did my best.
I love this plugin and the Disqus setup overall.
I agree that it is a free service so I didn’t pay anything. But I still believe that big decisions like these should be carried out with a view to stick with them.
The key here is to make firm choices in the first place based on your smart research and analysis. Then if circumstances change and you have to change the boats, this is life. It happens, be ready for that too.
5 – Are You Trying to Make it Fit?
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
You install a plugin and you use it for a few days. It is possible that the plugin you have chosen is exactly as per your expectations and everything is fine. You have nailed it.
However, it is equally possible that the plugin you have chosen does not meet your expectations.
Don’t forget that the plugin author has not developed this software specifically for your website only. It is very likely that further amendments and tweaks are required to reach to an expected level of service. At the end of the day, your website or blog is unique and has its own environment in which this plugin has to work.
Understand the mechanism and the way it works. It is useful to know things like how this plugin interacts with your theme, other plugins and what effects does it have on your page speed and website loading etc.
Read help and documentation if available.
Go to support forum for the plugin if it exists and speak to the author or people who have already used it before.
There is a good chance that you will find your answer. A good tip here is that most of the reputable and well-coded plugins have their support and help pages where you can find plenty of information to work with.
A step further will be to start tweaking the actual plugin files using plugin editor function of your WordPress installation. I personally do not want to go into this territory as I am not a coder or developer however, with reliable help and support, this avenue can also be explored.
My Experience – TotalPoll Pro Plugin for blog feedback and polls
TotalPoll Pro is a plugin that I have chosen after a reasonable amount of research and comparison with other WordPress poll plugins. I bought it as a premium plugin from CodeCanyon market.
I started using it and it did not work as expected. There were a few options and settings which I was expecting in the plugin but failed to find in the end-product while working with this plugin.
I engaged with the plugin author and suggested the improvements which I believe will be useful for bloggers like me. Author has made some changes already and he promised to review the others before its next revision.
Plugin authors are generally keen to have feedback about their plugins. Good or bad, if you put your point forward in a logical way, there is a good possibility that you will get a positive response.
It is worth it. You not only make your blog more functional and attractive but you also contribute to the overall WordPress plugins ecosystem with your constructive feedback.
The key is to understand that you will not find a “plugin of your dreams” too often.
Have you ever worked with the plugin author to make it further refined and enhanced?
6 – Keep an Eye on Support and Updates
A good plugin has a backing of its developer.
It can be a single person (plugin author) or a team (company) behind a specific plugin.
I have more confidence in buying or getting plugins from the sources which have an established reputation for their support and updates.
Support is when you have any queries (genuine ones relating to the plugin), they are answered in a timely and professional manner. You will find that it is required regularly in your journey with the WordPress blogging.
Updates are when the author decides to make improvements in the existing plugin and make a new revision available to its users.
You as a plugin end-user need to keep these two factors in close monitoring for your blog. A plugin which is not updated for more than an year is worrying. Similarly, if you get no response to your genuine technical queries, you need to take this into account as well.
My Experience – Yuzo – Related Posts Plugin with Frequent Updates and Good Support
I use “Yuzo – Related Posts” plugin by iLen (free plugin) for showing related posts in my blog articles.
I love this plugin because of its speed and customisation options but there is another reason to like this plugin – its frequent updates and prompt support provided by the author.
The author has improved the plugin based on feedback received from its users and has been frequent in publishing the revisions. It gives me a peace of mind that I am using a plugin which is loved and taken care of by its author.
7 – Love it or Replace it
A good plugin is like a solid friendship. Once developed, it is difficult to break.
In your journey to find your perfect set of plugins, there will be many plugins which will come and go. However, there will always be a few which will stay and become a part of your website or blog’s design and function.
If you like a plugin and are satisfied with its performance and functioning, keep it.
Like it and use it to its maximum benefit. Spread the word about it and support it if you can. Supporting the development team (not just by money but with feedback and suggestions too) is something you should consider to play your part.
If you think that it is time to say good bye to a particular plugin, make that decision too if it is required and you have to.
Don’t compromise on the quality of the plugin as it will affect your blog at the end of the day. Seek for a better option and gradually transition to a different plugin.
In essence, your aim is to find a perfect set of “best available plugins” for your blog at a given time.
My Experience – I Have Used Over 150 Plugins to Date
And I only kept 21 of them.
The rest came, stayed for a while and went away.
While most of them were free, I am not hesitant to tell you that I have decided not to use a few paid plugins as well.
Formidable Pro is a famous WordPress forms plugin which I bought to use on my website. Unfortunately, it clashed with my other plugins and slowed me down significantly. All attempts were in vein to rectify the issue and I eventually decided to stop using it (the plugin itself might be fine, it just did not click in my environment)
uSquare, FormCraft, MailChimp Social WordPress, EventON and Contact Form Slider are a few other examples where I spent money to buy these plugins but decided not to use them eventually. Again, they are all good plugins, just didn’t fit in my world.
There is a possibility to use any or all of these again in future but at the time of writing this article, they are gathering dust. Don’t get me wrong, I repeat, they are not bad plugins at all, it is just they did not fit in my circumstances.
Wrap up – How to Choose WordPress Plugins?
Many plugins will come and go in your journey.
You will frequently find yourself in a situation where a plugin which looked absolutely perfect a month ago is now losing its shine and you are having your eyes on a different plugin to replace it.
This is normal.
As our circumstances and blog change, our plugin requirements change too.
“The key is to have a robust strategy in place which gives you a peace of mind that your current set of plugins is the best possible option in your current scenario.”
Plugins are important, don’t take them lightly.
Some of them are so important that they can severely cause disturbance in your blogging life if they are not properly managed. Something, which as a busy blogger, you are certainly not looking forward to.
Share your thoughts and experience regarding plugins if you have any.
Is there any significant point that I have missed and you would like to highlight?
On REASONTOUSE, if your comment is relevant and adds value for the readers, it will be included in the main text of the article with an appropriate link to your website, article or contact page.