Many beginners find themselves awestruck by the thousands of plugins available for WordPress. With all the shiny five-star options, it’s easy to slip into the trap of installing too many plugins in an attempt to bolster your website’s functionality. It is absolutely critical to understand that each plugin you add represents another moving part, which makes your site more fragile, complex, and bloated.
As such, minimizing your plugin count is one of the best routes to a fast and stable site. With that necessary preface behind us, here are some warning signs you can check for to ensure that the plugins you do chose to install are the cream of the crop.
A Quick First Glance
When shopping for new themes and plugins, you’ll, of course, want to start by checking the theme or plugins reviews. Large amounts of positive ratings are a great sign but do not necessarily guarantee a theme or plugin is actually going to be great, especially for your unique needs.
While investigating, take a look at the changelog and make sure the theme or plugin is frequently updated. This is a great indication that the developers are quick to respond to issues and keep up with WordPress updates. If a plugin in the WordPress repository hasn’t been updated in two years, avoid it at all cost. Outdated plugins are one of the biggest threats to WordPress’s stability and security.
Look for plugins and themes that have recently had new features added. The themes and plugins that will give you the most bang for your buck are by developers that also regularly add new features, rather than just fixing bugs. If these first three qualifiers check out, take a deeper look at what the community has to say.
Listen To The Community
Reviews and comments not only serve the obvious purpose of seeing how the community rates the theme or plugin but allow you to learn about any specific downfalls from current users. A theme or plugin can be highly rated but still have broken or missing functionality that is mission critical for your individual needs.
While reading the comments, also pay attention to the responsiveness of the developer. It can be a frustrating experience to find a bug or issue with a theme or plugin only to find out the developer is slow to respond to such issues. This progress halting back and forth with a developer can drag out your development process.
Even worse, many themes or plugins may have great reviews early on but have since been completely abandoned by the developer leaving the community with unresolved issues. Comments and reviews are a great insight into the workings of a theme or plugin, but they won’t always tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes you’ll have to just learn for yourself.
Test It Like You Would Test A Car Or Risk Downloading A Lemon
Thankfully, most themes and plugins have live demos these days. Use them. Don’t give way to the exciting daydreams of what you can do with all of the fancy bells and whistles, but your due diligence and extensively test those demos. Use all of the demo’s functionality on multiple devices and browsers.
I have personally purchased a top selling theme with a nearly five-star rating that actually turned out to have broken mobile menus. My lack of thorough testing led to a waste of time and money. Learn from my pain.
While theme shopping, be sure to test the theme’s load times on Webpagetest, Pingdom, or one of the many other online performance testers. Many themes these days are sold as ‘do-it-all’ solutions and as a result, are unnecessarily bloated and slow. While a good host and some performance fine tuning can help, it’s best to set yourself up for success by purchasing a theme built for enterprise level performance.
In your search for a theme, be wary of proprietary page builders. This isn’t necessarily a no-go but understand that by using a theme with a proprietary page builder, a lot of your work and design will not be possible to carry over if you should decide to change themes. Universal page builders such as Visual Composer tend to be more flexible options because they don’t tie you to one theme. However, even those should be chosen with caution.
As for plugins, there are also entire groups of plugins which simply should not be purchased or used at all. Related post plugins are the most notable of these because they are extremely database intensive and will turtle your sites performance. Yes, I just used turtle as a verb. Overload Mysql and you’ll see there is no better way to explain your sites load times. There is an exception to this related post plugin rule, however. The plugin ‘Related posts by Zemanta’ offers related posts to your viewers in a way that doesn’t punish your database.
- Check for high ratings
- Be sure the theme or plugin has been recently updated
- Check the changelog for evidence of frequent updates and new features
- Test extensively to ensure mission critical functionality is intact on all devices
- Read comments and determine the responsiveness of the developers
- Test for objectively great performance
- Beware of proprietary page builders and related post plugins
Good luck in your theme and plugin search. Be discerning and it will pay off in peace of mind.
What are your plugin and theme hunting tips? Leave your answer in the comments below.