Updated: January 2020
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Choosing a plugin would be easier if WordPress permitted a little more repository information. Author-generated advice is untrustworthy because it’s biased. Popularity (number of installs) is, also, a lame indicator. Newer plugins sometimes are better. We can’t search on freshness.
We seek indicators of credibility (which is composed of expertise, trustworthiness, and leadership). These findability cues are sometimes referred to as information scent. These things are inferred in the plugin repository – or are discovered by downloading. They include:
1. Download file size. This is a potential indicator of plugin efficiency. Not always but frequently. If we have alternatives, we recommend the smallest plugin package to avoid bloat. Why doesn’t WordPress just tell us file size before downloading or having to click? Editorializing download links is considered polite and good web etiquette.
2. Date of first approval or submission. Longevity in the market is an indicator of credibility. At present, we either must open the download package and examine the readme.txt for a change history – or figure it out in the repository by compatibility to the oldest version of WordPress. Like a reverse-lookup. Do we have to use Wikipedia? That still doesn’t really tell first-release date of the plugin.
3. Similar or newer plugins should be listed as linked options. Popularity doesn’t always mean “best.” It may just mean old or antiquated. Inference from similar plugins (if listed) helps cue us for plugin usage and adaptation (workarounds).
4. Does the plugin require a signup or registration? In other words, is it bait?
5. Does the plugin interrogate an offsite database or cloud information? This is an indicator of slower load times (page speed) and HTTP requests.
This information and more would make for better productivity using the repository. There isn’t enough information when making choices.
There are a few other things we’d love to see. But we’re being idealistic in our wish list. These include answering plugin questions such as:
- Does the plugin have hidden non-features? For example, some image optimization plugins have limitations of image-conversion quantity. The repository says nothing about it. Nor does the readme.txt file. You must install first to find this bugaboo out.
- Are there known incompatibilities or conflicts with other plugins or themes? Sometimes authors only reveal this in the readme.txt file. That wastes our time.
- Does 8 months since an update concern us? Not in the least. There are plugins that are 8-years old in the directory that work just fine. Those “best if used by ” freshness dates are silly. They throw people off with their arbitrary “expiration-date” warnings.
- Calculating retention rate is a better indicator of usefulness – rather than popularity (active installs). To determine ballpark retention rate: Take “active installation” from the plugin page. Let’s say it’s: 200,000. Then click on “advanced view.” And scroll down. Get the “All-time downloads:” Let’s use: 2,560,081. Do the math division. The result is 7.8 percent plugin retention rate. Less that 8 percent of the people who tried the plugin kept it. Not great.
Rule of Thumb: Below 10 percent is low retention. 10 to 25 is OK. 25 to 30 is good, and 50 percent is excellent.
Plugin quality can’t be judged by “last updated” any more than “active installs.” Retention is a better indicator than popularity or freshness. Perfectly good plugins appear artificially abandoned in the directory. Most don’t need updating EVER unless they break. They’re evergreen plugins. And should they break, they’re removed by WordPress. We use 8-year-old plugins without problems.
Age isn’t an indicator of low quality. Ask my wife. –Steve Teare
Plugins are backwards compatible. Until you install PHP7 or Gutenberg then they must be verified by the site owner. Gutenberg’s predicted to break 15 percent of all plugins (per Automattic core developer blogs). That includes paid plugins. They aren’t exempt.
This is one reason why it’s important to install “Disable Gutenberg” plugin today.
The plugins causing bigger problems are recently updated with bugs in them. They can unexpectedly nuke an entire site. Old “dormant” evergreen plugins are safer than “fresh” plugins that churn weekly – like some pagebuilder plugins and SEO plugins. This is historical fact. Those plugins cause problems for 100,000s of site owners. Do they recover? Of course.
There’s no such thing as a risk-free plugin or theme.
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