Building and maintaining websites is endlessly fascinating to me, because there are so many different routes to explore in terms of design and functionality. For the sake of narrowing down this topic (and because this blog post would be more like a collection otherwise), I’m going to share only things I’ve learned from a WordPress functionality standpoint. The tools in WordPress that allow for the extra stuff- online ticketing, robust form software, Instagram feed, and whatever else your heart may desire- are called Plugins. A plugin basically helps your WordPress site “do almost anything you can imagine.”
Pretty wild, right? Your website is capable of quite a bit thanks to plugins, but they can be a bit daunting. Oftentimes, if you have a specific task in mind- streaming your business Instagram account on the sidebar in your site, for instance- there are often several plugin options. Which one should you choose?
Finding a plugin doesn’t have to be an Indiana Jones-style ordeal. Here are some things you can look for:
1) Does it work with your theme? Different themes in WordPress play differently with plugins. BackUp Buddy works well on our site with its current theme, but if we were to switch to a new theme, it may not. The good news is that during your initial plugin search, you can actually see if the plugin is compatible:
Theme isn’t the only important thing your plugin needs to play well with- if you’re using an old version of WordPress but want to use a newly developed plugin, the two may not communicate. The good news is that updating your version of WordPress probably isn’t a bad idea and it’s pretty easy (just remember to back up your site first)!
2) Does it have documentation? There’s nothing worse than getting a tool that has vague or useless information on how to operate it. When you’re shopping for plugins, make sure before committing that there’s a healthy amount of helpful information. Below is a screenshot of what appears when you select a plugin, and in terms of documentation, “Screenshots” and “FAQ” are often the best places to gauge how well a plugin is documented.
Screenshots show you what the plugin looks like in action-using real screenshots, they take you through operating the plugin (usually setup, troubleshooting, general how-to).
Checking out the documentation of a plugin before committing to it is a great way to assess the level of support available. People/companies who have taken the time to write up and share information about their product are more likely to care about customer service and a job well done. Ideally with a higher level of documentation, you’ll be able to install and solve any problems on your own, but if the developers are willing to document extensively, they’re likely willing to answer any additional questions you have along the way.
3) Does it have good reviews? Reviews are also good to look at- but some are best taken with a grain of salt. I like to look at the reviews to see if there’s consistent feedback, like “X works well if this setting is Y” or “Great support.” Every now and then, there’s an outlier review that doesn’t match up with what the others are saying. These are the reviews to be wary of- one time I saw a review that said something along the lines of “This plugin is the worst thing to have ever existed, doesn’t work” when all the other reviews said things like “Easy to use,” “Excellent support.” One of these things is not like the other…
When you’re looking for your next WordPress plugin, don’t just download the first one you see. It only takes 5 minutes to do a quick scan for compatibility, support, and reviews, and boom- you’ve got your dream plugin.