Vetting (n) – the process of carefully and critically examining something.
I’ve often heard WordPress “gurus” advising people to keep the number of plugins used on their sites to a minimum to avoid performance impacts and conflicts. As a recent article posted by WP Engine points out, it’s not the number of plugins that matters – it’s the quality of the plugins used. The article points out some technical criteria to look for in a plugin, and mentions a couple of well-known sites that each use over 80 plugins!
There’s some excellent advice in the article for troubleshooting site loading speed problems – these are almost always the result of a bloated theme, or poorly coded plugins.
How do you reduce the likelihood of conflicts or performance hits if you’re not a tech guru? Here’s a checklist of things you should do to make sure you’re using quality plugins (much of this advise also applies to themes):
- Do a keyword search on wordpress.org for plugins meeting your requirements. Select those that have an installed base in the thousands (exception: for highly specialized plugins you may have small installed bases). Be cautious with those that have only a few users, or a few hundred users.
- Avoid plugins that haven’t been updated in two years or more. Don’t use plugins that haven’t been updated since a recent WordPress core update; wait for the authors to update before using a plugin.
- Look for plugins that have been developed and are supported by more than a single developer. I’ve had to switch out plugins a number times in the past because the developer moved on to other things. This is less likely to happen if a company and team are involved.
- Be sure to read the reviews and support comments on wordpress.org; are there complaints about the quality of support, compatibility, problems not being addressed, etc.? You have to take these comments with a grain of salt, but a lot of comments can be a big red flag telling you to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for specific features, see if any of the reviews or support comments mention those features.
- Are the installation instructions clear and easy to understand? Are there any links to additional user guides or information? Be sure to take a look at them. The quality of the written instructions they provide is an indication of the quality of support you’re going to get if you decide to use the product.
- Look at the comments under star ratings – particularly the low ratings. Check the dates: sometimes problems with a particular release are solved in later releases.
- Go to your favorite search engine and look for reviews of the plugin outside wordpress.org. Also, look and see if there are review and/or usage videos for the plugin on Youtube. This will be a necessity for plugins that are not listed on wordpress.org (which you sometimes see with commercial plugins).
- Go to the plugin developers’ site and read their blog, forums, support pages, and examine whatever information they provide for the plugin. Do they seem to know what they’re doing, and is the quality of their documentation adequate? Or is their focus mostly on promoting themselves and selling their products? If they have a Youtube channel, watch one or two of their videos.
- Trust your gut – if something seems to good to be true, or it seems they’re pushing for sales rather than meeting their customers needs – go the other way.
- Try the plugin out on a test or staging site rather than installing on your live site. Look for any problems, things that look different, or slower loading of pages. If you’re a techie, check and see what it adds to the database – and after you uninstall it, whether it cleans up after itself.
- Keep a list of plugins you’ve vetted with comments – I use a spreadsheet for this. At least twice a year, check with the items on your list; if a plugin is not being supported any more, or circumstances have changed, research alternatives and replace it on your sites (and on your list) with a better alternative, using the process above.
No, it’s not easy – and it takes time to do all of this. But you’ll be rewarded with a better performing website that causes you fewer headaches in the long run.