WordPress plugins improve your website experience. They are software apps that integrate with your current site to add more functionality.
WordPress is an open source community and encourages anyone to modify and enhance their products. So, while some plugins cost to install, more than 39,000 plugins exist for free. You can upgrade your site with anything from a new countdown timer to a contact form.
Things to Keep in Mind When Using a Free WordPress Plugin
Before you start experimenting with all your options, here are five things to consider when using a free WordPress plugin:
Seeing is believing. When exploring plugins, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the process. You want the best software for your site and a user-friendly experience. To make things easier for you, start evaluating plugins based on their screenshots.
The plugin’s screenshots offer an inside look at what to expect. You can take a peek into how it looks to your visitors and how it will appear to you from the back end.
Unlike a plugin description, you can get a better understanding of the setup of the software and actually see the software’s features and how they will operate on your site.
Check out the example below. SecuPress, a free WordPress security plugin, provides users with multiple screenshots of its software. Every image shows different stages of the plugin, from first login to fixing an issue.
If the screenshots appear outdated, that’s a sign that the plugin rarely gets updated. Looking for these types of clues will help you decide if the plugin is right for you.
2. Updates & Compatibility
Security is an important issue for your website. Over the years, hacking has evolved and the last thing you need is a security breach.
Developers work hard to create plugins for the WordPress community. Some do it as a labor of love and offer these plugins for free.
However, because life happens, developers don’t always have the time or money to continue updating their plugins. And without regular updates, you could open your website to unknown vulnerabilities.
When assessing free plugins, your next step is to check for consistency in software updates. If WordPress makes a major update, the plugin also should have an update to ensure compatibility.
Incompatible plugins can stop other plugins from functioning and even crash your entire website. Updates are crucial to the success of a plugin. If none exist, take heed and continue to search for another plugin for your site.
3. Ratings & Reviews
In the past decade, online reviews and rating systems have become the a legitimate source for consumers to gauge a product or service. Nothing is different when it comes to deciding whether to install a free plugin or not.
Ratings and reviews give context to the user’s experience. You’ll understand if a plugin will be useful or cause you more harm than good.
Use the ratings as a guide to start your assessment. Read both 5-star reviews and 1-star reviews. That way, you get an honest outlook on the plugin’s functionality.
Detailed reviews are very effective and often will give you a clear perspective on the plugin.
When reading reviews, pay attention to common issues with the plugin. Does it work properly? Are there constant issues? What do users wish they could improve?
Take the time to carefully read plugin reviews. After installing a plugin, be sure to come back and leave your own review to help others in the community.
4. Test the Plugin on a Staging Site
You invest a lot of time into your website. So, when it launches (or re-launches), you want everything to be nearly perfect.
Because every plugin isn’t equally effective, you should test the plugin on a staging site before installing it to your website. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
You’d deploy the plugin in a secure environment and see how it would operate on your site. You can learn about what works or pinpoint any potential bugs. Reach out to a developer who can offer you some assistance.
If a staging site isn’t an option for you, you also can install the plugin during a slow period, like between midnight and 4am. Therefore, if a major problem occurs, less visitors witness the issue.
Moreover, plugins are notorious for slowing down website speeds. To avoid these woes, you should test your website before and after activating your plugin. Tools like Pingdom can help you assess how the plugin affects your site’s speed.
Testing gives you a chance to experience the plugin. Consider it a convenience to explore the functionality of the plugin.
5. Support Forums
Whether you’re buying a car or installing a plugin, customer support is key to ensuring you get the best from a product or service.
Due to the nature of free WordPress plugins, you’re not always guaranteed support. It’s a daunting task for a developer who just wanted to create a cool plugin.
Luckily, most plugins offer limited support on their official WordPress support forums. You can read answers and post your own questions.
Every developer isn’t a fan of responding to questions through forums. You may have to dig around to locate their email address to connect with them directly.
The image below is a support forum example for OneSignal, a web push notification plugin for WordPress. Green check marks indicate the issue was resolved.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Frequently Asked Questions section of the free plugin. You can find key information on setup and features.
Support forums hold a treasure trove of information about the plugin. Use it to your advantage and determine if you can get answers to your questions.
Assess Your Free WordPress Plugin Options
WordPress plugins expand your site’s functionality. With so many free plugins to choose from, you should assess them before installation. Look at the plugin’s reviews and support forums to help with your evaluation.
Shayla Price creates and promotes content. She lives at the intersection of digital marketing, technology, and social responsibility. Originally from Louisiana, Shayla champions access to remote work opportunities. Connect with her on Twitter at @shaylaprice.