A kind of simple way to find the best plugin using only the WordPress.org Directory.
Have you ever been asked or wondered, “What is the best free WordPress plugin for (name the purpose)” ? I often go looking for one to make a site load faster, for one of many other reasons a plugin might improve a site. Need to solve a problem or improve something about your WordPress Site? How to find the best plugin for this? In this post, I am going to show a simple way. It requires no coding experience.
What do we mean by “best”?
1. Best construction?
2. Best support?
3. Least likely to slow down a site?
4. Updated to keep up with WordPress security updates?
“Best”, like “love”, can have many meanings. We should be careful when we read or use it.
How do we determine what the best plugin is?
I wondered how can I present my take on what are the best free plugins? I thought, what about Group Decision-making? The WordPress.org Directory has a ton of various kinds of data on the free plugins. As a student of experimental design, this was intriguing. Could I find criteria here that would allow me to find the best free WordPress plugins? I could then also use these criteria when trying to decide amongst other plugins. For example, when looking for plugins to improve security, website performance, or photo galleries.
Also, are there also shortcomings? Are there criteria I’d like to use that aren’t in that data?
Here are the criteria I’d like to use:
1. The plugin is well made
2. It is popular.
3. It is secure
4. Its users approve of it.
5. It has good support…well, “good” is one of those words like “best.” How about support that responds to issues?
6. It is fast loading or at it least doesn’t cause site pages load slower?
Let’s see. Here are the obvious data clusters in the directory:
1. Is the plugin well made? Being in the directory selects for this.
2. Popular? Yes, one million downloads seem popular enough.
3. Approved by the users? One million users could hate it. Ah, the star ratings measure this.
4. Decent support? It is hard to find support for free software, yet it’s important. Since the WordPress forums are the support for most free software, we can look there. What is the ratio of unanswered to answered issues in the past 2 months?
5. Is the plugin secure? Is it actively updated to keep pace with core and other security updates? The measure: was it updated in the past 3 months?
The missing criteria.
The criteria not found which I find useful when page load times are important is “fast loading”. Use this when trying to decide among two or three finalists. I use P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) for this. It’s perfect to see which plugins are slowing down my sites. I also run it on my sites when there have been switching in or out of plugins or, over time, upgrades.
Here are the criteria I used for this post.
The cutoffs are, of course, are arbitrary. I used them here to limit the number of plugins.
1. 1+ million Installs.
2. Ratings greater than 4.0.
3. Updated within the last 3 months.
4. Tech support ratio.
A word about the tech support ratio:
In the main page of a plugin’s sidebar (see image), there’s a support summary. It has something like this for W3Total Cache today: “16 of 267 support threads in the last two months have been marked resolved.” In this case, 16 divided by 267 = 0.059. Move two decimal places or multiply by 100 = 5.9 or 6%. I’m rounding these as I’m only interesting in comparing with other plugins.
Here are the criteria with their cutoff level:
1. It is in the WordPres.org Directory.
2. It has 1+ million Installs.
3. It was updated within the past 3 months.
4. It has an average rating of 4.0 or better.
5. The tech Support ratio can be used as a deciding factor.
The process: I used the first three criteria as screening. The plugin is in the directory, it has 1+ million installs, and is recently updated. I then sorted first by rating, then within that, by tech support ratio. I could have as easily sorted for the tech support ratio and then by rating. What would you do?
I set up a spreadsheet for quick viewing and sorting (see below).
And the winners are…
The spreadsheet has them in order of the criteria. The last three (in red) failed slightly. Each’s shortcoming is also in red. If the criteria were shifted a little each of them would pass.
This list of mixed plugins is useful only to show a way to test the plugins. It might be interesting which plugins make the list. However, it’s doubtful anyone would need to decide amongst these plugins. Except for the cache plugins, they serve different purposes.
Yet you might want to decide the best free WordPress plugin for a specific purpose. Then you could run the group of plugins that come up in a search of the directory through a similar set of criteria. You would, of course, need to adjust downloads somewhere south of 1 million.
Often, you could mentally compare installs, update recency, ratings and tech support without resorting to using a spreadsheet. Having a set of criteria with a clear rationale helps me feel more confident that I am choosing the best plugin for the purpose.
How do you use the WordPress.org Directory to help you decide the best free plugin to use?