Plugins. They’re great. They’re useful. They save you from having to pay a developer to spend hours coding your site to contain all the functionality you need or want.
But plugins come with a dark side: they can interfere with other parts of your site. Sometimes they just make things look weird. Other times, they can break your site altogether.
So how do you make sure the plugin you’re considering is safe to install?
4 Signs of a Bad Plugin
1. Few downloads
On its own, the number of downloads doesn’t tell you how good a plugin is. But it’s a decent starting point: a plugin that has hundreds of thousands of downloads is much more likely to be a good choice than a plugin that has only a few hundred downloads.
Don’t rely on this as your only gauge, though. For example, a plugin that has 20,000 downloads is no more likely to be a good plugin than one that has 17,000 downloads. But if a plugin has very few downloads, that does give you more reason to be cautious.
Where can you find the number of downloads? Go to the plugins repository on the WordPress site and find the plugin you’re researching. There, you will be able to find all sorts of information about the plugin, including ratings, number of downloads, and quality of support.
Can’t find your plugin in the WordPress repository? That’s a red flag. Make sure you’ve spelled the name of the plugin correctly (for example, if you search for “Akismit” it will not bring back the plugin Akismet), but if you’re positive you’ve spelled it right and it’s just not showing up, it’s probably a very good idea to skip that particular plugin.
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2. Bad reviews
Once you’ve found the plugin in the WordPress repository, you’ll also be able to check out reviews that other users have written. Don’t just look at the number of stars that the plugin has earned. Look at the number of reviews, and take the time to read as many of them as possible.
A plugin with four stars after dozens of reviews is more likely to be reliable than a plugin with five stars, but only a handful of reviews.
Also, check to see if the developer has answered any bad reviews and fixed the issues mentioned. This is a very good sign.
3. Not current
Check out these stats in the plugin description (you’ll find them on the right hand side of the page):
Avoid adding plugins that aren’t compatible with the most current version of WordPress (or at least with the most recent major update, i.e. WordPress 3.5).
And for your website’s sake, please NEVER install a plugin that has this message hanging above it:
That means that the developers have probably abandoned the plugin. You won’t be getting any help if you have any issues.
4. Difficult to use
Many plugins are very simple to learn and use. Others…not so much.
While being difficult to use doesn’t necessarily make a plugin dangerous for your site, it may waste your time trying to figure it out. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are instructions or tutorial videos before installing the plugin.
You can also try typing “How to use ____” into Google to see if any other users have written tutorials or instructions.
Confident that the plugin is safe to install? Go ahead, install it!
Not sure? Have a tech-savvy friend who is familiar with WordPress.org take a second look.
Positive that the plugin is bad news? Then keep searching. There are thousands of plugins, and there’s a good chance there’s another one that is exactly what you need and won’t mess up your site.
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