Choosing a WordPress Plugin
Here at Stratagem, we’re big fans of WordPress for many reasons. The developer-friendly ecosystem, the open source community, and especially the ready availability of thousands of plugins. 54,805 as of this writing! That’s just in the WordPress plugin repository! There are many more for-pay plugins as well! In this article, I’ll show you what to look for when choosing the right WordPress plugin.
Side note: What’s the difference between plugins in the WordPress repository and those outside of it? Well, the plugins in the repository are much easier to add from within your WordPress installation. You’ll have to upload plugins that aren’t in the repository yourself, but that’s not hard!
We’re big fans of keeping as much extra functionality in our themes and hand-crafted plugins as possible, but there are a slew of plugins that can do a lot more than we can hope to do for a smaller site. With well over 55,000 plugins available, how do you go about finding the one you’re looking for?
Yep. Google is your go-to solution for all web problems. It typically does a better job than the WordPress search, and it’ll find the ones which don’t live in the WordPress repository as well. The Contact Form is one of the most commonly requested features on client sites, with good reason. Without a way to convert a website visit into a contact, what’s the point of your site?
Let’s start with a basic search, “Wordpress plugin contact form” What do we get?
Holy clickbait Batman! We’ve got some research to do. The two that are actually WordPress plugin results are Contact Form 7, a long-time fan favorite, and Contact Form Builder, Contact Widget. That’s a really long and awkward name! Let’s take a look at these two:
The quickest way to weed out a sub-par plugin is to take a quick glace at the ratings. Here is Contact Form 7:
And here is Contact Form Builder:
Both of them are 4 1/2 stars. I typically try to avoid anything below 4 stars, however, if a plugin is providing functionality you can’t find elsewhere, click on the word “1 star” to find out the reasons for the bad reviews. Sometimes the plugins don’t provide what they claimed, but sometimes the plugin just works differently than expected. Negative reviews are not always indicative of a bad plugin.
WordPress plugins in the repository contain a lot of valuable information at the top right side of their page. Here is Contact Form 7:
I’ve highlighted in pink the main area I’m looking for on this page. And here is the same info for Contact Form Builder:
And here’s their info together:
|Information||Contact Form 7||Contact Form Builder|
|Last updated:||1 month ago||3 weeks ago|
|Active installations:||5+ million||10,000+|
|Requires WordPress Version:||4.8||3.4.0|
|Tested up to:||4.9.5||4.9.5|
|Languages||See all 46|
What does that tell us?
Well, for the version, I’m generally looking for a plugin that’s been around awhile. 5.0.1 definitely sounds better than 1.4.4., but 1.4.4 isn’t disqualifying…anything that’s above 1.0.0 is worth looking at closer.
We want to make sure that the plugin has been updated regularly. WordPress is the most popular publishing platform on the web, and with great popularity comes great security risks. We want to make sure that our plugin hasn’t been abandoned, and that it doesn’t look like it will be. They’ve both been updated in the last month, which is great. You generally want to be more wary when a plugin hasn’t been updated in, for example, a year. There are exceptions…some plugins barely interact with any of the new functionalities that WordPress have introduced, so they haven’t needed to be updated. Without further information, though, more updated is better.
For the WordPress Version, you’ll want to make sure that your current WordPress version is supported. (You are keeping your WordPress install up-to-date aren’t you? Definitely, do that!) Both of these are tested up to the most recent version of WordPress (4.9.5 as of this writing). The fact that Contact Form Builder works with older versions of WordPress tells me that it may not take advantage of some of the newer functionality, but should work fine.
You’ll notice I skipped one row. Active Installations. Contact Form 7 is an absolute monster here. Over 5 million installs vs. 10,000 for Contact Form Builder. This is enough to push me into the Contact Form 7 camp for a few reasons.
5 million installs mean that there are a lot of security companies looking at the security of that plugin.
If security issues are found, they will most likely be patched quickly due to pressure from the 5 million strong user-base
If 5 million people are using it, there’s probably a good reason!
Next, make sure to check out the Support for the plugin. You can get an idea of how responsive the developers are, how many things are going wrong, and a general idea of the community’s opinion of the plugin.
Contact Form 7 has a lot more activity due to the higher user base. This means that the developers have more work to do, but also they have more help from their user base. Neither support forum concerns me.
At this point, I’m firmly in the Contact Form 7 camp. I’m reassured that the large installation base will be helpful, that the plugin is supported, and that the plugin won’t drop off the face of the web.
As I’m in charge of a few hundred WordPress sites, I want to make doubly sure that I’m choosing correctly. So, let’s google Contact Form 7 Security. That does take me to a JetPack page called, “Is Contact Form 7 Safe?” I’m a little concerned that there are insecure versions in the past, but, again, the developers seem to keep everything up to date. So, at this point, I would choose Contact Form 7.
You actually made it this far? Congratulations!
From this article, I hope that you take the general philosophy of choosing a plugin. The goal here was not to show the best Contact Form plugin, but the process I go through to evaluate plugins.
In a real-world scenario, I would have read several of those “Top X WordPress Contact Form Plugin” pages, and done more searching on my own. For the free plugins, I would have installed them on a development version of WordPress to see how the plugin interacts with my theme.
After having done that, and because many of my sites require many forms, not just a contact form, I actually use Gravity Forms which wasn’t even on the first page of Google. It turns out because Gravity Forms does so many other things, it’s overkill for a contact form, but great if you need more customized forms that interact with other technologies.
That being said, if you just need a simple contact form, Contact Form 7 is the way to go! If you’d like more information, please Contact Us!