Website owners are always looking for new ways to improve usability for their visitors. With WordPress being the most popular platform for hosting there has been lots of plugins with widget capabilities created for it. Determining which widget to use from a selection of dozens or even hundreds of similar widgets can be a daunting task. There are several ways to determine the quality of a WordPress widget both before and after installation. Here are some things to consider when evaluating which one to try first.
The first place to start is to review the official guidelines published by WordPress at https://wordpress.org/plugins/about/guidelines/. By reading this ahead of time, website owners will have a better idea of how compliant the programmer is during development.
Many search engines allow advanced queries to determine what others are saying about a specific plugin. Try a search where the widget author’s name is within double quotes and the search results limited to just the WordPress.org website. (i.e. “widgetauthorname” site:wordpress.org). Once the results appear, filter them to only show updates within the past year or the past month. This helps to determine the amount of activity surrounding a WordPress widget. Also, discussions about it and how the author is responding to feedback.
Every WordPress widget published on the official WordPress.org website contains tabs describing it. A quality WordPress widget will contain information under all tabs so users can make an informed decision.
DESCRIPTION: The description of a WordPress widget not only explains the benefits and features, but also example configurations. This includes any information about template files (if applicable) and what the various options do.
INSTALLATION: There is usually more than one way to install a WordPress widget. One method includes providing a zip file with instructions on how to uncompress it and copy files into specific directory folders. The more popular method of installing a plug-in is through the WordPress admin interface itself. The user logs into the WordPress admin account, clicks the plug-in menu, clicks the [Add New] button at the top, searches for the plug-in by name, and then clicks and [Install] button. In all cases, after it is installed the website owner needs to activate the plug-in to enable widget functionality.
FAQ: Frequently-Asked-Questions should contain at least one question and one answer, preferably more. This is especially true if the number of active installs is in the thousands. Chances are if there are that many people using this WordPress widget, the author has more than likely answered the same question more than once. Any question asked two or more times is considered a frequently asked question.
SCREENSHOTS: Snapshot images of the WordPress widget in use is a must to determine whether an author took care in designing the interface. Options should be clearly labeled and all input fields should have descriptive text nearby. This is true for both the back-end administration settings screen as well as the visual look and feel seen by website visitors. A quality WordPress widget will include many admin screenshots. Each with different settings enabled as well as what the public view looks like when using each of these settings.
CHANGELOG: The WordPress platform is regularly updated, sometimes many times per month. Authors of widgets need to make sure that their code is still compatible. A lengthy changelog is a good indication that the widget is still receiving support and into the future.
STATS: The main screen shows the total number of active installs and downloads. This area includes historic information displayed in a graphical format, including the number of downloads and trends. With the number of new WordPress widget created every month there is always going to be a better tool available to website owners. Reviewing download trends can help determine whether the author is staying current. If installations are trending downward it might suggest something better is available.
SUPPORT: The support area for a WordPress widget is a list of past issues that the author may or may not have handled. To determine how active the author is, take a look at support tickets having a freshness indicator within the past month or so. If those support tickets include replies by the author then a website owner can feel comfortable knowing that help is available.
REVIEW: Customer satisfaction rating for a WordPress widget is based on a five-star system. The score is an average, but individual reviews can be found at each star level. Be sure to review feedback submitted at the one in two star level to determine if those specific issues are applicable to the current version. If the posted date for low reviews are in the past, six months or older, and positive reviews are recent than the author probably already fixed those problems.
Even after selecting a potentially quality WordPress widget there is one more thing that must be done before installing it. The code that makes up a WordPress widget should be optimized to not slow down the display of a website. Before installing the widget, test the page loading speed with free tools such as MozBar (https://moz.com/tools/seo-toolbar) and Google’s PageSpeed Insights (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/).
Visitors of a website will click the back button or navigate away if it takes too long to load into their Internet browser. The page load speed for a website should be no more than five seconds, preferably less. Regardless of what the actual load speed is, write it down, and perform another speed test after installing the widget. If the page loading speed is significantly higher, the widget should be deactivated.
Just because a WordPress widget is popular doesn’t mean it is high quality. Be sure to keep in mind the official guidelines authors are required to follow when coding a new widget. Review all details under each of the widgets information tabs and perform a pre-installation as well as post-installation speed test. Leave feedback as this is the only way authors know what is broken and what needs to be fixed.
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