How to Write a Good Review with Three Examples

Last Saturday was the first “Rate and Review a WordPress Plugin” day as set by the WP Tavern blog. Rating and reviewing plugins (you have to do both on is a valuable resource both for the plugin developer that can learn what users think of the plugin and for users considering using that plugin themselves. I missed doing any on Saturday but thought it was a good idea so carved out a bit of time today to rate three plugins I use on almost every site.

Good reviews are hard to come by, and so I also wanted to show what I think a good review is. In my mind, a good review should not just say whether you “like” a plugin but how it does and doesn’t meet your expectations. Think of a review as part of a collaboration with the plugin developer and plugin user community and write so that both will benefit from the time you take to write a review.

If you don’t use WordPress or don’t feel comfortable reviewing WordPress plugins (or themes), think about other things you could give feedback on. It is always appreciated so long as its constructive and there’s lots of other forums for reviews, like Yelp. As both a plugin user and a plugin developer, I’ve been on both sides of reviews and great appreciate the feedback I’ve received on my plugins.

So here are three fresh plugin reviews. If you don’t have a bunch of time, just read one (the second one’s pretty darn long!) to get a feel for what I think should go in a substantive review.

WordPress SEO: “Superb if you know what you’re doing” — 4/5 Stars

WordPress SEO is one of my “must have” plugins for just about every site I build. It’s built by an extremely well-respected WordPress development team and has had consistent updates for as long as I can remember.

I particularly love the title rewrite, social meta, and XML site map features. It takes care of a lot of the technical SEO practices that I’ve worked hard to understand and use properly but would take forever to implement myself. The new-ish bulk editor feature looks really nice though I’ve never actually found a time to use it.

I give this rating only 4 stars because I do find that the interface is a little too aggressive for my tastes in adding a very large extra box of fields on all post editing pages (and others) and adding extra columns to the All Posts/All Pages admin pages. Those features are all very useful when needed, but I find they often distract my clients rather than help them better understand their site’s SEO and content. Making this plugin a little more “opt-in” than “opt-out” in terms of admin features would bring this rating up to 5 stars.

The Events Calendar: “Great at First; Tread Lightly When Customizing” — ~3.5 Stars

This is the best calendar plugin I know and it’s the one I use on all my projects. Calendar plugins are tough to do right and The Events Calendar does a lot of things right.

Major-point releases (e.g. 3.X) are almost always quickly followed by minor-point releases (e.g. 3.X.X) so I would recommend waiting a week or two before updating.

The general single event and events layouts are very attractive and they’ve done some great things with their responsive layouts. Creating a single event is really easy and for the most basic use-cases this plugin works perfectly straight out of the box.

I really like the saved Venue & Organizer features (and am glad they brought them from PRO to the free version), though I find that clients have a strangely hard time using them. A long time ago, I had suggested to the plugin developers that they provide an edit link for events or venues selected on single event pages so users understand its easy to edit. It sounded like that was going to happen, but it looks like that feature never made it in. I still think it would be a great idea.

The PRO version and paid (tickets, facebook import, user submitted events) and free [third-party] add-ons (I love the event category colors) really help make this plugin its own little WordPress ecosphere that feels quite vibrant and safe to bet on for the coming years. (Knock on wood.)

Starting at 5 stars and working backwards, a full star gets lost here for backwards compatibility and ease of modifications. The 2.X-to-3.X conversion required a lot of work on any sites that had template customizations. Particularly the widget template override file is really bloated and not that easy to work with. Even the recent change in 3.8 that dropped the /upcoming and /past URLs left some of my clients with 404 errors on their pages. Giving either a bigger heads up or taking care of adding redirects would have been nice. While there are certainly many different ways to use this plugin, sometimes I feel like the new versions aren’t poked and prodded quite enough. I’ve found issues in the past (since fixed) with things as simple as long titles or URLs. The plugin supports hAtom markup which is nice but the CSS styles applied to those classes frequently seems to interfere with my themes.

The final half star I would take off comes from things I attribute to the balance between a paid plugin and free plugin. Recent new versions hijack the first pageload following a plugin update to take you to a “What’s New” page. This is not appreciated and doesn’t feel like it offers me much helpful information since I always look at the changelog before updating. Also, while I appreciate the support that is offered in the forums, it often feels rushed and incomplete. The line between in-scope and out-of-scope support requests still baffles me a bit and often leaves me frustrated.

I rounded up to four because of their free-for-nonprofits PRO license which is very generous and has greatly helps some cash-strapped nonprofits I work for. It’s desperately in need of a real licensing/auto-update system, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

WP Help: “Works Great. Doesn’t Make Up For Training!” — 5 Stars

Don’t worry about the length of the first two. They don’t all have to be that long!

It’s easier to give simple plugins 5-star ratings but this is earned.

WP Help makes it really easy to put documentation into the admin in a place users can easily find it. It feels at home in WordPress and I find it helpful on any sites I build with complex features requiring documentation.

While certainly not the plugin’s fault, I would recommend that everyone using this make sure to “train” your users to use the documentation. Simply providing it is rarely enough to make people actually think to use it. Integrating it into trainings and referring to it during support interactions is key to getting the most from this plugin.

One feature I’d love to see added is the ability to generate Wikipedia-like in-page tables of contents based on heading structure. If I have the time to do that someday, maybe I’ll submit a patch.

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