WordPress Relaunches Plugin Directory with New Design and Improved Search Algorithm

The new WordPress Plugin Directory went live today. Contributors have been working for the past year on rebuilding the directory with a new design and better capabilities for searching through the 45K+ available plugins.

The new landing page displays a search bar prominently at the top, followed by sections for featured plugins, popular plugins, and beta plugins.

The design changes to the individual plugin pages have received mixed feedback from members of Advanced WordPress Facebook. The screenshots slider and FAQ accordion UI are welcome improvements, but many are not fond of how the new single plugin display ditches the previous tabbed interface in favor of truncated sections with numerous “read more” links. This requires the visitor to click and scroll repeatedly through a massive wall of text. The experience of doing this to find information is much less efficient than the previous tabbed UI.

Many of the plugin header images appear to be stretched now with the new wider content area, but this may encourage developers to update their listings. Several users have commented that they are disappointed with the removal of stats, which are now viewable for admins only. Plugin team member Mika Epstein said they are waiting for more feedback from end users (not plugin developers) on whether to make them publicly viewable again.

The new design matches WordPress.org’s homepage redesign, which went from sketches to prototype to live during the last few weeks of December 2016. The most exciting improvements, however, are found under the hood.

The plugin directory is now powered by WordPress, instead of bbPress, making it easier for plugin developers and reviewers to manage plugins, tags/categories, and committers. The submission and review process has also been streamlined so the plugin team will no longer reject plugins after 7 days. They also have to ability to rename plugin slugs prior to approval for easier handling of typos.

New Plugin Search Algorithm Delivers More Relevant Results

The most significant user-facing improvement in the redesign is better search relevance. Analysis of plugin search logs in August 2016 showed the directory handles 100,000 searches per day and receives more than 500k unique search queries per month.

Greg Ichneumon Brown, a Data Wrangler at Automattic, published an in-depth article on how he and contributors improved search fidelity for the new plugin directory. The eye-opening account explains just how opinionated search algorithms need to be in order to give users the best experience at this scale.

“In improving the fidelity of search results, it’s not just a question of how we satisfy a single user’s search query, but how we satisfy thousands of users for each unique search term: which plugins will support that volume of users and their requests for support?” Brown said. “Which are most likely to give all of these users a great WordPress experience?”

The new search algorithm delivers results based on this premise. Brown added a calculation for the lowest/highest ratio of active_installs to the number of times the search was performed. However, this isn’t the only factor that influences whether or not a users will have a good experience with the top results. The algorithm also includes signals that Brown said plugin authors have a lot more control over:

  • Resolving support threads
  • Keeping the plugin update to date
  • Testing the plugin on the latest versions of WordPress

Brown’s post breaks down the Elasticsearch query he developed for the directory and explains how text matching works to find relevant results for author searches, queries that include operators, and partial-word boosting.

The plugin directory relaunch has several known issues that the plugin team noted in the announcement today. Users are noticing many broken links, problems with SVN, and other bugs when navigating around the new directory. The team has a list of tickets on Meta Trac that they are working through and feedback is welcome. Plugin submissions are temporarily disabled while the transition is completed.

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