As of today, there are 33,786 free plugins available on WordPress.org. So why am I saying that you should buy a plugin instead of using one of these free plugins? Sometimes a plugin that’s free isn’t really free when you consider the time you spend trying to fix it. And if you use a plugin that opens your site up to hacking, the cost of fixing your site will eat up the money you saved and then some.
Spend money to save money
A couple of weeks ago I started a project with a non-profit client. This client holds an annual conference and needed a way to collect and manage registrations and also give attendees the ability to buy merchandise. If you’re familiar with event registration, you’re thinking about Eventbrite. You’re also wondering how this relates to WordPress.
This client had been using Eventbrite for a couple of years and it was costing them a lot of money because of Eventbrite’s fees. Last year alone they paid over $1,200 not including credit card processing. When you’re running a conference, your budget matters a lot. When you’re a non-profit running a conference, your budget matters even more. The direction we’ve gone with them is to use Gravity Forms. It gives them all the functionality they were using in Eventbrite and it only costs $199. By buying a WordPress plugin and front-loading the registration costs, they’ll save $1,000 on registrations this year.
Plugins are cheap
The average cost of the plugins I buy is somewhere around $150. The average we charge for custom plugin development is $4,000. The custom plugins that we develop for our clients aren’t 27 times better or more complicated than the purchased plugins that we’ll use on client’s websites. The difference is, a custom plugin is developed for one client and that client pays for 100% of the development. A plugin developer releasing a paid plugin is dividing the time spent on development by the number of licenses she thinks will sell.
This is why you can buy a plugin that validates addresses in your WooCommerce store for $49. When I was freelancing, I coded an address validator for a client and it took over 15 hours of development time. I’m sure you can guess which one was more expensive.
Developers have to eat too
This is the biggest issue that you might not have considered with free plugins. Developers are running a business too and you can’t send a plugin to your electric company. When a developer releases a plugin, there’s an understanding that they will maintain that plugin. They need to keep it working with new versions of WordPress and it’s even better when they add new features. But this doesn’t always happen with free plugins. I’ve worked on WordPress sites before that couldn’t update to the latest version of WordPress because a plugin they had to have wouldn’t work. It never failed that the outdated plugin was free.
Paid plugins are different. Developers know that they have to keep their plugin updated or they’ll loose customers. They also know that they have to keep adding new features to keep up with the market. Just look at the WordPress forms market. Gravity Forms and Ninja Forms are the leaders and have to add new features and updates often to maintain their current users and bring in new users.
So the next time you’re thinking about downloading a free plugin, think about what you will do if the developer stops supporting and updating the plugin. If it’s not a major site function, you might be fine with a free plugin and taking the risk, but if it’s a function that is critical to your site, spend some money and buy a plugin. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Free Plugins Have a Cost Too
The reality is, everything you do on your website has a cost. In college I took a lot of economics classes. One thing economists love is talking about opportunity costs. Opportunity costs are what you give up when you decide to use a resource for one thing instead of another. Typically this resource is money and the thing is making one investment over another, but it can also mean time.
With WordPress, it takes time to find the right plugin and configure it properly. Sometimes you spend hours setting up a plugin only to discover that the one feature you need isn’t working. With a free plugin, you can try to get support from the developer, but you may be waiting a while before your feature is fixed.
With a paid plugin, you normally buy direct from the developer. This allows you to ask any pre-sales questions to insure that the plugin will work the way you need it to.
There are a ton of free plugins available from WordPress.org, some of them are good and some of them aren’t. When you make the decision to use a plugin on your WordPress site, there’s a lot to consider. Do you have the time commitment to make to a free plugin that might end up not working for you? When you compare the cost of a plugin to the cost of custom development work to duplicate the functionality, it’s a no-brainer. That’s one of the great things about WordPress being so huge. Developers can spread development costs over several purchases to offer amazing plugins are cheap prices.
There are some great free plugins that I always recommend to clients based on their needs. My favorite free plugins are WooCommerce, Yoast SEO, and W3 Total Cache. What makes these different than other free plugins is that they’re developed by companies that have been around for a while and have a steady cash flow. Just take a look at the huge library of add-ons from WooThemes, the niche plugins from Yoast, and optimization services from W3 Total Cache. So not all free plugins are bad, but just like with paid plugins you should always do your research before installing it and relying on it for your website.
The next time you need to add new functionality to WordPress, don’t just limit your search to free plugins. Checkout reviews online and find the plugin that gives you all the features you need and comes from a dependable developer. If you’re one of our WordPress Support clients, you can send us a support ticket with your needs and we’ll give you suggestions of plugins that will work for you.