Free vs. Paid plugins vs. WordPress services

WordPress powers about 14% of the web today and is still growing. While its rich set of features gets constant makeovers with every release, one can never overlook the power of plugins. Plugins bring a whole new dimension to your website or blog by supporting features that aren’t present in the core WordPress installation. The number of developers joining the WordPress community is growing everyday and an increasing number of people are taking interest in creating new plugins. Think of something and it is highly likely that there is a plugin to do that. However, a wrong plugin brings a gamut of issues and can wreck your peace. This makes plugins the most hated and loved part of WordPress.

Plugins come in free and paid (or premium) forms. The decision to go with a free or a paid one varies from case to case. However, choosing the right plugin is very important. Also keep in mind that plugins should solve a specific problem or provide an essential function. They should not indulge our vanity or our desire for a “shiny new object”.

Free Plugins

All the free plugins are listed in the WordPress plugins repository and the list is an ever-growing one. These plugins come at no cost and you can use them as you want. People write and maintain these free plugins for various reasons. Some do it for fun as it is exciting to know that thousands of sites run your code. Some do it to gain popularity in the WordPress community, while others release the code that was useful to them for others to benefit.

In most cases, a free plugin does the job for you. People commonly only look for a paid plugin when they don’t find a free one that performs a specific task. There are some who believe that free ones don’t match the quality and support of the paid plugins. However, this varies from case to case. Some of the most popular plugins are free: Akismet, Contact Form 7, WordPress SEO, Google Analytics, WP Super Cache, etc.

Many plugins are complex to use and take considerable time to setup. They require careful understanding in order to operate as expected. If such a plugin is a free one that lacks the required level of documentation and support, the users are only left with general support forums for help. Getting such a plugin up and running would involve a huge cost, in terms of the time spent on it. These are classic examples of plugins for which people opt for a pid instead of a free one, to save on the time and effort to get it running.

Paid Plugins

While many people in the WordPress community believe that everything should be free, it isn’t always viable. Plugins that perform simple tasks can be free as they don’t require too many updates or constant support. The ones that do more complex stuff, on the other hand, involve regular updates to keep pace with changing technology. For a developer, making this plugin a free one means taking up another job that would bring in money. Getting paid for a plugin paves the way for dedicated time and support.

Paid plugins primarily bring reliability to the table. You will have a support team that actively works on issues reported by users, keeps the plugin updated, and constantly enhances it. That way you are saved the hassle of monitoring the plugins on your site for updates and vulnerabilities.

A typical paid plugin costs anywhere between 30-100$ which may not be a big amount for an important site. After the initial cost, you are only required to pay for major upgrades. CodeCanyon is one of the places to find good plugins at reasonable prices.

There are also plugins who take a middle path, the freemium plugins. They support both free and premium versions. In such cases, you can use the free version as long as it satisfies your requirements. Once you hit a condition where you need to use any of the premium functionalities, you upgrade your subscription. The free versions will have limited set of features and not allow you to customize the features as you want.

WordPress Services

The software industry today has moved beyond its role of merely providing a functionality, instead the focus has shifted to building complete solutions. With more and more companies adopting the SaaS model to take their goods to the customer, using these services falls in line perfectly with the growing trend of having a cloud based strategy.

WordPress includes many such services, some of the popular ones being Akismet and Disqus. They integrate with WordPress, but a large chunk of the work is done in the background, on their own servers. Services provide better quality of support by constantly monitoring and fixing any problems that arise while using the service. With normal plugins, a large chunk of the maintenance load lies with the customer. However, using services ensures that the provider does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintenance and support.

Consider the example of a backup plugin that regularly backs up your site. With regular plugins, free or paid, the task of managing offsite backups and verifying if the backups are happening correctly lies with you. This can get quite tedious when done manually. Using a service, on the other hand, will provide you a complete backup solution. Everything from backing up your site, managing the backups, restoring the backup, verifying the correctness, etc is taken care of by the provider. For example, blogVault is one such WordPress backup service that performs daily, automatic backups of your site. You can track your backup from blogVault’s site instead of yours. If your site crashes, your data still remains intact and can be quickly restored from your backup. That way you are assured of an uninterrupted backup service for your site.

Conclusion

No matter what you choose, it is important that you remain happy with your choice. It’s no different than anything else we buy in the ‘real world’; the same rules apply for software too.