Plugins are, hands down, one of the best things about WordPress. By adding a few simple plugins to your website, you can completely transform its functionality. One set of plugins could turn your site into an eCommerce store, while another could make it a fully-featured message board. The options are endless.
The fact that there are so many plugins available is, of course, also a downside. It can be daunting to choose between all the different plugins available that accomplish the same thing. Then, you have to consider free vs. premium plugins, or whether to upgrade a freemium plugin. Is the free version good enough, or should you spring for the premium version?
It seems like every plugin has a premium version available, and everyone is trying to push you towards buying them. But go for every premium plugin you come across and you could go broke just setting up your website.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. This post will guide you through determining when it’s worth it to go premium, and when it’s best to stick with a free plugin. Keep reading to learn more.
Pros of Free Plugins
Some of the benefits of free WordPress plugins are plainly obvious: like how many there are and how easy they are to try. You can easily search the WordPress repository without ever leaving the dashboard of your site, browsing plugins and their ratings and reviews.
When you use free plugins, there is also no financial commitment that ties you in. You’re free to switch and change to other plugins as often as you’d like.
As long as your plugins come from the official WordPress plugin directory, they are also very likely to be safe to use. Free plugins listed here are strictly reviewed for adherence to security guidelines or they will not be accepted.
Cons of Free Plugins
One of the major cons of free plugins is that they tend to receive limited to no support from their authors. The WordPress plugin directory offers support forums for free plugins but most of the time they are very quiet.
Free plugins can sometimes be poorly maintained, and WordPress updates may break outdated plugins. In some cases, a plugin author created their plugin to address a very specific problem.
They then released their plugin to the world thinking others might have the same problem. The author may never see a reason or have the time to go back and update their plugin.
Because they are sometimes made by hobbyists or coders who do not create WordPress plugins for a living, the coding quality in free plugins is not always the best. At best, the poorly-optimized code can slow down your site; at worst, it can break things.
Pros of Premium Plugins
I’m not going to lie; premium plugins have a lot going for them. This is because their authors have an incentive to make their products better and better: sales!
For one thing, premium plugins tend to have better documentation and installation instructions. If you are having trouble getting a plugin set up, chances are that the documentation will be detailed enough to help you.
On the off chance it’s not, another benefit is solid customer support. Most plugins include support outright, or for a limited period of time after purchase, such as six months or a year. Plugin authors often have dedicated support portals where you can see their responses to others’ questions and ask for help yourself.
Because they want to continue to make money off their plugin, premium plugin authors are incentivized to keep their plugins up to date. Most premium plugins receive updates from time to time, either to keep pace with updates to WordPress, or to add new features.
Finally, there is something to be said for the peace of mind that you are not relying on a plugin that could break or become out of date. If a free plugin provides a major functionality to your site, it ceasing to work could be devastating to you and your visitors. While you still may experience occasional difficulties with premium plugins, they are generally more reliable than free ones.
Cons of Premium Plugins
Despite all the pros, there are still a few downsides to premium plugins, one being obvious: they cost money. Across all the plugins you might need to get a site up and running, this can add up, especially if you need one that is on a subscription model.
If you try a premium plugin and it doesn’t work for you, you may end up having to write off the money you paid for it. However, many plugins have free versions you can try first before upgrading or a trial period that allows you to get a refund if the plugin doesn’t work as intended.
Finally, sometimes the premium version of a freemium plugin is just too much. Some plugins pack in a whole lot of functionality, which may or may not be what you are looking for. This may make them complicated to easily learn or use.
Free vs. Premium Plugins: A Decision-Making Checklist
There are so many free plugins available that it can be tempting to use only free plugins. And in some cases, that is fine! If you just have a personal site with a small amount of traffic, there may be no need to amp up the functionality of your site beyond what free plugins can offer.
However, the place you need to be careful is when you are relying on your site for an income. If you are relying on a free plugin and it breaks or is found to have a security vulnerability, that could put you in a very bad place.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding between free and premium WordPress plugins.
Are you still researching a solution or trying to find a plugin that does what you need? Free plugins are easy to try out, and if you don’t like one, just deactivate and try another. When available, always try out the free version of a premium plugin to make sure it does what you need before buying.
Do you need detailed documentation or reliable support? Free plugins generally have Spartan documentation, if any, and do not often offer guaranteed support. On the other hand, premium plugins are well-documented and often include ongoing support, at least for a set time from the date of purchase.
Is your site’s performance a major concern? Free plugins are often created by hobbyists, and the code may not be as polished as the code of a premium plugin. This can make your website run more slowly.
Does your income or site’s reputation rely on this plugin? If so, that’s a major signal that you may want to use a premium plugin, or at least a well-maintained free version of a freemium plugin.
This article went through the pros and cons of both free plugins and premium plugins. Then we covered a few simple questions you can ask yourself if you can’t decide between free vs. premium plugins. Hopefully, now you feel better equipped to make a decision about the needs of your own site!
In the end, however, there is no right or wrong answer. There are many well-documented, well-supported free plugins out there in use by many WordPress websites. The beauty of WordPress is that it is possible to build a great site using only free plugins. But if you are seeking additional features and support, there are always premium plugins out there to turn to.
Which type of plugins are right for your site? Let us know in the comments below.