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Let’s face it: it’s hard to beat FREE. And in the world of WordPress, there’s plenty of free stuff to go around. In fact, many website owners seem to get just about everything they want in their site from themes to WordPress plugins, without paying a cent.
But many free plugins also have premium versions that provide additional features. For lots of developers, providing a stripped-down free version of their plugin is a way to get you vested into their product in the hopes they can turn you into a paying customer down the road.
So when do you make the jump from a free plugin to its premium sibling? Of course the answer isn’t exactly straightforward, so here are a few things to consider when it comes time to decide.
You Need Features not Available in the Free Version
For most website operators, the first time you’re exposed to the possibility of using a premium plugin happens when you download a free one from the WordPress repository and it nags you to check out all the additional features available in their premium version.
In order to make sure you only spend money where necessary, think about whether a paid feature is a necessity, or just a nice-to-have. What’s the potential Return on Investment (ROI)? Does the paid plugin save you money somewhere else, or bring in extra income? Will it save you a significant amount of time that you can use to market your business?
The eCommerce plugin WooCommerce is a great example of a plugin where paid features can really come into play.
While the core plugin is free and provides everything you might need to start an online store, WooCommerce also offers a large collection of extensions (additional plugins that work in conjunction with the core). Some of the extensions are also free, but many must be purchased.
So, the bottom line: If there’s a feature you absolutely need on your website that isn’t available for free, you’ll need to purchase it or pay a developer to write custom code for you (which will probably be much more expensive).
You Need Support from the Developers
If you’re running a website, it probably won’t be long before you have a question about how to use a plugin, or a technical problem where it’s simply not doing what it’s supposed to do.
Posting a question in a forum and waiting days (or forever) for an answer can be frustrating. And when it comes to free WordPress plugins, this is typically the only route you have if you’re having an issue with the plugin.
Paid plugins are usually different. Most reputable developers provide real support channels for their paying customers where you can skip the WordPress.org forums and submit support tickets directly to the people who make the plugin.
Getting support in a timely fashion can mean all the difference, especially if there’s money on the line when a feature of your website isn’t working correctly.
Quality of the Code
“You get what you pay for.” We’ve all heard it. One thing I’ve experienced when it comes to free vs. paid plugins is the general quality of the plugin itself. For a long time, I used the free version of UpdraftPlus to backup my WordPress websites. It worked well enough, but there were a few features I really wanted such as more granular scheduling options and the ability to restore backups to an entirely different domain name (site migrations).
Eventually, I ended up purchasing the premium version of UpdraftPlus and I’m honestly not sure how I got by with the free version for as long as I did. Not only did I get a ton more features, but the plugin has simply never failed. In addition to that, it’s never conflicted with any other plugins and it’s updated regularly by the vendor.
One of the things that really makes this possible is funding. When a plugin is paid for, the developer has money to pay quality developers to keep the code up to date. That means better security, performance, and compatibility with the latest technologies.
The Plugin Provides a Critical Feature for Your Website
Let’s say you’re building a website that focuses on selling memberships that grant access to your content. Paywalls for content are a good way to monetize your website – if your content is in-demand.
There are a handful of good membership plugins out there for WordPress and many of them have a free version and a premium sibling. You might be tempted just to go with the free version but think about this: if your site monetization model relies heavily on this one feature working reliably, then the risk of having it not work even for a short period of time could mean a large monetary loss for your business.
When you have a plugin that provides a significant core feature, paying for the premium version of a plugin and all the stability & support that comes with it, can mean the difference between success and failure.
WordPress Plugins: Paid or Free?
There are lots of great free WordPress plugins out there, and there’s no reason to go spending a ton of money on premium versions of everything. The key is to know when it’s time to make the upgrade.