Should I Use Free WordPress Plugins

Posted on: February 1, 2013

WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems, if not the most popular system in the world. It’s framework is built on a structure that allow individuals to supplement the basic functionality with theme designs (for the visual aspect) and “plugins” that provide specific additional functionality. The WordPress repository now has over 20,000 plugins – all of which are absolutely free WordPress plugins and and can be easily installed. Almost anyone can upload a plugin to their WordPress site, activate it and expand their basic WordPress site to perform a new level of functionality. So the question arises… should I use free WordPress plugins?

Now, what the average WordPress user may not realize or even consider is that this does carry some risks. What if the plugin is poorly developed? What if the plugin conflicts with other plugins? Even worse… what if the plugin was deliberately developed to install malicious code on your website? Remember, just because something is free, that doesn’t mean it is the route to take. You must remember that not everyone has a heart of gold like you dear readers. There are those out there with motives that, let us say, are not in your best interest. There are some great steps that can be taken in securing WordPress.

Are there any good free WordPress plugins?

Absolutely! I use them all the time for myself and my clients. By using free plugins, and often times, paid for plugins, my clients and I have turned out some pretty cool WordPress websites that go way beyond what a typical WordPress installation will accomplish.

So with that being said, yes… use those free plugins but be careful and consider this:

  1. Check the version level of the plugin and compatibility. That means, make sure you have the latest version and that it is compatible with your WordPress version. When you are browsing the WordPress repository and looking for a plugin, there are notes providing this information in the top right corner of every WordPress plugin detail – be sure to take notice.
  2. You should also review the “download numbers”, “ratings” and “reviews”. This information is also provided with every WordPress plugin detail. A high number of downloads and good ratings typically indicate that other users are not having any difficulty using the specific plugin. If you check the reviews section, you may find out why users like the plugin or if they are having any problems.
  3. Check to see if there is any support available in case you do run into problems. Ideally, the developer of the plugin would be available for support but keep in mind, the developer is NOT required to provide you any support just because he developed the plugin. It is free remember. You should also be aware that the WordPress organization is in no way responsible for support or liability to any damages that may occur.
  4. If available, install your plugin in a non production environment. If your circumstances allow, consider having a development WordPress installation for testing purposes. For instance, I have an exact duplicate of my product website in a development domain that I test new products on. If you can do that, do so.
  5. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, backup your WordPress database before installing any WordPress plugin – even if you are just upgrading an existing plugin. You never know if there is a bug, a kink or whatever in the plugin that will blow up your WordPress installation. If you have a good backup, you can quickly recover by restoring the backup that you should ALWAYS make before you install. Did I say to make sure you ALWAYS make a backup before installing any plugin?
  6. In my experience, I have installed hundreds of plugins and rarely have run into any problems. When problems do occur, they can be fixed by simply deactivating the plugin that caused the problem. In other cases, the problem was corrected by restoring the database that I had made a backup of before installing the plugin. You getting the idea?
  7. If you are really concerned, consider hiring a professional to, at least, consult with about a specific plugin. If it is a popular plugin, with good ratings, high downloads and no major negative reviews you can feel fairly certain that a professional probably has had some experience with it or at least can find out more about it quickly.

All of the information in this post is based on my own experiences with WordPress and free WordPress plugins. I do not (nor should anyone really) claim to have experience with every available plugin and how they will operate in every possible WordPress environment. If someone claims that, do not believe them. However, it is my hope that by reading the points above that you will have a better understanding of some points you should consider before jumping right into that free plugin. Remember, free is not always best.

As always, feel free to contact us. It would be good to hear from you and we are happy to help.