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Why WordPress Bloggers Need To Choose Premium Plugins Over Free

When it comes to investing in your WordPress blog, there are many users who are willing to spend the cash in order to gain access to premium themes, quality hosting or (for the guru’s out there) a CDN service in order to ensure that your site loads quickly regardless of where your readers live.

However when it comes to WordPress plugins, many users not only expect that these remain free, but also demand that plugins be actively supported as well as compatible with the latest WordPress update.

Since the idea of spending money for plugins is probably a foreign (if not ridiculous) option to most WordPress lovers, here are a few points why you should always choose premium plugins over free (within reason of course).

Support Your Local Developer

While the vast majority of plugins listed upon the WP Directory are free to use, more often than not a large portion of those plugins are no longer compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

Due to the fact that most developers have to eat (the latter act which costs money), plugins usually only receive attention when the developer has free time, or isn’t bound by other financial obligations.

This means that if a favorite plugin of yours is causing havoc upon your blog, you are not guaranteed to receive help until the developer has a free moment to spare.

Premium plugins on the other hand usually receive faster (if not greater) support for issues regarding bugs, updates, etc., as the developer does not want to lose you (a paying client) to a rival since you are helping to put food on their table.

The Future Plugin Is Certain?

Although there are plenty of developers who spend countless hours creating plugins for their fans (and releasing them for free), sooner or later many of them end up falling by the wayside due to lack of (you guessed it) money.

Whether the process takes many months or several years, sooner or later the developer is going to get sick of freely supporting his or her plugin due to burnout, resulting in its abandonment and a chorus of whining in the forums.

Developers creating premium plugins on the other hand have a greater incentive to not only ensure a plugin’s compatibility with the latest WordPress version, but will also attempt to add new features to improve the functionality of their plugin.

This means that users will spend less time deleting defunct WordPress plugins (not to mention spending time finding alternatives) and more time writing content for their blog.

Superior By Design

Although there are plenty of free plugins out there that would put premium rivals to shame, more often than not a developer will invest more time, energy and geek tears creating a premium plugin rather than their free lovin’ rival.

If you are skeptical of these claims, try comparing:

Even though many of these free plugins are better than nothing (in fact I would recommend using them if you had no other alternative), they pale in comparison against their premium rivals.

Note: I know there are plenty of excellent free plugins available (and I’ll probably receive emails or comments about them), but with the exception of a few examples I have always found premium plugins of a higher quality than free ones.

Should I Always Choose Premium Over Free?

Only (and here is the key part) if the developer creating the plugin is reputable, but also provides a vastly superior product over their freebie rivals.

You should also only pay for premium plugins if it is within your budget as going broke definitely will curb your success as a blogger (not to mention in life as well).

Do you use premium plugins? If so, which ones do you use? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comment section below.

Update: See my follow up article which is now live upon The Blog Herald.

Categories: WordPress Plugins
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  1. Andrew Nacin ) says: 12/8/2010

    This reads like FUD.


    • Franky Branckaute ) says: 12/8/2010

      This comment reads like FUD.

      Disappointing that a WordPress Core developer can’t add more constructive commentary to argue why the post might be FUD.


  2. Ozh ) says: 12/8/2010

    It’s not often I come across an article I completely disagree with.

    Premium has to do with *price* only, definitely not with quality, or support, or future proofness. I’ve reviewed dozens of premium plugins that were utter shite, with crappy code not using internal WP API, or just PHP noobness. Just because someone says “hey I’ll sell that” doesn’t grant him any coding skills.

    Want to support your developers so they don’t run out of time / motivation / cash / whatever? Support them with donation. Period.


    • Milan Petrovic ) says: 12/8/2010

      Donations don’t work. I tried it for years, and I know too many developers that did same thing, and got nothing for the time spent in developing and supporting not only plugins for WordPress but any other type of free software.

      On the other hand I agree that labeling plugin as premium is not enough. I have seen several premium plugins that where not only badly writen, but also broken and not really supported by the authors. Providing support is not enough to make a distinction between free and premium, premium must include more. Future of WP plugins will remain in both free and premium plugins.

      If done right premium plugins are (should and must be) better then free alternatives, or the paying for such plugin is a rip off. I have several free plugins of my own, and some of them have premium alternatives that not only are supported (even through direct email support), but they have much more features.


      • Otto ) says: 12/8/2010

        You can’t judge quality based on price. Not really. Just because somebody sells a thing doesn’t mean that it’s better.

        And really, people who sell software have more incentives to make the software *worse*. Why? To ensure a continuing revenue stream for selling “support”, and/or to ensure that other developers cannot fix or modify the software.

        With a free plugin, you may not be able to get support from the original author in all cases, but the software is free-as-in-speech, and you can hire any developer to modify or fix it. What’s more, if you did want to pay the author, I’m sure they’d be happy to accept it. How many times have you needed support for a free plugin and then paid the author to provide that support? Or did you expect them to support it for free too?

        Donations do work, for a limited definition of “work”. No, a plugin developer usually cannot live on them. However, if they’re releasing the plugin for free, then they’re likely to take patches for it from anybody, or they’re more than willing to modify the plugin if you want to hire them to do so. Time is valuable, try negotiating a price with a plugin author sometime.


        • Milan Petrovic ) says: 12/8/2010

          I agree that price doesn’t equal quality, and that i have seen many so called premium plugins that are rubish. And that’s why I said that if done right premium plugins will always be superior to free versions. And many are really great. I know that my premium plugins are done right and are full with features and include proper support. GravityForms is amazing plugin.

          On the other hand you have 10000 free plugins in repository, and more than 90% of them are not maintained at all, and will break most WP installations (especially new ones), cause all sorts of problems.

          Generalizing things, and telling people that premium plugins are bad, and only free are good is not fair to premium developers that are working hard to make those and work with those plugins, and it’s also sending a very, very wrong message about free plugins that can be (and mostly are) badly written, not maintained, not compatible with latest WP versions and not supported by the authors. The truth is that in both groups there are good and there are bad plugins. Problem is that there not enough websites that will help people choose, that will review both sides and give informed opinions about premium plugins and free ones and help users make a right choice.

          I can’t count number of small projects I worked on to fix issues caused by free plugins because users couldn’t get help with after plugin broke his blog. I had a lot of work with premium plugins breaking things too. And that’s why is not good thing for anyone to side only with free or premium plugins. Informed decision is what users need.

          If anyone is thinking that premium is bad, I am offering all my plugins for review, and I am sure that other premium developers will do the same. Check out my premium plugin (any of them) and find me a free alternative that is better, has more features or is better supported, and I will give my premium plugins for free.

  3. Rich Pedley says: 12/8/2010

    I’ve seen so many so called premium plugins let down by support I’ve lost count. Now although the same can be said and multiplied by x for free ones, you can at least get others to help! With a premium one you can end up locked into something and have no where to turn to.

    If a free plugin stops working someone else can fix issues, and sometimes take it over and continue it. This won’t happen with premium plugins anywhere near as often.

    The future of a premium plugin isn’t as cut’n’dried as you make out, especially in the current state of the global economy. The effects of which are lessened for the free plugins, because they are after all free.

    In all cases it is upto the user to assess things taking into account the likely hood of the plugin being supported, updated and maintained. This applies to all plugins, not just the premium ones.


  4. Ramona ) says: 12/8/2010

    I have to disagree a bit too. Not always a paid resource was good. I paid almost 1000 $ for various VB licenses and I still have to find a worse forum platform. The support was bad, they have ZERO respect for their clients etc. Have used MyBB, which is free, with excellent results.

    As far as plugins go, less is more in my opinion. You don’t need 20 plugins for a site. You need 5. Akismet, All in one SEO Pack, Contact form 7 and 2-3 more for other features. You don’t need fancy shmancy stuff, you need CONTENT, a nice and clean DESIGN and a lot of work.

    If a plugin is good, I might pay, only if I don’t find the free counterpart. If it’s free, good for me.


  5. Mike T says: 12/8/2010

    However when it comes to WordPress plugins, many users not only expect that these remain free, but also demand that plugins be actively supported as well as compatible with the latest WordPress update.

    That’s a nice way of saying that in any FOSS community there is a large contingent of entitled jerks among the users.


  6. Trophy ) says: 12/8/2010

    I think people are always going to be a FAN of the FREE. I would only get a Premium and pay if it is a theme that I really really REALLY need. (I almost bought one for another site, but I took the site off) Most people and blogers out there dont need money worthy plugins.

    I think the developers def. deserve donations here and there but I think maybe they should find another way to make money from their plugins another way. Like make a site and have google ads or something.


  7. Josh says: 12/8/2010

    If we apply the reasoning laid out here, then expression engine and squarespace are the superior choice over WordPress, as they are not free. A deeply flawed argument.
    Also, I would hesitate to cite the PadPressed plugin as an example of a superior product. I’ve tried it and found it to be very buggy and more or less useless.
    Commercial plugins can add value when they solve a problem that that a free one can’t.
    As far as free plugins breaking with new versions up WordPress go, usually it’s the poorly written plugins that do that. Price does not correlate to the quality of code.


  8. Stephanie Leary ) says: 12/8/2010

    What arrant nonsense. Your logic is badly flawed.

    “…plugins usually only receive attention when the developer has free time, or isn’t bound by other financial obligations.”


    “Premium plugins on the other hand usually receive faster (if not greater) support for issues regarding bugs, updates, etc., as the developer does not want to lose you (a paying client) to a rival since you are helping to put food on their table.”

    NOT true, unless a) the price paid was for support, not just a license to use the plugin, and b) the person selling it is serious about actually providing support, and won’t just take your money and run.

    Look, if you’re interested in finding out what level of support a plugin has (free or otherwise), check out its support forum, its threads on, and the comments on the author’s own blog. Don’t just assume that paying someone is going to guarantee support.


  9. Ronald Huereca ) says: 12/8/2010

    As a premium plugin author, I’m slightly conflicted. On one hand, I think everyone should buy premium plugins, especially mine (okay, slightly kidding).

    In fairness, not all premium plugins are created equal. I’ve purchased a few myself where support was non-existent, the code was Base64 encoded, and the plugin’s website auto-signed me up to a bazillian newsletters. Shady? Absolutely.

    There are still quite a bit of quality free plugins out there. While premium plugins (in theory) should be kept up to date and supported, it’s not always the case. You run the same risk of a plugin abandoning a project as with free and premium (ever heard of companies going out of business?).

    I will say that you have made a fairly good point in the willingness of people to purchase premium themes, but gawk when a plugin charges a fee. I’m not sure why this is the case, but Gravity Forms, Backup Buddy, and (to an extent) my plugin prove that people “are” willing to pay for quality for-fee plugins.


  10. Darnell Clayton ) says: 12/8/2010

    Thanks for all of the constructive criticism everyone! I’ll be writing up a follow up post (upon the Blog Herald) regarding this.

    I guess the general synopsis is quality plugins rather than premium. From my experience (which is probably dwarfed by many of you here) premium plugins have always received superior support, despite their expense.

    There are a few exceptions to this rule of course, but usually when it came to support, companies/developers selling services were always willing to provide assistance within 48 hours while free plugins could take up to a week before I would receive a decent response.

    While everyone likes saving money (which is why free is usually popular), it seems like developers are receiving the short end of the stick by pouring their heart and soul into a plugin to only receive a massive amount of hate from a vocal minority, prompting many developers to simply abandon their plugin.

    But in the end quality trumps all (as pointed out by many of you hear). I just wish we didn’t have to live off an army of starving developers in order to make our WordPress blogs awesome. I’d write more about it, but I’ll save my thoughts for the upcoming post tomorrow. :-)


    • Otto ) says: 12/9/2010

      BTW, the reason for most of the rather vitrolic response you’re getting back on this is a bit obvious. By saying that paid plugins are better, you’re annoying quite a lot of people who give their code and support and time away for free. Since these are the people that make the community and who do all the real work, naturally, they’re not going to be too happy about it.

      There’s nothing wrong with selling a plugin, and there’s nothing wrong with buying one. But saying that bought-code is “better” is a stretch. WordPress itself is free. Keep that in mind too.


  11. TechyDad ) says: 12/8/2010

    As others have said, premium isn’t always superior to free just because money is exchanged. When you are evaluating which plugins to use, you shouldn’t automatically discount one that isn’t free (unless it is too pricey for your budget, of course). Price should definitely be a factor in the choice alongside quality, support, etc. In some instances, a premium plugin will be passed up for a free one because the free one better fits the blog author’s needs and in some cases the reverse will be true.


  12. Morten ) says: 12/8/2010

    I understand your reasons for saying what you’re saying, but I think you’re wrong on a number of points. First of all, premium are not necessarily better than free ones. In fact I’ve encountered numerous premium plugins that are garbage. And not only that, a lot of them claim to offer services they don’t actually have. Overall I find that premium plugin (and to a degree premium theme) developers serve up content an material at a cost that people end up not using or that ends up not being what they actually need.

    Here’s the thing: If I were to make a plugin and release it for free it would likely be because I needed it myself and figured others would need it too. I would have no incentive to push it aggressively out there or to convince people they absolutely have to have that plugin even though they may not actually need it. If I developed a premium plugin that entire story changes. All of a sudden I’m selling a product that needs customers and promotion. So I make lots of noise, try to convince everyone and their cat they must have this plugin on their site otherwise they are not doing what’s best for themselves etc. etc. Not only is this counterproductive, but it goes against the very spirit of the new open web.

    WordPress (and Drupal and Joomla! and a pile of other services) are based on the simple principle of free open source content. It’s crowd sourcing on a giant scale tapping the potential of millions to create a fast evolving online entity everyone can use. In my view latching on to that and trying to make profit off it without offering individualized support is not right.

    I develop custom themes for my clients. They come to me and I build them something noone else has. And when I build themes for publication, they are always free. As they should be. What may surprise you is that a large number of my clients are people who have already purchased a premium theme and tried to make it work for them only to realize it doesn’t. They come to me frustrated and angry they were sold on something that promised the world but offered cookie cutter solutions.

    The bottom line is the same basic rule applies to this as any other commercial entity: Price does not equal quality, and the simplest solution is usually the best one.

    Free plugins and free themes are the basis of the WordPress community. Remove them and the whole thing collapses.


  13. Eric ) says: 12/8/2010

    Looking at free versus premium is a very naive way to judge the quality of a plug-in. Many free plug-ins are fantastic. Some paid plug-ins are horrible. I actually make a living fixing paid-but-abandoned systems for my clients: the theme or plug-in they shelled out several hundred $$s for only to discover the developer had no interest in maintaining compatibility with WordPress.

    A better indicator of a plug-in’s quality is the reputation of the developer. Have the published multiple plug-ins? Do they contribute to WordPress core? Are they active elsewhere in open source?

    I use both free and paid solutions on all of my sites because I know, respect, and trust the developers who put them together. I also give my new systems away for free because I believe in contributing back to the community that helped teach me to write code in the first place.

    But the claim that a paid plug-in is safer because of an implied higher level of customer support is just ludicrous. The fact that you paid for a plug-in does nothing to protect you from the eventuality that it will sit on the Internet forever, stale, and build up massive amounts of “feature X is broken, please fix” requests. All it guarantees is that you paid money for a flashy new feature … and it doesn’t even guarantee that this flashy new feature even works in the first place.

    I’ve asked people who use my plug-ins for donations before. Some contribute, some don’t. But I take user support to be vital to continuing as a reputable developer – and to earning other paying gigs in the future. If people use my plug-ins for free, that’s fine. If someone knocks off my system and sells it, well, it’s open source so they can do that. But having a pricetag doesn’t increase its value.


  14. Rahul Bansal ) says: 12/9/2010

    I am really shocked to read this from someone like you.
    I guess there is some big mistake or something terribly went wrong here.

    As far as I remember, you promoted many dev in past for their contribution to open-source.

    As a wordpress plugin developer myself and founder of a wordpress-services company, I totally disagree with you for reasons mentioned above.
    When we are working on something, first thing we study is, going ahead, can we have a business model in open-source. If answer is yes, then we make that stuff open-source.
    Quality was never compromised, as free vs premium are just 2 different models of earning from your skills.
    So developers who make their stuff free are not necessarily poor or will give up!
    In fact, in many cases, they are smart enough to make money from their open-source stuff. ;-)

    Waiting for your followup post mate.


    • Ozh ) says: 12/9/2010

      @Rahul: it’s called trolling to get traffic (which is pointless on a long term strategy)


      • Rahul Bansal ) says: 12/9/2010

        People do such things for traffic all the time, but I know Darnell (post-author) from almost 5 years.
        It’s hard to believe, he is doing this to get traffic as in past he shut down a very big blog when he had option to sell it.
        May be he can clear it up in his next post…


      • Franky Branckaute ) says: 12/9/2010

        Ozh, I would have hoped that after all the years that Darnell has been writing about WordPress you would have known his style better and could forgive an error, rather than having to resort to calling this one entry trolling.

        There is no chance that Darnell would ever resort to trolling, he writes from his heart and I do see where he comes from. Contrarily to other people, we do not spend whole days testing lots of plugins or reviewing code, instead we try to help and do promote both WP and OSS.
        The fact though is that Extend is a mess and contains many outdated and dysfunctional plugins. Abandoned and broken, just like paid, often also buzzed as ‘premium’ plugins, are also aborted or consist of code mess.

        If a known well-meaning writer makes an error, that does not mean that anyone should resort to insults, no matter how many wrong statements he may have made.

        I personally can not imagine Darnell ever wanting to bait/troll for traffic and if he wanted he certainly would have chosen a less delicate topic/community to do so. Darnell also writes about science, if he wanted to bait/troll he surely would opt for that niche… much more chance on real traffic with a ‘baity’ entry rather than a blip on the radar.


  15. Carl Hancock says: 12/9/2010

    The gist of this post is that premium plugins are superior to free plugins. Thats a broad statement, and it’s certainly not true in every case. Although t it is true in some cases. There are plenty of good free plugins out there and there are plenty of good commercial plugins out there.

    Don’t discount free plugins just because they are free and don’t discount commercial plugins just because they are not free.

    On the flip side of this argument, many people in the WordPress community are of the opinion that everything should be free and discount the premium market outright. That is a shame because i’d put our product and the extremely high level of support we provide our customers up against any free solution that competes with us any day of the week. When you discount the premium option outright you may be missing out on a better solution to your problem.

    Choose the best solution for your needs. If it’s free, great. If it’s not, so be it.


    • Milan Petrovic ) says: 12/9/2010

      Exactly. Unfortunately, very few people see this as it really is, and in most cases are either against free or against premium plugins. I make both free and premium plugins, and I use both free and premium. As you say, choose plugin that is better suited for what is needed, not because it’s free or premium.

      As I said before, I would really like anyone to find free alternative to my premium plugins that comes close to features built in, support I provide and general quality of plugin. Same goes for your GravityForms plugin, I have seen so many forms plugins but all of them put together don’t come even close to GravityForms in all aspects.


  16. Darnell Clayton ) says: 12/9/2010

    Thanks for all of the responses everyone! To clarify a few things:

    1) No, I’m not interested in trolling. I try to write posts that will be able to stand the test of time rather than receive a quick does of SEO juice via Google.

    2) My “gist”of the article (that premium plugins are always superior) is off (as many of you have voiced your opinion via Twitter, email and comments here).

    3) I have no hatred of free plugins (in fact I use quite a few) although the rate of abandoned plugins after WP upgrades is becoming a disheartening affair for me.

    4) Yes, I am planning on writing a follow up post (for those of you asking via email or Facebook), but unfortunately I’ll have to post pone it until tomorrow (I have a very rough draft upon Evernote that needs sorting out).

    I hope that answers everyones questions regarding where I stand regarding my views of WP plugins. As far as the insults go, being the youngest of 8 siblings I’ve acquired a very thick skin (mostly due to the fact that most of my brothers were much bigger than me).

    I’ll link here once the article is up as well as comment below (for those who are subscribing via email). Cheers! :-)


  17. Darnell Clayton ) says: 12/10/2010

    For those waiting, the article is now live upon the Blog Herald. Feel free to revisit this post or the Blog Herald to read my follow up article. :-)


  18. Tes ) says: 12/12/2010

    Having only recently discovered the world of WordPress, Themes and Plugins. I’m looking for the best solutions to get me from my static HTML site to this great new world (well to me) of CMS websites. I was hoping to find some answers, but after reading all the comments I feel more confused than before :(
    What’s the name these premium Plugins that are worst than free ones?
    Where can I find trusted plugin reviews?

    I’m new to the concept of free code, being from the offline world, I know there is no such thing as a FREE lunch. So I’m more than happy to pay for a solution that saves me time. But I am also wary of paying for a rubbish solution.

    You guys are the experts, help us new comers out!


  19. Jeremy Arntz ) says: 12/19/2010

    While I disagree with idea Premium plugins are superior to Free plugins I think think that the WP user community needs to step up and support the developer community. My one plugin has been downloaded almost 800 times ( I realized this is tiny compared to popular plugins ). At the top of the admin panel is a link to donate and do you want to guess how many people have donated? If you guessed zero then you’d be correct. Maybe all 800 of them found no value in the plugin, but it leaves me wondering if I should spend the time to develop more plugins when the time could be spent on freelance work.


  20. Jane says: 2/6/2011

    I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays..