Along with the WordPress core code and its massive collection of customizable themes, plugins round out the trio of essential components that make WordPress such a versatile and popular site building platform. These small bits of code add all kinds of specialized functionality to professional and personal WordPress sites, and users can choose from among thousands of them.
Whether you want to add a widget to link to your social media pages or you’re looking to track your SEO efforts through google analytics, you can find a plugin for anything. There are even plugins specific to your field of work such as photography plugins or e-commerce plugins to attract your audience. While these additions can significantly enhance the overall functionality and appearance of a website, it’s important to note that it may come at a cost. So then, are WordPress plugins free?
It’s possible to set up your WordPress site entirely with free plugins from WordPress.org or third-party developers from all over the world. But the free version of a plugin may not always be the best choice. Depending on your individual needs, a “premium” plugin instead may be a WordPress site runner’s smartest move.
How Do Plugins Work?
The version of WordPress that you download from WordPress.org or install from your hosting account is simply a framework for your site—a set of free and open source PHP coded templates for the essential components of a WordPress website designed with blogging in mind. To extend the functionality of WordPress in other directions and create different kinds of sites, users can install a variety of plugins that help to monetize a blog by adding specific features for purposes such as setting up an e-commerce store, creating a membership site, or posting a portfolio.
Because WordPress plugins are separate pieces of code overlaid on the original WordPress source code, they can be updated or modified, added or deleted, separately from a site’s core code. To work properly, any plugins you install need to be compatible with the version of WordPress your site is running.
Once installed, a new plugin must be activated, then it can be edited or customized through its own settings options or from the main WordPress dashboard. When a plugin is no longer needed, it can simply be deactivated and deleted, which removes all the relevant files from the WordPress installation.
Where to Get Free Plugins
Because plugins are an essential component of WordPress sites, they’re widely available from a variety of sources, although not all these sources are of equal quality. The largest source of plugins that are free and open source like WordPress itself is the official WordPress Plugin Directory. This directory is immediately available with any WordPress install so that users can browse its contents directly from the site’s admin dashboard.
As of mid-2018, the WordPress Plugin Directory lists 55,488 plugins for boosting a site’s SEO, creating contact or opt-in forms, installing galleries and slideshows for images, optimizing website images, setting up subscription and membership sites, adding social sharing buttons for your Instagram feed, and integrating a fully functioning e-commerce platform on a WordPress site. The plugins carried in the Plugin Directory have been created by members of the WordPress community and are subjected to intense review before they’re listed in the directory so that users can generally expect that they’re updated and safe to use with a particular version of WordPress.
The WordPress Plugin Directory isn’t the only place to get free plugins, though. Many are available from third-party WordPress designers and developers who offer them as part of a larger suite of design and development services. Others are created and shared by independent WordPress users with experience in coding and web development, and a large number of tutorials are available to teach anyone how to make a plugin to address a particular unique need.
How to Buy Premium Plugins
Paid, pro version or “premium” plugins can be purchased from design asset marketplaces and individual WordPress designers and developers. Prices for premium plugins range from $30 to several hundred dollars, depending on the complexity of the plugin and the services that come along with it. Pro version Plugins can also be custom-designed to meet highly specific needs, and this kind of WordPress plugins customization can command even higher prices.
Premium plugins can be purchased outright or by a license for specific periods of time. These plugins typically come with a range of additional options, including ongoing customer support and regular updating from the plugin creator. Commercial plugin developers also confirm that any plugin they sell is created with quality code for security and stability so that it can work seamlessly with the WordPress core code.
Free or Premium Plugins: Which to Choose?
With the wide range of plugins available from so many different sources, choosing the right ones to extend the functionality of your WordPress site can be a challenge. It’s possible to build in all the features your site needs entirely from free useful WordPress plugins or with quality free plugins from other sources. But there are some drawbacks to working with free plugins, especially for complex purposes such as constructing a full-service e-commerce site with payment portals.
Even if they’re installed from the carefully vetted WordPress Plugin Directory, free plugins typically come “as-is,” without the additional technical support, tutorials, and advice that are usually included with paid plugins. That means they may not be regularly updated to stay compatible with newer versions of WordPress, or they may contain poor quality code that can cause problems with other parts of the site. Some are not secure, and they can open the way to cyber threats such as hacking and malware.
A free version of a plugin may also simply be offered as an incentive to upgrade to a premium version in order to get access to the full range of the plugin’s functions. If you choose to install a free plugin, especially from sources outside the WordPress directory, it’s important to research the source and take careful note of the plugin’s compatibility with your version of WordPress as well as any concerns reported by current users.
Most plugins with a premium version typically come with some assurances that the plugin is safe and secure and include access to the full range of the plugin’s features. Even so, buyers still need to do some homework to be sure that the plugin vendor is reputable and trustworthy and to find out exactly what services and features are included with the purchase. Whether you need a google analytics plugin to supercharge your SEO, a gallery plugin for your images, or a social sharing widget plugin with buttons to entice visitors to your social media, you’ll be able to find whichever plugin you need right on the WordPress directory. As WordPress designers often say, whatever your site might need, there’s a plugin for that—and many of them are safe, secure, and entirely free.