Advantages and Disadvantages of Custom WP Plugins
WordPress plugins are some of the most exciting aspects of WordPress for me. Through plugins, developers and designers can add interactivity and functionality to a website beyond the static content displayed on a page. Whether it’s as simple as a contact form, a spam-blocker, a mini-game, or a featured-content slider, plugins are amazingly powerful tools for adding value to a website and linking front-end to back-end.
What are plugins?
Plugins are like apps that developers can literally “plug in” to WordPress websites. Downloading and installing a file can give all kinds of new functionality, and tens of thousands of plugins are out there for all sorts of different applications. Some are just for fun, like one that displays a random lyric of “Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong on every admin page, and some are integral parts of websites, like interactive maps, content sliders, contact forms, and other dynamic or interactive content on a page. At the time of writing, there are over 25,000 plugins available for free from WordPress that have been downloaded over 470, 000, 000 times. And that isn’t even counting paid plugins.
Why build custom plugins?
With over 25,000 free plugins, and more available for a price, why would anyone bother building a custom plugin? Surely there must be ways to manipulate existing addons for whatever purpose a developer would need, right? There are a few reasons to build a custom plugin as opposed to downloading one for free or for a price:
- Custom plugins do exactly what you make them do, no more and no less
Any download will invariably do things you don’t necessarily want your plugin to do, and going in and changing things around can have undesired side-effects. Rather than deal with manipulating or breaking an existing plugin for your own purposes, a custom plugin does just what you want, when you want.
- Updates and support are not as much of a concern for custom plugins
Dealing with a free or paid download means dealing with someone else if your plugin breaks or doesn’t function properly, rather than turning to your developers and asking them to change a feature. Many free plugin developers have other full-time jobs and aren’t looking to spend a few hours a week helping you change things around. Furthermore, when they do devote time to support for their plugins, it usually means updating them with new features, which can break your downloaded version if you have changed things around. Updates aren’t mandatory, but if they are for security vulnerabilities and you need to download them, you risk losing your plugin functionality.
This is a pretty simple one. If someone else develops your plugin, odds are pretty good that they know how it works better than you do. It seems nothing on the web is truly invulnerable, but why not be safer when you get the chance? If 470, 000, 000 have downloaded the plugin you’re running and somebody finds a security vulnerability in it, you could end up in trouble. If you develop your plugins in-house for a few websites, people probably won’t be looking to break it.
Why not build custom plugins?
With the significant advantages of a custom built plugin, why risk downloading one that somebody else wrote when it might not even work for your purposes? Well, 470, 000, 000 people can’t be wrong, and they certainly aren’t. Plugins can be complicated beasts, and the average WordPress user is unlikely to delve into their theme / plugin files to change things around. Downloading a good free plugin can give users instant functionality and easy customizability via a settings menu, and often there are setup guides and FAQ pages to help with troubleshooting. Paid plugins often include some type of support or installation assistance if necessary, and again will gives users instant functionality and results. There are clear advantages to just downloading a plugin for your website, but they can also have unintended side-effects, and that’s where custom-plugins really have the edge. Unfortunately, the complexity of building a plugin, even a simple one, is still at a point where it will deter more users from attempting to build their own functionality in their sites.
Plugins are amazing tools with incredible power to change websites and to attract and engage visitors. Whether they are free, paid, or custom, any sort of interactivity will often yield a more positive user-experience, and invite people to return to the site or simply give them a more positive impression of the company that the site represents.