Choosing A WordPress Support System That Suits You
When it comes to choosing a WordPress support system for your business, you better be picky. Why? Comparing the features of the different support plugins isn't enough. There are many other criteria that you should take into consideration. On our site we have provided quite a number of articles that help you to compare our plugin features against others. But a feature-by-feature comparison is not always good enough. If you want a plugin that will grow with you over time and that you can trust there are other attributes you should consider.
Many plugins that compete with each other have similar features. The differentiating factor is often flexibility. For example, if you send out email alerts, how flexible can you make those alerts? Can you control who receives them? Can you control their look and contents? How many options do you have for personalizing the alerts? Awesome Support makes it a point to include as much flexibility as possible - even if it means sometimes overwhelming you with configuration options in the settings screen. Better to have flexibility and deal with a little complexity than to find yourself stuck later on down the road.
2) What about coding standards?
This is one of the most commonly overlooked and underestimated criterion when it comes to choosing a WordPress plugin. Unless you're a developer yourself, you probably have no idea what's behind the scenes. But it does matter. Would you rather use a plugin that is originally built with PHP and has been "ported to WordPress", or use a plugin that is designed for WordPress? A good WordPress plugins uses the built-in functions, filters and hooks, while a bad plugin does not actually care about the parent platform.
Other example of bad plugin behaviors:
- Different UI. For reasons that I don't understand, some plugin authors decide to implement their own UI (based on Bootstrap for instance). This leads to a confusing using experience. On the other hand, most popular plugins seamlessly integrate with the WordPress UI.
- Use another technology. I can only agree that front-end technologies like VueJS and AngularJS are awesome, but in a WordPress context, it's silly to use them. At least in most cases. A good WordPress plugin is built with WordPress functions, so that it play wells with other themes and plugins. This includes the version of JQuery that WordPress includes and, soon, additional REACT compatible functions as well (once Gutenberg lands in version 5.0).
3) Does it integrate well with other plugins?
If you read the statements above, you'll understand that a good WordPress plugin is built with flexibility in mind. Sometimes plugin developers forget that the WordPress ecosystem is complex, and that no one uses just one plugin.
WordPress's primary integration mechanism is via a "hooks and filters" system. If you've used WordPress for a while you've probably heard about "action hooks" and "filter hooks". But did you know that these hooks aren't just a core WordPress features? Well designed plugins also include them so that they can be easily integrated with other plugins. As such, dozens of hooks and filters are available in Awesome Support - and our own add-ons make good use of them. In fact, we could not create our add-ons and efficiently support them without a robust set of hooks and filters.
4) Is the plugin well maintained?
This is another underestimated criterion when choosing a WordPress plugin. Personally, when I pick a WordPress plugins, I always try to figure if the plugin is well maintained because I want something that works in the long run. I want to use a plugin that is updated whenever a new WordPress function is made available or deprecated.
Looking at the change-log tag is a good place to start but I highly recommend trying to find if the plugin is publicly hosted on Github. This provide more insights on how often an update is pushed, a bug is fixed, and how many people contribute to improving the plugin. You want to see multiple people contributing to a publicly hosted plugin - it usually means that the codebase is solid and easily approachable by new developers. This will decrease your TCO (total cost of ownership) over time.
If there is a no publicly available version control repository then you might need to find another way to ensure that the plugin has received updates over the last year. If the plugin is located on WordPress.org you can easily see when it was last updated there.
5) Is the plugin author(s) responsive?
How fast does the author answer? Check out the WordPress.org support page for the plugin. How often does the plugin author(s) respond? How fast are their responses?
6) Can the plugin survive over time?
This is actually a really really big one and probably should be at the top of the list. The WordPress.org plugin repository is littered by plugins that have been abandoned - which could be really bad for your business if you end up depending on one of them. Almost all of the abandoned plugins and themes ended up that way because there was no way to create revenue to sustain the development of the product. While free is usually good, you want to make sure that the developers have a monetization method. And that the method makes sense - whats the point if the developers charge an ultra-low price for a premium version if its not enough to sustain the development of the plugin over the long term?
Choosing a plugin for a critical business function is no easy matter. Once you get past the feature matrix comparison you need to consider intangibles such as those we outlined above. Then and only then does it make sense to factor price into your decision. But, the items listed above might not be the only things you consider. In fact, we're really curious what other items you have used in your decision matrix when purchasing plugins in the past - we would love to hear your thoughts. Just drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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