One of the major benefits to using WordPress compared to other content management systems is that you can easily expand its functionality.
In fact, this is a primary reason why a WordPress learning management system (LMS) is so conducive to online learning programs.
For example, it is easy to implement a forum when the time comes, enable badging & awards, activate leaderboards, chat functionality, help desks, and so on. This kind of flexibility is hard to accomplish in the LMS space, something I know from first-hand experience.
The WordPress ecosystem has a seemingly infinite amount of cool free and paid plugins that you can add to your site with just a few clicks. However, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.
There are a few critical factors beyond the plugin’s functionality that you should consider prior to adding it to your site.
Here are three practical tips you can apply today as you evaluate the WordPress plugins you are interested in adding to your site…
Tip #1: Start on the Development Environment
First things first: always have a development environment where you can test a new plugin first before it is on your live site.
This may sound difficult but most hosting providers can get this configured for you in a few clicks. Then, you have an exact clone of your main site on a domain like “dev.yourdomain.com”. Testing new plugins on the development site will save you from stressful moments.
If something breaks, you can investigate on the dev site without worrying about your live site.
Tip #2: Understand The Plugin’s Pricing Model
Is the plugin a one-time price? Are there renewal costs? Is it free (i.e. a limited version and you have to pay to get the good stuff)?
Not every plugin uses the same pricing model so you should take the time to fully understand the costs associated with it. This will help you budget accordingly.
It also means you won’t have any unpleasant surprises at some point.
There are no shortage of stories where people have become frustrated because they installed a plugin that was advertised as free only to find out that they need to pay for extra (or basic) features.
Tip #3: Understand the Support Culture
It isn’t uncommon for people to instantly install the first plugin that seems relevant for their needs only to later drop it because the support takes days instead of hours (or, maybe dedicated support is a paid extra… see Tip #2).
If the support channels are public, look through them and see if people are getting their questions addressed.
If they aren’t public, write a message to the business behind the plugin to see how long it takes them to reply. By rule of thumb: if they don’t reply quickly to a pre-sales message then chances are they won’t be too swift to reply to support.
You will want to have a good understanding of how responsive their support is, the hours they are available, and how to ask for support so that you get a response as quick as possible. Doing your due diligence up-front will save you much frustration.