I’m in the process of reviewing several wordpress membership and shopping cart plugins and there have been some very obvious points that I think are worth discussing when you are in the process of purchasing one of these plugins.
1. When was it last updated?
Because WordPress is so popular it is also a target for hackers. We’ve seen a few major breaches over the years (such as the timthumb.php exploit) and one of the most important ways to minimise your exposure to possible breaches of site security is to make sure you have the latest version of WordPress as well as the latest version of any plugins or theme you are using. If a plugin hasn’t been updated for a year or more then that tends to ring the alarm bells for me. Either the author is so confident that they don’t believe their plugin is vulnerable or they are displaying apathy and will continue to do so until a major breach occurs.
When you are mentally scoring the various plugins, don’t just base that score on features – check whether the plugin has some sort of update log and try to find out the last date a new version was released. Were there bug and/or security updates in that release? Whilst an update log with several security fixes may seem scary to some people, for me it actually provides a degree of confidence that the plugin author is security conscious.
2. Which Payment Gateways Does The Plugin Support?
From a feature point of view, this is one of the first things you need to check. If you already have a payment processor such as PayPal or 2Checkout then ideally you want a plugin that already supports the gateway you use. Otherwise you’ll have to sign up for another payment gateway service just for that one plugin. That may be okay if the plugin has some compelling features that make it stand head and shoulders above the rest, but you will also have to learn how to use a new payment processor and the actual gateway may not provide your currency, adequate reporting or the type of payment plans that your site requires. If you are selling products through an online marketplace such as Clickbank for example, then the plugin needs to have specific support or else you’ll find yourself forking out extra money to have a programmer do the integration for you. Check all of this thoroughly before you purchase.
3. What Payment Plans Are Supported?
Generally speaking, there are three common types of payment plans used in membership sites.
- Single Payment for Digital Products
- Single Payment for Tangible Goods
- Subscription Payment for Membership
If you are going to be providing digital downloads such as software programs or e-books then your plugin will need specific support. Most of the plugins I’ve seen that provide support for digital products do it quite well. They allow you to store the files in a secure folder outside of the main website directory and then mask the download link so that the user cannot see where the file is actually stored.
For tangible goods you may need the plugin to support several other variables such as shipping cost by weight, shipping cost by country and quantity. Some plugins also provide a degree of stock control where you can enter the number of items you have in stock and receive an alert when stock levels reach a certain minimum level.
Subscription payments for membership sites that provide access to premium content are very common. One of the major factors for me in choosing a plugin is the degree of difficulty in protecting content. Some plugins require that you provide the WordPress ID of posts and/or pages that you want to protect. This is a cumbersome way to protect pages. Another method is to use tags or shortcodes. The shortcode method is probably the easiest and most versatile as you can simply place the content you want to protect between the codes when you are writing the article.
4. Where Is The Documentation?
Documentation is a pet hate for me. Or I should say LACK OF documentation. Regardless of which plugin you choose there is going to be a degree of complexity in the setup and some of the settings probably won’t seem very intuitive. At the very least the plugin should provide detailed documentation in PDF or HTML format. Ideally there should also be a series of tutorial videos showing how to install, configure and administer the plugin. A plugin with little or no documentation can be difficult for someone with relevant experience and/or technical skills to configure and manage. For someone with no technical skills it is going to be almost impossible.
5. How Is Support Provided?
The first thing we need to do regarding support is adjust our expectations so that they are realistic. Telephone support for online purchases is rarely provided, particularly if you have spent less than $100 on a script. Most plugin authors will provide an online helpdesk service and/or email support. If you are unsure of the level of support that will be provided then it is quite reasonable to submit a ticket or send an email to the support address with some pre-sape questions. The time taken and the degree of detail in the response will give you a good idea of what to expect with future support requests. Community forums are also quite common and are a great place to get an idea of how well supported the product is and whether there are any ongoing issues that haven’t been addressed. Do keep in mind though that customers are much more likely to use a forum to report a problem or issue they are having rather than to praise the product – so rather than looking at the quantity of issues have a look at the time taken to respond and the quality of the response.
All of the above is really just standard due diligence. It really is worthwhile doing a little bit of leg work before you make a purchase. You are much more likely to end up with a product that feels right and works for you.