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Wordpress Plugins vs Custom Code

What’s up, everyone! William Mosley here with another tut for your online business. Someone recently asked me “What are the benefits of using WordPress plugins and templates over raw coding when developing a website?” In today’s Versus, we have WordPress Plugins vs custom code. I’ll go over the Pros and Cons of using pro plugins, templates & custom code. When you should use each. What to use. what plugins I use. And some of the worst cases I’ve experienced by this double-edged sword. Let’s dive in!


Before we begin, you should note that, technically, Plugins are custom code. I’ll distinguish each as follows:

  • Plugins as anything you can get from the WordPress Plugin repository or from developers
  • Custom code as anything that’s being hardcoded in PHP, CSS, Javascript, etc. And hasn’t been batched and tested to be a “plugin.”

Benefits of WordPress Plugins

The upside of pro WordPress plugins

First up in our WordPress plugins vs custom code battle. Plugins. Let me begin and say plugins are amazing for so many reasons!

  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time
  • There’s a plugin for everything
  • Extremely affordable
  • You can install one in minutes
  • They make managing your website easier
  • Paid versions are typically better maintained

When WordPress plugins are coded correctly and well maintained by trusted developers, it can make your life as an online business a dream. Take Beaver Builder or Yoast for instance. They give me the tools to elevate my designs and SEO to a level only my imagination can limit. Built by developers who care about security and meeting the demands and requests of their growing client base.

When you code something from scratch for scalability, it requires the developer to think about many aspects and angles of the problem

  • Solving the initial problem
  • Security
  • Validation
  • Speed
  • Scalability
  • And more

Some Plugins Start Right Uses

With high-quality plugins, you’re essentially buying the developers time and support to continue to improve and integrate more features over time. Which if you think about it – it’s dirt cheap in comparison to paying or investing time in custom code.

Maybe you pay $99 for a plugin that solves something you have to do every day. That’s just $027  per day for 1 year. Try getting an employee to work for that. It makes it hard not vote plugins as the winner in or Wordpress plugins vs custom code right off the bat – but don’t be so quick to choose sides.

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The dark side of plugins

And then you drop off a cliff… Yeah, that’s how it can feel when you update your WordPress store and all of the sudden you get a White Screen of Death. Our WordPress plugins vs custom code just got a lot tricker. Especially if you’re not a developer. It can be EXTREMELY SCARY. Especially when you think about your brand and customer credit cards you handle through your website.

Typically what happens is you hit that nice shiny “Update All” plugins button in WordPress and it runs through until everything goes white. What’s most likely happened is a plugin that’s been updated has a rogue piece of code in it. Probably from a poorly written:

  • function
  • class
  • object
  • variable
  • syntax error
  • if/else statement

When WordPress Plugins go rogue

The only way to solve this if you were lucky enough to know which plugin caused this is to

  1. Disable the plugin by renaming it in your file manager
  2. Check that WordPress loads normally
  3. Attempt to install the previous version of it
  4. And cross your fingers that everything is fine.

Scary as hell right? Because it is. I’ve encountered my fair share of sub-par plugins. The problem becomes exponential and riskier as you install more and more plugins. All of them are third-party with different coding styles and could clash with each over with same name functions, etc. More downsides to plugins are:

  • More third party plugins typically mean slower load speeds
  • Nonessential code
  • Unexpected results

Where custom code shines

Where custom code shines

Second up in our WordPress plugins vs custom code battle. Custom code. Everyone loves shiny beautiful code. Okay, maybe just me. Custom code shines when you. meet the following criteria:

When you have the right developer behind you, you can:

  • Make custom hooks into WordPress
  • Change the way users use your shop
  • Build keygens for your software
  • Trigger actions when your customers do certain things
  • Custom validation
  • Saving specific data to your database
  • Build a marketplace
  • Build a social network
  • Hooking into private APIs
  • Hooking into accounting software
  • Build custom shortcakes

custom code for Mailchimp

The list is infinite. And as you grow you may find that there is something you can’t pull off efficiently with the current plugins you have. Knowing that you aren’t limited and have extreme flexibility with your online store is invaluable. Have you picked your winner yet in our Wordpress plugins vs custom code battle?

When custom code is bad

The nightmares of custom code

Nightmares. And every side effect they warn you about in the commercials. Custom code can ruin your day. It can obliterate timelines. And destroy your budget. I should note that much of this applies to PHP custom code. CSS custom code is way less detrimental because it’s only dealing with styles (visuals) vs functionality. If you don’t have a developer that know’s her shit. You’re wasting your money. A lot of time when you’re custom coding, there are a lot of unknowns and revisions to bring your solution to life. I only advise custom code if:

So, Will, you’re picking plugins right. Yes and no, but mainly yes at first for this WordPress plugin vs custom code battle. Why? Because done wrong:

  • When you update your website, it could corrupt your database
  • Expose your client’s credit cards
  • Show sensitive information
  • Cripple your website
  • Waste a lot of money
  • Waste everyone’s time

When you add custom code to a production (live) website, you’re always taking a risk. Typically developers handle this by trying the code in a sandbox or staging environment before integrating into live code.

I advise finding someone who builds websites for a living and understands WordPress development and Advanced PHP. That’s me of course. The biggest thing to remember when you take Alice down this rabbit hole is that it’s expensive in comparison to Plugin cost, but done well, you could take your business to Wonderland.

When you should use both

So you’ve seen both sides of the coin for both. So when should you use both?

  1. Start by sourcing plugins that have been used by thousands with high ratings
  2. Use these until you have a need that plugins can’t resolve easily
  3. Research custom code and consider implementing simple fixes your self
  4. If you have the budget to support a developer, hire a smart one

New Human (my 9 – 5) We use 50 plugins. We also use Zapier to handle some automation between WordPress, Zendesk, Capsule, and MailChimp. Even with all the amazing tools available on the web I’ve still had to achieve the following with custom code:

  • Software registration for a $25K SpectraVision
  • Updating each Capsule contact when a new MailChimp Campaign is sent
  • Custom shortcodes to display content to customers on specific pages
  • Redirect customers to specific pages after login/purchase

What plugins do you use on Start Right?

Here are the 35 plugins I use currently on Start Right. I’ve also listed the authors and linked to most of them.

AddToAny Share Buttons by AddToAny – 1.7.19
AffiliateWP – Lifetime Commissions by Pippin Williamson and Andrew Munro – 1.2.4
AffiliateWP – Recurring Referrals by Pippin Williamson and Andrew Munro – 1.6.4
AffiliateWP by AffiliateWP, LLC – 2.1.6
AffiliateWP – Affiliate Dashboard Sharing by Pippin Williamson and Andrew Munro – 1.1.3
AffiliateWP – Tiered Rates by AffiliateWP – 1.1
Amazon Associates Link Builder by Amazon Associates Program – 1.4.11
Beaver Builder Plugin (Pro Version) by The Beaver Builder Team – 1.10.4
Beaver Themer by The Beaver Builder Team – 1.0
BJ Lazy Load by Bjørn Johansen, Aron Tornberg, angrycreative – 1.0.9
Formidable Signature field by Strategy11 – 1.08
Formidable Forms by Strategy11 – 2.05.01
Google Analytics + by WPMU DEV –
Insert Post Ads by InsertPostAds – 1.1.2
Redirection by John Godley – 2.7.3
Start Right Box by William Mosley, III – 0.1.0
Video User Manuals by Video User Manuals Pty Ltd – 2.5.4
Google Reviews Widget by RichPlugins – 1.5.7
Woo Credits Platinum by http://woocredits.com/ – 1.3.8
WooCommerce Stripe Gateway by WooCommerce – 3.2.3
WooCommerce Memberships by SkyVerge – 1.8.9
WooCommerce Product Bundles by SomewhereWarm – 5.4.1
WooCommerce Subscriptions by Prospress Inc. – 2.2.11
WooCommerce by Automattic – 3.1.2
Yoast SEO by Team Yoast – 5.6.1
Easy Forms for MailChimp by YIKES, Inc. – 6.3.26
User Switching by John Blackbourn – 1.2.0
Google Analytics + by WPMU DEV –
BackWPup by Inpsyde GmbH – 3.4.2
Domain Mapping by WPMU DEV –
User Role Editor by Vladimir Garagulya – 4.36.1
User Shortcodes by HappyPlugins – 1.0.1
W3 Total Cache by Frederick Townes –
WPMU DEV Dashboard by WPMU DEV – 4.3
PDF Embedder by Dan Lester – 3.0.1

What do the version numbers mean?

Developers typically follow this format for version numbers

  1. Major Feature
  2. Minor Feature
  3. Bug Fixes

So the following by Yoast SEO 5.6.1 would mean

  1. 5th major feature release
  2. 6 minor features in
  3. Had 1 bug fix so far in 5.6

Do you use custom code?

Hell yes. EVERY DAY. But that’s only because I’m a seasoned developer. I know many of the ins and out. What to do. And what not to do. I’m able to write scripts very quickly and can style (CSS) faster than you can say Expelliarmus!!!

A conclusion on WordPress plugins vs custom code

In closing. We had the argument of pro WordPress plugins vs custom code. They both have major positive and major fallbacks if either is implemented incorrectly. Use plugins by trusted authors and use custom code by trusted developers. As always. if you need help. Shoot me an email will@startrighttoday.com

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William Mosley, III | Owner | 828.201.2702 | 6 - 8AM Micro Business? | will@startrighttoday.com | 60 N Market St C200, Asheville, NC 28803

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