This week we have a guest columnist — KJR’s own web developer, Kimberly Lewis:
This is a follow up to last week’s column, to explain my biggest issue in web dev — one businesses that want successful web projects should be aware of:
Spend more, not less, on software.
Yep, I’m talking about everyone’s least favorite add-on cost. And I’m going to say something other open-source devs (I am one) will probably dislike.
Free isn’t always better
In fact, IS Survivor was a great test case of exactly why you want to pay extra for certain things. I paid for an inexpensive WordPress theme. (For those unacquainted with WordPress, themes are what control the look and functionality of your site, and they come at various price points.) I started with free themes. Six different ones, to be exact. The problem with free is that you get amateurish design, and worse functionality and configurability.
While I can deal with not-so-great design, I can’t put up with bad functionality and overly limited configurability. While I could consider going in and writing custom code within the theme by making what’s called a “Child Theme,” that would add weeks of concentrated work onto the job, and therefore a serious added cost.
Long term, a premium theme would be a better option. Now it’s just a matter of determining price point.
I like some of the more expensive themes. Why? Out of the box they have a great layout, lots of added functionality and customization, and plenty of extra support for when things don’t go according to plan. In my opinion, it’s worth it to prevent some extra costs.
Here is where I drag my father on his own website like the cheeky little brat of a daughter I don’t mind being. My dad is nothing if not cheap. He really, really didn’t want a premium theme. We compromised on an inexpensive but not free theme that fit the previous site’s look and feel, had the customization I wanted, but, due to the low cost, lacked a lot of the extra functionality I would have had with a higher end theme.
We’ve been paying for the decision ever since.
The limited functionality, combined with my father’s preference for displaying the entire post in full on the home page, resulted in immediate problems displaying archive and search results. My choices: either plugins, or adding a half-dozen additional pages of code into the theme. (Once again, for non-WordPress developers, a plugin is a software add-on I can install for added functionality without coding.)
This led to me trying 25 (yes, this is accurate. I kept track) different plugins for the archive list. I got refunds for 10, and all but one was incapable of handling the sheer number of columns in the archive. I’ll give Dad credit: He’s a persistent and voluminous writer.
In this case, free was the only choice — literally the only one that wasn’t breaking. Unfortunately, it’s ugly. Sorry. Not much I can do about that.
Search was the bigger problem. We started with a free trial for the best search engine on the market: Algolia Search. It’s good. It’s really good. It’s also horrifically expensive, but I’d hoped we could get away with the free version.
For the same reasons as the archive plugin, we can’t. And paying for it on a smaller site like IS Survivor is like taking out a mosquito with a thermonuclear bomb (although I’m originally from Minnesota, so I understand the temptation): too much power, too much cost for a site this small.
So now we have a dilemma. Do I go ahead and find a free search plugin, or do I use a paid plugin?
The pros of a paid plugin are, once again, customization, support, clean integration, and no ads. Yes, often you get ads on something if you don’t pay for it.
The cons of the free ones are lack of clean integration (Google Search WP, I’m looking at you), less customization, no support except from other users, many of whom have hacked the living daylights out of the plugin, and often compromised functionality.
This is a matter of cost vs. worth, and it goes all the way back to the decision to purchase an inexpensive theme.
If we’d gone with a premium theme that out of the box had everything we needed, but was also much more expensive, we’d have ended up spending exactly the same as we’re paying now. This is what businesses have to think about. Sometimes free or inexpensive will do the job. That’s great. But in case it doesn’t, be prepared to pay more than you were planning on to fix the problems “excessive frugality” can cause.
If you’re curious: I bought a single use license for a search engine plugin. Hope you like the result.