One of the chief benefits of using WordPress Multisite to run your turnkey operation is the sheer amount of excellent plugins available. These plugins allow you to add the functionality that your customers need.
However, I found out early on that you can’t just install plugins willy-nilly. It’s important to take some things into consideration; things that are unique to turnkey systems. Things like compatibility and support are important, but just as important are how your clients will interact with, and perceive, the plugins.
Run these questions through your mind as you choose plugins for your turnkey website system.
Is it “multisite” enabled?
This one might seem obvious, but it’s essential. Plugins may look and behave differently in a multisite environment if they have been created to be multisite “aware”.
A great example of this is the Beaver Builder Agency plugin. It’s the page builder I use on my turnkey sites to allow my customers to have complete control over their page layouts (a highly requested feature). I chose it because of it’s compatibility with multisite. Specifically, you can choose to show or hide certain modules, curate access to templates, and even change the help and support links to your own support portal. And you can do all this from the network dashboard in multisite so your clients will never see those options in their own dashboards.
Not every plugin needs to be multisite enabled. The contact form plugin we use doesn’t need to be multisite compatible because the way the plugin behaves on a single WordPress install is the same behavior we need on all the subsites as well.
In summary, make sure you check how a plugin behaves in a multisite environment before installing it on your live turnkey platform. It may behave much differently in multisite if it’s a plugin you’ve used before on a single WordPress install.
Does it have reliable support?
I know it’s tempting to use free plugins to meet your needs, but with a turnkey solution that may end up supporting hundreds of customers, it’s a big risk.
There have been many times that I’ve ran into a quirk or issue with a plugin on my multisite that I needed quick help resolving. The chances of getting quick support, or any support at all, are limited with a free plugin. Be prepared to invest in good reliable plugins.
Even with certain premium plugins, support can be an issue. I’m not going to name names, but there’s a certain plugin provider that has literally dozens of multisite-specific plugins in their catalog. Yet when it comes to getting critical support for those plugins, you’re left with posting in their support forum and waiting days for a response. This is not acceptable when hundreds of people are reliant on your platform.
But how can you know about support before purchasing?
- Ask your colleagues. Make sure you’re a member of WordPress and web-dev Facebook groups and communities so you have like-minded people you can ask for opinions.
- Contact support before purchasing. Ask some pre-sales questions and see how long it takes them to answer.
- Browse the website. Is there a good knowledge base? Is there an active user community? If so, that’s a big plus.
I’ve had success by seeking out well-established brands or plugin developers that specialize in a particular niche. However, this is a constantly evolving ecosystem, so its best to always keep your finger on the pulse of the WordPress plugin world.
Does it include confusing branding or links back to the plugin author’s site?
This is an often overlooked aspect of plugin selection for client sites, but it’s very important.
I believe that your client’s should never know what “plugins” you’re using. However, many plugins these days will plaster their branding all over the dashboard and put links back to their own website.
There are a few problems with this:
- Your client may go directly to the plugin developer for support. This can lead to numerous issues. One issue is that the plugin developer may ask the client for admin access to WordPress or your hosting environment. Your client may not even know they are in a multisite environment. This can lead to a very poor experience for your customers. You always want them to come to you for support, and then you, in turn, can contact the necessary plugin developers.
- Your client may go off to read reviews about the plugin and then come back to you with questions like “why aren’t you using XYZ plugin instead” or “this plugin says it has a certain capability, but I don’t see that in my dashboard”. We want to stop those thoughts form ever appearing in your customers mind.
- Brand consistency. If you’re selling your brand as “Awesome Plumber Websites” and then a client logs into their dashboard and sees names like “Yoast” or “WPMUDev”, there’s potential for some real confusion there.
That’s why I stop short of using a plugin like Yoast SEO on my turnkey system. Even though it’s a very popular and well-loved plugin, the admin screens are riddled with Yoast-branded banners and links.
Look for plugins that offer white labeling or brand customization. Short of that, make sure they at least have little to no confusing branding. For example, does it show up in the dashboard as “Contact Form” or “Super-duper-awesome-brand forms”? The plugins I recommend in the Turnkey Websites Blueprint Technical Handbook* fit this bill.
*See the bottom of this post to download your copy of the handbook.
And Does it have pop-up nags?
Along the same lines as the branding issues are those annoying pop-ups or notifications that appear on every screen of your dashboard asking you to update or upgrade a plugin. This is not necessary in all cases, but especially in a multisite environment. These nags can appear to your clients if the plugin you’re using is not multisite-aware.
I recommend testing plugins in a development environment for a few weeks to make sure these nags don’t appear in your subsites.
Look at it from your customers’ point of view
When in doubt, just remember to think of the experience of using a plugin from the point of view of your customers. You should know your niche well enough to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Approach it with a “beginner’s” mindset.
If they aren’t very technical, will they be able to figure out how to use the plugin? Is the functionality that the plugin is supposed to provide clearly defined? Is it intuitive where the plugin’s output will go? Is everything in the plugin needed or are there some parts of it that wont be used by your customers?
Sometimes the answers will lead you to find a better (or simpler) plugin. Sometimes they’ll prompt you to record some tutorial videos. Or sometimes the answers will help you realize that this plugin might not be necessary in the first place.
In fact, I like to take a less-is-more approach to plugins on my turnkey system. If it’s not something an overwhelming majority of my customers will use or need, I’d just as well leave it out entirely. In most cases, the support headaches that can come from a confusing plugin aren’t worth the benefits.
Build Your Own
Finally, if you can afford it, or you have the knowledge, I recommend building out your own solutions instead of relying on third party plugins.
I’m no professional developer, but I have taught myself enough PHP over the years that I was able to build out some of the key functionality in my turnkey system from scratch. This allows me to make quick changes and updates when needed, and doesn’t bloat the system with plugins that come with un-necessary baggage.
All of the above really boils down to one thing: take the time to vet the plugins you use and be deliberate about what you choose to implement.
Taking the time when you’re first starting out to choose the right plugins will mean fewer headaches and support requests further down the line when you’re trying to scale.
What are the go-to plugins for your WaaS offering?