Why bundling plugins in themes is a bad idea

You are probably reading the above title and thinking what is wrong with that? Getting a theme with built-in plugins or getting a bundle of installable plugins is great because you feel like you are getting more features and value for the money you pay for the theme you just purchased. I agree it’s nice to get a bunch of stuff included with your theme, but lets consider why it’s not always a good thing.

But Why is it a Bad Idea?

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea, but ultimately it really depends on your own take if the plugins bundled are worthy and how they can be an advantage or disadvantage. But let’s start with the advantages…

Advantages

There are only a few advantages that apply to both built-in and installable plugins:

  • If a theme has special features that requires plugins, you have them ready to be installed
  • If a theme has plugins built-into it, there’s no installation required because they are ready to use
  • It saves you the time to search for plugins because the theme author already did the work for you

Disadvantages

Compared to the advantages, you have a lot more disadvantages for both built-in and installable plugins. In fact, you potentially have more serious issues to worry about:

  • You run the risk of script conflicts with other plugins that you have installed if the plugin is built for the theme
  • You run the risk when WordPress updates, the plugin built for the theme will not function any more
  • Plugins made by non-experienced theme developers could result in security issues if they are were not coded properly
  • What about support? Most theme developers do not provide support for third party plugins that are bundled in with themes. Should something go wrong and you cannot get support from the theme developer, where do you go and who do you seek help? Most if not all plugin developers will NOT provide support if you did not obtain the plugin from them directly. Even more so with commercially paid themes.
  • What if the plugin is no longer supported or continued development for bug fixes and updates are discontinued?
  • What if the plugin gets new features and updates like bug fixes or security vulnerabilities patched? The likelihood that the theme developer will keep their copy up to date is not a guarantee.
  • Updating theme based plugin’s could become time consuming for users and the developer
  • If themes include plugins and the plugins get updates but the theme does not, it’s kind of crazy to update the theme package to a new version if the theme did not get updated. It makes it messy to have to update the plugins when you don’t have the option to perform auto updates from within the WordPress Updates dashboard. Many third party theme shops don’t have the means of giving you update notices with a one click update feature like you get with installed themes and plugins from WordPress. You will end up having to update your plugins manually.
  • Updating theme bundled plugins that have significant changes could have adverse effects for your website

Then We Have Personal Preference

What many people often overlook is the fact that everyone has personal preferences as to what plugin they want to use. Perhaps you already have plugins installed, or maybe you’ve purchased plugins and do not want to waste the money you invested in obtaining them. Maybe you simply don’t want to have to learn yet another plugin.

Having a theme site bundle plugins is like having the theme author “TELL YOU” that you have to use the packaged plugins whether you like it or not. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being told that I have to use something and that I have no other choice.

I will confess that even I’ve been guilty of this because I have a couple themes that include shortcode plugins that are part of the download package which gives you some enhanced content elements like image boxes, buttons, columns, and more. Although they are not required, you still have the option to use third party plugins that gives you shortcodes that you can use within your content.

Why Having Your Own Choice is Better

In a nutshell, you get to choose what you want to use. You get a better feeling that whatever you choose, it’s not tied to a specific theme, therefore you can still use the plugin should you decide to switch themes at a later date.

Themes Should Just be Themes

Themes should never include plugins and scripts that creates content, or structured layouts within your site’s content, especially those that are tied to the theme you are using. If that is the case, guess what happens if you change to a new theme….you will lose what you had. It’s a little different though if you are using a plugin that is built to work regardless of the theme you are using. A good example is a form creation plugin, or a gallery plugin.

So what is a theme really?

To quote from wordpress.com, here is their description of what a theme is:

A WordPress theme provides all of the front end styling of your WordPress site. Most WordPress themes provide:

  • the overall design or style of your site
  • font styling
  • colors
  • widget locations
  • page layouts (or templates)
  • styles for blog posts and blog archives
  • additional stylistic details

Themes and Plugins are Very Different from One Another

Developing quality plugins and themes are two completely different environments. Themes are based more on visual design and layout, whereas plugins add functions to your website like shopping carts, forms, galleries, portfolios, membership systems, and much more. There are many theme authors who try to do both, but It’s rare to see someone that can do both equally well while maintaining them on a regular basis.

Creating quality plugins requires skills that are quite different from what a theme developer has.

In Summary

Unfortunately, many theme shops and marketplaces will included built-in plugins that lose their functionality when you change themes. If you get a theme with installable plugins, make sure they are not required for that specific theme, otherwise you will find yourself in trouble. For example, I know one premium theme that I was curious about which required a page builder plugin. I wanted to see what happens if I switched themes…all my pages were completely messed up.

The idea is to keep themes as themes and leave plugins up to the user to make their own choices. Although there is nothing wrong with recommending plugins, just make sure you have the option to choose what works for you and then get the plugins when you need them.

 

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