10 Successful Free WordPress Plugins That Use the Add-on Model for Monetisation

Published on December 18th, 2015

Last Updated on March 27th, 2019

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If you are looking for inspiration for the pricing model of your next product, or you just want to know which plugins you can start using today with the option of upgrading the features a a later date, then this article is for you.

Many WordPress plugins make use of the add-on or extension model. This allows users to install the core plugin and then add more features by choosing from a library of add-ons. Some of these core plugins are available for free while others are commercial plugins in their own right. When it comes to the optional add-ons, these extensions can again be free or commercial products.

Some plugins that work in this way have become so popular that they’ve spawned their own ecosystems. These mini-ecosystems work in much the same way as WordPress, with its free core software and countless commercial themes, plugins, and other related services. As with WordPress and its ecosystem, sometimes these plugin add-ons are created by third parties who had nothing to do developing the core plugin in the first place.

In this article, we will be looking at some of the best and most popular plugins that make use of the core plugin plus optional add-ons and extensions model. If you’d prefer to use a tool that can be upgraded and customized with optional add-ons this will help you find the right plugin for your website,

Furthermore, if you are a product developer, these examples of successful plugins that sell add-ons should give you some inspiration for how you can deliver, monetize, and improve your product with optional extensions.


Add-ons WooCommerce

WooCommerce is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress with over 1 million active installs and a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. WooCommerce is a free ecommerce toolkit, which includes everything you need in order to start listing products for sale on your WordPress site and collecting payments from your customers.

However, where WooCommerce really comes into its own is the ecosystem that has grown up around it. With many free and commercial add-ons available, there’s really no limit as to which features you can add to your WordPress ecommerce store.

Some of these add-ons have been created by the WooCommerce development team, while plenty more have been built by third party developers who sell their extensions via their own websites. There are even dedicated WooCommerce development houses that offer bespoke support and development services for website owners using this plugin.

If you want one of the best examples of how a free plugin can be monetized with optional upgrades, there’s no better option than WooCommerce. There’s been many forks in the road when it comes to the history of this plugin, including WooCommerce being acquired by Automattic in 2015 for a deal reportedly worth $30 million, making it a plugin with a story that all product developers can learn from.

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Easy Digital Downloads

Add-ons EDD

Easy Digital Downloads, known affectionately as EDD, is another eCommerce plugin for WordPress that is supported by a wealth of add-ons and extensions. Like WooCommerce, the core plugin is free, while the optional upgrades are available as either free or commercial products.

Despite the success of WooCommerce, there is room in the WordPress ecosystem for another ecommerce plugin. This is mainly because while WooCommerce is aimed at those who want to sell physical products from their site, EDD is better suited to selling digital downloads. However, with the right extensions, both plugins can sell products and services of any type.

Some of the commercial add-ons for EDD can be purchased in bundles. These bundles tend to be focused on specific types of features, such as marketing tools or add-ons that upgrade the payment collection capabilities of a store. The use of bundles makes it easier for site owners to choose the right add-ons for the store they are trying to build, while also helping them to save some money at the same time.

With over 40,000 active installs and a highly positive 4.9 stars out of 5 rating, EDD is a highly successful free plugin that has embraced the add-ons model.

Affiliate WP

Add-ons AffiliateWP

While many blogs earn an income by promoting products and services as an affiliate, if you want to generate more sales for your venture, then you may want to consider starting your own affiliate program. Doing so will give others the incentive to go out and promote your product and services, earning them a commission for every lead they send your way that becomes a customer.

You would be forgiven for thinking setting up your own in-house affiliate program would be difficult. However, by using the Affiliate WP WordPress plugin, you can create and manage your own program on your own terms, right from within your WordPress dashboard.

Affiliate WP was created by the team behind Easy Digital Downloads. Therefore you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it too makes use of the extensions model to deliver additional features. However, unlike the free EDD, Affiliate WP is a great example of a successful commercial plugin, which can be enhanced with optional free and premium add-ons.

Ultimate Member

Add-ons Ultimate Member

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If you want to build a membership website, or add a membership component to your existing site, then you could do a lot worse than installing the free Ultimate Member WordPress plugin.

The free core Ultimate Member plugin is packed with useful features. However, adding social logins, user reviews, MailChimp integration, and private messaging to your site will cost you the price a commercial add-on.

If you want to build a community around your brand then Ultimate Member lets you do it with just enough of the features you need, no matter what stage you are at in your journey.

Gravity Forms

Add-ons Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is perhaps one of the most well known premium plugins for WordPress. No matter what type of form you want to add to your site, from humble contact forms, to surveys, quizzes and more, it’s highly likely the core Gravity Forms plugin can help you out.

However, if you have more advanced needs then you should be able to turn to one or more of the free and commercial add-ons for Gravity Forms to get the job done. Failing that, you can always hire the services of a dedicated Gravity Forms support provider. These outfits can then carry out any custom development work on your behalf.

Ninja Forms

Add-ons Ninja Forms

Gravity Forms may’ve set the standard for commercial WordPress form plugins. However, Ninja Forms are certainly giving them a run for their money.

Unlike Gravity Forms, the core Ninja Forms plugin is freely available. You then have the option of upgrading it with a library of free and commercial add-ons to choose from. You can find out more about Ninja Forms in our hands-on review. However, suffice to say, it’s a great product that will grow with your needs.

WP RSS Aggregator

Add-ons WP RSS

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Do you want to import RSS feeds into your WordPress website? If so, then look no further than the free WP RSS Aggregator plugin and its collection of premium extensions.

With WP RSS Aggregator, you can pull in the feeds of blog posts from any number of websites. The blog posts in these feeds can then be displayed as a list of links in one of your posts. Alternatively, you can import the whole article and publish it directly on your site. One example use for this plugin is displaying a list of the most recent posts you’ve published on different blogs, in a single location on your own website. WP RSS Aggregator does this job very well as you can see on the most recent work page of my freelance blogger portfolio.

If you want to know more about auto publishing content on your WordPress website, read our WP RSS Aggregator plugin review.

WP Job Manager

Add-ons WP Job Manager

Whether you want to create an employment website with the latest vacancies or simply add a page to your website that lists the opportunities at your company, the free WP Job Manager plugin is a great choice.

The free version of WP Job Manager is certainly feature packed. It includes all of the features most users will need to start publishing job vacancies on their WordPress website. However, if your project demands more than the average user, the free and commercial add-ons have got you covered. Like the best plugins using the add-ons model, you can pick up the extensions in money and time saving bundles.

WP Job Manager fully embraces the add-on model, with a collection of themes that have been built especially for use with this plugin.

OptIn Ninja

Add-ons OptIn Ninja

If you want to improve the conversion rates of your website, then OptIn Ninja could be the plugin for you. This commercial plugin gives you the ability to display a range of popups on your site, each of which can contain a selection of custom content.

The content you can display in these popups can include email optin forms for your newsletter, social sharing buttons, welcome messages, and any other custom content that you need to bring to the attention of your visitors. OptIn Ninja is feature packed as it is, with A/B testing, support for all the best email marketing services, which you can read about in our detailed squeeze page WordPress plugin review.

Awesome Support

Add-ons Awesome Support

If you have a product or service that you need to support then installing the Awesome Support plugin will turn your WordPress website into a fully featured online help desk and ticketing system.

While there are many help desk and support plugins for WordPress, Awesome Support is free to use, with the option of making it more powerful through the installation of the upgrades. The Awesome Support add-ons are a mixture of free and commercial extensions. There’s also a handful of bundles to help you save money when building your support and help desk portal.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of great examples of successful plugins with optional add-ons. There are many benefits of choosing a plugin of this type. One such benefit is the ability to start out small and then add more features as your needs grow.

As the core plugins are sometimes free, you can really test out the waters before buying any commercial upgrades. This covers both testing out the plugin to see if it works in the way that you want, as well as testing out whether there is a market for your new online project, without investing in commercial tools to power it.

One of the benefits of purchasing a premium upgrade in the form of a commercial add-ons is that it often gives you access to improved customer support that just sometimes isn’t available with free plugins.

If you are planning your own product, then hopefully, these examples of successful plugins using the add-on model will give you some thought on how you can deliver your project.

What do you think of the add-ons model? Do you mind paying extra for additional features or would you rather have access to everything from the outset? Would you offer your product or service with optional extras or open it up to third party developers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Joe has been using WordPress for many years and spends his time creating content for a wide range of websites and blogs. If you need compelling content for your blog, visit his freelance services portfolio now.