What is a Nulled Plugin or Theme?
There are tons of places you can go to find premium (or ‘pro’) themes and plugins for free – without having to pay the developer. Known as ‘nulled’ plugins & themes, these versions promise the same functionality as their paid counterparts without the cost. But, this could be one of the biggest mistakes you make when building your website.
General Public Licensing
Because WordPress plugins and themes are publicly licensed, anyone can use them without paying for them. Even premium themes that run on GNU General Public License are only charging customers for support from the developers & automatic updates to the latest versions – not the software itself.
5 Arguments for Avoiding Nulled Plugins & Themes
There are probably more than 5 reasons, but these are really the biggest in my opinion. If you think that using nulled WordPress plugins & themes isn’t a big deal, I urge you to read on.
1. You Don’t Work for Free, Why Should Anyone Else?
While it’s not a technical reason, I really feel like this is one of the most important, if not the most important reason to stop using nulled themes & plugins. I know this is a matter of my own opinion, but I feel like it’s a valid one.
I love WordPress and the WordPress.org repository is excellent for finding free to use plugins & themes that are generally well maintained & kept up to date. But it’s also created a mindset among many WordPress users that everything should be free – which is quite frankly, an unrealistic expectation.
Nothing is free, no matter what the ads say. Someone still has to put time, energy, and money in order to develop and maintain all those free themes & plugins in the WordPress repository.
It’s one thing if you’re building a site for yourself and you’re not much of a web person, but the number of web design agencies that use nulled plugins is incredibly scary. I don’t know of a single agency that builds sites for free, and yet they expect to obtain all their tools for no cost?
I’ve seen big name developers sell WordPress sites for upwards of $30,000 with unlicensed premium plugins in the build. How would you feel if you paid $30,000 for a web site just to find out after you got it that it didn’t include at least the first year of a $99 license?
While it’s #2 on my list, from a technical standpoint, this is the #1 reason. Nulled plugins & themes are huge risk from a security standpoint.
Many developers will release updates to patch discovered security vulnerabilities within hours of the discovery. But when you obtain a nulled theme or plugin, you don’t get the updates from the developer; you have to wait for a new nulled version. This means your site is left vulnerable for a longer period of time (or indefinitely). You might not even find out about the vulnerability because nulled versions don’t get automatic updates.
To make matters worse, once a vulnerability is discovered, that vulnerability is easily found and exploited due to the open source nature of WordPress. Your site has now become an easy target for hackers.
3. Code Integrity
When you buy a plugin from a developer, the developer has a responsibility to provide viable code (as part of their business model). You know the plugin or theme you purchased is exactly as the developer intended it to be. This isn’t the case when it comes to nulled versions.
A few months ago, it was discovered that some providers of nulled plugins & themes had been modifying the code of those nulled versions by adding their own malware to the software. Essentially, when you used one of their products, you were installing malware yourself right into your own website. This article from the WordFence Blog has the details.
In addition to the risk of added scripts to nulled themes & nulled plugins, you also miss out on all the new features, fixes, & bug corrections that come with regularly updated software. Having to burn time finding the latest nulled version of a plugin or theme you’re already using will eat away at any of the money you saved in the first place.
Ever had a plugin that just didn’t do what it was supposed to do? Or maybe one that had a conflict with another plugin that crashed your site? In the open-source world where are tens of thousands of different WordPress plugins out there, it’s quite common for an end-user to discover a conflict. Developers simply can’t test their plugin code against 30,000 other plugins before release. So what are your options?
Well, if you’ve paid for a plugin from the developer, odds are they have a support system where you can find help or have them add a resolution to the next update. Brainstorm Force, the development team behind popular WordPress products such as Astra Pro have an incredible support staff that has always answered my questions in a timely and accurate manner. Even when I first started using Astra Pro and I simply didn’t know how to use it well or change certain settings (it has a lot of options), they were kind enough to provide me with everything I needed including taking videos of themselves doing exactly what I’d asked and sending them to me.
Now, if you’ve opted for a nulled version of the same product. To put it simply, you’re totally on your own. You might find help from Google or YouTube, but you’re going to have to do the coding yourself or hire a developer to fix it for you – which would cost you more than the price of the plugin anyway.
5. Finance Developer Efforts
My final reason for avoiding nulled WordPress plugins & themes is simply this: if the products you rely on don’t have money coming in to finance the upkeep of the product, eventually that product will become useless for everyone.
One of the hottest plugins on the market right now is Elementor Pro. It basically gives you the ability to do build anything you want without having to stick within the layout framework of your theme. Elementor Pro takes a tremendous effort to maintain, and all of that effort comes with an expense.
If you built your entire website using Elementor and then the company went bankrupt because nobody was paying for their product, where does that leave you? You have to start all over unless you want to continue running outdated code and accept all the associated risks. By paying for your support and updates, you ensure that the company behind the themes and plugins you rely on continues to be able to support it and keep it running.
Get Rid of Those Nulled Themes & Plugins Now
There’s nothing wrong with trying to save some money. But saving money in a way that will most certainly cost you more in the long run isn’t a good choice. If you’re an individual trying to save some money putting together your blog, stick with legitimate free plugins & themes in the WordPress repository.
It’s an entirely different ballgame if you’re an agency and using nulled plugins or nulled themes, because now you’re putting your clients and reputation at risk. You could be putting yourself out of business and opening yourself up to lawsuits if you haven’t represented to the client clearly that you’re using risky software.
Finally, if you’ve never tried a premium plugin or theme, you’re missing out. Because they’re better funded, they generally work better and have a tremendously more flexible feature set than their free counterparts (even the legitimately free ones). If no one paid for them, then this entire ecosystem called WordPress would cease to exist.