Ask the Bartender: Integrate With Third-Party App or Use Native WordPress Plugin?

My question to you is how you see the future (or even the present) of integrating software with WordPress and when you should make the distinction of going the integration vs. native approach.

In other words, with the vast ecosystem of WordPress plugins out there, how can a website owner discern which responsibilities WordPress the software should handle and whether that functionality is actually better to plug another software or service into instead?


There was a time when I would have said build all the things in WordPress. I was younger then, a bit more naive. I was optimistic about using WordPress as a framework to build anything. There is a part of me that still leans in this direction. Mostly, this is because I want to see what developers in the WordPress ecosystem can achieve. I applaud anyone who pushes the platform beyond its current limits.

Few people would have guessed that WordPress would become an eCommerce powerhouse. However, WooCommerce has proven it can be done. I still remember when nearly every WordPress theme and plugin author was selling their commercial products via E-junkie. Now, Easy Digital Downloads is the go-to solution, and AffiliateWP handles the affiliate side of things.

Some of the best products from the WordPress plugin market arose from issues with third-party app integration. Their creators bucked the system and brought useful tools directly into WordPress. Many of these are now multi-million dollar products and companies that employ dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. They have their own ecosystems that allow even more third-party developers to make a living. And this is all done on top of WordPress.

I will always root for the home team, for the developers in our community to build native solutions.

However, the reality is that WordPress is not the best solution for everything. Depending on the application, the development team has likely put years of work into it, creating a specialized system that caters to that application’s users. The experience can often be far better than something available for WordPress.

I cannot imagine using WordPress as the backbone of a social video site like YouTube, even if it was a small site. The hosting costs would be astronomical. It is far easier and cheaper to rely on integration with YouTube rather than trying to rebuild it.

In Alex’s original correspondence, he also brought up a specific case about integrating with a third-party forum. This is a far more realistic quandary than an average user trying to build the next YouTube. It is also a question that does not have a single answer.

For users who are creating forums on their site for the first time, my advice would be to go with bbPress. It is a plugin that brings native forums to WordPress. While it is not nearly as powerful as some third-party forum applications, its best feature is that it works directly with the built-in user, role, and capability systems in WordPress. These are some of the more complex APIs in WordPress, and trying to sync user accounts between applications can often be a headache. It is also a complex technical topic that goes beyond the scope of this post. If starting from scratch, I would recommend bbPress or another WordPress forum plugin.

On the other hand, if a user already has an existing forum with a large amount of content, I would lean toward integrating it and WordPress, particularly if the site owner plans to keep user registrations strictly within the forum software. Much of that will come down to what the end-user feels comfortable with. If they have a strong history with their existing application, making a change may simply not be the best route. There are other items to consider, such as whether sharing a single theme across both platforms is necessary. bbPress can also import content from many existing forum applications.

The answer to the question is that it depends. Each use case is different.

Should a popular seller on Etsy move everything to WooCommerce? Probably not. That user might want to install the Etsy Shop integration plugin. Eventually, they might expand their brand enough to no longer rely on the Etsy platform. At that point, WooCommerce could be the answer.

It comes down to time, cost, research, and testing. Even when a plugin brings a native solution to WordPress that is ideal for most people, it might not be the best answer for an individual. Specifics matter, and I am always happy to talk those over.

This is the second post in the Ask the Bartender series. Have a question of your own? Shoot it over.


One response to “Ask the Bartender: Integrate With Third-Party App or Use Native WordPress Plugin?”

  1. I use a setup for static website deployment. In such a context, integration of 3rd party apps are the only way to go to implement specific dynamic features.

    I must say this kind of combo works great (eg : static WP+Ecwid instead of dynamic WP+WooCommerce) and spares you a lot of hassle.

    Maintenance is down to almost zero, hosting is cheaper (around 2 $ /month per site, using Google Cloud and Bunny CDN), security issues are gone (no need for security plugins anymore), backups are super easy to handle. And with 3rd party apps, you get 24/7 support from a dedicated team, just in case.

    That is a far cry from the dedicated servers I used to manage, and according to my clients’ needs, I have not yet had a reason to install WooCommerce for the last two years.

    Overall performances are up without having to manage a sophisticated server setup (no more optimization, caching and security issues) :
    – In terms of costs, speed and simplicity, nothing seems to beat a static site in the cloud coupled with a CDN.
    – 3rd party apps are usually built upon an efficient infrastructure providing excellent performances as well. Most now provide a Gutenberg compliant WP plugin for almost instant integration and great flexibility in terms of design.

    Of course there can be recurrent costs associated with such 3rd party services, but I find it to be less expensive in the end as – in my case at least, a one-man band agency managing north of a hundred business websites – it can save you hundreds of hours per year on update and maintenance chores, and many $ on premium native WP plugins. Bonus : you can actually make a dime with each integration thanks to 3rd part apps’ affiliate programs.

    No need to work with a – rather expensive – managed hosting provider – that kind of money goes into my pocket instead.

    For those interested in the static part, I use HardyPress, which for +- 90$/month allows up to 75 one-click WP installs, each with their own staging environment, static deployment in the Google Cloud, a CDN, real-time backups, instant cloning, instant website import – if needed -, and more goodies such as built-in integration with zappier, and beyond, providing out of the box integration of some popular native plugins that otherwise would not work in a static environment, such as Contact Form 7.

    It is not suited for every use case, but it is truly a great example of the integration paradigm, built from the start to manage 3rd party apps integrations.

    (I am not linked in any way to this enterprise, I have been using their services for the last 2 years, and it simply works. There are more companies like this one, like Shifter, albeit more expensive as they do not seem to have the same business model).

    Conclusion : In my case 3rd party apps are my best partners. I now rely on SaaS integration from A to Z, with great effect on the bottom line.


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