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‘Free’ Plugins Shouldn’t Make Me Enter a Credit Card Number

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A recently-downloaded plugin promised a free plan. But it wouldn’t let me complete registration until I agreed to enter a credit card number.

In my most recent post on the subject of blogging, I told you about the new version of Google Analytics. When I set that up, I downloaded a popular WordPress plugin designed to make the transition easy. But even though the plugin promised a free option, it required that I enter a credit card number.

That’s a problem for me. In fact, I find that to be a big problem. If it’s truly free, why would I enter a credit card number? If I don’t face charges so long as I don’t upgrade, why would they even need a credit card number?

If you search for SEO plugins in the WordPress Plugin Repository, you’ll find a few popular selections. This one was not made by Google itself, though there are a few Google-made options. Based on reviews, I thought it might be a good choice. It offered the ability to enter the tracking code Google Analytics provides without my having to go into my website header file to edit the site HTML.

I know just enough coding to be dangerous. Whenever I can, I try to avoid going in and changing the actual code, especially if I can use a plugin that will do it for me. Aside from not wanting to unintentionally screw up my site’s code, if I make a modification to a major site’s file, I run the risk of forgetting to keep that change if I were to update the theme and replace the old files with new ones.

It’s free, right?

If you use WordPress — and I’m sure other platforms have a similar feature — you have a sidebar on the “backend” of the site. (That’s the “behind the scenes” part of the site that the administrator sees but that your readers shouldn’t.) Individual items in the sidebar will display alerts when there’s something you need to check on.

This is an example of what I see when I’m writing a post. The little red circles with the “1” indicate that there is an item in both the “Plugins” section and the “Settings” section that WordPress wants me to take a look at.

For the plugins section, it’s normally a plugin that needs an update.

An alert in the Settings section normally indicates that something needs my review.

This particular SEO plugin had its own spot in my sidebar. When I activated the plugin it, it appeared. There was a little alert with a “1” in it as well.

But this little indicator was slightly different. Instead of just being a fixed red circle, this one actually jiggled. The alert notification was animated and shimmied from side to side like a little basketball with a tiny sideways dribble.

Try typing with that little annoyance going on!

It was telling me that I needed to complete my registration. I didn’t think that would be a problem because I’d done my homework and made sure there was no cost associated with using the plugin. So when I finished the post I was working on, I clicked the line and went to the plugin page so I could finish up.

It wanted me to enter a credit card number…no matter what

I planned to use the free version, which the plugin says is an option. The free version supposedly gives me basic analytics information on my dashboard without my having to go to Google Analytics itself. That’s a nice convenience. But I wouldn’t pay for that since I could click a bookmark and reach the actual Google page for free.

But the registration process required a credit card number. There was no clicking a little X to close that tab. It wouldn’t allow me to complete my registration otherwise.

If it’s free, it shouldn’t need a credit card number. So I stopped the registration process and went on with a different task.

The next day, I received an email from the plugin team with the header, “Is everything OK?” It stated they saw that I started registration but stopped short of completing it.

When I raised the objection over the credit card, they explained the policy. Here’s part of what they said:

It’s kind of like how you might be billed for internet service or a phone plan. Depending on the phone or internet package you choose, you might get more lines, gigs of data, or other additional features. If/when you near the limit of your selected package, they let you know they’ll be charging you if you go over so your service isn’t interrupted.

They assured me that if I was going to reach my monthly limit, I would receive two emails before that occurred. After that, I would be charged.

There’s a way to prevent the charge, they say: there’s a preference setting that I can select to suspend the “campaign” until the limits reset at the beginning of the month.

If I somehow miss those emails and don’t check that preference in time, the charge, apparently, would be automatic.

What they should do isn’t that complicated

If you had the option to register without being forced to enter a credit card number, that preference would be automatic. No credit card? No problem. When you hit your limit, you’re dead in the water until they get your credit card number.

If their service is so valuable to a website owner in terms of growing the site’s analytics, it should sell itself. If the data is so compelling that I don’t ever feel the need to go to Google’s page, I’m sure I’d agree it would be worth upgrading (at a cost of about $100 per year).

But that needs to be a decision I make when I reach whatever level of growth that might prompt the temporary suspension of service.

If I’m trying to add a service that purports to be free, it needs to be free. Period.

A couple of days later, I received a follow-up email that sealed their fate with me. This email explained that because I still hadn’t completed registration, in an effort to “protect my privacy,” they would have to delete the account I began entering in 24 hours.

The only way to prevent that deletion was to complete registration. That meant, of course, handing over my credit card number.

Sorry, but I will not be coerced into providing a credit card number for what should be a free service. I told them they could feel free to delete me. By then, I had already deleted their plugin.

Let the payer beware

Call me cheap. Call me persnickety. You can even roll out the good old Southern word ornery. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of them.

As site owners, we have to control expenses just like any other business does. More and more companies are raising prices for services we already pay for. Some are adding additional layers of costs.

We have to be able to control what we’re paying. We also have to watch out for any new, unexpected costs we hadn’t budgeted for.

To me, this felt like too easy a way to incur one of those unexpected costs.

If I need to, I’ll happily edit my site’s header code. I don’t need to enter a credit card number anywhere to do that.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.