I’ve had some interesting conversations with merchants and other developers lately about the issue of trust when it comes to Magento extensions. The right extension can be a real time and budget saver. But the wrong extension (whether due to poor quality code, support or just a bad fit for your needs) can cause headaches, re-work - and if you’re really unlucky - site-wide issues that you need to invest serious time in getting it right.
It can be hard finding balanced and legitimate information about Magento extensions from people who have actually used an extension themselves. I was chatting to a customer about this issue this week, and he said this:
“The biggest problem I have found with Magento 2 is finding good reviews of themes and extensions. Everything that comes up in Google is posted by the developers or just useless list.. 10 bests.”
He then went on to say:
“There needs to be something where someone like me can read about other's experiences or real comparisons without the answers being padded with sales pitches. It is really a jungle out there for anyone starting a Magento site for a small business.”
I think most of us can relate.
Even as a seasoned developer, it's not always easy to find extensions I’m confident I can trust. The Fooman store is powered by Magento so I’m an extension consumer, too.
And I'll be honest and say that sometimes I really struggle when it comes to marketing Fooman extensions. I want to get the word out about the features we've worked hard to develop and the great experiences people have using our products. But I'm not going to create junk 'top 10' lists or have affiliates post spammy comments over the internet just to make a quick buck - because as a customer I hate this (and if you think Magento's bad, you should see Wordpress). Our marketing might not be as ubiquitous and dare I say even as effective as other extension companies who promote themselves more aggressively. But I'm okay with that - we (and many others) are here to play the long game.
There are plenty of reputable developers out there offering awesome code and support - but it might take a bit of research to find what you’re looking for.
So where can you find trusted reviews and opinions on Magento extensions? How do you choose a good Magento extension? While I don't pretend to have all the answers, what I can offer is an insight into my thought processes and information sources when I'm in extension buying mode:
Magento Extension Developers Network (ExtDN)
The Magento Extension Developers Network (ExtDN) is a vetted network of extension developers whose core business is to develop and sell quality Magento extensions. I founded ExtDN to bring accountability and trust to the Magento extension market. ExtDN members agree to hold themselves accountable to high standards of coding, copyright and business conduct.
When asked for extension recommendations my response is usually to check out what ExtDN members offer - I stand behind anyone’s work in the group. ExtDN operates as a kind of ‘whitelist’ for reputable extension developers. I personally use extensions from some of these developers on the Fooman site. It’s not the only place to find reputable Magento extension developers - there are certainly good developers out there who might not be part of ExtDN. But ExtDN is a great place to start.
Magento has an epic community behind it, and most of the time people are only too happy to help. Ask for extension and developer recommendations. Ask if anyone has used a particular extension you’re considering. Get as much information as you can from people who can vouch for a particular Magento extension (or the developer) - ideally because they’ve used it personally.
Where to start?
- Twitter - try the #realmagento hashtag rather than #magento to avoid the most obvious spammy answers
- Local meet-ups - double points if you meet agency developers who are likely to have experience using a range of extension development companies
- Forums or online groups (see below)
- If you see the feature you’re looking for on another Magento site, get in touch with them and politely ask if it’s powered by an extension and what their experience has been like
- Ask a trusted extension developer if they can recommend another company who offers the extension you need (when someone approaches me I’ll happily recommend other developer’s extensions I know are quality and well-regarded)
I would run a hundred miles from any generic ‘Magento extensions’ Facebook group, unless you know and trust the moderator and there are strict rules against self promotion. While it’s a great idea in theory, the groups I’ve seen seem to be the worst for self promotion and aggressive affiliate marketing.
Magento extension reviews are obviously helpful when deciding which extension to purchase. I use reviews to help me create an extension shortlist, but don't rely on them too much. What I usually do next is come up with a question to ask the developer before buying, so I can get a feel for how responsive they are and how they deal with support. The response I get to my question (how quickly, politely and accurately it's answered - or even if it's answered) can sometimes tell me more than a review might.
The other big caveat (and possibly the elephant in the room) is the question of how much reviews can be relied on. In my experience, many Magento extension developers are honest and play by the rules, including when it comes to reviews. But anyone who’s been in this game long enough can tell you that just like the rest of the internet, fake extension reviews are not unheard of in the Magento ecosystem.
How do you know which reviews can be trusted? Here is my honest assessment of the trustworthiness of common Magento extension review sources (this is my personal view and others’ opinions will differ):
Magento Connect (for Magento 1 extensions)
Magento Connect reviews are not restricted to verified purchases/downloads, meaning that anyone can leave a review for any extension. There have historically been a few issues with fake reviews on Connect - both positive and negative to tarnish a competitor (along with inflated ‘popularity scores’). But Magento have been cracking down on this in recent years, and there is a review mechanism in place if people have complaints. When scoping extensions on Magento Connect I look for trends and developer responsiveness to comments.
Magento Marketplace (for Magento 2 extensions)
Magento Marketplace reviews work on a verified purchase/download basis and I generally trust them. To leave a review, users must have downloaded (and paid for, if applicable) the extension via the Marketplace. Magento sends the customer a review request email after the extension has been downloaded. The other positive thing about the Magento Marketplace is the process for accepting extensions is fairly rigorous, meaning that the code is checked before it’s approved to be sold on the site. It’s not impossible for people to game the review system, especially for free extensions. But the hurdle is much higher than for other platforms, and the Magento Marketplace is the only large-scale verified purchase review system out there.
A note on reviews for Magento 1 extensions on the Magento Marketplace - keep in mind that new reviews received via Marketplace are from verified downloads, but older reviews are imported directly from Magento Connect (see above).
Reputable developers take pride in their website reviews being real, honest and uncensored. But the reality with developer websites is that they are in control and there is no moderation process like with Connect or Marketplace. Sadly there are some people who don’t seem to have any moral issues with faking reviews - or simply not publishing negative ones. It’s easy to do and appears to add (deceptive) instant social proof.
I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula to spot dodgy reviews but there isn’t. What I can share is what I’ve learned about reviews as an extension developer:
- People are busy which means that positive reviews are hard-earned. It can take some time before you earn reviews on new extensions - most people simply install the extension, it works, and they get on with their life (we have had more than 2000 downloads on the new Marketplace and hardly any reviews). People also might want to use the extension for at least a few weeks before leaving a review. So other than the occasional beta-tester review, I would be suspicious of extensions which have just been released and magically have multiple glowing reviews just days after release (hint: you can catch some of the dodgy Magento 2 extension developers out this way)
- Once you earn enough reviews, the overall star rating on your own website and Connect/Marketplace shouldn’t be wildly different. In other words, if a developer site showed a 5 star rating but Connect/Marketplace didn’t paint such a flattering picture, I would be inclined to trust Connect/Marketplace
- The reality is that you can’t please everyone. Even the best Magento developer in the world is bound to get the occasional negative review for whatever reason - sometimes justified, sometimes not. (Even the poor old Golden Gate Bridge has one-star reviews on Trip Advisor, including one for not being golden enough). If Fooman happens to receive a review which I’m less than proud of, it gets published on our site right alongside the reviews from people who've had a great experience. If someone legitimately experienced an issue or bug, it’s their right to tell people about it and it's my job as a developer to fix it. It happens from time to time and a good developer’s job is to address the issue if they can - not to hide the review from their website. Look for developers who respond fairly to address concerns and encourage the reviewer to resolve issue with their support team.
I debated whether to include this section on reviews because I don't like negativity and didn't want to be seen as slagging off competitors (I have tried hard to make it not come across this way). There are many honest Magento extension developers who would sooner give up coffee and beer for life than stoop to the level of playing the fake review game. But I think it's important to illustrate:
- Why you shouldn't make an extension purchase decision solely based on reviews (by all means consider reviews, but remember that they are often not independently verified), and
- Why asking around for personal recommendations can be so powerful.
Commerce Hero is the latest project by Kalen Jordan, a seasoned Magento entrepreneur. It's a neutral platform aimed at matching Magento merchants and developers, with a focus on quality - all developers ('heros') on the site are vetted personally.
@commercehero is perfect for the Magento Community. A directory of quality devs (heros) to keep out the slop.— Jason Grim (@jsonArray) October 5, 2016
While the site is primarily a Magento developer marketplace for projects, watch this space as it also includes some valuable information about extensions. It's still early days but there are 6,000+ extensions (‘projects’) listed. Members can up-vote or down-vote extensions. It’s all publically visible and votes are tied to people’s profiles (who by definition are other reputable Magento developers), which gives a degree of trust and transparency. So far, the content is quite developer-focused (which makes sense with Commerce Hero’s membership base) and not a huge number of popular extensions are included - yet.
I'm very interested in seeing how it develops in the future - Commerce Hero has the potential to be HUGE when it comes to researching Magento extensions.
Online forums can sometimes be useful for extension research if you’re not having luck with recommendations from your personal network (which I'd always advise trying first).
Answers can be up-voted, and trusted contributors who have a track-record of helping others can be spotted via high points/kudos awards. When looking for extension recommendations, the most valuable responses will aim to be objective and weigh up different extensions (or other solutions) that might be useful in your circumstances. You might also receive recommendations from people who've used a particular extension before - ideally they should give details about the website/project where it was used so you know it's a legitimate response.
The downside to most forums is you need a strong BS radar. By this I mean you’ll need to navigate the often spammy minefield of thinly-veiled self promotion or affiliate posts.
There's nothing wrong with an extension developer answering your question and suggesting you check out their extension (although it can get tedious if you get 10 comments like this in a row). But their role should be disclosed and they should attempt to fairly address whether the extension will meet your needs. Too many responses are unhelpful “ABC has the very best extension for XYZ, buy it here using my affiliate link (which I’m not disclosing because I’m pretending to be a customer)...” comments. They're not exactly unbiased (to put it mildly).
Like reviews, forums can be helpful when drawing up a short-list of extensions to consider. Just don't place too much emphasis on single-vendor answers. Remember that some people will receive an affiliate commission for painting a particular extension in a positive light. Even ‘Jennifer Lawrence’ is offering Magento extension recommendations (all from one particular vendor) on Quora:
I've Read the Reviews - What Next?
Certifications can also be helpful in knowing who to trust. Was the extension coded by a Certified Magento Developer? Magento’s certification program is generally robust and a pretty good indicator of someone showing commitment to mastering Magento. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every Certified Magento Developer will code a great extension, or that a good developer necessarily needs to be Magento certified. But it can be something useful to weigh up in your evaluation process.
Free or low priced extensions don’t necessarily mean low quality, just as higher priced extensions don’t necessarily mean high quality. But don’t pinch pennies and judge an extension solely on price. Often times, you get what you pay for. Choosing an inexpensive but unproven extension might save pennies in the short term, but could end up costing you hours of troubleshooting/problem solving later down the track. I get my share of emails from people who’ve had a disaster experience with an extension from another company before coming to us. The main thing that stands out is how much time they wasted in the process - plus the cost of having to buy two extensions (and sometimes associated developer time) to solve their original problem. (That said, if you're having problems with an extension don't suffer in silence and spend hours trying to figure it out all on your own - sometimes it might just be a matter of a simple set-up or compatibility issue that the developer has come across before).
I’ll happily spend a bit extra on an extension if it means I get better quality code, reliable support and a money back guarantee in case things don’t work out. Trust your gut feeling and favour reputable developers.
Be Part of the Solution
Inspect code before installing it
I never install any code on my site blind - I always do a code review first to make sure I’m happy with it. Here’s how to do it and what to look for.
Leave your own reviews
I would encourage you to leave an honest review for the extensions and themes you use. Yes, we’re all busy. But it only takes a few minutes, and despite the caveat on reviews above, it's so important for the Magento community to get a feel for the experience others have with extensions - positive, neutral or negative^. Some helpful things to mention include:
- Did the extension work 'out of the box'?
- Was it easy to use?
- What results did you get? For example, did the extension save you the time it promised?
- Were you happy with the code quality?
- Did you need to contact support? Were you happy with how they handled your request?
^ If you do run into a minor issue I would always encourage you to contact the developer as soon as you encounter the issue and see if they can help you resolve this, before resorting to leaving an unhappy review. Small issues do crop up from time to time, and good developers are happy to help you work through it.
Join the conversation
Freely share recommendations when you’ve had a good or poor experience with an extension. We’re all in the Magento community together.
Over to you - what do you think extension developers should be doing (or not doing?) to help people make better decisions about their products?