You have this amazing idea for a WordPress plugin – or a twist on an existing idea – and you can’t believe no one else has thought of it.
True, there may be competitors, but you feel they’re doing it badly or focusing on all the wrong things. Maybe they’re not including the proper features, or their performance is atrocious. But your competitors’ plugins are selling like hotcakes!
No, you’re going to develop this plugin the right way. Wait until users see what you bring to the table; it’s going to be spectacular.
Just one problem: you know you’re a rock star coder but you also know a successful plugin must deliver more than just impeccable code.
Today, we’re going to go over the seven things your premium plugin must deliver if it’s going to have any chance of being wildly successful.
1. Your Plugin Should Do One Thing Amazingly Well
We’ve all seen them; you know the type of plugin I’m talking about. Maybe it’s the social sharing plugin that lets you choose from 50+ button styles, tweaking everything down to the very last pixel. And that’s okay. But, when the plugin also lets you add newsletter opt-in boxes, includes a page builder and caches your site – it might be doing a bit too much.
Most successful plugins are known for one thing. When you think of a forms plugin, Gravity Forms or Ninja Forms probably comes to mind. For metaboxes, it’s likely ACF and for SEO it could be Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack.
These plugins – through marketing, positive reviews and word-of-mouth – have become the go-to plugins in their niche.
Stay focused and spend time improving your plugin’s core functionality – not adding unrelated and unnecessary features. You can create a general, jack-of-all-trades plugin, or a highly-focused piece of software that provides a targeted solution. The latter is where the money is to be made with premium plugins.
2. Provide an Excellent User Experience (UX)
This is simple common sense but worth bearing in mind – most of your users won’t be developers. Yes, I know it can be hard at times to not think like a developer, but a successful plugin must be intuitive and easy to use for the average Joe. Nobody wants to read a manual, and trust me, nobody will.
You can’t expect your users to be comfortable opening up text files and modifying PHP code. You can try asking them, but be prepared for an avalanche of support inquiries!
Keep things simple – make changing settings easy and provide lots of user feedback. WordPress includes excellent support for AJAX in the admin backend, so there’s no excuse not to use it.
WordPress also goes to great lengths to be accessible and your premium plugin should be no different.
Use native WordPress styles and conventions whenever possible. Group related options together and label them using the proper WordPress functions to allow for localization. You may speak English, but not everybody using your premium plugin will.
3. Focus on Quality and Performance
Caching is your friend; transients are too. Don’t load admin-only assets on the front-end. If your plugin is only used on specific pages – a form plugin for example – only enqueue assets when they’re required.
I’m not suggesting premature optimization – and ten milliseconds improvement here or fifty milliseconds shaved off there may not sound like much – but small savings add up to increased revenue and user satisfaction for your customer.
As for code quality, this is your plugin, so technically you have every right to code it as you please. However, you’ve got to look towards the future as well.
With growth, there may come a time when you need to hire additional developers. Even better, if your plugin becomes extremely successful, you may be approached with an acquisition offer. Proper coding practices will go a long way when it comes to getting new developers up to speed quickly.
4. Include Advanced Functionality
People purchase premium plugins to solve problems. Maybe they’ve tried a similar, free plugin in the past and found it too limiting – or maybe it just didn’t provide an acceptable solution.
Now I’m not telling you to throw in the kitchen sink and add feature after feature to your plugin, but don’t be scared to add advanced functionality where it makes sense. This doesn’t have to mean adding dozens of superfluous options either. If applicable, it could be something as simple as adding built-in support for Schema.org.
Let’s say, for example, you have a social sharing plugin. Domain name changes can be unavoidable – for rebranding purposes or as a result of trademark issues – and they often result in social share counts being reset to zero. Include functionality that allows users to archive their old counts and add them to the new counts. Problem solved. A simple advanced feature like this could sway an otherwise indecisive potential buyer your way.
Provide hooks and filters so other developers can extend and interact with your plugin. If you make developers’ lives easier, they may mention compatibility with your plugin in their own products, thus extending your reach and resulting in more exposure.
5. Incorporate Regular Updates and New Features
As a premium plugin developer, it’s your responsibility to release security and compatibility updates when they’re required – especially to existing, paying customers.
WordPress core is updated regularly and updates can affect plugins – badly. New security vulnerabilities in plugins are found all the time. You may be an elite coder, but nobody’s perfect. Security lapses happen – even to the big guys.
You certainly don’t want thousands of angry buyers – with broken websites, or worse – contacting you because your plugin failed to address the latest security exploit or WordPress update.
Consider taking the time to document any changes and updates in a user-friendly manner. Post it on your plugin’s website and make it easy to find. Highlight important fixes you’ve applied, especially anything security-related that’s been in the media.
If you’ve added new and exciting features, make a big deal out of it; if you’re working on incorporating something really special, add a Coming Soon section to build anticipation.
A regularly updated plugin that innovates and includes new features builds trust with buyers – and potential customers – showing them you’re a committed developer who’s in it for the long haul.
6. Offer Premium-Level Support
When you’re selling GPL-licensed software – which covers most WordPress plugins and themes – you’re really selling support. It’s the reason companies buy Linux (GPL) from Red Hat when a free clone is available in CentOS.
For your premium plugin to have any success, you’ll have to provide support. If users know they have nowhere to turn, plugin sales will suffer. Unfortunately, it’s not the most enjoyable part of running a business.
Customers can feel entitled and make demands. You’ll also be dealing with some less than tech-savvy users. On the bright side, many users will happily pay a yearly recurring fee for access to support and updates.
Support can be offered in a number of ways: help desk tickets, email, live chat or even over the phone. Use whatever method you feel comfortable with.
Over time, you’ll find certain support questions being asked repeatedly. You have two options:
- Create canned responses that can be quickly sent out.
- Address the problem in your plugin. If multiple users are asking the same question, maybe there’s a documentation issue. Think like a user, not a developer.
Good documentation can further reduce support inquiries. Consider things like:
- Adding a comprehensive FAQ
- Creating training videos
- Compiling a searchable knowledge base
7. Offer a Customer Guarantee
Opinions differ when it comes to the subject of giving refunds on software, but here’s one point of view.
You can – and should – thoroughly test your plugin on a number of different platforms. However, with diverse server environments and over 16% of WordPress installs still running on PHP 5.2, some users are bound to have issues. Combine all that with plugin and theme combinations outside of your control and it’s safe to say you’ll run into unhappy buyers at some point.
Also, even if you provide a demo, a plugin may just not be what a buyer envisioned or was after.
If you don’t offer a reasonable refund policy – and a buyer wants his money back – he can file a credit card chargeback or open a PayPal dispute, causing you to spend extra non-billable time dealing with the headache.
The solution is simple: create a refund policy. This will save you hassle and boost sales. People are more inclined to buy knowing they can get a refund if necessary.
Don’t make people jump through hoops to get their money back either. Be courteous; reputation matters in business. Yes, fraud happens, but in a world where time is money, any losses can usually be chalked up to the cost of doing business.
The WordPress premium plugin market is quickly maturing. There’s still room for innovative plugins to succeed but there’s more competition entering the market every day.
Let’s recap our main points:
- Strive to become the go-to plugin in your niche.
- Develop for the masses with excellent UX and add useful, advanced functionality where it makes sense.
- Make performance a priority.
- Stay on top of updates and provide proper support.
- Don’t forget to offer a refund to unsatisfied customers.
Stick by these golden rules and you substantially boost your chances of success. Think you’ve got what it takes to deliver the next killer premium WordPress plugin? Maybe you’ve already built one? Let us know all about it in the comments.
Fantastic article with some great points. I think the 8th item should be that the plugin should easily be found. Having just launched our premium plugin this is one of our main hurdles. I appreciate this is somewhat the raison d’etre for ProPluginDirectory and that is fantastic. But it’s not enough to be heard above the noise. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on more ways to get exposure.
Very true! You can make the world’s best plugin but if it’s not found, none of that matters. Here’s a really good article on WP Kube with thoughts from different plugin makers on how to market a plugin. I shared a few thoughts there myself.
Thanks for commenting.
Thank you! I agree: if people don’t know your plugin exists, they have no way of finding out how great it is. Though, I think that if you provide those 7 things, the 8th is bound to come – popular plugins become popular by being great, not the other way around. :-)
I hope your plugin is successful!
Thanks Tom! Good point :)
I’d argue that Gravity and NinjaForms are far more than single-purpose solutions today – but I won’t argue that single-purpose isn’t important. A lot of this will shift over time as your business model may vary.
While your bullet points are certainly strong fundamental points, there’s a lot of sweat equity to make something successful. I see really good plugins not as successful as really bad plugins. The software alone won’t build you a successful business.
Strong marketing, unique selling proposition, and serving a market that needs to be served are far more important in my fumbling opinion. The WordPress market place is a funny beast. You either need to put some big bucks in marketing and affiliates, take a more organic approach, or both. Though I’ll admit, I rarely see the combo together.
Also, revenue doesn’t always equal the success of product. I should know, I sell a plugin in the massively competitive builder space. We don’t do a lot of revenue, but those that use our product are happy and we see very little overhead. This allows me to be a but more agile and not anchored to one specific development path,
Those are some very interesting points. Thanks for sharing your insights with us – and good luck with your plugin.
I would certainly second Matt’s comment about developing a unique selling proposition and serving a market that is underserved. In just about every niche, there are competing plugins that your customers could choose instead. What makes your plugin *truly* unique?
Too often I see plugin developers highlighting the exact same features that everyone else is mentioning. Everyone says they offer great/world class/mind-blowing support. Everyone says their plugin is coded the WordPress way. Everyone says it’s easy to use. When you come out and say the exact same things, you’re really just coming out and telling customers that you’re pretty much the same.
That’s a great point. You know how they (whoever they are) say “differentiate yourself from the competition”? I think design quality will do that when all other aspects of the competing plugins are similar. How many plugins work great but look less than professional on the front-end and/or admin UI?