Post Status Excerpt (No. 71) — Building, Supporting, and Selling a Winning Product — With or Without WordPress.org
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This week I sat down again with Eric Karkovack to talk about the three top WordPress stories on the top of our minds. Independently, we made nearly the same selections! It seems the temporary loss of active install stats at WP.org has created an opportunity to rethink long-held assumptions and find new ways forward. Our news picks are all related to this in one way or another. So there's a single throughline in this episode — what works, what doesn't, and what will take WordPress businesses forward in the product, agency, and hosting spaces.
Are Active Install Counts Irrelevant to Your Plugin Business's Success? (Even if they were accurate?)
There are always going to be developers who push the envelope when it comes to littering the dashboard and just making it a difficult user experience. Maybe data is part of the way we solve that.
First up is Alex Denning's article at Ellipsis, "WordPress.org is ineffective for plugin distribution in 2022." Alex argues the likely temporary loss of Active Install Growth data for plugin owners is not a bottom-line, business-relevant concern. Apart from the revelation that that data itself was not just obfuscated and inexact but "basically garbage," Alex draws on Ellipsis' marketing experience and extensive data (as well as Iain Poulson's insights at WP Trends) to show 1-2% conversion rates are the norm for plugins in the WP.org repository. Only a couple of big players can crack the 100k+ install tiers today.
The Plugin Repo's Glass Ceiling
Alex notes this "glass ceiling" has a lot to do with how the repo's search algorithm works. It's biased to favor plugins that have many active installs already, so if you're not there yet, it's not going to help you get there. As a result of these observations, Alex disrecommends the plugin repo for anyone thinking about launching a business there on the freemium model. He considers WP.org a poor distribution channel and assumes the freemium product model's fate is tied to it. On that point, we're doubtful and optimistic about exceptions and opportunities for plugin developers to make their own way, with or without the repo.
While Eric and I don't fully agree with Alex, his data-based analysis does establish that the plugin repository is "broken" if it's intended to be a place where a small entrepreneur with a good product can break in and take off.
Let's Fix What's Broken (The Plugin Repo) Not What Isn't (The Freemium Model)
Matt Cromwell politely disagrees with Alex in a long, thoughtful post of his own: The Case for the WordPress Plugin Freemium Model. (There's a great Post Status Slack thread on it too.) In it, Matt describes ways plugin owners can make the wp.org plugin search engine work better for them, but he also notes a few of its deficiencies as well. His best point is that an average conversion rate is just that — an average. He's seen much better results due to marketing efforts he feels are accessible to many plugin vendors. Matt also points to examples of successful freemium plugin shops, like Paid Memberships Pro which recently did an A/B test with their pricing page, and the version with a freemium option converted better.
Where Alex and Matt agree is how much the plugin repo has changed due to market saturation. It isn't an easy place to win in anymore. And I'm pretty sure Alex would agree with Matt this is true across the web as a whole — you can expect to have to work hard with stiff competition and give high attention to Google as well — not to mention all the other things that go into making and supporting a good product.
Ideas for Improving the WordPress.org Plugin Repository
Eric and I also discussed the excellent suggestions for useful, actionable data that product owners — and even agencies — would like from a new, improved plugin directory. Vito Peleg's ideas are especially exciting and seemed to draw a nod from Matt Mullenweg on Twitter. We also note how better data for plugin owners might satisfy some needs that historically have led them to try all kinds of (often unpleasant) gimicks in the WordPress backend to connect with users and upsell or cross-market their products. In a comment at Post Status this week, Justin Labadie imagines how this could work as part of the plugin install process, along with other suggestions. Eric connected this line of thinking with Mark Zahra's question in a recent post at WP Mayor, Is Deceptive Marketing Ruining WordPress’ Reputation?
Plugin Developers Must Make Their Own Way
Eric asked (and answered) a big question at the WP Minute: What should plugin developers expect from WordPress? You've got to make your own way is a message I agree with, and I brought up my conversation with Till Krüss about Performance and the Plugin Business as an example of all the possibilities that open up if you think about meeting big needs nobody else is meeting or solving big problems others are creating!
Follow the Leaders, Adopt Standards
Where we end up is 10up's newly released resource site for Gutenberg Best Practices. It's got tutorials, resources, references, example code — and they're encouraging use of their GitHub discussion board for the site. It's intended to go beyond the official WordPress documentation, according Fabian Kaegy's launch announcement. It's a “more client-services-centric approach tailored to engineering enterprise-level editorial experiences.”
To me, that's a signal WordPress has turned a corner with Gutenberg. Top agency adoption of Gutenberg is huge, and as we see a growing body of accumulated knowledge, standards, and best practices emerging, it signals and amplifies a wave of change.
Building Products to Scale Opens Doors and Creates Opportunities for Growth
Toward the end of the show I suggest that plugin developers (as well as agencies) targeting middle and low-end markets have tended to neglect standards around performance testing and security because their customers don't need to scale and because they can treat performance and security as a hosting problem. That's a barrier to accessing high-value enterprise clients, hosts, and agencies connected to both. It represents lost opportunities and money left on the table.
🔗 Also mentioned in the show:
Along with 10up's Gutenberg resource hub, several other future-facing WordPress sites sharing tools and knowledge catering to different audiences emerged in the last week or so:
- Ollie from Mike McAlister is shaping up to be "a blog where WordPress creators can get handy tips, tutorials, and tools for the WordPress block editor and full-site editing."
- WPTurbo from Alex Borto offers more than 40 free WordPress code generators, snippets saved by users, and there's a dev blog.
- Create Pro WordPress Page Layouts in Just 10 Minutes from Jamie Marsland is a fun video tour of some layout design fundamentals that are really essential for good results with full-site editing and the block editor's power and flexibility.
And, last but not least —WordPress 6.0.3 was released. Update as soon as you can! WordPress 6.1 is just around the corner, and it's a doozy. Dave Smith has the highlights on new features in this fun video.
- Eric Karkovack, Owner at Eric Karkovack Web Design Services (Twitter)
- Dan Knauss, Editor for Post Status (Twitter)
- Olivia Bisset, Web Producer intern for Post Status (Twitter)
Every week Post Status Excerpt will bring you a conversation about important news and issues in the WordPress community and business ecosystem. 🎙️
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