There are two types of WordPress plugin developers – those who intend to profit from their efforts, and those who don’t.
I am willing to bet that the vast majority of the developers that don’t intend to profit from their efforts certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to make a few bucks, given the opportunity. There are plenty of “accidental” commercial plugin developers, who built a following around their free plugins, and were eventually able to leverage that following to turn a profit (who says free plugin development is a fool’s game?).
So whether or not you intend to profit from your plugin development efforts, it may well become a source of income for you. With that in mind, you shouldn’t be afraid to sell your product – even if it is free.
How Can You Sell Something for Free?
Well, you can’t – at least not in the primary sense of the word. But if you dust off your dictionary and take a look at the alternative definitions of the word sell, you will find something like this:
Sell – persuade someone of the merits of: “he sold the idea of making a film about Tchaikovsky”
Now I’m no classical music aficionado, but I’m all about selling the merits of WordPress plugins. It’s what I do (unless the plugin is rubbish, but if that is the case, I’m not likely to feature it). The problem is this – many plugin developers don’t sell their own plugins.
This article was prompted by a plugin I stumbled across this morning on the WordPress.org repository: Adonide FAQ. For the most part, it presents a good example of what not to do if you want your plugin to achieve a decent download rate.
Since I released my first free plugin on WordPress.org just the other day, the concept of converting casual browsers into plugins users has been playing on my mind. So with Adonide FAQ as our case study, let’s take a closer look at how you can optimize your plugin’s WordPress.org page to increase downloads.
The name of your plugin is of vital importance. Giving it an uninspiring, irrelevant or misleading name can be of real harm to the potential number of downloads it can achieve.
Having said that, it is difficult to sell a plugin on its name alone, and trying to fully explain its functionality can result in the name being rather wordy and/or boring.
More often than not, a plugin’s name hints towards potential benefits and functionality, without necessarily explaining them. It serves as a “hook”. Here are some good examples:
Whilst you will find plenty of names that offer no hint as to what the plugin actually does (Akismet, anyone?), you’ll generally be better off in choosing a more “functional” name. Adonide FAQ Plugin may be somewhat inspiring, but it gives you an idea of what its functionality. If you’re interested in a plugin that can help you create a FAQ page, you’ll probably explore further.
Adonide FAQ does a pretty good job here with its description:
Integrate a FAQ page into your WordPress web site.
Whilst it could be worded better, the description conveys the key benefit of the plugin in a direct and concise manner. And that is the sole job of the description, as you only have 150 characters to play with.
Here are examples of a couple of other good descriptions that can be found amongst the most downloaded plugins:
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines to better index your blog. (Google XML Sitemaps)
A simple, powerful and elegant mobile theme for your website. (WPtouch)
Whilst there are plenty of examples of successful plugins that have pretty terrible descriptions (Contact Form 7’s “Just another contact form plugin” springs to mind), having a description that clearly communicates the benefit of your plugin will help your download rate.
3. Extended Description
The description is what people see when they’re browsing through multiple plugins on WordPress.org – the extended description is your opportunity to convert their initial interest into a full-blown desire to download.
This is your opportunity to describe (a) the benefits, and (b) the functionality of the plugin, in that order. Always lead with benefits, because ultimately that is what people are most interested in. Follow that up with functionality, because some people will be interested in knowing how the plugin works.
Adonide FAQ fails miserably on this front, simply repeating the description, and following up with a repetition of information that is already available elsewhere. The reader knows that the plugin somehow integrates a FAQ page within WordPress, but there is no clear explanation of what makes it any better than simply creating a manual FAQ page.
What’s the benefit? That’s the question I ask myself, and there is no answer.
I am not convinced that there is any great benefit to tagging. It would appear that the search feature on WordPress.org does not take tags into account, and I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people don’t browse by tag (and even if they do, only the most popular tags).
Arguably, tags are most useful to users who find one plugin, and want to check out the alternatives (which they can do so by selecting a tag). And let’s be frank – that hardly benefits you.
Having said that, this is one area in which Adonide does well, providing a good selection of contextually relevant tags. It only takes a few minutes to add these, so I am of a mind to do so.
Here’s a fact – most WordPress users are not using the latest version of WordPress.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
Nearly half of WordPress users are running version 3.2 or lower. If you state that your plugin is only compatible with 3.4 and up (which is precisely what Adonide FAQ does), you are potentially alienating 80% of your target audience. The more you test your plugin with older versions of WordPress, the more likely you are to increase your download rate.
6. Update Recentness
I’m always keeping an eye on when plugins were last updated. If it’s more than a few months, I tend to be a little put off. Whilst there is nothing necessarily wrong with a plugin that hasn’t been updated in a while, it hints that it may no longer be actively supported, which means that is not a good long term prospect.
Give people peace of mind by keeping your plugin updated regularly – even if it is not necessary. If your plugin is so simple that it works with the latest version of WordPress without any tweaks being necessary, just go ahead and update it anyway – just tweak the readme.txt or do something equally subtle. People will notice the “Last Updated” date and be more inclined to download.
7. Average Rating
The average rating is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to a user deciding whether or not to download your plugin. If you can combine a high average rating with a lot of ratings, you’ll have a healthy download rate.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to get your ratings off to a good start. You can rate it (and why wouldn’t you give your own pride and joy 5 stars?). Then reach out to other WordPress users you know and ask them to download your plugin and rate it. If you have a blog, ask your readers. Ask your social network followers. Go on forums and notify people of your new plugin and ask them to rate it. And while you’re at it, ask them to mark it as compatible with their version of WordPress too. As we have already touched upon, compatibility is an important factor.
Nothing screams fly by night plugin developer more than an incomplete profile – as is the case with Adonide FAQ.
So take a minute or two to add an Avatar, your website, a description, and even a location. I believe that people will be more inclined to download your plugin if you are seen to be a real person, rather than a faceless entity. Here’s my WordPress.org profile:
Furthermore, when you start to achieve a high number of downloads, your WordPress.org profile can act as a referral machine for your website. Who wouldn’t want that?
Time Invested Up Front Can Make All the Difference
Whilst there are a couple of things we haven’t covered (most notably screenshots), the above recommendations should give your download rate a nice boost.
If you are a plugin developer, I’d love to know what you think about “selling” your plugins on WordPress.org. Do you agree with the advice above, or do you have a different approach? Let us know in the comments section below!
Creative Commons image courtesy of letterpressdelicacies