Selling Premium WordPress Plugins: An Expert's Guide - ManageWP

Selling Premium WordPress Plugins: An Expert’s Guide

WordPress Plugins

We tend to be pretty selective about guest posts here on the ManageWP blog, but this was a shoe-in. Today’s post is brought to you by none other than Iain Poulson of Dev7Studios. If you’re interested in premium plugin development (or plugin development at all), it’s a must-read.

So you’ve entered the wonderful world of WordPress development and built some plugins.

Perhaps you have submitted them to the WordPress.org plugin repository for the wider community to use and benefit from. But you have been working hard, perfecting your code and one of your plugins solves a problem so well that you believe others would pay to use it.

Money for your code; now that is an appealing concept. But there is some work to be done and decisions to be made before you will see any money. That’s exactly what I’m going to cover in this guide.

Development Concerns

One of the best things about WordPress is its accessibility and low barrier to entry. From the famous five minute install to customizing themes, it is easy to get stuck in. The same goes for plugin development. But when making the jump to creating and selling premium plugins you need to raise your game.

Start From a Good Base

If you are serious about your plugin and its continual development then organizing the codebase and files should be extremely important to you. Tom McFarlin is a strong advocate for building plugins based on a standard, well organised boilerplate that enables easy, multi-contributor development, maintenance and scalability.

He is the author of the WordPress-Plugin-Boilerplate, which is a fantastic starting point for a premium plugin. If you already have your plugin in one sprawling file then don’t be afraid to start again, strip back your code and attempt to refactor what you have. The quality of your code will be all the better for it.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

WordPress gives developers a framework that any plugin should leverage to the fullest. Consider what your plugin needs and how WordPress can do it for you, not how to build it yourself.

Need to store custom data objects? Custom Post Types are your friend. Does your plugin have lots of settings? Check out the Settings API and Options API. In fact, WordPress is very generous with the APIs it makes available including the Transients API, Quicktags API and Shortcode API.

Think Ahead

Sometimes adding as many features as possible to a premium plugin actually is not a good idea. The majority of your users won’t use them all but will still receive a plugin that is large and potentially bloated.

Consider the popular extension-based model; a free core plugin with many premium extensions that enrich the functionality on a selective basis. The customer directly benefits from having the choice, the free plugin gains exposure by being on the WordPress.org directory and in turn generates traffic to your premium extensions.

Here are some good examples of this model:

Your core plugin therefore needs to be flexible and extensible to cater for these extensions. You need to make good use of the WordPress Plugin API to add the necessary hooks and filters for the extensions to interact with the plugin.

Even if you go down the pure premium route for your plugin it is always good practice to make use of hooks and filters in your code to allow users to customise aspects of your plugin.

Selling and Marketing

One of the biggest decisions you will need to make is where to sell your plugin. This will influence other decisions on prices and licenses down the line. You’ve got two choices in this area: sell through a marketplace or sell it yourself.

Outsource the Selling

The biggest marketplace for WordPress plugins out there is CodeCanyon. You need to submit your plugin for approval first so make sure it is coded and documented well. To help they have a comprehensive guide to becoming an author.

Benefits:

Downsides:

Go it Alone

There are various tools you can use to help you sell your plugin yourself. If you decide to sell from within your own WordPress powered site then you have numerous plugins at your disposal.

WooCommerce and Jigoshop both cater for selling digital products, but for me the standout plugin is Easy Digital Downloads from Pippin Williamson. With a thriving development community and lots of premium extensions to choose from, this is perhaps the most mature product to help you sell yours. Its Software Licensing add-on is a must have if you decide to license your plugin.

There are various managed selling applications for your plugin if you want to separate your marketing site from the selling side of things, such as Sellwire, FetchApp and Pulley. The concept for these applications is easy: upload a file, set a price and distribute a payment link. Sellwire has an integrated licensing system with license key generation, activation, and a renewal system. This makes it easy to control updates and support for your plugin and encourages a sustainable business model through license expiry and renewal.

Benefits:

Downsides:

Pricing

If you sell the plugin yourself you have full control of pricing. If it is a plugin that might be used on more than one site by a customer, then it might be pertinent to have pricing tiers for site usage. This seems general practice for pure premium plugins at the moment, such as OptinMonster, The Nivo Slider and Instagrate Pro.

Pricing itself has been the topic of many posts and even psychological studies so I won’t attempt to tackle that here. My advice would be to try and judge the market by looking at similar premium plugins at what and how they charge. By similar I don’t necessarily mean they do the same thing but are of a similar complexity and maturity.

Support

In my opinion, premium plugins should always provide support. When you sell GPL code, support is what you are really charging for. So be prepared for this, practically and mentally. Users of your plugin might not always be the most tech savvy, so always be helpful, polite and informative. Of course, good documentation goes a long way to prevent support overload.

You also need a great support system to help you manage it. A bbPress forum is a good place to start and can be easily integrated with your WordPress marketing site. If you decide to keep your support separate or perhaps want a more robust ticketing system then check out Zendesk, Sirportly or Tender.

Updates

As your plugin cannot be hosted on WordPress.org you will need to find another way to deliver updates to your customers. Automatic updates inside the WordPress admin area is possible for premium plugins and I recommend that you go down this route, as a premium plugin needs to be as easy to use as a free one. You have some options in how to implement this:

Conclusion

I hope this guide has been useful and informative. Are you a premium plugin author with any tips to add or lessons learnt? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Iain Poulson is a freelance WordPress developer and premium plugin author, most notably Instagrate Pro. He works for a number of clients including Dev7studiosdeveloping their plugins and web applications.

Image Credit: Inkthemes

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of WordCandy.co. He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!

10 Comments

  1. Rune Ellingsen

    Great post. Kinda harsh of Codecanyon to charge 50% of the sales price.
    From my experience if you have a marketing related or just something that aids people in that niche, be it if you make a speed up your wordpress plugin or say auto post to social networks plugin… Anything to get more juice or traffic in general… Warriorforum and JVZoo are good platforms for this. BUT you need a solid idea that fits to the audience there. Warriorforum charges 20 bucks for a posting and you can bump it higher for another 20 bucks if you want to. This is a forum so new posts arrive above yours. When launching a product there I think maybe wednesday or thursday are the best days with the most traffic. Been a while since I read it but it should be right. Convinient to know a thing or two about marketing also but you only need a salesletter which you can find examples of while Googling it. Thanks again for a great post will look deep into several of the links here. Great resource. All the best

  2. Eggbert

    Nice article!
    The boilerplate is (by now?) licensed under GPL2. As far as I understand it, this requires me to publish my plugin under GPL, too, doesn’t it?

    Best regards,
    Eggbert

  3. Thecrowned

    Hi there, thanks for the post. Do you happen to know how CodeCanyon handles license keys? I sell my premium on my site, but users need a license key to activate and use the plugin which is emailed to them on purchase, and I was just wondering how this thing would be handled on CodeCanyon. Thanks!

  4. Azizul Haque

    This doesn’t matter what others saying about this page, but I found this very helpful as Codecanyon charge 50% of a product sell that means they are taking half of your efforts, time . :(

    Thanks

  5. Josh Sears

    Going down this route myself and thought this was great information. Great post and thanks!

  6. Mark Yelkos

    This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this beautiful wordpress theme. You know You definitely put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!
    WordPress Premium Plugins

  7. Vlad Ionescu

    Hi, this is a very useful checklist. We’re selling our plugin through our own site http://www.morefansforyou.com as you mentioned above this is one of the possibilities. The plugin is for sale but even now it’s good to go through your list and check if there are things we can improve.
    Take a look at our plugin if you have the time, maybe you could help us with an advice or two. Thanks!

  8. Todd Lahman

    A full-featured plugin for WooCommerce that allows developers to sell Plugin licenses, and provide automatic plugin and theme updates is the WooCommerce API Manager:

    http://www.toddlahman.com/shop/woocommerce-api-manager/

  9. Phil Derksen

    Great post Iain. I’m a big fan of using the plugin boilerplate as a base for my plugins.

    I’ve also been using EDD + software licensing for a while and it’s worked out well for selling my premium plugins. I have not used WP Updates or built my own so I can’t speak to those.

    If you’re going to go with a generic digital e-commerce + delivery system (not necessarily just plugins or on WordPress sites) I’d also recommend Gumroad (https://gumroad.com/).

    For support I’m an avid Zendesk user, but I’ve been meaning to give Helpscout a shot here soon. Heard a lot of good things about it lately.

    1. Iain Poulson

      Thanks Phil, glad you enjoyed it.

      Gumroad looks very polished, good shout!

      I personally love Sirportly, makes support (almost) fun!

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