The beginner’s guide to marketing your WP plugin

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Last I counted, there were over forty thousand plugins in the WordPress plugin repository. (Yes, I count them. What? It’s a hobby, don’t judge). Of those, I’m guessing there are only about 2% that are earning their authors money in some way, whether by asking for a kindly donation from users, upselling them to premium add-ons and features, serving ads, or even displaying a random kitten picture at 5¢ per click. If you want to join this small-but-merry band of creators, or you’re looking to up your plugin marketing game and tickle your bottom line, this post is for you.
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Last I counted, there were over forty thousand plugins in the WordPress plugin repository. (Yes, I count them. What? It’s a hobby, don’t judge). Of those, I’m guessing there are only about 2% that are earning their authors money in some way, whether by asking for a kindly donation from users, upselling them to premium add-ons and features, serving ads, or even displaying a random kitten picture at 5¢ per click. If you want to join this small-but-merry band of creators, or you’re looking to up your plugin marketing game and tickle your bottom line, this post is for you.

I’ve worked with the Digital Telepathy team on a couple popular WordPress plugins (Flare, SlideDeck 2) and a blog analytics plugin called Filament, so I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the WordPress community. There have been some successes, a lot of failures, and a TON of surprises during that time–so I decided to share the things I wish I’d known, as well as useful tactics to help you increase your WordPress plugin’s exposure and audience.

I’ve structured this post by grouping together tactics that you can apply to the WordPress Plugin repository, inside your WordPress plugin, and methods of engaging with the WordPress community to get your plugin noticed. So let’s dive in, shall we?

The WordPress Plugin Repository

If you’ve actually published your plugin, you’re already familiar with the Repo, as it’s colloquially known. Far from simply being a throwaway place to stash your plugin, your repo page is a great place to start building your audience, as it’s the main destination for any WordPress user looking for a plugin. These tactics will ensure you get the most out of your own little corner of the WordPress ecosystem.

Pick a good name (duh)

Although it sounds obvious, naming your plugin in a way that’s descriptive of its function and indicates the benefit it provides can significantly help you acquire new users–although it’s not a hard & fast rule. If you already have an established brand and audience, stay true to them, so folks familiar with your products can still find your plugin.

First impressions count: Header image & intro blurb

1_repo-header

Your header image should be simple, legible and illustrate the plugin’s value/features. It should also be formatted to fit the specs of your repo page – that means it should fit within 772px wide by 250px tall, and leave adequate room for the required title pill.

Need a template to follow? Here you go [Download PSD]

Your plugin description is a critical element that tells users what to expect from your plugin. Pay special attention to what you say here, as it can make or break their decision as to whether or not to install your plugin.

2_repo-blurb

Try to keep the length of your intro blurb under 200 characters (with spaces), and again make sure you’re concisely describing the key feature(s). Unless you have a well-known brand, most people looking at your plugin are in “search & destroy” mode – they simply want to find a plugin that fits their needs as quickly as possible–most people don’t decide to just randomly browse around the plugin repo on a Saturday night, looking for kicks… uh, right?

The closer your feature description is in alignment with your soon-to-be-user’s immediate need, the more likely they’ll consider installing your plugin, so try to imply that there’s more to discover. Unless your plugin is a one-trick pony, indicating there’s a whole lot more it can do is helpful for getting more eyeballs on your actual repo page.

Just the facts, ma’am: Plugin Description

In the plugin description tab, you can get more into talking about the details of your plugin – I recommend you start by briefly describe the broader benefits. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How would I describe my life with the addition of this plugin?
  • What problem(s) does it solve?
  • Who should use it?

With the benefits outlined, follow up with a full, bullet-point list of the key features. You should also provide a link to your website with more info about the plugin, if you have one, and a way to contact you. A lot of the WordPress community operates on trust, so making yourself accessible to the folks who are considering using your plugin only increases your credibility.

PRO TIP: Have you created other plugins? Cross-link them to each other here! If someone’s already using one of your plugins, it’s a sign of their trust in your work, and they’re more likely to give your other jams a try.

Show, don’t tell: the importance of screenshots

3_the-bobs
“What would you say…you do here?”

When it comes to taking screenshots of your plugin, do not just press CMD + Shift +3 and call it a day! Your screenshots are the only other way–besides the description–in which someone looking at your repo page can judge whether your plugin is right for them. So help them overcome their uncertainty and only show meaningful screenshots on your repo page. What do I mean by this? Meaningful screenshots should:

  • clearly depict a feature of your plugin in action
  • be easily understood and able to stand alone without accompanying explanation
  • not include extraneous detail–zoom in close on the feature(s) you’re trying to show
  • use descriptive captions for each screen

PRO TIP: Remember, your screenshots get automatically sized down to 405px wide, so that’s the size at which they should be easily understood.

The voices of the people: Reviews & Support

Remember the trust I was talking about earlier? Getting reviews from actual users of your plugin is a great way of establishing some credibility and trustworthiness. Ask your users to leave a review while they’re inside your plugin. Yes, even if they don’t like it and leave a bad review questioning your parental lineage and personal hygiene! This just means you should take a deep breath, then engage with them to offer help. This kind of effort doesn’t go unnoticed, and shows other potential users that you’re actively supporting the plugin.

4_positive-reviews

Stay on top of what’s happening in the support threads, too. Don’t get me wrong, this can be one of the most challenging things to scale as your plugin gains popularity, mainly because there are so many variables to account for–but it can also pay dividends in loyal users/advocates.

PRO TIP: Add a sticky post to the top of your plugin’s support forum tab, containing FAQs & contact info, so your more proactive users can troubleshoot their own problems.

Optimize your tags

5_optimized-tags

Much like with publishing a blog post, making sure your plugin’s repo page is appropriately tagged with relevant keywords is critical in helping new users find it. Choose keywords that are relevant to its function, but also imagine how potential users would try to find a plugin like yours – what words would they use to describe it, and what features would they be looking for in particular?

Choosing words that accurately align with these needs will help ensure that your plugin pops up when potential users go looking in the repository.

PRO TIP: Try adding in the keywords of similar plugins to yours too – if someone’s searching for a related plugin, they’ll likely give yours a try too.

Update regularly–but not too regularly

When you increment your plugin’s version #, all current users automatically get notified that there’s an update available for it. This is good for keeping your current userbase up-to-date, but it also gives you a brief moment in the sun in the Recently Updated listings. As a result, you should expect to see a spike in downloads & installs for a few days following the release of your update:
7_downloads-per-dayAlthough some of you might be tempted to game the system and update just for the sake of holding onto the spotlight, don’t – you’ll just piss off your users. Remember, each update you push live results in a client somewhere, asking their developer to maintain it, so don’t annoy that developer – they probably were the one who recommended your plugin to their client in the first place, and they can easily un-recommend you.

PRO TIP: A good rule we’ve found for deciding whether or not to release an update is as follows: a plugin update shouldn’t contain more marketing things you want than the value it provides to your user.

Inside the plugin

Build your audience

For all the exposure it can give you, the WordPress plugin repo provides very little info in terms of who is actually using your plugin–but collecting your users’ email addresses is critical since it’s still the best way to ask for feedback, announce new features and updates, etc.

So make it easy for users to give you their email address–embed a simple email opt-in form somewhere where they’ll see it while using the plugin. In addition, you can offer a free add-on in return for an email address, although quality can sometimes suffer this way – a lot of people will just want the freebie and give you a junk/fake email address, so you may want to double-opt-in these addresses.

PRO TIP: It doesn’t just have to be email addresses that you gain from your plugin–you can also wrangle an RSS feed into the plugin, so your users stay up to date with your blog, and you gain blog subscribers on an ongoing basis. Same goes for social media follow buttons, too!

Cross-promotion

6_cross-promotionI mentioned referencing other plugins you’ve built in your repo page description, but there’s no reason you can’t do this inside your plugin too. Some authors show links to their other offerings at the bottom of their plugin’s main screen, or include it in the WordPress sidebar menu – which your users can see no matter where they go within the WordPress admin.

PRO TIP: Know some other plugin authors? Why not swap links to display in your plugins, and help each other’s audiences discover you both?

Branding links

If your plugin produces some kind of front-end output on users’ sites, consider incorporating some kind of branding on there that links back to your plugin repo page. This way, every person that installs your plugin acts as another potential avenue for others to discover it.

Note that many folks are opposed to having this kind of marketing required of them in order to use the plugin, so you may want to make it optional for those people who wish to give you support. Alternatively, you could offer your users some kind of perk/freebie as a reward for displaying your branding link on their site.

PRO TIP: Using a redirect URL on this kind of branding link makes things TONS easier if you ever decide to point the traffic driven by your plugin somewhere other than your repo page–say, to your own marketing site.

Outreach to the WP community

One of the most awesome things about WordPress is that offering exceptional value to the community is a surefire way to get attention – so everyone does it! You can find awesome (and usually free) resources for just about anything to do with the platform, so there’s no shortage of examples to follow.

Get Reviewed

If you have a premium plugin (i.e. you’re already charging for it), offer it for free to some blogs that write about WordPress tools and resources to get reviews. In addition, you could offer a few copies as a giveaway to their readers. These blogs are always looking for new plugins to write about, so this one’s all about getting your list of relevant blogs together and reaching out to contacts at each.

As a bonus, link to favorable writeups from inside your repo page’s description to gain even more credibility. Google is the other major place that people go to search for plugins, so getting some link juice always helps.

PRO TIP: Don’t know where to begin? I like to use the Domain Authority score in the MozBar Chrome extension to prioritize my efforts – the higher the score (max is 100), the more influential a review on that blog will be. Don’t ignore the folks lower down on the scale, though, as they’re typically more willing to work with you to create an awesome, informative offering for their readers. You can also use the product analysis service here at WP Mayor.

Bundle Giveaways

8_bundles

Getting included in premium bundle giveaways (like Appsumo, Stacksocial, etc.) is a great way to gain a large, rapid influx of new users for your premium plugin. You’ll typically need to offer the bundle promoters a deep discount on your regular price, but if you’re diligent about collecting some kind of contact info for each customer that purchases the bundle, you can upsell them to make it a profitable venture over and above the wide exposure you’re likely to get.

Also make sure to check out the giveaway service here at WP Mayor.

PRO TIP: Be prepared with giveaways at this kind of scale–you will get a significant spike in support requests, so you’ll want to make a good impression & respond quickly to new folks discovering your plugin. 

Partnerships

9_partnerships
“Tango…meet Cash, your new partner.” “No way Chief, I work alone…”

If your plugin is ready for the big leagues, you can reach out to managed WordPress hosting companies like WP Engine and SiteGround to get evaluated for inclusion in their default WordPress installs. A large part of these companies’ value propositions is that they include all the tools (read: plugins) their customers want in a new installation of WordPress. It’s a high hurdle for a plugin to clear–you’ll need to demonstrate strong, stable revenue and growth, as well as rock-solid stability across a wide range of flavors of WordPress configuration–but if you do break into this rarefied air, you’ll gain a ton of exposure.

Perhaps a bit more achievable in the short term is to seek out freelance WordPress developers and consultants, and partner closely with them – offer free copies of your plugin, and listen closely to their feedback. Your goal is to become an indispensable plugin in their toolbelt, so they’ll be inclined to use it in their client projects.

Make yourself useful

If you’ve built a plugin to help people with a certain problem, chances are you’re able to enlighten a lot of people with your insights into related topics. Get on Quora, and start answering relevant questions. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to include an all-caps, bolded link to your plugin as the be-all-end-all solution to everyone’s woes in every single answer – over time, you’ll start to become recognized, and the associated trust and credibility builds.

PRO TIP: The WordPress support forums are also a perfect place for this kind of thought leadership approach. Just answer people’s questions & suggest your plugin when appropriate– asking for their feedback/reviews can also help.

In summary

There have never been so many relatively straightforward ways to get the word out about your WordPress plugin–and that’s all before you even undertake creating your own marketing site & blog, build your social media presence, etc. So what’re you waiting for? Get out there and start showing WordPress users what you’ve got for them!

If you’re marketing a plugin already, what audience building methods have you tried, and what’s been your biggest surprise?

Alyona Galea

Alyona is a WordPress enthusiast, focused on sharing interesting things she comes across during her work with this great CMS. She loves exploring new destinations and maintains a travel blog at www.alyonatravels.com

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6 Responses

  1. This is indeed a great post. These things are so valuable for authors who publish plugins on wordpress.org.

    In my case, promote the main plugin by creating free extensions, releasing them on wordpress.org and making cross-links between them. It works quite well.

    1. Thanks Anh! Yep, you can build up an incredible amount of trust just by doing one good thing, and then linking your latest thing to that good thing. Make sense? 😉

  2. Thanks for letting me post here, guys! If anyone has any questions, please do let me know, I’ll be happy to answer.

      1. You’re welcome, Mark! Yeah, it was a long road, filled with a lot of mistakes, so I figured it might help to share what we learned.

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