Removing The Blindfold for WordPress Theme Authors With Freemius Insights

Most of the WordPress theme authors are blindfolded. They have no way of knowing who is using their themes, how are they using them, and where are they using them. With Freemius Insights for WordPress Themes - this is going to change.
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Everything has been said about the popularity of WordPress as a CMS. We’ve all heard time and time again about how it powers 26% (or is it 27% by now?) of the websites on the internet, which is around 15,886,000 websites! That’s a big deal, and no one can take that away.

That being said, WordPress does have a few lacunae (but we still love it!) as a platform that aims to power so many websites and serve so many people. One of those lacunae, which has not been seriously addressed yet is information (metrics/analytics/user-data).

A huge percent of the websites powered by WordPress are made using WordPress themes, yet most of the WordPress developers who create those themes are blindfolded. They have no way of knowing who is using their themes, how are they using them and where are they using them.

If you disagree with the statement I just made above – see if you can answer the following set of trivial questions that every SaaS company product manager MUST be able to answer:

  • Which features do users favorite most about your theme?
  • What is the life cycle of your purchase theme? Or how long a website will be using your theme on average?
  • What are the main reasons driving people to switch from your theme to another one?
  • What are the missing features that could increase the usage of your theme?
  • What is your theme’s abandonment rate?
  • How many sites are still running PHP 5.2 with your themes? (should you continue supporting it?)
  • Is your theme being used by large companies or even enterprises? (if you could add a logo of a well-known company to your landing page it will undoubtedly increase your brand’s trust)
  • What is the exact moment a customer switched to another theme?
  • What are the most common plugins your theme is usually installed with?

If you have the answers to those questions – chapeau! You are a rare kind of data-driven theme business. Unfortunately, most plugin and theme developers in the WordPress ecosystem don’t have a clue about any of those things. The usual scenario is that, like most theme authors – while working hard on your themes – you are forced to take wild guesses as to who are your users and what they like/dislike/need. As the CEO of Freemius, the startup behind Freemius Insights for WordPress Themes – our team looking to change that:

Freemius Insights for WordPress themes is a live data aggregator, made so WordPress theme authors won’t ever have to make guesses again, and can become data-driven like the rest of the digital product owners out there.

In the same way that every website runs Google Analytics, in five years every plugin and theme will have to run analytics. We aim to standardize & democratize usage-tracking for WordPress products and become a trusted data solution in the community, and I suspect that this is going to change the way theme authors think and act.

The Data You Get

As a theme developer, what you get is an open-sourced WordPress SDK, which can be integrated into your WordPress theme in 2 minutes. Just customize the settings according to your theme’s setup, copy an auto-generated code snippet into your functions.php file and you’re all set.

Once Freemius Insights is integrated successfully and you release a version of your WordPress theme that includes the Freemius SDK – users who activate your theme will get prompted by an optional opt-in screen when they activate it:

Freemius Insights opt-in

The user can obviously choose to ‘Skip’, and your theme will work just fine on their website!

They can also click to see what exact permissions are being granted when opting-in:

  • Profile Overview
  • Site Overview
  • Theme events

When they opt-in – you immediately get exposed to a new world of data which WordPress developers are not used to seeing. You can rest assured that every piece of data that’s being collected from your theme users is legit, as we’ve been working with core people from the WordPress.org themes review team to make sure it complies with the official WordPress.org guidelines and the User-Experience requirements:

Your WordPress theme statistics

One of the fundamentals concepts in product development is The Feedback Loop. The idea behind that concept is that product development never ends. You come up with idea/assumption (could be a feature, UX improvement, etc.), then you implement it into your product, measure the results, and then either keep it, throw it away, or iterate it. So it’s a never-ending cycle of iterations. When it comes to themes, there’s no way to measure – therefore, there’s no way to know things like whether your feature improved the product or not. Maybe the new feature that you’ve just released is actually confusing the users and increasing the uninstallation rate, maybe not (who knows?). The chart of effective user growth is a super-powerful indicator to let theme developers measure the theme iterations, makings sure changes are actually improving the product and how effectively.

Among other things, you will finally be able to know the distribution of site languages, theme versions, WordPress versions, PHP version, etc. among your users.

In addition, you get to collect a list of your users’ names and email addresses. This is unheard of for WordPress theme authors who push their themes to the official WordPress.org repository, or sell them via marketplaces like ThemeForest or CreativeMarket.

users list

When a certain site admin decides to switch a Freemius Insights powered WordPress theme they get prompted by the Feedback Form, asking them to provide a quick feedback to help the theme author improve, by letting you know why they’ve decided to switch:

Feedback Form

You’d be surprised, but based on data we captured from more than 400,000 active sites, 8 out of every 10 site admins submit their feedback. This data is collected for the theme author to view and take action on down the road. It is meant to help reduce your themes’ abandonment rate.

Freemius Insights has been available for WordPress plugins for quite some time now. Here’s what Erick Danzer, the founder at NextGEN Gallery and his team were able to learn about their popular plugin from the user data Freemius Insights had collected for them:

Since we started with Freemius, we’ve exposed the Freemius/NextGEN opt in form to about 200,000 NextGEN users.
We’ve learned that 21% of users deactivate or uninstall the plugin entirely. Of those who uninstall, about 20% (the largest share) do so because they “don’t understand how it works.” This wasn’t a surprise. We’ve always known that NextGEN Gallery is powerful and that some users are overwhelmed by the options and give up. But this is the first time we’ve been able to put actual numbers on that behavior. We now know that 21% of users uninstall and that the biggest reason is complexity getting started. That tells us that if we want to improve our retention rate, we need to make it easier to start.

Following this incoming data – we’ve been able to make big improvements to our plugin’s interface:

First, we just released a start-up Gallery Wizard late last fall that walks new users through the process of setting up their first gallery. Second, we’re about 70% done with a complete overhaul of the interface to simplify the presentation of options.

Much like plugin authors, theme authors are now able to draw conclusions from their users’ feedback and improve their product.

Sorry to say it, but if you’re relying on the support forums to do the trick and provide you with your users’ unbiased feedback – don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, users who bother to take the time and write something on support forums are usually there to complain about a technical difficulty they are experiencing with your theme. Getting an honest feedback from them about their user experience at that point, when they are NOT happy with your product, is quite difficult.

Moreover, they may end up leaving a bad review on your theme, just because they didn’t understand how some feature works. The Feedback Form has been proven to help prevent that, allowing any unhappy/frustrated user to blow off some steam and unpack their frustration, leaving them feeling that their opinion is heard and that they’re helping improve & mature the theme. Win win.

Over to You, Theme Authors!

The Freemius team has spent countless hours creating and optimizing Freemius Insights for WordPress Themes, making sure it is aligned with all of the official WordPress.org guidelines & requirements.

I hope WordPress theme developers take this great tool we’ve put out and use it to learn about their users, about their themes and most importantly about what they can do to improve their themes for the benefit of their users. Ultimately, when your users are happy with your product – your bottom line will reflect that.

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