With WordPress being open-source software, the barrier for creating new WordPress-powered products is very easy to climb over. This affords anyone armed with a dash of PHP knowledge and the “next big idea” the opportunity to create a new product or business.
Some say that having little knowledge can be dangerous. So, it’s important to equip yourself with the necessary tools and context before venturing out on your personal WordPress excursion.
Looking through the top performing WordPress products of today, there are several key factors that set them apart from the herd. Several approaches which—when executed correctly—change how users perceive the product, and generate mass traction. Today, we’ll be taking a look at what I believe to be these defining factors, as well as a realistic look at which areas are more “magical” than “scientific.” More “unicorn” than “horse.”
Before we delve into the scientific topics, I’d like to clarify one point: Good ideas don’t grow on trees. They’re mystically crafted in the recesses of the minds of either very intelligent or slightly zaney people.
If you’re confused as to where to spend the majority of your time when developing a new product, spend it here.
“Vision, without execution, is hallucination” – Thomas A. Edison.
As important as the idea itself is the product that needs to be created. This is the point where the idea could either be elevated or diminished, based on how we approach the task (think of those volcanos you used to make in science class in school, or when you mix Mentos and Cola—that’s what happens when the sciences are not correctly applied).
Here are 4 mantras I like to apply when developing a new WordPress product.
1. Zero in on your idea to achieve maximum results
We’ve all seen it. That one plugin that claims to do it all. Similarly, we’ve all heard phrase, “a jack of all trades, and a master of none.”
Focus on your one idea, immerse yourself in its glow, and make sure the execution is as amazing as it could possibly be. If, for example, your product is a testimonial engine, make sure it stores the testimonials perfectly, has the necessary fields used by the majority of your potential customer base, and that the testimonials output with ease on the frontend of the website (provide a widget, shortcode and template tag, for example). Don’t spend all of your time designing the administration menu icon, because that doesn’t impact at all how your testimonials are actually displayed or stored. Be sure to spend some time on the icon, though. Everybody likes pretty pictures.
2. Consider your feature set before writing a single line of code
Before coding a single line, it’s important to ensure you focus your time on developing the core features of your product. Ask the tough questions and make the executive decisions before you start. If you want to go left, make sure you go left as a team, and that you stand by that decision.
An example of this is when we (over at WooThemes) decided not to include any CSS files in several of our free plugins; Features by WooThemes and Testimonials by WooThemes, for example. This decision was made as a team, before any code was written. Through experience, we’ve noticed how bundling CSS files within plugins can cause conflicts with themes, as not all themes are designed and coded in the same manner. Unless the CSS is sparse and purely for laying out your content, it’s best to leave styling as the role of the theme, with the functionality being the role of the plugin.
3. Settings screens should help and not hinder
Starting your product by developing your settings screen is (pardon the pun) setting you up for disaster. The plugin functionality should determine the settings—not the other way around.
Treat the concept of adding a setting as the most important decision you could make, when a request comes in for a new setting. Once a setting is added, it’s incredibly difficult (and confusing for your customers) when the same setting is removed at a later stage.
Additionally, the more settings your product contains, the more time it takes for your customer to configure the product, and the higher the risk for confusion.
Don’t waste your customer’s time with configurations. Your product should just work.
4. Remember that your product is a WordPress product
This is, arguably, the most important item of all.
Your product is powered by another product. Therefore, many decisions have already been made for you. Certain user interface conventions, for example, exist within WordPress to ensure consistency across the administration screens, as well as in the code itself.
Leverage these to ensure your customers feel at home, and to ensure your product is future proofed, as much as possible.
Spend your time developing the core feature of your product, rather than creating a full new administration interface for your offering. If the WordPress interface conventions could use a bit of tweaking to enhance the way customers work with your product (for example, you may need specific buttons to show up in a list table of items), go ahead. The key is to always remember that WordPress powers your product. The interface decisions made by the WordPress UI team should be acknowledged to ensure your product treats the WordPress interface with the credit and respect it deserves.
For the developers out there reading this, don’t forget to follow the WordPress Code Standards. They exist for the very reason of helping you, the developer, as well as creating harmony between products developed by multiple authors.
A bit more magic
Now that you have your magic idea, along with a few guiding principles for designing and planning your product, the next steps are up to you. Find your market and get out of the building to discuss your idea with anyone who could be a potential customer. Apply this information, along with the sciences above, to create an exciting product that captivates your customers, and ensures that they get the feature they’re after.
Above all, remember to make prompt decisions and to stand by them, but don’t be unwilling to evolve along with your customers.
Which of these principles do you find most useful?
Matt Cohen is the Chief Product Officer at WooThemes. He’s a WordPress enthusiast who loves to architect strong products and refute anything deemed “impossible.” Matt’s an avid musician and an occasional blogger. He loves punk rock, innovation, business, and 80s/90s cartoons.
Join the conversation