“Really?! Eight downloads? I have been sleep deprived for three months for that? I missed my daughter’s middle-school play for eight freakin’ downloads? Eight!?”
Creating a product can be a disappointment. You pour your heart and soul into something for months, cut all the time from working with clients that you can, neglect your day job to the point that you are not sure if they won’t fire you, and isolate yourself to the point that your family starts referring to you as “the other person living here.”
Until finally, it’s done. The thing you have been working on is ready to see the light of day. With trembling hands you put it online and. . .nothing.
It falls on deaf ears. Nobody cares about what you’ve done. Nobody even knows. Downloads resemble a dripping faucet instead of a constant stream. Slowly your enthusiasm wanes, then turns to disappointment. Then you become a little bitter, and begin to question if all that work was actually worth it.
Many WordPress developers can probably relate to this experience. Anyone creating plugins and themes for a living (or aspiring to) has to find out at some point that creating a product is just the beginning. And even after you thought your work was done, there is still lots to do.
The truth is that creating a product such as a theme or plugin is often much easier than selling it. There is no “build it and they will come.” Unless your product is the next big thing and goes viral, today you need to jump up and down wearing a panda costume, frantically waving a sign that points to what you have made, and yell “look over here!” at the top of your lungs.
Ok, maybe you don’t have to go to these lengths. However, what is true is that marketing is an often-overlooked part of the development stage, when in reality it should be considered from the very beginning (and throughout) the entire process. To remedy this situation, here is some advice for WordPress developers on how to market your creations effectively.
Test. Measure. Repeat.
A word to the wise: All marketing efforts are futile if you have no idea what is working and what isn’t. Marketing is an ongoing process, which requires you to shift gears and pivot every now and then. Making intelligent decisions is much easier if you can base them on solid information.
What that means is that no matter what you do, you should always strive to find ways to collect feedback from your actions. Track as many metrics as necessary to know which parts of your efforts are effective and which are not. Whether that’s looking at web analytics, tracking response rates for email templates, or actively asking for user feedback, always try to eliminate guess work as much as possible.
First Things First: Create a Great Product
You would think this is a no-brainer, but it’s still baffling to see how many people get the basic prerequisite for creating a successful product wrong: making something of value. In order to have people spend money on your baby, you need to make sure it is actually worth it. If you don’t have a great theme framework or an awesome plugin to offer, why should anyone care?
But how do you create value for other people?
By solving their problems and fulfilling their needs. If you can scratch an itch or remove some of your customer’s pain, they will happily exchange that for money. Something that is a real issue for WordPress users or website owners.
It doesn’t always have to be the something completely new. After all, many companies out there are making money by providing basically the same service with slight variations. However, make sure what you create is different, better, or provides some other unique advantage to your users.
However, do not merely concentrate on functionality but also focus on design and, most importantly, user experience. If you create a plugin, which solves a problem many people have on their website, looks great, AND is incredibly comfortable to use, you won’t have to do much marketing. People will line up and yell “Shut up and take my money already!”
When it comes to marketing their products and services, many people like to take the broad approach. They attempt to sell to anyone and everyone. After all, “everyone” is the biggest group of people, so more people equals more profit, right?
The problem is that most of the time you are trying to appeal to everyone, you are in fact appealing to no one.
For example, you cannot create a theme that’s useful to every kind of user. The website of a computer repair shop requires an entirely different look than that of an online magazine. They also do not have the same requirements for functionality and features. The key is therefore to find a niche that you are comfortable creating for and whose members you understand.
StudioPress, the makers of the excellent Genesis Framework, do this by catering toward developers and advanced users who know how to code and want to customize their websites themselves. This group of customers is entirely thankful for the great number of internal hooks that are making their life much easier.
On the other hand, WordPress rookies who have never even created a child theme and who are looking for ways to customize their website from the backend will be hopelessly overwhelmed. Trying to market the same product to this group would therefore be completely futile.
For this reason, you need to be crystal clear about who you are creating for. So ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are your typical users?
- What do they like?
- What do they dislike?
- Where do they hang out?
Be as specific as possible. The more you drill down on who you are marketing your creation to, the easier it will be to develop the right kind of product. Getting to know your user beforehand will not only give you an idea about the features you need to add, but also where to find customers once you are ready.
Become an authority
A good thing about knowing which group of people you are marketing to is that you can then start building authority within that niche. If people already know your name and trust you, they will be much more willing to buy what you have to offer.
A very good example of this is Joost de Valk of WordPress SEO by Yoast. He is a super authority in the field of SEO for WordPress and has built a lot of respect for his brand over time. No wonder his plugin is, consequently, THE solution for SEO in WordPress.
Offer a Free Version
In order to earn money with WordPress plugins and themes, it is a good idea to not ask for any in the beginning. WordPress itself is free and the community as a whole loves free stuff. Therefore it is a good marketing strategy to first offer something awesome without asking anyone to open their wallet.
This way you give your users a chance to test drive your product and fall in love with it. You can earn their trust, before asking them to hand over their money. Once they are your fans and see that you are the real deal, they will be happy to pay for an excellent premium product with additional features (the ubiquitous “freemium” model).
However, your free offer does not necessarily have to be a slimmed down version of the product you want to sell. You can also create a free plugin and use it as a vehicle to promote other things you are offering. Or you can write a blog on things that are interesting to your people. A good example where this has worked is Buffer, which is both an excellent app for social sharing as well as a highly authoritative blog on the topic.
Use the free version as your MVP
A free version of whatever it is you are planning to create can also function as your minimum viable product. You can put it out into the world in order to generate feedback and find out about the pains and needs of your users. Requests and questions from existing users can be turned into features for the premium version. Just don’t remove features from the freebie and hide them behind a paywall. That’s just bad manners.
Take advantage of the WordPress directory
The WordPress directory is the number one resource for WordPress plugins and themes. It is also highly authoritative in Google and shows up on top of the search results almost every time anyone is looking to add something to their WordPress site. Therefore, in order to get your creations into the hands of users, it is a good idea to get them listed in the official repository.
One of the rules to be featured in the directory is that everything needs to be free of charge, which is why offering a non-paid version of your plugin or theme is doubly important. However, if you do get accepted, it is of equal importance to make it as easy as possible for users to find you. That means:
- Provide a good description
- Use relevant tags
- Add screenshots and a header image
- Ask existing users for ratings
Offer Killer Support
Awesome support is no longer a unique selling point but rather it’s the price of admission. It’s what designates you as a professional. If you expect people to spend their money on what you have to offer, they should be able to turn to you in case something goes wrong or isn’t working. Plus, word spreads quickly around the internet. Would you rather have customers rave about how incredibly helpful you are or moan about unanswered bug tickets?
Fill out the profile in the WordPress directory. Give users a way to reach out and get in contact with you. Whether via your own website, a twitter handle, or any other means of communication. Also make sure to react to user inquiries including support tickets via WordPress. The folks over at WPML are a great example of taking user support seriously.
Do anything you can to provide help for those in need. Turn your website into a robust resource with a list of FAQs. Write high-quality blog posts around your topic, offer tutorials and solutions to user problems. There is nothing that turns casual users into raving fans faster.
Keep your work up to date
Regularly provide bugfixes and keep themes and plugins up to date. Very little is more frustrating than having your site break after a WordPress core update because of incompatibility issues. An added benefit of providing new versions of your plugins is also that they will appear under “recently updated,” thus giving you more exposure.
Spread the Word
Everything above should be considered as the basics that form the foundation of your marketing efforts. The next step, however, is to actively let others know about what you have created and seek out potential users and customers. This is usually the most neglected part of marketing because if requires the most effort. At the same time, however, it also promises the biggest reward.
Reach out to WordPress news sites and blogs
Get in touch with websites that are writing about WordPress. Most of them are looking for blog posts topics and will be happy to hear about cool new plugins or themes. If you have a great product to offer, they will be happy to share it with their readers or include it in a roundup article. Third-party reviews with permanent links are solid gold!
Give away a free copy of your product to reviewers. Stress how what you have created can help their readership and what is special about it. Be brief and precise, and answer any follow-up questions. Also, create some great assets they can use in their article! A logo image and some screenshots go a long way to make your product stand out in a review post.
Send an email
Many people think that marketing is all about writing viral content and making a huge splash thereby neglecting smaller and more direct channels. But sometimes the direct approach is the best one.
If you took the time to build authority in your niche and already have a newsletter following, let your subscribers know about what you have been up to. Many of them are probably excited to hear about it. This is where your early adopters come from.
Plus, if you are into WordPress and web development, chances are you know people just like yourself. Send a short email to them. Who knows, it might be just what they need or maybe they know someone who does. Ask for feedback and referrals. It’s worth it.
Apart from that, it is a good idea to include a link in your email signature. With the amount of electronic mail everyone is writing these days, it can only help spread the word.
Another great way to get your name out is to put it out there yourself. Instead of trying to convince others to write about your product, you can also offer to provide articles yourself.
By that I don’t mean reviewing your own plugin, which will come off as one-sided self-indulgence. Instead tell a story, let others know about the lessons you have learned along the way, write on a topic related to your plugin or provide value in another way.
Some sites will even pay you for guest posts. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Leave blog comments
A different way to get your name in the mix is to leave a comment with a link to your product on relevant blog posts and websites. A good example of this in action is an article I wrote on the best tools for A/B split testing in WordPress.
If you scroll down to the comments, you will see that both the makers of those tools mentioned in the article stopped by to clarify questions about their products and that others used the opportunity to pitch their own alternatives. This is a very good way to enter the discussion and get users interested. You can set a Google alert to be informed if something interesting pops up on the web.
Produce a video tutorial
Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world? No kidding. You might also have noticed that YouTube videos tend to pop up fairly high in Google’s search results (gee, I wonder why that is). Creating a video tutorial and uploading it to the platform is therefore another great way to gain exposure.
It doesn’t have to be too sophisticated. A screen capture is often enough. Especially if it comes directly from you, the developer. It can show just how committed you are to providing outstanding support to your users. If you do create a tutorial for YouTube, take the following into consideration:
- Transcribe your video and provide closed captions, Google uses the content of closed captions to determine the relevancy of videos
- Provide a list of relevant tags
- Link to your plugin or theme below the video
Use Social Media
Everybody knows that social media is all the rage in marketing. However, it is an art form in itself and providing a comprehensive guide is beyond the scope of the article. Therefore we will merely go over some basics.
Leverage your existing following
If you already have a significant amount of people following you on social media, this is a no-brainer. Let them know about what you have been up to, send out the link and ask for feedback. On twitter, make sure you use relevant hashtags such as #wordpress, #plugin, or similar. Include a link in your profiles so that people stopping by can find your work.
Use social media for networking
If you do not have a loyal following yet, you can still use social media to your advantage. However, instead of blindly tweeting and posting away, you are better advised to employ it as a networking tool. Twitter especially is a good way to get in contact with other people in an informal way. Tweet at authorities in your niche directly (make sure not to begin your message with their twitter handle since that will prevent almost everyone else to see it). Limiting yourself to 140 character will also force you to get to the point.
Other Marketing Measures
There are a few more ways to promote your products, which I didn’t want to leave out. However, most of them require money and/or a lot of effort. Nevertheless they can still work if done right.
Contests and giveaways
Everybody likes to be a winner. Running a contest and giving away free stuff can help spread the word about your product, especially if you build sharing into the competition. Free giveaways to readers of your or someone else’s blog are also a way to attract new users.
PPC campaigns are a great tool to bring in targeted traffic. They are also highly trackable, thus allowing for experiments and tweaks to improve your conversion rate. Unfortunately they are not free and you really need to know what you are doing.
An affiliate program can be a great motivation tool for others to spread the word for you. After all, it is to their own benefit. However, this is a bit of a catch 22 as you still first have to find people who are willing to promote your product for a cut of the profits. If you can do that, you can probably find direct users.
Some WordPress review sites offer writing about your plugin or theme in exchange for money. If you have the budget, this is a legit way to go, as a paid post on an authoritative site is a great link to have. However, maybe this is one for when you have your first hit product?
What do you think? Do you have experience with marketing your plugins and themes? What has worked for you? What didn’t? Anything to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur and writer/blogger from Germany. He learned WordPress when he needed a website for his first business venture and instantly fell in love. He is passionate about health, productivity, and continuous learning, which he writes about on his lifestyle blog. When not building websites, he likes to travel the world, experience other cultures, and learn new languages.