If you want to build a software business, there are a lot of advantages to the world of WordPress plugins.
To begin with, you have a built-in audience of committed users. That audience is massive — around a quarter of the planet’s websites use WordPress. And that number is growing every day.
But we all know that “Build it and they will come” is a myth — for software or any other business.
There are tens of thousands of plugins with just a few downloads, and a few successful standouts.
Here’s how to put your awesome plugin in the second category.
#1: Start with the user experience
User experience should drive your code, not vice versa
Successful plugins are built on a foundation of excellent user experience.
Chris Lema, the popular WordPress evangelist, sees an awful lot of popular plugins.
He had this to say in his article on The one thing many WordPress plugin developers seem to forget:
” … Most developers seemed to think about the user experience only after most of the development of their plugins was complete.” – Chris Lema
His recommendations include:
- Getting users involved early on — don’t try to design your plugin in a vacuum
- Measuring the number of clicks to complete each main task — keep tasks as simple as possible
- Designing the screens and experience before you write your code — experience should drive your code, not vice versa
Sometimes technical folks are tempted to start with the functionality first, then “figure out the user experience part” later. That’s a recipe for expensive mistakes and a less-than-awesome plugin.
#2: Design matters
Successful plugins leverage great design.
Starting with the user experience will get you a good way down this road, but if you aren’t a strongly visual person yourself, make sure you get one involved.
Even if your plugin works perfectly, it only makes it harder to get traction if it’s ugly and visually disorganized or cluttered.
It’s not about eye candy for its own sake — it’s about careful design thinking that reinforces your plugin’s functionality and makes it a pleasure to use.
#3: Serve a real need (or want)
Successful plugins address a real-world user problem or desire.
If you’re not building something WordPress publishers actually want, you’re going to have a tough time.
You may have a highly technical improvement that you’re sure all WordPress publishers should add to their sites. But if it’s solving a problem they don’t care about, you’ll never get any traction.
Get to know lots of WordPress users and you’ll quickly learn what they want from their sites. Great plugins usually make WordPress simpler or more powerful.
Some examples include:
- More easily customizing the look of the site
- Improving the site’s SEO
- Enhancing the audience experience with community-building elements
- Reducing spam
- Adding a complex and desirable feature, like a membership site
If your plugin is on the technical side, remember to translate the benefits for non-techie users.
A plugin that “improves origin caching” is great, but make sure you also translate that to: “Makes your site load a lot faster.”
#4: Have skills (or know where to get them)
Successful plugins have rock-solid code.
If you’re new to programming, working on plugins can be a fun and interesting way to get better.
But if you want to create a truly great plugin, you need to pay your dues and become an excellent coder. (And no, this does not happen overnight.)
If that isn’t you yet, you can shortcut this by partnering with an excellent coder. You might supply the vision, the marketing mind, and the business knowledge, and they bring their sweet dev skills.
Solid developers don’t just write great code, they also work within a defined process to make sure they’re releasing a quality product.
Beyond your standard programming best practices, I think the best thing to do is to test, test, and test. Keep up your code. Have development environments with commonly found themes and plugins. Test against different configurations. If it’s a commonly used theme (like Genesis), make sure it functions as expected and if not, see what needs to be done before releasing it.
~ Andrew Norcross, founder of Reaktiv Studios
#5: Carve out your position
Successful plugins stake out clear positioning in the WordPress marketplace.
Just like any other software product or service, your plugin needs to occupy a well-defined position in the market.
You need to be able to communicate in an instant:
- What your plugin does
- Who it’s for
- What specific and remarkable benefit it brings to sites
Keep the simplicity factor above in mind, if your plugin is intended to reach a broader audience than the most tech-savvy users.
#6: Consider working within an ecosystem
Successful plugins are part of a greater ecosystem.
Every WordPress plugin, of course, benefits from the overarching ecosystem of users and developers.
But in an era of so many plugins, many developers niche that down further, coding for a particular framework such as Genesis.
For example, one of Andrew Norcross’s most popular plugins is Genesis Design Palette Pro — that lets users change the look of their Genesis sites with just a click or two, without any coding.
You might think that working within a niche ecosystem would result in fewer users, but often the opposite is the case. You’ll stand out more easily, because you’re crafting more specific solutions to your users’ desires.
#7: Recognize the community
Successful plugin developers respect the WordPress community.
Along with the many benefits of the WordPress ecosystem, there are also community responsibilities.
Here’s how Andrew Norcross put it when I asked him about the importance of nurturing the relationship with the community:
“I firmly believe it means the difference between success and failure, overall. While you can easily make a living cranking out WP code in themes or plugins for clients or agencies, there’s a definite ceiling (in my opinion) with how far you can progress without being at least somewhat active in the community. More importantly, however, having a bad reputation can be a career killer. Many people put personal recommendations above all the marketing they see, and once someone develops a bad rep, it’s really hard to shake it. We’re beyond fortunate that at Reaktiv Studios, we have developed a solid reputation with our clients, in that many of our new leads are referrals from our previous clients.”
~ Andrew Norcross, founder of Reaktiv Studios
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