With the start of July it will have been exactly five years since I began selling my first WordPress plugin. It is still alive and healthy up to today. During the following years I have launched several more products, including a blog management service and a few free plugins. The most recent one helps you find great images for your blog posts.
This article is not about my products however. It is about yours.
It is my attempt to share some of the experience I have collected over the years to help new WordPress developers promote their plugins.
I am still far from a marketing expert and sometimes I am still struggling today with promoting a new plugin but what I can tell all new developers is this: It gets easier the longer you do it. Just don’t give up.
Some of my products have become much more successful than I would ever have imagined, others stayed below my expectations. The common realization was that creating a plugin is often much easier than actually selling it.
I hope this guide will make it a little easier and can provide some new ideas on how to market your WordPress products. Questions are of course welcome and can be asked in the comments section!
If you are a WordPress developer it would be great if you could contribute your own experience to this guide. Simply leave a comment below and tell us: How did you try to promote your plugins when you first started out? What worked for you and what did not?
Who This Guide Is Meant For:
Basically everyone who creates products for WordPress should get some use out of this article. Since my experience is with promoting plugins I will generally refer to those but most advice should be interchangeable for themes or other WordPress-related services.
The guide is geared towards one particular group of developers. The group which needs such a guide most: New WordPress developers or small startups launching their first product. As one of those you will most likely have several, if not all, of the following problems:
- You are new to the market and thus have no connections that will do you a favor, no email lists you can sell to and no affiliates you can rely on.
- You are working alone or in a small team. Hence there are not too many man-hours left in the day for marketing and spending those effectively is also a concern.
- You have no or not much money available for marketing your new plugin.
Prepare To Be Ignored
If this is your first time launching a WordPress plugin or product I better get this warning across as early as possible: Prepare to be ignored. Prepare to be rejected. Unless your plugin is something truly remarkable most people will not reply to your requests and emails, no matter how well written or well-intentioned they might be. Other people will reply but then never follow up. Don’t let that discourage you from trying again. Just move on.
To get started here is a general recommendation that will make promoting your plugin much easier: Offer something for free. WordPress is free itself and as such its community loves free things.
If you have something to offer for free it will be much easier to approach people and get them to take a look at your product. It will be easier to get people to share your product and earn their trust. And trust is what you will need to sell something.
From my experience premium-only plugins are much harder to promote, especially if you have no connections and existing affiliates you can rely on yet. People will be reluctant to spend money on a new, still unproven service. In particular if there are free alternatives, as is often the case with WordPress plugins.
What can you offer for free?
The most popular path is to offer a basic version of your plugin or product for free and then sell a premium version with additional features. That is the so called freemium pricing model, which is quite commonly used among WordPress plugins.
It is important to note however that this is not the only option. Your free offering does not have to be part of your main product. If your main product is simply not suited for the freemium model you could consider the following alternatives:
- Create another free plugin you can add to the WordPress.org plugin directory and use to promote your main commercial product. Example: CoSchedule have done that with their “Click to Tweet” plugin.
- Write a blog with useful tutorials, your experiences or anything else of interest you can share. A successful example of this is Buffer, who even started two blogs: One on their unique company culture and one with general advice on their niche.
- Any other resources your potential customers need. Graphics, videos, icons, tutorials. There are many things you could share, some of which you maybe already created for your product.
Tip: Start Free, Go Pro Later.
Consider releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) of your idea as a free plugin first. Add it to the WordPress plugin directory, promote it, see how it goes and use the feedback to improve and craft your premium version. Once you release the premium version you will already have an existing list of users and hopefully an easier time selling it.
When you release your premium version don’t make the mistake to remove features from the free version and put them behind a paywall. Instead add more features to the free version! Being generous will usually pay off. Making your existing free users your enemies definitely won’t.
Note they are only free of charge. Most will still cost you a lot of time, which is also important to consider.
1. WordPress.org Plugin Directory Listing
Worth it: Yes
Add your free plugin to the mother of all WP plugin directories.
The official WordPress plugin directory lists over 30,000 plugins! Only free plugins can get accepted. If you use the freemium pricing model which I mentioned above you can add your basic plugin. Selling a pro version, addons or premium support on your own site is allowed.
Everyone can submit a new plugin here but there are several rules that need to be followed. Pippin Williamson has written a good post with tips on how to increase the chance to get your plugin accepted into the directory.
Once you are accepted and have uploaded your plugin it can be installed directly from within the WordPress admin by any blogger. How many people actually find and download your plugin depends to a large part on its mass-appeal. Plugins useful to a wide audience can get hundreds of downloads each day while some niche plugins are lucky to be found by a few dozen people per week.
You can however help people find your plugin in the directory by improving your listing on WordPress.org:
- Write a good description of your plugin for the readme.txt
- Use a relevant list of tags in your readme.txt. You can find the most popular tags here.
- Add screenshots and a header image.
- Ask your existing users to give you a rating in the directory.
2. Outreach To WordPress News Sites And Blogs
Worth it: Yes
Begging for words: Ask others to write about your plugin.
The success of asking people to write about your plugin will mostly depend on two things:
- How interesting or unique your product sounds. Plugins that do things never seen before have it very easy to get noticed because people share them or write about them on their own. AppPresser and VersionPress are recent examples of such plugins.
- How good you are at writing contact emails. This is not something I could teach you since I think I am quite bad at it myself. Luckily there is lots of advice out there on how to write better emails.
For this guide I am going to assume that your product is not the “big next thing” that can generate a big splash on its own. Because lets face it, if it were you would probably not read a guide about promoting a WordPress plugin.
It is ok if you did not reinvent the wheel BUT (yes, that’s a big “but”) there should be something unique, different or better about your plugin. You did not set out to create a mediocre product after all I hope. If you did you should reconsider that choice before promoting it.
When getting in touch with people be sure to stress how your plugin can help them and what is so special about it! Oh, and you should not need more than 1-3 sentences to do that. Most won’t get to the 4th sentence anyway.
Which sites to submit your WordPress plugin to?
WP Tavern is what I would call the only real news site we have for WordPress. They have a large readership and do among other things also write about new theme and plugin releases. Because of that it is also your best bet to get the word out about your new plugin. Get in touch to let them know about it. Note that they do of course not write about every new plugin – as always you will have to prove that yours is something special and worthy of a post.
Tip: Better Tweet Them
Tweet to Sarah Gooding (@pollyplummer), who is writing most of the articles about new plugins and themes on the site. She suggested doing that to notify her of new releases in a comment here. The contact form on WP Tavern brings your message to Jeff Chandler instead, who from what I notice writes less about new products and focuses more on opinion pieces and the “bigger stories”.
Brian Krogsgard writes great articles on poststat.us but he nit-picks his topics with a focus on WP business news, company mergers, etc. I have not seen him write about brand new plugins or services often unless they are really groundbreaking. The site supposedly also has a feature to “Submit” stories that others can then upvote but because registering does not work for me I was not able to try doing that.
Edit: Brian has left a comment with clarifications below.
WP Beginner is the largest site for WordPress tutorials and how tos aimed at beginners. They do also regularly publish how to articles about new WordPress plugins. Send them a short message in their contact form and stress what problem your plugin solves or how it can help WordPress beginners for it to be considered.
WPMU Dev Blog
When I contacted them regarding featuring my free WP Inject plugin they offered me to write a guest post about it on their blog instead. Due to a lack of time I did not but since they pay you for published guest posts it could be an option worth exploring for you. If it works out you can kill 2 flies with one swat: Get exposure for your product on one of the most popular WordPress blogs and get paid for it as well. Of course you would have to write a top-notch post and can not only blabber about how great your plugin is.
Other WordPress Blogs
From my experience most of the sites listed above would however not consider writing about your product for free. Instead they will point you to their advertising page where they sell sponsored reviews and posts. It can’t hurt to get in touch anyway, but don’t expect too much. Sponsored reviews can also be a pretty good deal – I have written more about them in the paid promotion section below.
To get some free exposure you might have a better chance by contacting less popular blogs about WordPress. From my experience such sites are more likely to write about a new plugin they deem worthy – either for free, for giving out a review copy or for using your affiliate links in return. There are too many small blogs to list here and new ones come up regularly while others are abandoned. Search Google for “wordpress news”, “WordPress tutorials” and similar terms. Make sure the blog is still being updated before spending time on getting in touch via the contact form.
Tip: Contact The Writers.
All the big WordPress blogs make use of freelance writers to get fresh content. Many of those writers even write for multiple blogs. It can be worth to get in touch with them directly instead of using the site contact form, since the latter brings you to the site owner who want to sell you advertisements. Writers need ideas for new posts regularly and maybe your new product can give them one. Offer a free copy of your plugin and invite them to check it out. Even if they won’t write an in-depth review of your product right away (and they probably won’t) it can’t hurt to be known by the more influential WordPress writers. Many of them also publish regular list posts and round-ups where your plugin could get included – if they know about it.
You can find writers by checking the author bios on the WP blogs linked to above. Here is a short list of some of the more influential WordPress freelancers:
3. Run An Affiliate Program
Worth it: Yes
Give people money for referring new customers to you.
In theory an affiliate program is a great way to promote your WordPress product. It gives people an incentive to write about your plugin and share it with others.
The reality for a new plugin is often a different one: The affiliate program will only move your initial problem. In addition to your product you now also need to promote your affiliate program in order to attract affiliates willing to use it. A task that is in no way easier!
That means an affiliate program will rarely work on its own. Instead it can be used to amplify the effect of your other marketing efforts. This helped me a lot with my first premium plugin WP Robot: When I launched it 5 years ago it hit a nerve with many people in the “make money online” niche. The big level of interest led to many affiliates signing up to my program for sharing and writing about the plugin, further extending its reach.
Over the last few years I have however noticed that the willingness of bloggers to sign up for new affiliate programs has declined. Especially the more popular blogs prefer direct payments for sponsored posts over having to deal with lots of small affiliate program accounts and the possibility of them not paying or disappearing silently.
Because of that I would suggest to wait with creating an affiliate program until a few months after your launch. Focus on using your plugin release to get free exposure first and build a list of customers and contacts you can then try to recruit to become affiliates eventually. The launch of the affiliate program can act as a second stage of your marketing efforts once the initial pull of your product release has died down.
Here are two more general tips for running an affiliate program:
- Consider using one of the big affiliate networks for your affiliate program. The most popular ones include Clickbank, JVzoo and ShareASale. Fees will be higher but you have access to a marketplace with existing affiliates and people will trust you more since they do not have to worry about getting paid.
- Try to convert your customers into affiliates. Or even better sign customers up to your affiliate program automatically and put your affiliate link in their face with easy promotion options. Since they bought your product at least some of them are also likely to promote it as well. This is the approach I have used in CMS Commander and it has been working well: Once any user signs up they automatically are registered as an affiliate and can easily find the link to promote the service with easy options to tweet / share in their account.
4. Social Networks
Worth it: Yes
Share your product and what you had for lunch.
I actually do not view popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus as a tool for promotion. Especially when you are new to the game there is not much use in sharing and tweeting. No one can hear you!
Instead I suggest you use social networks as a tool to – surprise – network! Get in touch with important people in your niche and stay in touch with your customers and users. Don’t make the mistake to just mindlessly share your product again and again. That’s not networking. Listen to people, talk to people, answer questions, comment on stories and join discussions.
Twitter in particular does furthermore provide a very informal way of getting in touch with people. Doing so can sometimes work much better than writing an email about your plugin. It protects you from writing long winded emails with too much marketing fluff. Thanks to the 140 character limit your message can’t be much more than a short “Hi, I made this. I think you might like it. Check it out: Link”.
This section could (and maybe should) be much longer since social marketing has in recent years basically become its own industry, but I am not the right person to write more here. Instead I will point you to the great Buffer blog again, where you can find lots of good advice on how to share stuff properly.
5. Social Bookmarking
Worth it: Yes
Submit links. Hope others
like upvote them.
Submitting your main product page to a social bookmarking site will almost certainly fail. Blog posts work much better. But only the interesting, engaging and well-written type. And then also only sometimes. All in all there is quite a lot of effort involved as well as a fair share of luck required for your submissions to take off (good connections help, too).
There is a popular subreddit (something kind of like a category in WordPress terms) for WordPress posts at r/WordPress but it does not allow plugin or theme submissions. The alternative at r/WordPressplugins which does is rather empty. If you already have an account and know how reddit works plug your plugin there, otherwise don’t bother. Submitting WP related blog posts to r/wordPress can be worth it however.
Social news sharing specifically for WordPress is what you can find at managewp.org. The community is developer centric and thus a very particular kind of articles get the most upvotes. Think programming and WP-business related. Still it can’t hurt to submit your new plugin and see what happens. As with most social bookmarking sites blog posts also work better here than product or sales pages.
There are many more niche social bookmarking networks. The most targeted for a WordPress plugin developer would be the ones for business and marketing articles, for example BizSugar, Hacker News and Inbound.org. Again, linking to your product sales page won’t help you but submitting a post about your success story (or failures) as a plugin developer might.
6. Forums And Groups
Worth it: Depends
Participate in discussions, subtly mention your plugin.
Using internet forums is free but it takes a lot of time and dedication to promote your product there effectively. You can’t just storm in and scream out the name of your product. Well, actually you can but that will not get you far. With online communities you will need to earn trust, create useful posts and participate in discussions. The promotion comes as a side effect once people start to listen and respect you.
Some of the biggest internet marketing and WordPress forums are:
Starting in a smaller forum can be a good idea as well. A smaller community makes building new connections to other WordPress developers and bloggers easier. One I can recommend is RiseForums, a new startup by Kevin Muldoon with a growing number of friendly members.
On Google+ you can find several groups dedicated to WordPress. All of them officially do not allow self-promotion but in reality I see it commonly done and rarely enforced. Still, it pays off to do any self-promotion in a “clever way”. Ask for feedback or advice on your new product instead of just dropping a link for example.
- Biggest WordPress group with over 20,000 members.
- Group for WordPress developers
- Group for WordPress entrepreneurs, started by Matt Medeiros who also runs a great podcast: The MattReport with lots of great WordPress business advice.
7. Guest Blogging
Worth it: Depends
Sell your soul: Write posts for other blogs.
Guest blogging means writing a post for another blog in return for the exposure this post brings you and your product. It is something I have never tried myself and a promotion method I am rather skeptical about.
The huge draw back is that it costs you lots of time to write the article and you are then giving away the valuable content you just created. And with it all advantages it could eventually bring your own website.
That said guest blogging can still be worth it depending on the circumstances. For example if it helps you get published in a very big blog in your niche (but for that you need to be an exceptional writer) or if the blog does also pay you for your post (like I noted for WPMU Dev above).
8. Blog Comments
Worth it: Yes
Your plugin to the rescue!
If your plugin solves a common problem chances are people were already talking about said issue before you came along. Search Google for terms like “how to do whatever your plugin does” and find relevant blog posts, forum threads and other discussions. Jump in and present your new plugin as the solution to their problem by leaving a comment.
The effect on traffic from blog comments is usually pretty small but it does exist and can bring very targeted visitors. Commenting does also alert the site owner of your plugin (and they might even add it to the post) and does not require much effort.
Tip: Get Alerted
You can set up Google Alerts so that you are automatically informed when someone posts a new question or article about what your plugin can do (or even about your plugin itself). Like that you can take action immediately. Matthew Woodward has written a good guide on how to set up Google Alerts.
Yes, I know you have no money. But the ugly truth is that all the free options listed above will also cost you: Mostly your time and your nerves. Because of that it can be worth paying for some exposure instead, especially if your time is as limited as your money. Sell your sofa if necessary.
1. Sponsored Reviews And Posts
Worth it: Yes
Pay others to review your plugin. Completely unbia$ed.
I mentioned them before already. Sponsored posts and reviews are widely used to make money by the popular WordPress blogs. You pay a fixed sum of money and in return they write about your new plugin on their blog. Either as a full review or a shorter announcement post.
Such sponsored posts can provide very good value for the following reasons:
- They are permanent, even though you pay for them only once.
- They don’t look like an obvious advertisement (even if the sponsorship is noted in the article, as it should be) and can earn you trust by the site’s audience.
- They allow you to get feedback by the readers and engage with them in the comments section.
- Blog owners will generally promote the sponsored post through all their social channels by tweeting and sharing it, giving you additional exposure.
Sponsored posts come in different flavors: Full reviews are generally the most expensive. Some sites offer cheaper announcement posts to plug your products. Also popular is running a giveaway, which people can enter (often by sharing it) to win one out of a few copies of your plugin.
The following is a list of WordPress sites which offer sponsored posts. I have used several of them but am in no way affiliated with any. Each link goes directly to the advertising page with prices. I don’t list the prices here since they can change but the common range is $50 to $100 for a giveaway or sponsored post and $150 to $300 for a full review.
You get what you pay for: Sponsored reviews at the lower end of the price spectrum do often look more like a summary of your sales page with a few screenshots and some negative points (to look balanced) thrown in. Check the samples of past reviews given on each of the sites to know what you can expect for your money. A positive surprise was Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard who created a very in-depth review of my CMS Commander. He actually tested the service properly and asked me several tough questions.
2. PPC Advertising
Worth it: Depends
Have ads for your plugin displayed in Google and Facebook.
Google AdWords and Facebook are the most popular networks for pay per click advertising. It can work wonders if done right but doing it right is hard. Unless you already have experience running PPC campaigns I do not recommend getting into it right away: The learning curve is high and you will need to spend a lot of time on creating ads, tracking conversions, improving the ads and repeatedly starting over. At the same time you will spend a lot of “learning money”. Spending money on AdWords or Facebook is no rocket science, getting more money back in return is.
Tip: Free Advertising Pocket Money.
Most PPC advertisers offer a free starting balance as an incentive for you to open an account. The offers usually range from $25 to $100 which is free money you can then use and burn for advertising your new plugin. Just search Google for “Adwords coupon” or “Facebook ads coupon” to find some current ones.
3. Banner Advertising
Worth it: No
BuySellAds is a marketplace where you can easily purchase banner ads on a large number of websites. I tried it and found banner advertising to be very ineffective. Click rates were low, conversions even lower. I would say that is not surprising in a niche like WordPress, full of web-savvy developers, many of which block ads or don’t notice them anymore. Your mileage may vary as it does depend on the product as well as on well-designed banners (which you need to spend time or money on, too). If money is tight I would however advise to spend it differently.
4. Press Releases
Worth it: Depends
Play news reporter for your own plugin.
There are many sites where you can submit press releases with the hope that other media and blogs will pick up your story and write an article about it. Some of the bigger PR sites are PRWeb, PR Newswire and PR Log. There are hundreds more and to many you can submit your release for free as well. Usually free submissions are very limited in features however and do not even allow live links.
Writing a good press release takes a lot of skill. It is also very different from writing a blog post with its own set of rules and guidelines. If you have no prior experience paying someone to create your release should be an option worth exploring.
Is it worth it? If someone picks up your story of course! Whether that happens depends as always on the quality of your release and your plugin. From my own experience I would say don’t bother. In the WordPress niche you will usually fare better by getting in touch with relevant sites directly.
The best approach to marketing is to build a truly great product. If your plugin is useful, regularly updated, well supported and scratches an itch it might be able to generate publicity on its own: Users will share it with friends, let colleagues know about it and blog about it on their websites.
But for that to be possible you still need to get the ball rolling by using some of the options I shared above.
All of the marketing methods will cost you a combination of money and time. Several of the free promotion methods are very time intensive. Spending money on promotion on the other hand can provide a shortcut to get more exposure in less of your valuable time. As a start up with neither much time nor money it will be important for you to focus on the most time and cost effective promotion methods. This is exactly what my recommendations above are based on, according to my own experience.
This is meant to be a growing list of articles that can help new WordPress developers, including success stories, promotion tips and any other useful advice. If you know of a link which you think belongs here let me know in the comments!
- The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Plugin
- 33k Downloads In 7 Months – How To Build A Successful WordPress Plugin
- Write plugins that scratch an itch
- Common Pricing Models and Other Observations – A Look At 40 Premium Plugins
- The Challenge for WordPress Plugin Businesses
- Tips For Promoting Newly Released WordPress Plugins
- Tips for marketing WordPress products
Please Share Your Own Experience
Over to you: If you are a WordPress developer who has launched a plugin before please help make this guide more useful by sharing your own experience in the comments below. Tell us what methods you used to promote your plugin in the very beginning and how it worked out!
Even if you are not a developer yourself you can help: Tell the developers reading this guide how you usually learn of new WordPress plugins and how you would like to be approached.