How To Grow Your Sales Of WordPress Plugins And Themes

Selling WordPress plugins and themes has become a profession. Actually, scratch that. it’s an art. Gone are the times in which you could do it easily as a side gig, alongside a full-time job.

At this point, the WordPress ecosystem just has too many options & competition in it, and there are so many “correct” decisions to be made if you’re going to create a prosperous and a sustainable business from your WordPress plugin or theme.

——————————————————–
Editors Note: This is a guest post, which regular readers will know is pretty rare here at WPMU DEV.

In chatting with our friends at Freemius, we thought some of their insights and stats would make for an interesting read here on our blog. We know that a good number of our members and readers create their own plugins and themes as part of their businesses, and for the rest of us, it is always good to be aware of the current tips and tricks being used as we go shopping for WordPress products and services around the web.
——————————————————–

In this post I’m going to uncover the most important insights, we, at Freemius have understood when it comes to selling WordPress products.

For those of you who do not know, Freemius is designed to handle all of the eCommerce aspects of selling WordPress products and, due to the nature of our business, we have been obsessed with optimizing the way we handle things like checkout, licensing, recurring payments, automatic updates, taxes (EU VAT), trials, affiliation, cart recovery, decreasing the uninstall rate, collecting user-feedback, customer communication and many additional aspects of running a successful WordPress product business for our WordPress product sellers. The obsession with optimizing these aspects has helped us to substantially increase the conversion rate for WordPress products that sell through Freemius. Let’s dive into a few of our best practices:

First-time User Experience Is Crucial!

Welcome Screen

A good UX (User Experience) will leave the user satisfied rather than overwhelmed and confused. When it comes to WordPress plugins, this means your plugin should be easy to install, easy to set up, and easy to use.

If you offer both free and paid versions of your plugin, the free version should delight them in such a way that when they need any of your paid features they won’t think twice about upgrading. In the long run, a great user experience not only benefits the users of your plugin but you, the plugin author as well, because it leads to better conversion rates.

Some developers have little to no knowledge when it comes to topics such as user experience and how to create intuitive products, so as you can imagine, some WordPress products suffer from a very poor UX and are very challenging for the end-user to handle. In fact, based on data we captured from hundreds of plugins and millions of plugin installations using Freemius: 20% of plugin uninstalls are related to bad FTUX (first-time user experience). A user installs a plugin and then has no clue what to do next.

There are many ways to improve the FTUX of your plugin, but the simplest solution can be found by including a post-install welcome screen and automatically redirecting the new user to that screen upon plugin activation. Adding a welcome screen that explains where the plugin settings can be found and guides them through the setup can greatly improve the overall user experience in WordPress plugins (this solution would work particularly well for the more complex ones).

When it comes to freemium themes with a free version on WordPress.org, redirection is actually not allowed, therefore, adding an admin notice with a “Getting started” link to the welcome screen should do the trick.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the users don’t know what they’re supposed to do after installing your product for the first time, so your goal is to guide them in the right direction.

Let Them Try It Out (For Free)

Image showing the WPMU DEV free trial options.

Trials for software products and SaaS (Software as a Service) have been a standard practice for years and are considered an excellent way to get a higher reach and improved conversion rates. That said, only a small fraction of the premium WordPress plugins and themes on the market offer them.

What Types of Trials Can You Offer?

There are three well-known trial offerings that are currently popular on the market:

  • A free trial without a payment method – this is a simple way to let a prospect try your premium product in exchange for an email address. This is the safest and easiest trial for consumers since they don’t need to provide their payment information.
  • A free trial with a payment method (e.g. credit card, PayPal) – asking the user to provide their payment method along with their email address, without charging their Credit Card or PayPal, until the trial period expires. It is likely that less people will try the trial because a user first needs to have some trust in your business and feel confident that you won’t scam or charge them unexpectedly. It also adds a hassle since they need to remember to cancel the trial in case they’re not interested to continue using the product. Nevertheless, that is how Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and many other subscription-based businesses have built their empires (and WPMU DEV). The benefit of a trial with a payment method is that users who go through that funnel are more “serious”, and are more likely to stick with your service since they made it through the hardest step – providing you with their credit card details.
  • A paid trial with a significant discount during the trial period –  this is a common practice in the Enterprise Software world where monthly payments start from hundreds of dollars and can go up to millions. In the WordPress products sphere, paid trials with a discount are usually disguised as coupons for the first payment. This way customers can try out the product for a much lower price, before actually committing to the full price.

The Main Benefit Of Offering A Trial

Based on trials data we gathered from Freemius sellers who offer trials:

  • The average conversion rate from a trial without a payment method to a paying customer is 18.78%. This means that almost every 5th user that starts a trial will become a paying customer!
  • The conversion from a trial with a payment method to a paying customer reveals a crazy rate of 69.66%. 7 out of 10 users who start a trial with a payment method will become customers!

Just to give you some perspective, the average conversion rate from free‘ to paid‘ of the same group of premium WordPress themes and plugins that offer trials is 1.51%. Meaning, every time you manage to push a user into your trial funnel, you increase the chances of that user becoming a paying customer by over 1,243%. And if you also require a payment method, this chance is increased by a staggering 4,613%.

Offering Trials: Best Practices

The first thing that you have to acknowledge when offering trials is that if you want to protect your code from a trial abuse (when the user obtains access to your premium code and uses it without ever paying) you’ll have to add a licensing engine that is connected to an external licensing service and actually block the features, or maybe the whole product when the trial expires or is canceled. To clarify, GPL doesn’t prohibit licensing and features management – this is absolutely legal and compliant with the GPL license.

Since WordPress products have to comply with the GPL license (at least the PHP code), a tech-savvy user can potentially strip/null your plugin or theme from the licensing logic. But don’t worry too much about that, those users would probably never pay you anyway. In addition, if they choose to redistribute your premium product, there are ways to protect yourself against a copyright infringement, you can learn more about those in this article, written with the help of two Intellectual Property attorneys.

What Is The Best Free Trial Length?

The most popular trial lengths in the market are:

  • 7-day Trial
  • 14-day Trial
  • 30-day Trial

But, there’s no magic number here because every premium plugin or theme is different. What you do have to make sure is that your trial is long enough for your prospects to be able to adequately evaluate your offering, and hopefully, get “hooked”.

As a rule of thumb, I would recommend starting out with a 14-day Trial to allow enough time to check the product and get hooked, and then A/B test it with a 7-day trial and see which one performs better.

Technical Support During A Free Trial Period

You have to offer it and even prioritize it! When a prospect is testing your premium plugin or theme they are not only evaluating your product features and capabilities, but also your support quality and response rate. Not only should you offer support during a trial, I would add that you should prioritize your trial users and support them even before all of your other customers (obviously don’t neglect your clients and make sure you respond in a timely manner).

Decreasing Cart Abandonment And Recovering Abandoned Carts

Potential customers who abandon their checkout carts is a common and recurring issue for all online sellers, and specifically for WordPress product sellers.

The possible reasons that might drive your prospects to abandon their loaded carts vary:

Why shoppers abandon cart

Source: VWO 2016 Cart Abandonment Report

So, what can you do to reduce the number of people that abandon their cart mid-checkout, besides making sure all of the relevant shopper information is where it should be, or offer massive (unnecessary) discounts?

Do Not Force Registration!

Not only is forced registration annoying and hurting your conversion rate – asking customers to create a user account is completely unnecessary, because modern monetization solutions, like Freemius, incorporate the email address field as part of the checkout form and create the shopper’s account on the fly once the Purchase / Buy Button is clicked, without asking them to choose a password.

Studies show that 37.4% of cart abandonment occurs at the checkout login or registration phase. That’s a huge testament to how annoying this is for people. In fact, in this Econsultancy survey, 25.65% of surveyed consumers attested that “Needing to register before buying” would cause them to abandon their cart:

Registering a new user account (with a username, and email address and a password) just to be able to make a purchase is a big friction generator for shoppers. My advice would be to turn the mandatory registration off for your checkout process.

A Single-page Checkout

A checkout that is “compressed” into a single page is a significant advantage that helps eliminate friction during the checkout process. A single-page form can include all of the necessary checkout information in one place, so customers can pay instantly, without being redirected away to complete the transaction, which helps achieve a higher conversion rate. Dividing the checkout process into several pages would allow for more opportunities for a shopper to abandon their cart.

The checkout form should be optimized and stripped of any form fields which aren’t essential to make the sale go through. More fields may lead to more confusion, which in turn, leads to cart abandonment. You can collect additional data points about the customer later on.

Vary The Payment Methods

I would say it is pretty much mandatory for you to let customers pay using various methods, rather than limit them to only one. If you choose to limit payment methods, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot, because a shopper that does not see their preferred payment method supported will likely abandon the cart.

Cart Recovery

it’s unlikely you will be able to avoid all cart abandonment, as many of them just have to do with things that are beyond your control like people who are “window shopping”, comparing prices, saving items for later, exploring gift options, etc.

The whole idea with a Cart Abandonment Recovery Mechanism is to win back those abandoned carts by trying to bring potential buyers back in, directly to where they left off so that they can complete their purchase in the smoothest manner possible, because customers looking to purchase WordPress plugins or themes will usually be able to easily find premium alternatives.

The good news though is that cart abandoners are among the most qualified leads you’re going to get, and you get a second chance at nudging them from a mental state of “not sure” into a decisive “yes!”, all through the simple magic of the automated ‘Cart Abandonment Recovery Email’ campaign – a personalized email campaign which is automatically triggered in the case of a cart abandonment event.

Here’s how it should ideally work:

Once an email address is captured, a 60-minute countdown begins. If the visitor completes their checkout within that time frame, mark them as a ‘completed checkout’ and take no further action. But, if the visitor does not complete their purchase inside the 60-minute mark – trigger an automated email campaign designed to bring them back to your site (or their WP Admin) to complete the purchase.

The email should contain relevant data which can be grabbed from the product’s plans, trial options, and the refund policy you have configured. Those can be incorporated into the email, making it easy for the shopper by including all of the relevant data and driving them directly back to their cart, with all of the ingredients loaded, ready to close the sale.

Timing Is Everything

Try optimizing the timing in which you send out the recovery emails. Here is the timing for the cart recovery emails which we found converts best:

1st Recovery Email – Sent 60 minutes after the last checkout visit. Will include the actual cart content, as well as your Refund Policy, if you have set one.

2nd Recovery Email – Sent 24 hours after the checkout was initiated. Will include the cart content, your Refund Policy, as well as an alternative option to start a Trial, if you offer one (proven to increase conversion rate).

3rd Recovery Email – Sent three days after the 2nd recovery email. Will include the cart content, your Refund Policy, a discount code, and an alternative option to start a Trial.

Sending out these 3 times emails has actually become an expected procedure, optimized for a high conversion rate in an attempt to bring the shopper back in and complete their purchase, each time introducing another element which may aid our persuasion efforts.

Usage Tracking

Geographic-specific content for WordPress

WordPress product sellers need to be tracking and analyzing the way people are using their products – they’re no different than any other software/digital product creator in that aspect. In the same way that every service informs itself about the way its users interact with it, what they think about it, and yes, most importantly – why they stop using it!

Are You Good At Guessing?

As a WordPress product developer, you are making a lot of guesses. Surely, the following questions regarding your product have crossed your mind:

  • What do users like/dislike about my plugin/theme?
  • Who is using my product and how?
  • What’s the versions distribution among my product users? Should I continue supporting PHP 5.2? And what about older versions of WordPress?
  • How long do they use it for before they switch to a different plugin/theme on their website?
  • Is it possible that not only photographers are installing my “Photographers’ Theme”?
  • Is some huge brand using my theme or plugin on its website? (maybe I could use it as a testament to my product’s high quality).
  • Is there a certain feature that many of my users would LOVE to see included with my next version release? Am I losing users because it’s not there?

It’s important to ask questions such as these, and use more accurate data about your products to answer them because let’s face it: without accurate data – you are merely doing guesswork.

The sooner you realize that, as a developer, you’re creating a product that serves PEOPLE – the better. Settling for the number of downloads and an estimate of active installs means you’re out of your own product’s loop!

Uninstall Rate

Let’s look at themes for the sake of this example: a theme author never even knows why the site owners who installed their theme decided to abandon it. A relatively easy solution to that would be to include a Feedback Form, which will prompt a user to provide some feedback, right when they’re switching to another theme:

A screenshot of an example uninstall survey.

Normally, 8 out of 10 users will engage and provide you with valuable feedback which will help you understand what they think about your theme.

Later on, you can filter that feedback and see what can be done to decrease your abandonment rate. For example, if a big portion of your users specify they’ve left because they did not understand how to set up/operate your plugin or theme – you should probably consider adding a welcome screen (see the User Experience section above) or maybe even add a “getting started” video to your settings page.

If many abandoning users mentioned that there’s a specific feature missing on your plugin or theme – you can take action on that by adding it.

Affiliation

Setting up an affiliate program can have a powerful, long-lasting impact on your WordPress product:

  • Make you more money
  • Power up your SEO
  • Improve your brand awareness

While this indeed sounds good, it’s still important to set our expectations straight: the best-performing Affiliate Programs in the WordPress products sphere yield around 10% of those businesses’ gross revenue. Most WordPress products that run an affiliate program report a lower yield of around 5% or their gross revenue. So, it’s obviously not a negligible addition to your total income, but it’s also not likely to skyrocket your business’ bottom line.

Best Practices for Attracting Affiliate Marketers

A Good Product

It may be obvious, but your product has to be a good one, or at least has to have a good reputation. When an affiliate marketer considers whether to promote your WordPress product or not, just like in any investment process, they will calculate the risk vs. reward. If the potential affiliate thinks that your product is shitty, most likely, they will not “invest” in promoting your product, even if the affiliate terms are superb.

Marketing Your Affiliate Program

Just like any other product, you’ll need to market your Affiliate Program. You’ll have to spread the word out and explain why it’s appealing. This too may sound obvious, but many developers tend to forget it.

Having an informative landing page for your Affiliate Program and linking to it from your site’s footer section is just the start. A great technique that we found converting very well is marketing your Affiliate Program right from within the WP Admin dashboard of your users:

A screenshot of an example affiliate program in a plugin.

Using this technique significantly increases the visibility of your Affiliate Program among your users (make sure that you only show it to users who have not yet applied to the Affiliate Program, otherwise, it could get slightly annoying).

To keep the experience as seamless as possible and increase the conversion rate for registration, include the application form right within the WP Admin:

An example of an affiliate program application inside of a plugin.

An Appealing Affiliate Offering

As mentioned, the bigger the affiliation reward, the higher the chance of attracting more affiliates. The two fundamental parameters that affect the affiliate reward are:

  1. Affiliate Commission: The higher the commission, the more money the affiliate will generate every time they manage to drive a customer to your paid version.
  2. Cookie Expiration: The cookie expiration means the number of days the referral tracking cookie is valid for. A longer cookie expiration period is better for affiliates since it increases the chance that a purchase will be attributed to the affiliate.
  3. To make your offering more appealing, a good strategy for products with recurring payments is to offer a commission for the initial subscription payment AND its renewals. As the affiliate drives more subscriptions to your business, they accumulate more recurring affiliate commission in the future.
  4. Whether you sell subscriptions or only one-time licenses, a great way to make your Affiliate Program “shine” when compared with others is offering a “Lifetime commission”. When a new customer’s upgrade is attributed to an affiliate, the customer will be linked to the affiliate for life, allowing the affiliate to get a commission for all future purchases and subscriptions made by that customer.
  5. Offering financial incentives to affiliates that hit certain milestones is a great way to keep them going. You can either offer cash rewards or an increase in the affiliate commission percentage – be sure to include those special milestone based bonuses in your Affiliate Program marketing page:
    1. $100 bonus when hitting $1,000 in referrals gross revenues.
    2. 10% increase in affiliate commission when hitting 3,000 referred sales.
  6. Another easy technique to increase the potential conversion rate is offering an exclusive coupon for affiliates. If you include an affiliate coupon as part of your Affiliate program offering, potential affiliates will know that it will be easier to drive traffic to their site by promoting the coupon, as well as an easier sell.

An Affiliate Program can be a great vehicle to spread the word out about your premium WordPress plugin or theme, boost your SEO, and drive an increase in your revenues.

While there are benefits to an affiliate program, it also has many potential risks in the form of an Affiliate Fraud. However, choosing the right Affiliate Platform will help you to significantly reduce them, and by manually moderating the affiliates approval process and conducting sufficient diligence, you can practically eliminate those risks.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this pack of data-based best practices for improving your WordPress products sales process can be helpful to you, but obviously, if you’re not completely new to selling WordPress products you already know that sustaining a prosperous business means you’ll have to do much more than implement a bunch of tips and conversion rate boosters.

Selling WordPress plugins and themes is a grueling routine that requires your full and constant attention.  It encompasses many moving parts that do NOT directly relate to coding and can easily become a full-time job that requires know-how in multiple areas like marketing, branding, SEO, sales, taxes, etc. So, just like you wouldn’t build a custom analytics solution for a website and would probably opt to use Google Analytics (or any other existing service), do yourself a favor and don’t try to handle the eCommerce portion on your own. As a developer, I know how we tend/like to do everything our way, without really thinking about the overhead and time cost. Just remember that your product is your plugin/theme, not the eCommerce engine behind it!

Kobe Ben Itamar
Are you using an e-commerce solution to sell your plugins and themes? Tell us about your experience selling plugins.