Block Editor Sidebar Panels Are the New Admin Notices

There is a problem. Well, it is not an OMGBBQ problem, but it has the potential to become one. Maybe by calling attention to it, I will set off a landslide of copycats who will see this as another trick of the marketing trade, implementing it in their own projects. I am torn, but it would be a disservice to our community to not provide a place for them to share their thoughts.

I am always looking for exciting new plugins or even those old ones that I have missed. In particular, I love to see what others are building on top of the block editor.

Several months ago, I activated my first plugin that used an editor sidebar panel to advertise its pro upgrade. There were no usable options. It was simply an ad, so the decision to deactivate and delete it was a no-brainer. I did not need anything taking up valuable real estate on the post-editing screen. I do not remember its name; it was on the site and off again in moments. A few months later, I saw another plugin with a similar panel.

I have simply ignored those extensions. They were somebody else’s issues. But, when the problem comes knocking at your own door, it is tough to not know it is there.

I hate to be the bad guy who calls out WordPress businesses for trying to make a buck. I have been there and tried to walk the tightrope between putting food on the table and creating a positive user experience with my products — said the guy who is now employed as a writer.

However, can we not do this?

WordPress editor open.  On the right, the post sidebar is shown with the ExactMetrics plugin's panel highlighted.  It has disabled options and simply an upgrade to pro link.
Sidebar panel with disabled options and a pro upgrade ad.

This panel seemed to appear suddenly on the Tavern’s post editor not long ago, and it has been an annoyance ever since. I dug around to find that this was a new pro option added to the ExactMetrics plugin last month. Users of the “lite” version just get the panel — free of charge.

There are a few choices when faced with such a situation. Learn to live with it, deactivate the plugin, or disable the panel via the preferences menu.

WordPress editor preferences menu overlay modal.  The Panels tab is selected.
Preference menu overlay.

At least the editor has some built-in noise control. I am not sure how many users are even aware that it is possible because it is almost hidden. It takes three clicks to get there (Options > Preferences > Panels) and another click to switch a panel off.

The JavaScript for the panel still runs on every load of the editor. And, clearing local browser storage means it will reappear — I will blame that one on WordPress for not storing preferences via user meta. But, at least panels can be hidden.

WordPress users have enough noise with plugins shouting at them at every turn. It is easy for them to become desensitized to the barrage of admin notices, a part of their daily existence. I do not even click the dismiss button for some at first glance. I let them sit, untouched, wondering if they will simply disappear into the ether without my direct interaction. Other times, I install Toolbelt and let it tuck them away.

But, this new thing? The post editor was a place of solace, an escape from the commotion allowed through the admin notices hook elsewhere. It was a quiet room for focusing on content.

At the very least, this form of advertising has given me the necessary kick in the pants to perform a full audit of the Tavern’s plugins. We are in the process of cleaning house, and I have already tossed the first into the trash heap.

12 responses to “Block Editor Sidebar Panels Are the New Admin Notices”

  1. When people see a blue ocean, they will inevitably sail into it… with good, and some not so good (but maybe intended to be good) intentions. This is a prime example of blatant advertising.

    The plugin should be at least offering some sort of functionality options, not just adding a panel with an upsell. I can handle a plugin that adds functionality that I can actually use, and then some subtle upsells. But doing the exact opposite, no thanks!

    • We are in agreement on this. At least give me a single option to configure, a toggle to switch on and off. If for nothing other than the illusion of usefulness, give me something. Then, drop the upsell along with it.

  2. Its time that we brought a consolidation of premium plugin marketing options to the WordPress space. It has been far too long that we are all playing the game of pretending that “for profit” plugin development and marketing happens outside of the dashboard.

    It doesn’t.

    Instead, the plugin and theme authors are forced into a constant game of cat and mouse, like graffiti artists seeking attention on a busy city bridge.

    If we can all just be honest, and that includes the decision makers in the core code and plugin approval teams, that a standardized mechanism for allowing premium plugins to be marketed from within free plugins…we’d all get one step closer to where we are all going to end up anyway. WordPress lives and breathes on monetization by those who make plugins and themes.

  3. Fully agree with you. Annoying +++
    But it’s the game with freemium… and it would be difficult to block such notifications without a breaking change in the plugin publishing process.
    IMO, a change could be to have an internal rule for such notifications with a new options in the settings to dismiss them.
    This implies that a plugin that do not use this rules stays outside….

  4. I noticed a replica of this panel in the classic editor as well. I could understand its presence better if the panel had some actual function. But to simply litter the screen with this ad is pretty much ensuring that I will NEVER purchase the plugin.

    Ads are fine – so long as they don’t interfere with a user’s ability to get things done. This one is a bridge too far IMO.

  5. Putting anything to any other place then to the plugin page is for me one of key signals for automatic deletion of the plugin (the other signals are errors shown with debug=true, using of non-wordpress-standard look, feel & functions etc. I also hate creating custom top menu level, unless it is really complex plugin that is used so often and with so many different pages, that it really needs it (but it is not automatic blocker for me, i just sometimes delete their menu)

  6. This is fine example of black hat product marketing. Interrupts the active product to do nothing but advertise. The craziest part: People actually WANT to buy premium plugins that help minimize work or create added functionality. Feels unnecessary to add an incessant ad in the editor. Please don’t do this.

  7. As long as there is no explicit solution to notifications in WP, the developers will use whatever serves their needs. And you can’t blame them! Being able to market a product is an important part of making pretty much any work in the WP ecosystem sustainable. Telling devs they are doing it wrong when there currently is no way of doing it right is not really moving things forward.

    Anyone who is willing to help on solving this (very impactful) problem with WP should look into the WP Notify feature project: https://make.wordpress.org/core/2019/08/05/feature-project-proposal-wp-notify/

    Its main goal is to provide explicit ways for devs to provide notifications and for users to decide how and when to receive them.

  8. This is annoying. So are the “subscribe to our newsletter” notices too. One plugin even has a notification with their other plugins and the dismiss link is only for 12 months. So it will come back in a year.

    I just activated the plugin…why are you asking me to rate your plugin? why are you asking me to subscribe to your newsletter?

  9. The block settings come up automatically when using the full-site editor, so it’s not really taking away from the editor real estate to include information on what’s included in a pro version. Yes it might be frustrating to see an option for a feature that you can’t actually use yet, but at least you now know it exists in the pro version if needed for your use case. It’s not globally displayed like admin notices often are – so might be a little harsh to compare the two :)

    • The comparison with admin notices is about the appropriateness of using the location for advertising and nothing else. This is a panel in the post-editing document sidebar, the place for configuring options related to the post.

      Imagine if every plugin with an upsell did this on your install. Or, even half of them. It’d be a nightmare, especially if you don’t know how to “dismiss” them.

      • Apologies, I missed that it was the Post tab – that does seem a little overzealous. At least it’s related to the settings for the post itself, or at least what the settings could be if you upgraded, and there’s a way to turn it off (at least until you do a hard refresh).

        I definitely try not to be that in your face and only put upgrade messages in the context of settings for the plugin itself. I don’t want to risk the potential 1-star reviews :)

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