#49 – Matt Cromwell on the Effectiveness of the WordPress.org Repository for Promoting New Plugins

Jukebox
Jukebox
#49 – Matt Cromwell on the Effectiveness of the WordPress.org Repository for Promoting New Plugins
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Transcript

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My Is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes and in this case, the effectiveness of the wordpress.org repository for promoting new plugins.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you, or your idea featured on the show. Do that by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Matt Cromwell. Matt is Senior Director of Operations and Marketing at StellarWP, where he provides marketing and business insights and coaching to burgeoning WordPress product owners. He’s also one of the founders of GiveWP, a donation plugin, which uses the freemium model. Having a free version on wordpress.org’s repository as well as a paid premium offering.

The wordpress.org repository is where you find yourself when you click the add new button in the WP admin. It’s a place where plugin developers can, if they follow the guidelines, hosts to their plugins. It provides a direct line of access to all WordPress websites, and is therefore a convenient, free place to host your plugin.

In return, the plugins in the repository must be freely available by the plugin authors. In the past few weeks, the repository has been in the news. Some statistics were unexpectedly removed, and this has led to a conversation about the governance of the repository, as well as questions about whether or not the repository is still a worthwhile place to offer your free plugins, if you have a premium tier.

Alex Denning wrote a post entitled, “WordPress.org is ineffective for plugin distribution in 2022”, in which he lays out his thoughts as to why he no longer recommends the WordPress repository. The battle against already successful plugins, low conversion rates, and the difficulty in gaining visibility are amongst the arguments that he puts forward.

Shortly after Alex’s post was published, Matt Cromwell posted a rebuttal entitled, “The case for the WordPress freemium model”. And this is the basis of the podcast today.

We talk about Matt’s history in WordPress as a premium plugin owner and how his experience leads him to conclude differently. That the WordPress repository can be successful, given the right expectations and approach. He’s found using the repository to be an effective channel to drive the plugins premium tier, as well as a way of offering a useful free donation tool to the community.

It’s a fascinating chat and is sure to be of interest to anyone thinking about starting a freemium plugin.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all of the other episodes as well. And so, without further delay, I bring you Matt Cromwell.

I am joined on the podcast today by Matt Cromwell. Hello, Matt.

[00:04:19] Matt Cromwell: Hi, thanks for having me.

[00:04:20] Nathan Wrigley: You’re very welcome. We’ve got a, an interesting subject today, all about the wordpress.org ecosystem and whether or not it would be sensible or otherwise to put your free plugin over there. Before we get stuck into that debate, though properly, anybody that is unfamiliar with Matt, let’s give him an opportunity to introduce himself. So, Matt, just give us a few moments of your time to tell us who you are, what your relationship is with WordPress, what you’ve done in the past in the WordPress space.

[00:04:47] Matt Cromwell: Sure. I’ve been in WordPress for a while. I would say about 2012 or so. Jumped in and started building websites with WordPress, mostly helping non-profit organizations, churches, educational institutions. Then ended up partnering up with my longtime business partner, Devin Walker, and he and I decided to tackle a big problem in WordPress, which at that time was how to take online donations.

And so we created a plugin called GiveWP, and that was launched in 2015. That has catapulted us into our career, and has done really well and we’re really proud of it. So much so that we sold it last year to uh, Liquid Web, which is where we are now in the StellarWP brands. There, we have also just recently been asked to uh, take on a bit more. And so now Devin and I are both managing GiveWP as well as iThemes, Iconic and Kadence WP. So things keep getting more and more exciting.

[00:05:44] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much. Yeah, really broad and rich history there. We could have spent the podcast talking about those products, but we’re not going to. Well, I think we might do tangentially as a way of demonstrating different things. But we’re on the podcast today to talk about a couple of pieces which came out.

I will link correctly to both of the pieces that we’re in discussions about today. But I’ll mention them both in turn so that those listening to the podcast could possibly have a quick read of them before they pursue any further. So the first one was produced on the 18th of October by Alex Denning over at getellipsis.com, and that piece was called wordpress.org is ineffective for plugin distribution in 2022.

And then a few days after that, you, Matt Cromwell, wrote a piece and that was at mattcromwell.com and it was called the case for the WordPress plugin freemium model. And in effect, your piece coming a little bit later was a rebuttal about what Alex was saying. Now, if you’d like to outline what Alex is saying, you are welcome to do that. Alternatively, I could try and outline what Alex was saying, which would you prefer?

[00:06:54] Matt Cromwell: I think you are much more fair than I.

[00:06:56] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, that’s very kind of you. The long and the short of Alex’s piece is that he believes that by the year 2022, we’ve got to a point where, if you are going to be releasing a plugin, a free plugin, into the WordPress space, he believes that it’s now no longer effective to do that on wordpress.org. The article is probably about a 10 or 15 minute read, and as always with Alex’s pieces, there’s lots and lots of data and so on to back it up. But essentially he believes it’s ineffective for a variety of reasons.

One of them is that the marketplace seems to be dominated, in his view, by some giant incumbents. We’ve all seen those plugins before. If you’ve tried to add a new plugin through the WordPress repository, you’ll probably know the plugins that we’re talking about. They always rise to the top. And that’s largely because, Alex thinks, because of the install base that they’ve already got. Once they’ve got over a certain amount, the hump of a 100,000, 500,000 or 1,000,000 installs, then it becomes more likely that they’re going to be surfaced.

There’s also the idea that, in the recent past, especially since 2016, he makes the point, it’s much more difficult for new plugins to breach that number. So getting past a hundred thousand and so on is more difficult, which is compounding the problem.

And then if you add on to that, the fact that the search functionality within the WordPress repository also doesn’t give the opportunity for new plugins to be discovered. If you go there and you search for particular keywords, his contention would be that it’s much more likely that the ones with the greater install base are going to be surfaced first. In other words, it’s a bit of a, an echo chamber, I suppose, in a sense is what he’s saying.

Given all of that, he contends that you would be better off spending your time, and I guess for time you could read money as well, elsewhere. It might be better to have social campaigns or Google ads or some other channel of distribution, outside of wordpress.org, and so your endeavors would be better served elsewhere.

Alex I hope that I’ve summed that up correctly. If I’ve not, pleased do get in touch and let me know where I’ve mistaken things and I will gladly amend the show notes as such. But that, broadly speaking, is Alex’s contention. And, a day or so later compelled you to write a rebuttal. Just tell us what your thoughts are.

[00:09:26] Matt Cromwell: Yeah. Generally speaking I gave some good caveats in my piece that Alex does know what he’s talking about, and he has a lot of data to back up his conclusions, and I still believe that strongly um, he has reasons for saying what he says. What compelled me to write a rebuttal were essentially a couple claims that I felt were potentially not as helpful for the WordPress ecosystem.

In particular, one thing I think that’s important of what he’s saying is that, he says essentially that if you’re serious about your business and you want to build plugins then you should do premium only, and not a freemium model. Like basically do not build a free plugin, build a premium only plugin. And I really do believe that is damaging to the WordPress ecosystem overall.

If we start to see an influx of premium only offerings it can be really harder for the common user because, we all know it doesn’t take one plugin to build your website. It often takes a dozen, or several dozen plugins to build your website. And if you have to go, and be purchasing them across the web all over the place, it suddenly makes WordPress not as optimal to deal with.

So that’s one of the big downsides of his argument that makes me say, ah, I think this needs a lot more context and I think it needs somebody to say, no, the freemium model still works. And then I spend the rest of the article really talking about how I do see that the freemium model does still work and specifically that .org, while the active install count is significant, it’s not the only factor, and it is still possible for newer plugins to get adoption on wordpress.org. It just takes some savvy for sure. It’s not as easy as it used to be. I’ll give him that for sure. It’s not a situation anymore where if you build it, they will come. So yeah, the long and the short of it.

[00:11:18] Nathan Wrigley: So, one of your contentions is that it’s damaging to the WordPress ecosystem, if in effect there was only paid for plugins and everything that you wished to have on your website was a paid for plugin. I’m guessing that over the years you’ve built websites in which you have utilized free plugins? And some of them may be broad in scope, but some of them may just achieve a couple of smaller things.

And, there’s something to be said about that, isn’t there? I guess there is something about the community and about the ecosystem, about the expectations of what you are getting into when you install WordPress, which has this free model to it. I guess that’s an important component of the community and it would in a sense be a shame if the only things that you could have were paid for.

I remember the day, probably going back about 15 or so years ago, when I was looking around for different models for CMSs that I was going to begin using, and there were a variety of them. And there was Drupal and there was Joomla. But if memory serves, there was one called Expression Engine. I could have got the name wrong there. And it seemed to have a very low install base.

And my perception of that was that was because it took that model, it had the model of, you had to pay for not only the CMS but I think all of the different component parts that you could bolt onto the top of it, AKA plugins, and perhaps that was something that stifled its growth. And if we look back at WordPress, perhaps the free plugin model is one of the big factors of its success?

[00:12:47] Matt Cromwell: For sure. Absolutely. I mean, for us with GiveWP and I think many people could think, whenever I say GiveWP, you can also think similarly of WooCommerce, quite honestly. It’s really important to us that GiveWP is free, because a lot of non, all non-profits basically start from zero in many ways. And they are always very conscious about their expenses. And they’re in the fundraising space. There are so many dozens and dozens of paid fundraising platforms and they are oftentimes very expensive. So having a free option for folks to be able to start fundraising with, and do it successfully and effectively is really important.

And I say similar to WooCommerce because it is similar, like a lot of small businesses start from zero, and they can’t afford to be paying for a whole bunch of different plugins, just in order to sell their stuff online. I do worry a little bit on the WooCommerce side that their plugin ecosystem has gotten so large that sometimes it feels like it’s harder to start a shop with just WooCommerce free. And I wish they might put a little bit more features into the free plugin. But that’s a whole nother podcast.

[00:13:59] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. Let’s take a couple of different pieces of the wordpress.org repo. One of the first things that Alex talks about is the opportunity is quite low according to his data for converting people over. So let’s say in the case of GiveWP, he doesn’t cite GiveWP, let’s be clear. He talks about other different plugins and you can verify that by looking at the article. His contention is that really the conversion rate from the free plugin, if people install your free plugin, it’s somewhere between one and 3% of those people will be interested enough to go and explore and look for your, your website or whatever channel it is that you’ve got for getting the paid version.

So, between one and 3% of your users, and therefore that’s seems like a fairly small figure. And so the cost in terms of the support that you’d have to give on .org, and also the fact that you’re having to update it and maintain two different versions with different features. If it’s only one or two or 3% that are converting, that does seem to be relatively small, but your experience is clearly different.

[00:15:04] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, for sure. Now Alex definitely when he was trying to say which plugins have the benefit of being preferred on the plugin directory search. I do think that he would put Give in the category of kind of an elite plugin. Because he did say plugins with a hundred thousand installs or more that have been there for a long time have this elite status, and it’s hard to compete with them. And we do have over a hundred thousand installs. We’ve been there for seven years now. So I think he doesn’t put us in the same category. But nevertheless, I can say authoritatively that we are converting closer to 28% of our install count to paid customers.

I also gave some data on a newer plugin called Orderable that I’m also involved with on the Stellar side that just launched last summer. And honestly, it’s a low estimation honestly. If I really look at everyone who’s paid for anything with Orderable, it is closer to the 30%. But right now, in terms of active customers, it’s around 18%. So it’s converting much higher than one to 2%, or one to 3%. But even if you take that one to 3%, and you think about these large plugins like Elementor or whatnot that have 5 million active installs that’s 50,000 customers. And that’s significant regardless.

[00:16:21] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I wonder what could account for the difference there, because Alex is one, two or 3% which may very well be the case in certain given niches, or given the data that he was talking about. I wonder how we account for the big ocean really between your 28, 30%, whatever it may be, and that much smaller percentage? Perhaps it’s something to do with the nature of the plugin itself, what it’s doing, what problem it’s trying to solve, and whether it’s more desirable. I don’t really know. It’s interesting.

[00:16:52] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, it is interesting and I, I do want to get some data from Alex on the specific freemium plugins that he’s worked on, on that, in that way. I do believe that Vova at Freemius probably has additional data that he might share about this subject as well. I believe that on average plugins that use Freemius convert higher than that 3% as well.

And that one I think is another significant data point to keep in mind. But I know from, I, I know Alex and I adore him, he’s great. And if I’m thinking the most optimistically about his perspective, I think it’s more that he would really expect conversion rates to be at least 5% or higher because that’s what he can get with organic results. That’s what he can get with CPC ads most likely. He just knows marketing from a larger perspective and really is expecting a lot more. So, if I’m trying to be generous that’s what I would think.

[00:17:44] Nathan Wrigley: I wonder if there is something in that, maybe your company Give, in this case that we’re talking about is unusually effective. So your 27%, 28%, whatever it may be is not the normal. Which is obviously very good for the way that you’ve done marketing and way that you’ve pitched yourself into the repo.

I’m curious, and it may be something that you don’t know the answer to, what would have been the rate? Given the install base that you’ve got. So you mentioned that there’s over a hundred thousand and you may not wish to share the numbers, which is fine. What percentage would have been effective to you? In other words, if it had have been at one or 2%, could you have made the plugin viable or did it need to creep into the 10 and 15% kind of area?

[00:18:30] Matt Cromwell: Mm-hmm. Well, we did have other plugins at the time, freemium plugins. And truth be told, I was not analyzing their conversion rates very specifically at that time. We had a bunch of business reviews plugins. We had a really fun plugin called Maps Builder that had a free and a pro version. And my guess would be that the conversion rates at that time for those plugins were probably also a lot lower than the 27%.

But they were viable. So I would just be guessing, I don’t want to just guess, but I do feel like they would probably be in the single digits in terms of conversion numbers. And at the end of the day, yeah, we did retire those for the most part. The business reviews ones are still out there, but we’ve made a premium product to kind of replace those. And it’s because of the success of GiveWP. So even if I look at our own plugins that we’ve built, we did make choices to sunset products because they weren’t converting as well. So it’s not as if I don’t hear Alex, on his side of things because I have some of that same experience. I just don’t think the conclusion is that means that .org is not viable. I do think it’s more of a product fit type of conversation, a marketing conversation, and things like that.

[00:19:38] Nathan Wrigley: Just taking a bit of an aside here for a moment. Everything that goes into the .org repository is by nature, it’s free. You can download it and anybody can access it at any time. I’m curious, you may have opinions on this, you may not. If you have a commercial variant of the plugin, so you’ve got two sides of the coin. You’ve got the free .org side, and the paid for, wherever you may put that, but you’ve got a paid for version somewhere else. What is the true intent of the free version? Because I could look at it cynically and say, okay, the free version is basically a channel for trying to sweep people towards the paid version.

And then with a less cynical hat, I could be, it’s offering the kind of functionality that we can support for free. In other words, we’re doing an altruistic thing, for the community for free, completely for free, with no expectation. Maybe it’s one side or the other, or maybe it’s a little bit of both. You’re being altruistic. You’re giving away certain set of features and range of options with the hope that some of them will come across. But no expectation, you know, it’s fine if you want to use the free version forever. As a plugin developer who’s been in the game for a long time, I wonder which side of the fence you sit on, or perhaps you literally do sit on the fence there.

[00:20:54] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, I mean the way that things like this work is essentially that at a certain stage, once you start to get enough users, it’s going to incur costs, just to have users. So specifically when you’re doing a plugin, like GiveWP or like WooCommerce that is so foundational to the functionality of a website and so important to that website, it’s going to start to incur costs. And that is human costs. That’s in the form of technical support for the most part. And account services. Because the users are going to need support. They’re gonna want support. And in order to fund that support, we do have to have some sort of funding in one way or another.

So doing the free plugin specifically is in order to serve that niche, in order to serve that functionality with the intention then that we’re gonna need to fund this in one way or another, and we’re gonna do that with premium features essentially. But it, it’s always been our strong conviction that the free plugin needs to be very full featured. That you need to be able to do effective fundraising with it out of the box. Or else folks don’t know what they’re getting into when they go to pay for something. So essentially it’s not just a funnel, which in some ways I think that’s a little bit of the take that Alex is leaning on, is that is looking at .org as one of your marketing funnels.

Which it is, of course. But it also represents your best foot forward of what your product is supposed to be, and what it’s supposed to offer. And in business there’s very often this idea of try before you buy, or there’s a free trial type of thing. With plugins we can’t do try before you buy really, and you can’t do free trials really, so your best option is to provide a free product that then leads to paid products. Am I answering your question?

[00:22:41] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. That’s good. I know it’s a difficult tight rope to walk that one because, there isn’t really a correct answer, is there? It clearly has to be a little bit of a marketing channel. You are offering something in the hope of sweeping up a few of them. But equally, you are offering something in the hope that they’ll enjoy it and experience it and in many cases the functionality that’s there is sufficient. But should you wish more functionality, here’s the option.

It’s an interesting thing as well that in the community, the whole promotional piece on the .org side is, I think, widely viewed with disdain. That is to say it doesn’t take much for a plugin author to completely derail their plugin if they abuse the UI that they’ve got for their plugin. I’m thinking here of examples in the past where companies have taken the opportunity to fill up portions of the screen with advertising for the paid version and so on.

So, we can see that the community really do feel quite strongly about this. From the plugin side, obviously, the author’s side, you wish to promote your own products because you want to stay in business. From the user’s side, there seems to be a groundswell of people who think that the repository version needs to be completely without any upsell features. It’s just, if it’s good enough, we’ll figure that out for ourselves and we’ll go and discover it for ourselves.

In terms of discovery, let’s just move back to the piece that you wrote. One of the contentions that Alex has was that being discovered inside of the repository is increasingly difficult. The big incumbents of which you’ve described GiveWP perhaps is one of them, but we know the names of all the other ones. They dominate the search because of their active install counts, and Alex maintains that that’s a very important metric. In other words, if you go into the repository and begin a search, it’s quite likely that the results will skew towards the larger active install count plugins. Therefore, it’s going to be difficult to break through the ceiling of that, no matter how unique and brilliant your plugin is, just because it’s difficult to launch something and it takes a lot of time. You have, specifically on that point, your rebuttal is interesting. What did you say there?

[00:24:52] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, the active install count is a factor, and the plugin directory has gotten larger. But the active install count is one factor of many of the way in which the plugin search works. And luckily when you’re working with a open source platform like WordPress, all of the code that creates that search is open source as well.

So folks can take a look at it and see exactly the way that the algorithm works, in complete contrast to Google, for example, where it’s a big black box and nobody really knows how it works exactly. But .org is actually pretty straightforward and relatively simple. But there are a lot of metrics that they take into account when they create that search. And honestly the title of the plugin is actually one of the more significant ones.

Now that being said, if you are, if in your title of your plugin you wanna say something like Wrigley page builder. Page builder is a very flooded field. Things like Elementor and Beaver Builder and others do have a lot more installs already and they’re going to show up higher if they also have page builder in their title than Wrigley will.

But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t found or aren’t discovered. You might not be first. You might not be second, but you still have a really good chance of being on page one. Because there’s really not that many page builders on .org currently. So there’s still a lot of room overall. That’s kind of my biggest contention, is simply that the way the search works is more complicated than just simply the active install count. It’s also these specific tags that you use. It’s also the way in which you describe the type of functionality you have. Whether or not you have good support is even a factor. Like answering all of your .org tickets and things like that. Those all factor in. How recently you’ve updated the plugin factors in. There’s a lot of factors involved.

[00:26:38] Nathan Wrigley: So you specifically mentioned the following things, which are thrown into the mix when you do a search. So it would be the title of the plugin, the excerpt, the description, the tags, the slug author name, contributor names, last time it was updated, compatibility with core versions, number of active installs, percentage of support tickets resolved, which is really an interesting one, and the average star rating as well.

So there are quite a few things in there. I guess in a sense, having that knowledge could lead you to be quite sophisticated in gaming that system, and it’s no different really than something like Google where people spend, I would imagine very large amounts of money in some cases, really manicuring their SEO, but without that insight.

And they may succeed one day, they may succeed another day. The point being, they still need to jump through hoops. It’s not You go over to Google and suddenly you are a winner. You would still have to spend large amounts of time and money organically to break through the surface against, say, for example, other page builders. I presume the problem would be equal over there than it would be on .org.

[00:27:49] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, absolutely. And in this way I think what Alex is speaking to a bit is that, in the past with the plugin directory, it really was easier. It really was a lot easier to simply launch your plugin on .org and you would get found in the WP admin relatively easily. And those days are definitely not there anymore. It’s not quite as easy as it used to be at all. But I don’t believe that it means that .org is now no longer viable as a distribution option, or even as a marketing or business option.

[00:28:21] Nathan Wrigley: Do you believe that the search algorithm in .org, despite the fact that it’s going through these whole slew of different things, and I’m guessing that if you read the code, you can see how the waiting would be and so on and so forth. But, do you believe that the search functionality does need a tweak?

Are there other metrics which you would like to see thrown in? Or, indeed just different areas of the UI which may give a small but potentially important boost to newcomers, in a way that perhaps the current search wouldn’t? And, I think Alex mentions something like rising stars as an option. The idea that plugins, which are new, potentially, they’ve gone from zero to 50 in a matter of days. That’s, on WordPress, that’s a big leap if you go from nothing to 50 or a hundred in a short period of time, that’s really quite something. And so maybe there’s parts of the UI where compliments of that nature could improve visibility.

[00:29:14] Matt Cromwell: Absolutely, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to search algorithms, because they are highly complex systems, and they are so significant. In some ways though, I think, just even if the search algorithm itself didn’t change, but we were able to add things like categorization, being able to navigate down the directory through categories first and then search. That might be a big advantage right away.

Especially if one of those categories was, new. Something that was recently launched. There’s actually a really fun free plugin, I think it’s just called New Plugins, I’ll have to look it up. I’ll send you the link. But you can install this plugin in your website, and what it does is it adds, when you go to plugins, add new, there’s tabs in there that says featured and things like that. It’ll add a new tab, and it’ll just show you the newest plugins on the directory. And I think that’s really cool and I’d love to see that on .org directly.

[00:30:09] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s really interesting. You also point out that the, gaming is the wrong word, but you make the point that it is still possible given the way that the search is carried out and the results that are shown, that, as an example, some of your competitors, they seem to have optimized with use of their plugin name or the other things that we mentioned, you know, excerpts and description, tags and so on. They’ve managed to vault over you in the .org search results, because they’ve optimized for words, which are well, really important to you, but you haven’t specifically optimized for those.

So for example, nobody could deny that your plugin GiveWP is to do with fundraising, and yet fundraise as a particular word, you are outcompeted on the marketplace there. And also crowdfunding, which again would be an important part of what it is that you do. Both of those words, you quickly discovered you were not winning, and in some cases you didn’t even appear in the search results on the first page, despite the fact that GiveWP is really, that is inside your wheelhouse without a doubt.

And so there is opportunity, I guess it’s more of a sort of long tail search. You’ve just got to find what those opportunities are. Unfortunately, I guess we don’t have the sort of metrics that we have with things like Google Ads and so on and so forth, where you can see what people have been searching for over, over a period of time, in a particular geography, given different demographics and so on. You just have to do the grunt work of figuring all this stuff out.

[00:31:35] Matt Cromwell: Yeah. One other point related to that, that I pointed out is that your presence on .org isn’t only about the .org plugin search. It’s also about Google search because those pages all get found on Google as well. And so because we do have insights from search console and Google Ads and things like that, that does influence the terms that we want to be found with as well.

So it’s not only about figuring out how .org prioritizes plugins, but also what is going to get found on Google as well, because it’s really hard for any WordPress plugin to beat the domain authority of wordpress.org. If you build a plugin they most likely are going to be on the first page of Google before you are.

[00:32:17] Nathan Wrigley: So the contention there is that the .org repo is kind of doing double duty. It’s obviously offering your plugin up, should it be found, to people trying to add a new plugin. But also Google itself is scraping the.org repo and surfacing in its own search results. So if people are looking for the same kind of thing over on Google, they may very well be pointed towards your .org page. Have I summarised that correctly?

[00:32:43] Matt Cromwell: Yep, absolutely. In this way .org is just a marketplace in many ways. It’s a public marketplace for folks to find free plugins.

[00:32:50] Nathan Wrigley: I do wonder if the algorithm which is running behind Google, obviously complex and probably, took billions of dollars over time to be put together and is very sophisticated. But it’s not quite such a blunt instrument, is it? It’s not just taking data from a series of tags and descriptions and metatags and so on. There’s a lot going on. So for example, if I search for fundraise, Google is probably clever enough to figure out hang on a minute, fundraise is a sort of synonym for crowdfunding. It’s a synonym for donations and so on. So, we’ll highlight those results as well. So in, in many ways, it’s a little bit more sophisticated, and maybe the .org search could have some of that goodness thrown into it in the future. Albeit not with the same budget that Google clearly has.

[00:33:36] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, absolutely. That’s also a real reason why if you do have a free plugin on .org, it’s really good to make sure that you have folks who actually link to that plugin on .org. Not only linking to your website itself but to your free plugin on .org. Because then Google will pick up, oh, when folks are looking for fundraise plugin, they actually are looking for this Give thing, that might not rank as well on .org, but it is gonna rank great on Google, because Google does figure that out.

[00:34:04] Nathan Wrigley: We haven’t really strayed into this subject, but I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience with alternative marketplaces. The only one that really comes into my mind is Envato. Where for many years they’ve had a kind of rival plugin marketplace. I really haven’t been looking at how successful that’s been going, many years since I last visited it. But the option for plugin developers to sort of, corral together and have a completely different space. But it feels to me that in the end, potentially you just end up with the same problem, but in a third party marketplace.

[00:34:36] Matt Cromwell: Yeah, and that third party marketplace has very strong priorities around the way it wants to be paid, and the types of products it wants to be highlighting. They are far more opinionated about the way all of the products there are found and discovered. And it is really for the, the bottom line of Envato.

And I think, honestly, that’s one thing that’s a bit of an untapped conversation is the significance of having what is essentially a marketplace being owned by a non-profit organization, like the WP Foundation. I do think that’s a significant conversation and the more folks need to be having and recognize that we’re not just really all fighting for attention from a LLC or some giant corporation. We’re really trying to contribute together on a public project that should be primarily influenced by a non-profit organization instead.

[00:35:29] Nathan Wrigley: I guess the long and the short of this episode would be, from your perspective, is the Word Press repository perfect? No. Is it useful? Yes. And that perhaps is enough for now. Could it be improved? Another yes, but for now that seems to be, at least for you and your experience, good enough

[00:35:47] Matt Cromwell: Absolutely. I think it’s viable. I think it can be very helpful and beneficial. It doesn’t have to be your, it shouldn’t be your only tactic. But it also shouldn’t be easily ignored either.

[00:35:58] Nathan Wrigley: So just to round off the conversation, one final question. How do you view your efforts on the WordPress repository as against all of the other things that you do outside of WordPress. So for example, Google and so on? You may have data to hand, you may not, I don’t know. But I’m just wondering if, one is equal to another or if the .org side definitely comes in second place, or perhaps it is the primary channel of your sales funnel.

[00:36:23] Matt Cromwell: Because there are different types of freemium models, that answer will be different based on the product owner and the route that they chose. If it’s a free plugin with a pro version, meaning you have to uninstall the free one in order to install the pro one, their priorities are probably gonna be very different.

But in our case, similar to Woo Commerce, it’s a core free plugin, and any of the paid add-ons require the free version to be installed. And because of that setup that we have, and WooCommerce has as well, the free plugin is foundational to everything we do. We’re always improving the free plugin in order for it to be more powerful, more streamlined, and for it to be able to enable us to do more things in the pro add-ons as well.

So being able to really parse it between priorities, it’s almost impossible. Because for us, the free plugin really encompasses the whole ecosystem of what Give actually does and means for us as a business, and as a product for the users.

[00:37:21] Nathan Wrigley: I’m sure that this will be something which resonates with a lot of people. I don’t really know which side of the fence the audience will be sitting on, but no doubt there will be some commentary. There’ll be people wishing to explain their reasoning behind this, one way or another. Please feel free to go to the post on WP Tavern, and leave us some comments there. But for now, thank you so much Matt Cromwell for explaining your position about the WordPress.org repo. I appreciate it.

[00:37:47] Matt Cromwell: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

On the podcast today we have Matt Cromwell.

Matt is Senior Director of Operations and Marketing at StellarWP, where he provides marketing and business insights and coaching to burgeoning WordPress product owners. He’s also one of the founders of GiveWP, a donations plugin which uses the freemium model, having a free version on the WordPress.org repository as well as a paid premium offering.

The WordPress.org repository is where you find yourself when you click the ‘add new’ button in the WP admin. It’s a place where plugin developers can, if they follow the guidelines, host their plugins. It provides a direct line of access to all WordPress websites, and is therefore a convenient, free place to host your plugin. In return, the plugins in the repository must be freely available by the plugin authors.

In the past few weeks, the repository has been in the news. Some statistics were unexpectedly removed, and this has led to conversation about the governance of the repository, as well as questions about whether the repository is still a worthwhile place to offer your free plugins, if you have a premium tier.

Alex Denning wrote a post entitled “WordPress.org is ineffective for plugin distribution in 2022”, in which he lays out his thoughts as to why he no longer recommends the WordPress repository. The battle against already successful plugins, low conversation rates and the difficulty in gaining visibility are amongst the arguments that he puts forward.

Shortly after Alex’s post was published, Matt Cromwell posted a rebuttal entitled “The Case for the WordPress Freemium Model”, and this is the basis of the podcast today.

We talk about Matt’s history in WordPress as a premium plugin owner, and how his experience leads him to conclude differently; that the WordPress repository can be successful, given the right expectations and approach. He’s found using the repository to be an effective channel to drive the plugin’s premium tier, as well as a way of offering a useful free donation tool to the community.

It’s a fascinating chat and is sure to interest anyone thinking about starting a freemium plugin.

Useful links.

WordPress.org is ineffective for plugin distribution in 2022

The case for the WordPress freemium model

GiveWP

Orderable

StellarWP

Cubecolour New Plugins


2

2 responses to “#49 – Matt Cromwell on the Effectiveness of the WordPress.org Repository for Promoting New Plugins”

  1. The plugin repository is fine with one major issue

    The major issue is that the search and sorting algorithm is skewed so strongly to popular existing plugins that it is very difficult to gain the initial popularity required. It is so broken that even when you search for a plugin by name, if the plugin you are after is not popular it might not even appear on the front page. There are some truly terrible popular plugins. I know this as I’ve forked them.

  2. The repository has been in need of a decent filtering and search function for quite some time. Why can’t one filter by last date updated, free vs. freemium, keywords, ratings, and a slew of other potential metrics?

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