Why Data Is Imperative When Developing WordPress Themes & Plugins

Unfortunately, many WordPress plugin and theme developers actually do their work while wearing a blindfold, and they have no means of learning how their work improves or deteriorates the product. As such, they don’t understand how their work is influencing the product’s success in the ranks of its target audience.

It turns out that there’s actually an easy way to obtain that crucial usage tracking data, even inside the open-sourced, but quite confining, WordPress sphere. A service called Freemius helps WordPress plugin and theme sellers by handling everything that has to do with managing a product’s licensing, subscriptions, sales, software updates, and much more. Among all the business aspects it handles for WordPress products, it also generates comprehensive data about who is using the product, who isn’t using it any longer, why, where and how.

The Barebones Of Creating A WordPress Product

Creating a business that’s based on a WordPress product is a multi-phased process, with many moving parts to handle and take into consideration. Unfortunately, many of those who give it a try don’t realize that at first. But could you blame them for giving it a shot without really taking all the necessary steps?

WordPress now powers 32.4% of all websites and is used by 59.5% of all websites powered by a content management system (2nd place goes to Joomla with a mere 5.7% of the CMS market share). Every target big enough is sufficient motivation for many to try to aim for it, even if they’re shooting with blanks.

With that in mind, let’s quickly go over the very basic steps every WordPress plugin or theme owner needs to go through in order to get something out there (we’ll get to the more forward-thinking stuff in a bit).

  • Ideation – Usually, this will be the first step in the journey to create a WordPress plugin or theme. Ideation involves thinking about what you’re going to work on, and understanding which problem(s) it is going to solve for potential users. Presuming that you have some measure of experience in the WordPress sphere, you have undoubtedly come across certain gaps or difficulties that need solutions. After you figure out the difficulty of the issues, it’s time to ponder the best way to solve it. That is going to be your plan.
  • Research Your Market – Perform some market research to see if anyone has already released a similar solution to what you thought of creating. It’s highly likely that you will encounter some “competition”, but that’s definitely not a reason to abandon your idea. On the contrary. If you encounter an existing solution that’s doing well and has many users – you should actually be encouraged because it means there’s market demand for it!
  • Naming – this step may, of course, take place before the coding or maybe after it, but it is unquestionably an important one. Naming your product can have a significant influence on your brand’s and product’s success down the road, so you should try to be wise about it. The name you ultimately pick needs to be memorable. It needs to differ from other similar products on the market and it should preferably make your SEO work easier down the line. Once you do decide on the best name for it, you should check the availability of a matching domain, and purchase it immediately to make it yours.
  • Coding – Get to work and start to code (or hire someone to code) your idea into a functional WordPress plugin or theme, in a way that can actually be valuable for potential users. This is not the place to dive deep into the coding process, so I’ll leave that for the many articles, guidebooks, and tutorials that have been written on the topic.
  • Testing – Test out your product and try to think of as many use-cases as possible while doing so. To help you do that, try to get several beta-users on board and have them use your product live (and for free) in their environments. That way, you’ll be getting detailed feedback on your solution and on your implementation early on. Try to take their feedback into consideration, but definitely, do not implement everything immediately. Instead, always have the main goal and purpose of your product in mind when carving up your product’s roadmap and To-Do list.
  • Branding & design – For different reasons, this step does not seem crucial enough for many of the WordPress plugin or theme creators out there. Up until a certain point, they prefer not to invest their resources into designing and branding their products professionally, and hence, the incomplete look & feel of many of them. I will say that there is a sense of progress in this field.
  • Launch Finally, launching your WordPress plugin/theme is another step that requires a lot of preparation work, resources, and effort, but it is definitely not time to pop the champagne bottle just yet… When executed correctly, your product’s launch will create a wave that ripples and this hype should help you start to acquire new users. At that point,  be happy, but stay cool – those new users are not guaranteed to like your product enough to stick around. This is, however, where the fun part beings!

After the official launch, whether on the official WordPress.org repository or on any commercial marketplace out there, WordPress plugin/theme developers may find that they have little to no information about how their product is really performing and cannot track who is using it, how it is being used, or what their users like or dislike about it! How can you move anywhere without this important data?

Data And Usage Tracking Are A WordPress Plugin/Theme Developer’s Best Friends

Apart from WordPress plugin/theme creators, no other digital product creator out there knows so little about their product’s usage and their users. I’m sorry to be throwing it out there so conspicuously, but that’s the sad truth.

Gauging and acting upon live data is a step that’s mostly missing in today’s WordPress themes and plugins economy, and it simply means most of us are not able to do a great job. For the most part, the main type of feedback we rely on is either angry customers who ask for support, or delighted ones who are thrilled about your product and take the time to leave a great review (which, besides serving as a friendly pat on your back is not all that useful for actually improving your product).

In terms of actual statistical data – on the official WordPress.org repository, they’ll let you know how many times your theme or plugin got downloaded:

 

You also get the amount of active installs it has (they only provide an estimation, not an exact, up-to-date number) and the ratings your WordPress plugin/theme users have been kind enough to submit:

 

On commercial marketplaces like ThemeForest, CodeCanyon, CreativeMarket, and TemplateMonster, you’re going to get the number of sales your WordPress plugin or theme has gained, as well as some metrics about your marketing page, but that’s pretty much it. While it’s nice to know how many people have downloaded your theme or plugin, let’s be honest, this type of data isn’t really valuable to you, as the owner. Here’s why:

Why Usage Tracking Data Is So Important For Product Developers

While WordPress developers have gotten used to the very limited data mentioned above, they clearly need to know more about how their products are performing, and who exactly are their users.

How can WordPress developers efficiently improve their products and increase its traction without ever understanding their product users’ needs?

Without accurate data – they are simply not equipped to do a good job and are merely doing guesswork.
Let’s have a look at some fundamental questions, which, as a WordPress plugin/theme creator, have surely crossed your mind:

  • What is the lifecycle of my product?
  • What do my users like/dislike about my plugin or theme?
  • Who is using my product and how are they using it? What’s their contact info?
  • What’s the versions’ distribution among my theme users? Should I continue supporting PHP 5.X? And what about older versions of WordPress?
  • How long do theme users use it for before they switch to a different one on their website?
  • Is it possible that not only photographers are installing my “Photographers’ Theme”?
  • Is some huge brand using my theme on its website? (maybe I could use it as a testament to my theme’s high quality)
  • Is there a certain feature that many of my users would LOVE to see included with my next version release? Is my abandonment rate increasing because that particular feature isn’t there? What is my abandon rate??
  • What is the exact moment a user switched to another theme or plugin?
  • What are the most common plugins that are usually installed with my theme?


It’s important to ask questions such as these and to use more accurate data about your products to be able to answer them because as a product developer, you’re making a product that serves PEOPLE. Compromising and settling only with the number of downloads and an estimate of active installs means you’ll quickly find yourself out of your own product’s loop!

No Usage Tracking Or Data Collection Means Bad News For Users, Too

When the person/team that’s responsible for working on and improving the product does not have access to the type of data they require, it means the product is going to have problems evolving in the desired direction and according to the users’ real needs. It will possibly end up in stagnation.

It’s important to remember that users do not have to stick around if they’re not happy! They can easily switch to the competition, which they think understands and better addresses their needs.

How Data Actively Helps You Improve Your WordPress Product

The Feedback Loop

Product development is a cycle that starts off when a developer or creator has several ideas and presumptions about a certain industry or the necessity of a certain product. Those presumptions then get tested through the creation of a product that fulfills those same presumptions.

The idea is to measure the performance using data and decide whether or not you’re going to keep a certain feature, get rid of it, or improve it. Needless to say, the Feedback Loop is a never-ending-cycle which should constantly be used to improve and scale your product.

Without incorporating the Feedback Loop, you’re just shooting in the dark. After you launch your product out there into the WordPress.org repository or onto some commercial marketplace – you’ll have nothing else to do but stare at the downloads counter and cross your fingers, hoping that you got everything right and that people are happy with your product. Wouldn’t it be much better if you could get immediate feedback?

Usage Tracking

Live usage data can help you to improve your products by answering all of the questions we’ve mentioned above. It will help you realize what specific features are missing from your plugin or theme, and understand why your customers are abandoning your product so you can actively reduce its abandonment rate. Bottom line is, you’ll be improving your product based on real data, rather than on biased customer feedback.

Assuming that your goal is to improve and scale your WordPress plugin/theme, thus gaining more and happier users, then the two key metrics you should be tracking are:

Acquisition Rate – how many new installations your WordPress plugin/theme is getting per day/week (or whatever period you prefer to measure).

Abandonment Rate – what’s the amount of uninstalls your WordPress plugin/theme registers during that same period.

Let’s first make it clear – there’s no such thing as a product with zero abandonment rate. At least not one that I’m aware of. 🙂

For WordPress themes, if your Abandonment Rate is around 1% – that’s phenomenal! There might be very little you can do to make it work any better, and it would probably make more sense to focus on marketing it, rather than on improving or adding any new features to it.

On the other hand, if your Abandonment Rate is 80%… that is the first sign of a problem with the product itself. In that case, spending even thousands of dollars on marketing is not likely to do any good, because it’s going to get abandoned by 80 out of every 100 new users. Instead, focus on improving your product.

The next step is to combine the two metrics (acquisition rate & abandonment rate) to understand your Effective Growth. Your product’s Effective Growth is quite simply: Acquisition Rate minus Abandonment Rate

Effective Growth = Acquisition Rate – Abandonment Rate

The desired goal would be to maximize the product’s Acquisition Rate and to minimize its Abandonment Rate, thus helping it grow and prosper.

For further information and a deep dive into the topic of collecting usage data and the Feedback Loop, and to specifically learn more about next generation, data-driven WordPress plugin and theme development, check out this webinar:

Conclusion

To be able to run a successful WordPress plugin or theme – you’re going to need to tackle quite a few commercial hurdles like employing a PCI compliant secure checkout, operating a software licensing management system, as well as handling subscriptions / recurring payments with automatic renewals, serving automatic software updates to your customers and linking that to your licensing system (in order to restrict updates only for customers who possess a valid license), emailing a secure download link, and much more.

Sure, all this probably sounds like more than you can chew on already, but make sure not to push usage tracking & analytics aside!

In this article, we’ve seen why data is imperative when you’re trying to create any type of prosperous business product, and why things are no different when the realm is the WordPress sphere. In fact, data is one of the most accurate tools a product seller can ever have at their disposal if they’re looking to improve and scale their product and to prevent it from slowly fading and becoming irrelevant for its own target audience. It is far more accurate than someone’s direct opinions and reviews because the latter might be biased and influenced by different factors. Analytics and collective usage tracking data don’t lie.

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