There are some awesome WordPress plugins in the official plugin directory with very few downloads, low ratings, fewer votes, and support threads. These are really useful plugins and yet they are surprisingly lesser known. The reason is obvious, the plugin authors were able to write excellent pieces of code poetry but were not able to read it out loud to their audiences. In this post we discuss what plugin authors can do to promote their plugins.
1. Improve Your Readme.txt
The first and the most important step in the promotion of your plugin is the readme file. Siobhan McKeown has written an excellent article on the topic for the Smashing Magazine. The thing is that when people are looking for a plugin they are not seeing the code, they are seeing the Readme file, which contains the description and details about the plugin. Siobhan's excellent article covers the topic very well, she talks about:
- Why you should care about your plugin's readme file.
- What makes a Readme file good.
- Tips on writing a good description, FAQs, Installation and Other Notes.
A poorly written ReadMe file shows lack of attention from author's part and it discourages users from trying the plugin. As a website administrator, I want to download a plugin created by people who care about what they are doing. If they can't even write a detailed description of their own plugin then how could I expect them to provide updates, maintain their plugin or improve it in the future.
2. Create a Plugin Website
Creating a website for your plugin is probably the best way to popularize it. You can even create a blog entry on your own blog, or make a small two three page website. If you have contributed a few plugins to WordPress then it is probably a good idea to make a WordPress Plugins section on your website, where users can download your plugins, learn more about them, and ask you questions. This shows users that you care about your plugins and they can be used as a reliable solution. It also gives you a chance to showcase these plugins in your portfolio.
3. Create Videos and Screenshots
For most plugin authors writing code is easier than writing documentation or manuals. However, they love to talk about their software, code and things it can do. How about you create a video, featuring your plugin as the main star. It is a universally known fact that people like watching videos. In a video presentation, you can quickly introduce people to the features of your plugin, show them how to install and use your plugin and ask them to provide feedback. Check out some fine examples of WordPress plugin videos here and here. It may not be possible for you to develop a video with animations and awesome illustrations of stick figures solving problems, but don't worry even a simple screencast can be very effective. For example see this video.
If you are unable to create video, then the next best thing would be adding screenshots of your plugin showing both front and backend of your plugin in action. Write detailed descriptions with your screenshots describing whats happening in that particular image. This is a great time saver for people looking for a specific functionality.
4. Maintain a Plugin
Users who download your plugin expect you to actively maintain code of your plugin. They would like to see that you add new features, fix bugs, and keep up with new releases of WordPress. As a plugin author who is distributing a plugin freely, you are not bound to maintain, provide support or warranty for it. However, it is your moral responsibility to look out for people who are probably using your plugin on their mission critical websites.
In some cases, it is not possible to release an update because there are no bugs found or reported, nothing is changed in the core distribution which would affect the functionality or features of the plugin, and it is working just fine. In that case you need to let people know that even though you have not released an update in a long time but the plugin is still actively maintained.
If you are unable to maintain your plugin, then you need to let users know that this plugin is no longer maintained. Recommend alternate options which you think would provide the similar functionality. Another option is to let other people work on it by inviting people to your project or supporting the development of a fork. A lot of WordPress Plugins are a fork of an earlier plugin that is no longer maintained.
5. Maintain Documentation
Documentation is your readme file, FAQs, Installation Instructions, Troubleshooting instructions. These documents need to be maintained regularly. When people start using your plugin, they might find bugs, or ask you questions that would be very obvious to users but not to you and hence you missed answering them in your documentation. After a while, there will be enough questions, solutions, and instructions that your original documentation would become outdated. Keeping it up with quick fixes, examples, and solutions will improve the over all user experience.
6. To Sell or Not to Sell
As a developer you deserve to be appreciated for your efforts. If you want to sell your plugin you can do so on your own website, or you can partner with third party websites that provide a platform for developers and buyers to sell and purchase WordPress Themes and Plugins. It becomes even more important to follow the above mentioned guidelines if you are going to release a paid version of your plugin. You will need excellent copy, detailed descriptions, and you will have to actively provide support for your plugin. You will need to get the word out create awareness about your plugin and the features it offers.
An excellent approach to market your paid plugin is by requesting bloggers to review your plugin by providing them free copies of your plugin. There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to WordPress Themes and Plugins and they will be happy to review your plugin.
7. Provide Support for Plugin
Whether you distribute your plugin for free or paid, users expect you to provide answers to their questions and provide help from time to time. The best place to provide support for your plugin is the WordPress forums where users are most likely to ask questions about your plugin. You can also provide answers to the queries on your own plugin website, a blog post about the plugin on your personal blog, support forums of third party marketplace where you are distributing paid version of your plugin, Twitter and Facebook pages, and webmaster forums. You can also create a Google Alert for your plugin name and get instantly notified if anyone writes something about your plugin. It will be a good surprise for people complaining or praising your plugin on their own websites to see you respond to their posts.
Plugin authors have different motivations behind their plugins. Some contribute plugins they have created to use on their own sites and decided to give them back to the community. Then there are learners who are practicing their hands on PHP, AJAX, or WordPress, and contributing a plugin is a good learning exercise. Some people just do it to drive traffic to their other projects and some developers want to make extra money out of it. All these reasons are good and help a lot of people. Just don't become a stranger after submitting your plugin, stay around for a bit, you never know what opportunity may come next.