This article is the second in a series where we unpack WordPress and the space it should occupy within a tech company’s product strategy. The first article looked at why WordPress should be on the radar in the first place, and this article looks at how a WordPress project should be approached.
A brief recap
WordPress should be considered by any web tech company wanting to grow their market impact and influence on the Open Web. It makes sense because:
- Customers are already there and they don’t intend on leaving
- Leveraging the strengths of WordPress frees a company to focus on its own strengths
- WordPress integration factors in to the decision making progress of site owners
- Investing in WordPress means investing in the Open Web
So how should it be done?
Being in WordPress is not enough. Having a plugin in the WordPress.org repo will only get a company so far. There are nuances to what works (and what doesn’t) when engaging an ecosystem as broad and diverse as WordPress. There are over 55 thousand plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repo, many solving similar problems in unique ways (just do a WordPress.org search for Marketing Automation). Standing out in this crowd takes careful planning and a commitment to ongoing execution. With this article we cover 5 things, identified through our work with technology clients and partners, that should be considered carefully when investing in WordPress.
1. Committing (and staying committed) to Best Practices
Following established best practices is a common denominator amongst the most successful WordPress plugins. These plugins have found users through their reliability, as well as the features they provide. In contrast to closed proprietary systems, the open nature of WordPress means there is a wide variety of installable packages of code. Coding and user experience best practices set a baseline that, when adhered to, significantly improve the performance, stability, security, and accessibility of a WordPress site. Straying outside these guidelines increase the risk of a plugin conflicting with others and putting the site at risk.
Coding and user experience best practices set a baseline that, when adhered to, significantly improve the performance, stability, security, and accessibility of a WordPress site.
Source: The WordPress Coding Standards
With the addition of Tide to WordPress.org, code quality will be even more visible to site owners and weigh heavier on their decisions.
2. A Native WordPress Experience
WordPress historically hasn’t had a standardized design system for the WordPress admin. This means there’s a massive variety of interfaces provided by plugins. Many of these adopt the branding of their parent company and, sometimes, conflict with the native experience. There are efforts by our team and others in the ecosystem to develop and define a common design language that can be reused within admin interfaces and across plugins. In the meantime, plugin authors can improve user experience by considering how their plugin interface can adhere to existing WordPress design patterns.
Variation examples of in-Admin UI from some of the most popular WordPress plugins.
By adopting familiar WordPress admin design patterns, you can:
- Reduce the design/development burden
- Rely on established, user tested, and refined UI components
- Encourage user adoption through a familiar interface
- Reduce onboarding friction
- Contribute back to the larger WordPress & Open Source UI narrative
3. An Integrated Experience
The more WordPress site owners can engage with a product within the space they are already in, the greater the value they’ll receive from the product. The nuisance of context switching (switching back and forth between “places”) gets in the way of product adoption and ongoing use more than any other factor. Most users will use only a handful of applications day-to-day, so rather than compete to take one of these few spots on the roster, a better and easier route is becoming part of one of them.
An integration where the value of a product or tool is delivered directly within the WordPress admin will accelerate adoption and ongoing use.
4. Engaging the Community
WordPress has a strong and vibrant community of developers and users, and success in the ecosystem is largely informed by the perception of this community.
Every plugin in the WordPress.org plugin repo has a support forum. Companies can make the mistake of ignoring this space, preferring to shift support focus to another platform. This makes sense for general support, but WordPress users are familiar with the WordPress.org support forums and will, as well as submit tickets here, review the activity within them as part of their assessment of a plugin.
Google recognized the importance of engaging with user feedback on a plugin (the AMP Plugin) that at launch had quickly become a lot more successful than was expected. There was a lot of feedback coming in and not enough support to go around. The positive side of this was that it offered the perfect reference point for understanding the real needs and desires of WordPress users. The support forum heavily influenced the build out and prioritization of the v1.0 project backlog.
Addressing and responding to the needs of the support forum was also identified as a necessary step to demonstrating care and support for the plugins users and the larger ecosystem.
“We strive to make our open source projects successful and getting them into the hands of the largest possible number of users. Such success depends in good part on how we address the needs of our users, and how we steer the direction of our projects towards satisfying those needs as the project evolves. In WordPress, achieving this requires the proper handling of the support forums, and the right level of engagement with our users in them. In the context of the AMP plugin for WordPress, we assigned a high priority to this goal, and doing so paid off because it allowed us to, in turn, prioritize the resolution of issues and the execution of feature requests.”
– Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate at Google
Example Plugin Support Forum
WordCamps & Meetups
WordCamps & WordPress Meetups are local WordPress focused events where users and developers gather to learn, share, debate, and contribute back to the project. More than any other corner of the ecosystem, WordCamps and WordPress meetups are the most visible examples of the nuances of what is unique about WordPress. I.e. try and find another 2 day tech conference where, in the name of accessibility, tickets are only $50 apiece.
Web technology companies looking to break into the WordPress ecosystem and engage at these events should understand what effort it takes to refine, refactor and grow loyal customers. Hard sells, unstrategic sponsorship, and swag alone don’t cut it, and sometimes might scare away potential businesses looking to integrate with technologies.
Give first. Always!
WordPress is and always will be a flag-bearer of the Open Web and Open Source software. Efforts in the space should have the intention of contribution back to and increasing the quality of the larger ecosystem. Efforts otherwise are quickly identified and largely seen as unfavorable.
WordPress is GPL licensed. Unless there’s a great reason not to, we believe all code in this ecosystem should be shared onward for reuse, examination and repurposing. That last mile of integration is likely to have many people interested in helping shape it, so let the community help. Further, there are quite a few examples of open source plugins that extract premium business logic and features outside of the core plugin: Premium offerings can be compartmentalized, but as much as possible should be given away.
5. Integration with other Plugins
Your plugin definitely won’t be the only one installed on a users site. There are often ways to integrate with other plugins that move beyond simple adherence to code best practices. The potential of Open Source is truly multi-dimensional and offers opportunities no closed-source platform could. Integrating with WordPress Core is good. Integration with other Open Source plugins is even better.
Examples of how some web technology products could be integrated with other plugins include:
- Marketing Automation apps that integrate with popular WordPress Form building plugins
- SEO apps and services that integrate with popular SEO plugins
- CDN’s that integrate with AMP and media compression plugins
- Web hosts that integrate with backup and dev workflow plugins
Wrapping things up
There are plugins and there are plugins. Success in WordPress depends on so much more than having a plugin that connects a product or service with WordPress. Understanding and working with the nuances of the WordPress ecosystem, across development practices, community, and user experience, contributes towards engaging WordPress users.
If you have questions about specific use cases, our team are more than ready to have a chat.