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Growing a WordPress Product Business

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelphol: Welcome to Press This. I’m David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This. As a reminder, you can follow me on twitter @wpdavidv where you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at In this episode we’re going to be talking about growing a WordPress product business. And joining us in that conversation is someone very knowledgeable on that like to welcome to press this Alex Denning. Alex welcome to Press This.

Alex Denning: Thanks, David. Good to be here.

DV: Glad to have you here we did an episode not too long ago was actually one of our top episodes of the quarter, with the folks, Mike. David from a company called does betting about kind of transitioning your agency business into making products so it’s really good to have you on here today to really kind of cover. Okay, well, if I have that WordPress product business, how do I go about successfully marketing it driving adoption and then really just driving growth for this businesses. So I think it’s a great job here today to kind of talk about the next step in that particular evolution. But Alex before we kick off I was wondering if you could, briefly tell me a little bit about your WordPress origin story.

AD: Sure. So, like, like many people in WordPress, my WordPress argument story is long and convoluted and I first got involved in WordPress in about 2007 2008. And I was trying to make a WordPress website. And I was figuring out how to do stuff. And at the time, there was very little, on, on Google about how to do things so I started writing about what I was doing. And, and I ended up making a website called WP champ, which still exists today. Don’t run it. And, which helps people with WordPress tutorials. One thing led to another and 10 years later I started multi agency, I realized I was a much better marketer than developer. I like solving marketing problems. And so yeah 10 years later or so after doing bits and pieces of a WordPress and start the marketing agency. And, yeah, I’ve been doing that last couple years, 100%.

DV: To focus on WordPress Ellipsis is your agency correct that’s the name of your agency.

AD: Yeah, we’re called Ellipsis marketing, websites, get And we’re a digital marketing agency is just focused on WordPress.

DV: I love that focus. Listeners the press this may or may have heard me mention past that I’ve run, I ran my own agency repressor agency and we were not as focused as focused as ellipsis, and I envy that focus, Alex I’m sure that gives you a lot of opportunity to excel. And as we think though about product businesses, and how brands, or how those businesses go about marketing their technology driving growth in their business. Maybe it’s helpful for folks to kind of understand like how you think about like what are the main types of WordPress product businesses in the ecosystem like plugins being to help me understand how to help everybody understand kind of like, what the what the ecosystem looks like.

AD: So in 2020. It is mainly an offshore beyond it’s mainly plugins that are powering WordPress products in the past theme has played a bigger role. That’s dropped off in recent years. And, and you got a couple of couple of types. It’s WordPress. As I’m sure listeners know powers timer recording is about 37% Internet, and it’s very common for small numbers of people to build plugins which power, a huge number of play size. And, and that’s probably the most common type of plugin business if someone’s got a problem, and they have figured out how to solve it, and then they release that as a plugin. It’s common to get traction with a free plugin then maybe you upset a freemium one. I kind of been the classic way. Increasingly, we’re seeing which have gone after a specific problem, and are trying to solve it, or maybe SAS businesses that. Look at the WordPress ecosystem and think we need some of that. And so we’re coming in from a more traditional SaaS background and trying to break into the WordPress space.

DV: You mentioned that in 2020 that most WordPress product businesses are focused on plugins. And we’ve seen of course and like the page builder space in particular kind of this hybrid approach, if you will, where it’s like you have things like ocean, and even Genesis now with a whole suite of plugins around blocks Elementor and Beaver Builder and VEDA and they seem to this class seems to be making progress but as you pointed out, it seems to be that plugins are playing a stronger role there. Do you have any thoughts about that general or is that not an area you focus on?

AD: Page builder solutions are gonna have their own communities built around them, and. Yep, that was the genesis. The other options elemental especially has just really strong community. And those are people often are in like kind of buy into one system as a way of doing stuff like they will, they’ll be all in on Elementor and they’ll be in the elemental Facebook group or whatever it is. And, and, yeah, I mean, that means that you can you can use their theme you can use a plugin, and that’s a perfectly good solution. The interesting thing in the next couple of years will be what happens when we have the block editor, move to more of that, Mr cover more of that page builder functionality. Page builders, just increase that kind of silo and people go from one direction away from core WordPress. We might even move towards that, and I’ll be interesting to watch. Yeah, The probably call is going to win out in the evening, but it would be very interesting to see what folks like elemental do.

DV: Yes, we’ve had several episodes around that. It’s really interesting I mean certainly things like Elementor have had a long time to build up a great set of features and of course cores just kind of getting started really embracing the block editor, so it’ll be really interesting to see how it evolves on the Genesis side we’ve definitely made our bet on core Jason, but yeah it’ll be interesting in others as other gamers have as well so it sounds like just generally we’ve got plugin businesses, we’ve gotten at what we might consider systems like a Genesis or Elementor or Beaver Builder it’s a collection of things, if you will. And then, folks are really kind of leaning in on the the freemium model particularly but then of course there are premium only plugins and then as you mentioned kind of these WordPress adjacent SAS companies trying to deliver value to WordPress and in that context. So you mentioned how a lot of the plugin businesses in particular are like small teams supporting billions of websites, certainly, run across this over and over and over again. So obviously these smaller teams don’t have as deep a bench or maybe have direct experience in one area or another, and marketing of course maybe is one of those. So what mistake Do you commonly see these WordPress WordPress mistakes, do you see these WordPress practices make when they market their products like if they’re a team of builders that made something cool, but what are they kind of falling down on when it comes to market with your bill.

AD: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. Um, so it’s very common in WordPress for people to deal with scarce resources. And I think over an ecosystem we’re pretty good at dealing with that. And I do think that marketing is one area, in particular, where perhaps as a community we’re lacking a little bit.

DV: Yeah. People may just real quickly I mean I think it’s really interesting Alex this notion of like, it’s really common actually that these kind of marketing skills are not ingrained with product makers and it’s almost like a separate subject. And I want to kind of talk to you about course like, well, as they execute what mistakes are they making, but we’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

DV: Hello everyone, welcome back to press this WordPress community podcasts on WMR. It’s your host David Vogelphol I’m talking to the infamous Alex Denning about marketing your WordPress products, Alex right before the break, you were talking to us about the mistakes WordPress product businesses make when marketing their products, catch up a little bit there for the break but I was hoping you kind of expand more on that.

AD: Yeah, sure. So I think the biggest mistake we see is that everyone copies everyone else. And that often happens. Perhaps without looking at first principles and working out why that’s happening. And, you know, we’ll admit it’s very common to see someone does as this upsell to their plugins or gets copied and furthers, that’s not always the best thing for your situation. And I think that that has to be the biggest thing, it would be really interesting and really helpful for the growth of WordPress and making WordPress easier to use for people. And if I was focused on, we like to think that marketing channels that all of the things you could do fit into a channel just focusing on the channels and testing out a couple of channels and just focusing on the ones that actually move the needle for you, and being really rigorous and testing them and looking at your data, rather than whatever else is happening in the system. I think it’s the way to go.

DV: So it seems like the most common mistake is this notion of just copying others, and as you pointed out, you remember when I was getting started in my digital career I get events and listen to talks on conversion rate optimisation and expert would say orange buttons are the way to go. It’s bright color draws there I use pictures of look like this and these are tried and true things. And we did this on our site we got these results and I went and did all those things and I didn’t make a billion dollars like they said I would. And what I realized through testing was that it was unique to my funnel and was unique to my audience, whether something was going to work or not. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that people are just relying too much on this precedents of another company rather than saying like, I’m going to focus on this type of customer from these type of places. And I’m going to see what works rather than just saying, oh well if they did it, it works is that about right.

AD: Yeah. I think because as an ecosystem we perhaps have so much marketing expertise, it is intuitive to see what else, people are doing and copying what looks like it’s working. And I would love to see. Rather than looking like what looking to find what might work. Being more rigorous with testing that and working out as you say what works best for your audience.

DV: An owner of a WordPress product company, or maybe I want to start wine, and I’m not into marketing extensively I don’t really have a strong background, thinking about this. I was wondering if you could explain like, what is your framework for thinking about marketing WordPress product, businesses, they can help me understand like what how do you view like what’s the right way.

AD: Yeah, so, I’m the channel idea that I touched on earlier is our main philosophy for figuring this stuff out. So, you want to put this out all the possible channels you can do, and you might you might from their SEO content affiliates community building those might be. And then you want to trial those with small tests. And, and hopefully you’ll find out if you’ve got good product market fit, which I guess we’re taking for granted here, and every find out that one or two of those really move the needle and the others don’t. You then just focus on the ones that work. And that gives you a really lean marketing setup. So, if you find out that SEO content is the way to go. Then you’re going to ignore your affiliates and people say you have an affiliate program, and you say no. And then you just focus all your efforts on the thing that works, and that is the play that we work with our clients, and, and it gives you real estate, it gives you really efficient marketing setup because you’re just focusing on the things that will move the needle and you’re ignoring absolutely everything else.

DV: So, when do you transition then, or when do you recommend you transition from focusing on these one or two areas into expanding that kind of change. The list of channels into areas, you’re not focused on.

AD: I think it’s like I don’t know who said it but I had one someone for having, you know when you have product market fit because he hits you in the face and marketing cows is a bit like that. You want to maximize, you get you get better returns from putting all your efforts into the thing that’s working so you want to get maximum results from that. And when it feels like that is saturated, or perhaps customers start to tell you they’re coming from different direction. And that’s when you’re going to look for new ones.

DV: Like in my experience, it’s like you hit this plateau almost where you can’t keep getting more gains from a particular place because you bought all the added inventory or gone all the things you know really dialed in your funnel quite well. Do you, do you look for those kind of plateau moments and think like well Where does my next thing that’s going to go up instead of kind of slowly go up.

AD: You can kind of just rely on new people coming in, and that might paper over the cracks of, of any inefficiencies and, I think, for the major channels that we look at the target audience tends to be wider. And you don’t tend to reach that plateau in the same way, especially in WordPress. Just because whilst we’re riding this wave of incredible user growth. And there is just always going to be more people looking for whatever that is.

DV: Okay, that’s interesting way to think about it so let me, let me ask one more quick question on this vein. When you do these tests on these one or two channels you’re focusing on the leader, needle Are you making like small tweaks Are you making like drastic tweets are you trying to isolate like is this the right color or are you like totally rethinking the funnel and your beat is it testing.

AD: Yes, it’s the latter, so we’re looking for, totally new channels. So I guess it also be helpful just to separate out on page conversion rate and marketing channels. So, especially to start with, I would. As long as your conversion rate is serviceable downwards, it’s just a case of working out at a high level, what’s going to work.

DV: So earlier in the interview you talked a little bit about how most WordPress product businesses are focused on the kind of freemium approach. So do you see more success with businesses that use a freemium approach versus kind of paid products only.

AD: So freemium can work, and it’s not my favorite way of doing it, which you need a huge number of users. So, you can in general on to your freemium to a paid upgrade you can expect a very low conversion rate, maybe one or 2%. And the most successful plugins probably do slightly higher than that but the vast majority will get one to 2% free two page conversion rate. And you can do the math very quickly and realize you’re gonna need a lot of users to make that workout. In, for most plugins but anything that’s not just incredibly mainstream. I would go paid only because you’re not going to capture all the same for users but you’re definitely going to get more revenue. The most successful freemium plugins are gonna tackle huge categories like SEO page builder, rather than more nice stuff.

DV: Do you feel like that’s not just another channel that feeds the paid product or why do you think that is that a distraction because I feel like having 1% of anything is better than having 1% of nothing so it’s a it’s almost like you can still have your page still have your, your certain PVC and your affiliate kind of driving more to your paid products. But when you consider that, you know, yet another channel to kind of add to the list or do you view that as a distraction for young product businesses and WordPress.

AD: Yeah, so this question comes up a lot, and I, when I talk to clients I tend to get a fair amount of pushback on it. Um, but I think if you look at the channel potential, you would probably put freemium pretty low down on the channel unless you know that you can have a huge number of active users, you would probably find that all the channels are going to be more effective, and all the way up to maybe like over 200,000 active users.

DV: Gotcha. So thinking about it from the impact it could have relative to the rest of your business. That makes sense. I want to dig a little deeper here, talk to you about other strategies you think about when working with your customers, we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Hello everyone and welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcasts on w Mr. This is your host David Vogelpohl, I’m speaking with Alex Denning of Ellipsis about growing a WordPress product business. Alex right before the break you were talking a little bit about the freemium approach and the impact it can have, or relative impact it could have on a business on a product business and WordPress. So, those that do leverage freemium funnels. This is always a fun topic for me but like what are the most clever ways using WordPress product businesses, move people through their freemium funnels like are they graying out features. Certainly popping up things all over the place, perhaps isn’t the best approach but like what are the most clever ways you’ve seen people do that.

AD: I’ll answer this for what’s best for an individual plugin rather than what’s necessarily best for the WordPress ecosystem. Maybe a separate conversation. So the main thing is the value proposition has to be good. So, we were talking earlier about pros and cons of freemium. The one certainly one risk of having a free version is that you just stop people from paying for your pro version. And that might I guess that could be a decision that you make that you want to make it free but, you know, most businesses. Free doesn’t help a huge amount with keeping the lights on. So, having a really attractive upgrade value proposition is really important. So, what extra features that people really need. And then how can you present those in a way that is going to get them to drive awareness and interest in a purchasing decision from your users, without annoying them. And that’s, that’s a tricky sell that some some things that I find really useful. And one is focus on getting your users set up quickly. So, you will often often look at your active install account and. And that’s a good number, but an even better number is how many of those active users are actually installed and taken an action with plugin in order to get value from it. So helping people get set up is a really good way of doing that, you might do that through an onboarding wizard, and you can look at plugins like WooCommerce, which is one of the first plugins to build a dedicated kind of out of admin onboarding experience, and they recently rebuilt that which is good info that that kind of approach works with them as a really good job of setting up your store quickly for you, and B forms also really good, it has this wizard which takes you through building your first form has a really nice way of making sure that the user gets set up quickly.

DV: I was gonna say in the Genesis universe we think you may know this Alex but WP Engine acquired StudioPress back in 2018. And one of the first things we did after the acquisition was really start to interview folks in the community about you know what they’d like to see and so on and so forth. And one of the top requests was setting up with the the stew hard fix that. So we implemented, essentially one click theme setup features that you know install complimentary plugins and configure the need in and do all kinds of things to help that customer, get to that point of building faster and we definitely saw an impact and adoption and use in those products. Following introducing that tech and to Genesis and I’ve certainly seen that with other plugin businesses we’ve worked with lifter LMS has a really great course setup wizard and there’s, and it just makes all the difference in the world. Versus leaving someone essentially abandoned in WP admin like what do I do next is this thing.

AD: When you think about how people try out free plugins, it’s not uncommon for someone to search for a form plug in, and then install the top four. And then they’re going to try them all out and then quickly make a decision, so that initial experience is really important. Somebody else, something else that helps with that is capturing an email address as part of that onboarding process because then you’ve got an opportunity to come back to the customer or come back to the user. And you can help them get started with the free version and also you’ve got a mechanism to upsell them to any premium version as well.

DV: Love it I love it Alex I wish we had more time there’s so much to cover here maybe we’ll have you back on in the future but I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us today.

AD: Thank you so much. It’s been great fun.

DV: Awesome. To learn more about what Alex is up to you can visit get, or check out the master WP newsletter at masterwp.Co. Thanks everyone for listening to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. Again, this is your host, David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week Press This.

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