One of the things that I think is easy to forget about working within the WordPress space is that we’re often talking to a circle of [many of] the same people. By that, I mean that developers are largely talking to other developers (and likely some designers), designers are talking to other designers (and likely some other developers), and so on.

I mean, I have no expectations that anyone who reads this blog is outside the scope of someone who writes or wants to write WordPress code.

And though there’s nothing inherently wrong with this – I mean we’re naturally all about creating groups and communities – I think that it can negatively influence how we may be marketing our products or even discussing our work with other people.

In fact, I’d argue that one of the biggest problems that we have as it relates to marketing our WordPress projects is the fact that we use phrases “clean code” or something similar when trying to sell others on our work.

Communicating Code Quality

First, to be clear, I understand that even though people don’t necessarily know what code is, they want to assume that they’re running something that’s well-built. As such, the best way for us to communicate this to them is to tell them.

Honestly, there are other ways to do it, but this seems to be the way that we’ve chosen to go. There are a lot of industries that are not like this – we seem to be an exception.

If you tell people that it’s got good code, then people are going to believe it and roll with it.

The Varying Degrees of Quality

With that said, I think that we’re doing ourselves a disservice for a number of different reasons.

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are varying degrees of quality as it relates to code. Since there’s no single write way to write code, then there’s not a single way to say something is of high quality.

We can have parts that are of high quality, parts that are of low quality, parts that just work, and so on, but we’re naturally going to be biased of our own work because it’s natural. Plus, we have a very hard time admitting to the public when we’re shipping something that isn’t well-written.

No one wants to do that.

On top of that, we only know as much as we’ve exposed ourselves to and there are always going to be people who have exposed themselves to more. There are people who are excellent at object-oriented design, there are people who are incredible at some extremely technical aspects of working with WordPress, and so on.

To some degree, it seems like we’re able to benchmark ourselves against our peers purely against what others have done. Generally, I’m not a fan of comparison, but in this regard, it does help us to gauge how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

And there are very few instances in which I can point to someone else and say “I’m definitely better than that person.”

Generalizations like this are rarely true.

Aside from coming off as completely pretentious, it’s likely not even true. Sure, you might be more capable or skilled in an area than they are, but they are likely more skilled in an area than you are.

Code Quality Isn’t a Value Proposition

Secondly, why is it that we feel the need to communicate that one of the value propositions of what we’re selling is something that people won’t understand?

I mean, telling someone that you’re not writing bloated code and that you’re writing high quality code means no more to the typical customer than someone telling you about the quality of the materials that went into all of the components of, say, your television.

That is, only a small section of the customer base is really going to care about that (let alone be knowledgeable of the topic).

If it has a clear picture, is thin enough, and looks good in whatever room you want it, then you’re likely to purchase it. The vendor doesn’t specify if they used aluminum, plastic, or gold for some of the internal components.

The proof of the quality is in the end result of its utility.

Yet, as developers, that’s exactly what we’re doing and I question if people really care. Essentially, in our world, the vendor is telling the potential customer what a good product it is without any form of third-party validation.

Imagine any other industry doing that.

On top of that, what does it say when something doesn’t perform as expected or when something breaks or when a bug appears? What does that say about the quality of your code?

The point of all of this isn’t to critique or to drive home any particular point about whether or not we’re good programmers. That’s an entirely other post that I don’t think I’m qualified to write, but the point is that if you’re in the business of selling themes or plugins, don’t make “quality code” one of the value propositions of your work. Let its functionality vouch for that.

Instead, focus on telling the customer why what you’ve built is going to solve a problem that they have.

Code Quality Isn’t A Solution

Ultimately, I think we’d all like to be better programmers and it’s something that we’re all working towards becoming. I also think that many of us care about what it is that we’re shipping and we want others to understand the work and/or meticulous nature that went into it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s just not something that help most people understand how the project is going to solve whatever problem they may have. To that end, I think we can do a better job of marketing our projects than simply describing them as a trait of their internals.

Category:
Articles
Tags:

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Picture yourself as a “WordPress implementer” – someone who is familiar with WordPress, and puts up cheap sites for clients using themes from marketplaces like Themeforest or Creative Market.

    Considering the reputation themes on those marketplaces have, if a theme said it had been audited by Justin or Emil from ThemeReview.co, or that it had a security audit from Sucuri or Mark Jaquith – would it make you more likely to purchase that theme over others on the marketplace?

    • That’s a great point. 

      In short – possibly – but this also assumes that people are familiar with:

      Issues around theme security Some of the firms and people you’ve mentioned (Sucuri, Jaquith, etc.) Know enough to do their research around this kind of stuff Ultimately, I think that these are all things that theme developers should be doing from the beginning. That is, I think having a third-party review the code before shipping it is something that should be built into the development process. 

      I know that’s somewhat of an aggressive stance, but given the nature of – as you’ve mentioned – the reputation of some themes, I think it’s important.

      Anyway, I still don’t think those particular points are necessarily selling points. Sure, customers can ask about them or maybe they can be mentioned in the fine print of the product page or something like that, but saying that a theme is secure should be as natural as saying that a car has airbags. At this point, we assume modern cars have airbags. 

      Though it’s often confirmed in the fine print of looking at a car, you’re not going to hear it mentioned in commercials, magazine advertisements, and things like that.

      • Companies like Volvo do use safety in their marketing, like 5 star ratings in Euro NCAPs (crash test safety). Volvo are well known for it.

        It’s not just a case of saying that something is safe in the fine print, or taking their word for it – it’s assessed by an independent body.

        Considering the commodisation of WordPress themes, a lot of authors struggle to differentiate their products from others whose code quality might be questionable.

        You can’t really inspect a themes php before you buy it, even if you wanted to.

        If a person is looking for a theme to use on a client site, and are comparing two themes of similar aesthetic quality and price, I think marketing around code quality can make a difference.

        There is a sizeable group of people in the ecosystem who wouldn’t fully understand sanitization, but would use Sucuri on their client sites.

        If a theme stated in its marketing that it had been audited by Sucuri, I think that can differentiate their product from others – and could be used as a selling point. The same applies to having someone like Justin look over your theme.

        Studiopress uses a testimonial from Mark Jaquith on their home page, Headway uses one from Dre on theirs.

        I agree that all themes should have a third-party review, but there’s a considerable gap in the ecosystem between what should happen and what does happen.

        • Companies like Volvo do use safety in their marketing, like 5 star ratings in Euro NCAPs (crash test safety). Volvo are well known for it.

          Oh, yes. Definitely – I didn’t mean to imply that they didn’t. What I meant to imply was that there are certain things that are asssumed about modern vehicles – like air bags – that aren’t necessarily going to be touted as high as, say, iPhone integration or CarPlay or OnStar or something like that.

          It’s not just a case of saying that something is safe in the fine print, or taking their word for it – it’s assessed by an independent body.

          Exactly. And that’s what many in WordPress don’t do. Having a third-party evaluate something is a good move – but that’s not what happens for us. 

          That’s what I meant by:

          Essentially, in our world, the vendor is telling the potential customer what a good product it is without any form of third-party validation.

          For this point (and you allude to this in another statement, but I’m just trying to stay in order of the comments :):

          Considering the commodisation of WordPress themes, a lot of authors struggle to differentiate their products from others whose code quality might be questionable.

          I’d argue if they are struggling to differentiate the product, then defaulting the quality of the code isn’t where we should head. Instead, I think we should focus on the target market for the theme and convincing them why Acme Theme is better for them than whatever other alternatives are available.

          What features are offered (or not)?
          How does the design play a stronger role?
          How does it respond on tablets and phones?
          How can it help me do whatever it is that I do but better?
          …and so on

          You can’t really inspect a themes php before you buy it, even if you wanted to.

          For some, you can. But you’re right – not all. But you can’t do this with most software that you purchase and the majority of software that you purchase doesn’t use it’s archiecture as a selling point.

          People don’t go looking for email clients, office software, and so on based on how it’s built. It’s an anomaly that seems to happen in our economy more than most.

          If a theme stated in its marketing that it had been audited by Sucuri, I think that can differentiate their product from others – and could be used as a selling point. The same applies to having someone like Justin look over your theme. Studiopress uses a testimonial from Mark Jaquith on their home page, Headway uses one from Dre on theirs.

          On one hand, I see them as all good examples because they are using third-parties to evaluate their code. 

          On the other hand, I don’t know how effective it is because if you’re not part of the larger WordPress economy, you don’t know who those people are. I guess we just assume (like we do with, say, JD Power & Associates) that they are someone northworthy so it matters — but this is getting into marketing and it’s definitely not my forte :).

          I agree that all themes should have a third-party review, but there’s a considerable gap in the ecosystem between what should happen and what does happen.

          Very, very much so. We’re completely on the same page with this and I’d love to see how 

    • No it would not because most of the people you describe are unaware of a significant quality concern.

      How this stuff actually works is that either the client or person/people building the site doesn’t know there’s a quality concern with themes and plugins, or they perceive that it’s minimal for a variety of reasons, which can be more and less valid.

      I wouldn’t assume these are just “cheap” jobs done by solo freelancers either. I’ve seen builder themes from TF used by agencies that sell everything but web/design to their clients — they offer that for “free” and focus on being a marketing/growth solutions partner.

      What appears to me to be the most consistent “quality” concern is not the code per se but more foundational, architectural concerns that impact performance and security. These issues start at the server level and have to do with hosting, in/appropriate uses of multisite, etc. Then the theme and plugins come in, but the only issues the end user will care about are security, speed, and portability — how easy/hard will it be to retain my content and layouts in a new theme?

  2. Last year I bought theme that was advertised “Clean code!”, it wasn’t a factor in decision of buying, but a pointer to check theme code thoroughly.

    I opened functions.php and thought it was good, standard code formatting, comments etc. After that I checked other pages and… query_posts, query_posts, query_posts, query_posts…

    • Last year I bought theme that was advertised “Clean code!”, it wasn’t a factor in decision of buying, but a pointer to check theme code thoroughly.

      For customers who are technically savvy, I think that’s exactly how it should work. Clean Code isn’t anything necessarily to market, but if you see it in the fine print, it’s good to check into that. 

      Props on that.

      Sad to hear about query_posts for everything – but this is exactly what I meant by the trouble with vendors simply saying whatever they want to sell the product. 

      Would love to see our community get better than this.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.