Software, Development, and WordPress

The Truth About Building Premium WordPress Plugins

Earlier this week, I was talking with a fellow developer about building premium WordPress plugins (though this is true for any premium WordPress product) and he simply remarked:

It is amazing how much work goes into a single premium plugin.

Nothing profound, sure, but there’s a lot of truth to it, and I periodically get emails asking what all should one expect when it comes to building and releasing free and/or premium WordPress products.

With that said, here are some of my thoughts on all of the above.

Building Premium WordPress Plugins

First, I’d like to think that the points that I’m going to make are true for anyone who builds premium WordPress plugins (though I’m sure I’ll leave some off so feel free to share ’em in the comments).

This can be for something as simple as a single developer working on a really niche plugin, and it could be true for any company that has an entire team working on a single plugin.

Anyway, when it comes to building a premium WordPress plugin, I think you can generally expect to offer the following things.

1. The Core Product

Honestly, I almost didn’t mention this one but this is part of the process, and without it, the other steps wouldn’t make sense.

Plus, I think there are a lot of things that are wrapped up in building a core product beyond just the source code.

For example:

  • There’s a development environment in which you actually build the product.
  • There’s a staging environment where you can test the product (and perhaps offer testing for others).
  • You have a source control system setup to manage the versions of the code.
  • You have an issue tracker that’s used to capture bugs, feature requests, and so on.

Some people go even further than this, but I consider this to be the baseline of material developers should have in order to begin working on a product.

2. A Landing Page

Landing Page

Granted, the above shot is for a product other than a plugin, but the point remains: A premium WordPress product should have it’s own landing page.

After all, it’s important that your product be able to stand on its own and reflect not only the time and work that you’ve put into it, but the problem that it solves, and why you should purchase it.

To that end, a landing page should describe all of the above and should ideally look good doing that.

It should have:

  • Short, easy to read descriptions
  • An explanation of why you need the plugin (or how the customer can benefit from it)
  • Clear calls to action

There are entire books written on this topic and I’m not an expert on designing quality landing pages, but I’ve done enough to know the basics of what works.

If you’re going to be building a premium WordPress plugin, then I’ve found the above to contribute to the success of sales.

3. The Purchase Gateway

This is a given, right? Users need some way to actually purchase the product.

Luckily, there has never been an easier time in the age of the Internet (which is a cool time, in my opinion :)), to setup a payment gateway as there are tons of options available for setting up options.

These include:

What used to be an extraordinarily complicated and tedious process can now be achieved with a third-party service and a few lines of code.

4. The Documentation

Product Documentation

One of the things that customers often request the most is documentation for the product that they purchase.

Obviously, this is true of things both in the real world and in not. As much as we’d like to believe that we build easy-to-use, clear products that we can ship without a manual, the hard truth is that’s not often the case.

As such, we have to write manuals and since we’re in the business of building our products ourselves, then we’re the ones that need to actually write the thing since we know how it’s supposed to interact with WordPress (or the platform on which it’s written).

This is not to say that the plugin can’t be developed to a point of usability so great that users are able to simply figure it out, but that’s the exception to the rule.

5. The Demo

Product Demo

The Internet has made it extremely easy to setup a try-before-you-buy experience and potential customers have come to expect this from a lot of software (hence the rise of the freemium model and other similar business models).

To that end, it’s important that if your product doesn’t offer a free version, then they should be be able to interact with the plugin on a demo site.

This can go a long way in converting skeptics into customers as they’re able to not only understand what it is they are purchasing, but they can immediately begin to think of ideas as to how they can implement the product.

6. Support

I have written quite a few articles about my thoughts and the challenges of offering WordPress support, but above all of the services, opinions, and ways to go about offering support, the bottom line is that you have to offer support.

Because WordPress plugins fall under the GPL, they source code is typically available free of charge. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t aim to sell it (but this isn’t a discussion about software licensing), but that customers are often paying for the support that comes with having a software product.

As such, offering support is something that I consider a must-have for any premium WordPress product. How you go about doing it is, of course, up to you.

It’s All The Same

The bottom line is that though we may use different terms to explain what it is that we’re building (plugins, add-ons, extensions, etc.), it’s can all be generalized as software.

And software, no matter what language you use or platform on which you’re building is extremely time-consuming. Putting together the site, purchase gateway, documentation, demonstration site, and then offering support are all in addition to the core product.

This is not a complaint nor is it a praise or a statement of arrogance. Instead, it’s meant to be a look at the truth about building software.

It just so happens that in this context, I’m talking about premium WordPress plugins.


  1. Adam W. Warner

    So true. Some end users don’t realize the amount of work that goes into creating, managing, and supporting plugins…both free and premium.

    It’s a process that has to be continually managed by the developer (or developers), ultimately for the benefit of users…and of course for themselves if they intend to make a living from premium plugins.

    • Chris Howard

      And they don’t consequently appreciate how much time the developer is saving them with their little plugin. Take Gravity Forms for example. How long would it take someone to code that themselves – even a subset of it?? A lot longer than $39 worth of their time, that’s for sure. A then there’s free alternatives as well!

      Most plugins are a bargain at 10 times their price.

      And when you get an ungrateful customer (like I did today!) it really hits a nerve.

      I think developers are the most under appreciated creatures on the planet. :D

      • Tom McFarlin

        Don’t underestimate customers! I think many do appreciate how much time it saves them, but we – as people – inherently don’t praise what we’re doing. We make noise when something annoys us, you know?

        I’m saying this is right nor am I saying that we shouldn’t make an effort to do better about spreading positivity, but don’t let the complaints, criticism, and lack of praise be too indicative of how much people appreciate and enjoy the software they’re using :).

        And that sucks to hear about you have an ungrateful customer. Sorry about that, for sure. Been there, done that.

        Just yesterday, I was talking to a couple of guys from Woo about the same thing and the only thing I can reconcile it with is recognize that if you’re getting some negativity, then you must be growing because it means you’ve got customers paying attention to what you’re doing.

        Hang in there ;).

        • Adam W. Warner

          100% agree Tom. There will always be some negative people, but just like my Grand-pappy used to say “let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back”.

          Customers are our livelihood and whenever we come across a negative person, we do our best not to take it personal and just continue our awesome support in the best way possible.

          Sometimes, there’s just no pleasing some people though and in those cases, we just smile and agree to disagree. There’s no forward motion in arguing with someone who’s already upset (for whatever reason):)

        • Chris Howard

          Thanks, Tom.

          Often I do try to take the challenge of turning those customers around, but being snowed under lately, he just pressed my buttons this time.

          One thing I’m doing wrong, that is mentioned below by Phil, is I don’t have testimonials.

          On days like today, I realise the testimonials are as much for *my* benefit as for the prospective customers’!

  2. Eric Dye

    It’s this kind of info that can really help up-and-coming developers shortcut their way to success (or at least avoiding rookie mistakes). Thank you for continually sharing your insight and experience!

  3. Phil Derksen

    Setting up everything necessary for a premium plugin definitely takes some time and thought. I’m continually re-thinking how I present my plugin’s marketing site. Besides calls-to-action, testimonials is a huge selling point and you really can’t go wrong with adding as many as possible.

    • Tom McFarlin

      Testimonials are important – thanks for mentioning that.

      I think it’s important to balance how many you’re displaying, though because, as with anything, you can go overboard. Having several display, then rotating them out or randomizing them on page loads could go along way, then link users to a page with all of the testimonials is a good way to go.

      Then again, that’s just my opinion which doesn’t really amount to much ;).

  4. Reid Peifer

    One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is addressing the full product life cycle. How do we manage licenses, upgrades, and access to support? When we went from the Envato Marketplace to selling direct to users, license & access was the biggest hurdle.

    • Adam W. Warner

      Reid, that was a hurdle we also faced, and the reason we decided to become a marketplace catering to other plugin creators rather than just a “plugin shop” of our own.

      @ Reid – Of course, that opened up a slew of other hurdles;) That has forced us to build a bit slower as we work personally with each vendor and offer different levels of integration depending on what their specific licensing and user access needs happen to be.

      We’re working toward more automation, but our business plan depends on offering high quality products and also high quality support from each vendor.

      You guys are doing great things and I love the philosophy behind your business…intention. Love it!

      @ Tom – I forgot to say it earlier…thanks for mentioning us! :)

    • Tom McFarlin

      Yep – that’s one of the things I’m currently working through thinking about right now; however, I’m working at a much slower pace (for a variety of reasons) and am trying to make sure I get it right this time around.

      That said, I’m also looking into selling through marketplaces simply for the sake of experience and partnering with people who I think are doing good things in the WordPress-world, so I’m not going to go completely solo in this.

  5. Lowell


    Respect for your dev work. I love a good plugin. Wish I was able to do it myself. I do agree that it’s well worth the money for the time it saves, that’s why I’ve spent so much money on them.

    A lot of developers are great, and customers who expect everything for nothing don’t deserve anything. On the other side of the coin, there are some devs who are selling a crap product but paint it up nice. Without demoing the backend, with wordpress, it can be a crapshoot regarding what you actually get once you pay and good luck with refunds.

    Overall though I’ve found the products to be good, and the support to be even better.

    • Tom McFarlin

      There are some devs who are selling a crap product but paint it up nice.

      This is truth and it’s a real shame because it gives those of us who genuinely care and are trying to do right by our customers a bad name.

      Thanks for people like you who recognize the distinction.

  6. Raheel

    Hi , I recently started reading your blog and its pushing me forward to create some my own product rather than doing freelancing for small projects. I started learning your plugin boilerplate and its nice. Thanks for sharing.

    The thing i am stucked is how to find an ideal topic for plugin as i wanted to create some plugin which i can sell. But i don’t understand what should i make. I need your thoughts in it.


    • Tom

      Hey Raheel,

      That’s great that you’re started down this path; however, I don’t really have any ideas to share as to what would be a good plugin to build. The best advice I have for this is look for something that you wish existed or something that you think could be improved and then build a solution from there.

      Hope this helps!

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