WCEU2017 – What’s Missing in WordPress.org Plugin and Theme Directories

Published in Community.

As Antonio explained you last week, we attended the biggest WordPress event in Europe—WordCamp Europe 2017. If you couldn’t be there, I’m happy to announce that they’re currently publishing the videos in WordPress.tv, so go ahead and don’t miss anything 😉.

One of the things I like the most about this WCEU was the fact that it started with the Contributor Day. Usually, talks take place during the first day(s) of a WordCamp and CD is on the latest. This time, however, the organizers did it the other way around, and I loved it! Starting with the contributions to WordPress means you’re less tired, you feel more productive, and it’s easier to know new people.

This first day wasn’t only about contributions, but also talks and meetups. One of these talks was mine: “WordPress Plugin and Theme Directories Don’t Love Developers”. The title is slightly click-bait, but that’s because I wanted to open a discussion that we must have. So, whilst we wait for the video to be uploaded, let’s have the discussion in our blog too, shall we? But before we talk about WordPress, let’s start with a brief story…

Internet Purchases? Sure Thing!

A few weeks ago I visited my grandma, just to check on her. Despite her age, she’s a super-granny: she has an Android smartphone, talks to all the members of the family using WhatsApp (voice control, of course), has a Linux laptop to browse the Internet… She’s a a woman of the 21st century!

David's grandma
My grandma Maria loves technology!

Anyway, she was explaining to me that she wanted to upgrade her bathroom. Apparently, she’d been thinking about it for some time, because she’s getting older and she wants to make sure it’s comfortable and safe. “I’ve been searching in the Internet,” she said, “and I’ve found this company here in Barcelona and, apparently, they’re extremely competitive and very, very professional. The reviews were pretty good and the prices seemed fair, so I called them and they sent a super polite girl to take a look at my current bathroom.”

Wow! I couldn’t believe it. My grandma just told me she looked for such a service in the Internet! From our perspective, it’s probably not a big deal. But my grandma? How many people her age (or younger!) you know would do that?

Empower the User and They’ll Make the Right Choices

This anecdote made me think about products, services, and the Internet. Older people don’t buy stuff on the Internet because they don’t trust “the cloud”: they don’t see the product, they don’t touch it, there isn’t a sales person in front of them… and this lack of “contact” becomes a huge barrier. So, how come my grandma did look for a provider on the Internet? Sure, she’s super cool, but there must be something else.

In my opinion, it’s because of the community. When you can’t talk to a person or see the product in situ, you need to gather as much trustworthy information as you can before you sell anything. And that’s precisely what you can find online—reviews and comments by users from all over the world (yup, haters included):

Nelio Content User Reviews
User reviews in WordPress.org about our plugin: Nelio Content.

If we have this kind of information, we can make the right choice and be quite confident about it. My grandma is an example of it. And so are you and I! When you look for new plugins, don’t you read the reviews in WordPress.org? Don’t you look for third-party opinions? 🤗 So I’d say WordPress is on the right track, when it comes to user matters. We users have what we need, don’t we?

The Big Problem in WordPress—Developers Fly Blind

There’s always two sides for every story, and this one is no exception. Sure, WordPress takes care of final users. But what about developers? Do developers have the information they need? Can developers make the right call? Or are developers flying blind?

Before we tackle these questions, let me tell you a second story. In this blog, we’ve already talked about Nelio’s history and some of the situations we’ve lived so far. The adventure of running your own company is fantastic… but also scary! There are so many situations in which you just don’t know what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to do. Luckily, there’s always someone that can help you.

One of the most interesting things we’ve been able to do so far is enrolling in mentoring programs promoted by Barcelona Activa, an official initiative created by the city council and aimed to support local entrepreneurs. If you’re running your business alone and you’re getting started, I strongly recommend you look for one in your area; they’ll teach you a lot of business-related things you might not know (yet). Some of the questions our mentors kept asking us were:

  1. Who’s your customer?
  2. What do you offer them?
  3. How do you plan to monetize your service?
  4. Do you know your CAC (customer acquisition costs)? Churn rates? LTV (life time value)?

You have to be able to answer all these questions without hesitation, because your success or failure depend on them. When we were asked those questions, I was completely surprised to realize that we didn’t know “who our customer is” 🤔 I mean, wow! Really? That’s a pretty important question, and yet I had never thought about it… How come we don’t know our customers? Is it our fault? Or is there something missing?

A few months ago, Chris Lema talked about the biggest problem in WordPress. In a post he wrote in his blog, Chris argued that WordPress discussions revolve about how we solve problems, ignoring what problems are we solving and who are we helping:

We’re a community that spends time talking more about code and “how” something is coded, or the “WordPress way” than the problems we’re solving. We’ve written tons of lines of code without any feedback loop.

Chris Lema

So, he also thinks that our biggest problem is the fact that we simply don’t know our customers. We don’t know who they are, what they want, how they find us, why they choose us instead of our competitors… We’re writing code following a hunch—none of our decisions are based on real data.

How Others Tackle This Problem

I hope that, at this point, we’re on the same page—we need to change something in WordPress and start gathering information about our users. But how? How do we do it? Well, let’s take a look at how other platforms (namely, Apple’s App Store or Google‘s Play Store) solve this problem.

Available Metrics in Marketplaces

Mobile platforms grew a lot during the past few years. It all started in 2007, when Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone. It’s been 10 years since then, and we now have thousands of developers working on these platforms. Sure, the mobile industry has some clear benefits (users take their smartphones everywhere, at all times)… but I think that part of their success is the love these platforms give their developers.

Let’s take a look, for instance, at Apple’s App Analytics. Essentially, this tool collects data from all the users viewing your app in the store and using your app in the iPhones and summarizes all the metrics in a beautiful Dashboard:

App Analytics by Apple
App Analytics by Apple (source).

If you take a look at their presentation in WWDC 2015, you’ll be able to see some of the functionalities included in App Analytics. Some of the metrics they currently monitor are:

  • App Store views, units, and sales
  • Installations
  • Sessions
  • Active devices (and active devices during the last month)
  • In-app purchases

I think that this kind of information is what we, WordPress developers, need to make the right calls. With just a few metrics about how users find us and how they use our products, as well as their demographic information, would help us better understand who we’re trying to help.

How to Improve WordPress Plugin and Theme Directories

That’s what surprises me the most! WordPress.org directories don’t offer any useful metrics to developers. Just take a look at the Advanced data from any plugin and you’ll simply see active installs and downloads… that’s it!

Metrics of Nelio Content.
Metrics of Nelio Content. The metrics offered by WordPress.org are very helpful to users, but they don’t tell much to developers.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I already said this, along with reviews, comments, and support threads, is probably more than enough for regular users. But it clearly falls short for developers. Think about the following questions and let me know if any of them can be answered with the data we currently have available:

  • How many people saw your plugin in WordPress.org?
  • Which keywords helped them find you?
  • What’s your bounce rate?
  • Did they checked the other tabs?
  • Did they look at the screenshots?
  • What countries do your “clients” come from?
  • What’s their language?
  • How many users used your plugin in the last 30 days?

We all care about these metrics in our own sites, but we don’t know about these metrics in WordPress.org. Google Analytics or JetPack could probably tell us that easily… and yet we just don’t know anything about them.

But Be Careful!

I think that, as a community, we need to find a solution to gather this information and make it available (even open, public, and transparent). But we also have to be careful about what we ask and how we ask for it. On the one hand, there are (legit) privacy concerns.  There’s a lot of information we can track about our users, but we shouldn’t be greedy. The information I mentioned before can be obtained from the WordPress directory, but there’s also a lot of behavioral information that can only be gathered if we monitor what our users do with our plugin in their sites. I’m for it, but we need our users’ consent to do that. We must ensure anonymity.

On the other hand, we have to avoid infoxication. When I think about metrics, I find it super easy to start asking for them all. After all, if you have the data, you can discard what you don’t need later on, right? And, anyway, the more information you have, the better… or so they say. But I think that would only harm our goals. We must be mindful of what we want and why. Remember the difference between vanity metrics and actionable metrics:

  • Vanity metrics. Numbers or stats that look great on paper, but help little. For instance, number of installations, subscribers, or downloads.
  • Actionable Metrics. Stats that tie to specific and repeatable tasks you can improve and to the goals of your business. Conversion rates, active users during the last month, churn rates… You must keep an eye on them and make sure you improve them day after day!

Let’s Open the Discussion

During my talk, I presented all these ideas and asked the audience to start a discussion. Some agreed with me and others were extremely concerned with user privacy issues. Whatever your position is, I honestly think we should discuss it and look for a solution that satisfies us all and respects all positions. What do you think?

Featured image by William West.

2 thoughts on “WCEU2017 – What’s Missing in WordPress.org Plugin and Theme Directories

  1. This is an important topic, so thanks for writing and talking about it at WCEU17.
    Both WordPress plugin and WordPress theme developers indeed suffer from the same lack of crucial information and metrics about how their products are performing, who’s been using them and how on the official .org repo.
    Freemius aims to bridge that knowledge gap and help level those devs up with digital product creators, in terms of data.
    So do yourself a favor and integrate Freemius Insights, which you can use for free on your unmonetized .org plugins & themes.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8GmeDijgHs – themes
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n_eg6iugbk – plugins

    1. Thanks for sharing Freemius with us, Kobe. I explicitly mentioned this service in my talk, and I actually talked about it with Vova during the WordCamp. Great job!

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