Tips to Launch your WordPress Plugin Effectively

When our company recently released our first WordPress plugin, we knew how to develop the plugin, but had absolutely no idea how WordPress manages plugins on their directory nor how the community engages with those plugins.

So, here are four things we learned from our releasing our first plugin:

Your plugin’s name & readme.txt helps your rank

Similar to SEO for Google, relevancy is one of the key factors to whether or not your plugin will rank well in WordPress’ plugin directory search. Since the content for your plugin’s page comes from the actual plugin name and the text from your readme.txt file, you will need to include relevant keyword phrases frequently within both.

Your wordpress plugin's name & readme.txt helps your rank

For example, if you type in “accept donations” in the WordPress plugin search, the first result is not an older or popular plugin, it’s actually our company’s new plugin called “Simple Razoo Donations”. It only has 252 downloads and was released only 20 days prior to writing this article. The plugin ranks well because it not only has “Donations” in the title of the plugin, but also has the phrase “accept donations” in the short description.

Tip:

Just like you would if you were trying to help someone’s website rank better, complete basic keyword research to determine what phrases people would use to search for your plugin’s functionality. Once you’ve figured out the appropriate phrases, use them in your plugin’s title and the short & long descriptions.

You Must Know SVN and Markdown to Publish Your Plugin

Our company, like plenty out there, uses only Git for version control. When it came to publishing our plugin, we discovered that WordPress uses Subversion (SVN) for its version control.

The other system you have to know is Markdown. Markdown is a tool that converts basic text to HTML. For example, to make text bold, wrap it with two asterisks on either side (**bold text**). When you publish a plugin, WordPress will parse Markdown from your readme.txt file and displays it on the actual plugin’s page. So, if you’re looking to add lists, bold text, FAQs, or code samples, you will need to know the basics of markdown.

Tip

Without having to learn a new command line syntax you could try TortoiseSVN, it makes it very easy to work with SVN. You can then check out the WordPress notes on how to use SVN to help get you started.

For Markdown, you can learn the basics from Daring Fireball. Once you get the hang of it you should study the example readme.txt file on WordPress.org to see how they use adjusted Markdown to fit their needs.

Without having to learn a new command line syntax you could try TortoiseSVN

Don’t Expect a Lot of People to Rate Your Plugin

When we released our plugin we were really hoping to get a ton of ratings to help us affirm the quality of our work and to make our plugin more appealing to potential users. Since this was our first one, we had no idea if or how the community would rate it. Unfortunately, after we reached 100 downloads, we hadn’t seen a single rating.
To determine if this was cause for concern, we checked to see how often people rate the more popular plugins from the community. The numbers were very surprising:

Plugin Total Downloads Total ratings Nu. of Downloads per Rating
WordPress SEO by Yoast 2,327,570 2,072 1,123
Contact Form 7 8,224,037 1,768 4,652
Akismet 11,894,810 981 12,125
W3 Total Cache 1,277,212 2,830 451

*Numbers as of 10/1/2012

I don’t know about you, but I found the numbers astounding. It was hard to believe that Akismet receives only one rating for every 12,125 downloads.

Tip

Set your expectations low and encourage your staff, users and people who are posting on your support forum to rate your plugin. As long as enough users participate, the ratings are helpful to the community by allowing us to make more informed plugin decisions.

Piggyback on Other Plugins

The plugin we created is actually an extension of a pre-existing plugin. After a failed number of attempts to contact the creators of the original plugin to offer to improve it, we contacted WordPress. They recommended creating a new plugin and thanking the original plugin authors via our readme.txt file.

The wordpress plugin we created is actually an extension of a pre-existing plugin

Originally, we were hesitant to take this route since we didn’t want anyone to think we plagiarized their work, but the WordPress staff assured us that people frequently “fork” plugins.

Tip

If there is a good plugin out there you feel like you can improve, go for it. If the original authors have abandoned it, you can still work on it and re-release it as your own with your new features and updates. Just make sure you credit the original authors in your readme.txt file.

I hope the tidbits I shared will at the very least help set expectations for new plugin developers. For all the seasoned vets out there, are there any other tips you would like to share?

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Jonathan Goldford is a partner at WiredImpact.com, a web design company that builds websites for nonprofits. Jonathan spends the majority of his time focused on web development and usability, and gets what may be considered a bit overly excited about a few milliseconds of load time. Jonathan made his first website in high school with a combination of Dreamweaver and HTML tables. How times have changed…

Comments

  • Hey Jonathan. Thanks.

    Three quick thoughts:

    0) Had you considered NOT using the WP directory? Yes, I understand there’s a quantity of exposure but is there quality as well?

    1) Re: Keywords – I would suggest adding *appropriate* “long tail” keywords. For example, in the case of your example, I would think PayPal would be a good word/phrase to include. While I understand you don’t support PayPal you could say “…an alternative to PayPal” or “like PayPal but cheaper, better, etc.”

    2) While not directly related to the topic per se, I think a good “bonus tip” could be: “Document your code well enough so it’s easy for someone else to pick up where you left off (in the event the plugin isn’t a priority for you in the future)”. Nothing is more annoying than a “dated” plugin and/or a plugin with a limited feature set that’s too difficult to fork and refactor. Commenting is good karma, eh?

  • Mark, great suggestions. I appreciate the thought you put in.

    0) We definitely considered this when preparing to launch the plugin. The reasons we chose the WP plugin repository were because the plugins located there get far more exposure, they provide a suite of tools such as download counting and the support forum, and the system and its plugins are free to use. We looked briefly at places like Code Canyon, but we wanted the plugin to be free, so any places with paid plugins were automatically out. All that said, you are completely right. The quality of some of the plugins is poorly, in many cases because they haven’t been updated. I do know this is something the Automattic team is working hard to fix.

    1) Long tail keywords are absolutely a good idea. That should be included in your keyword research from the start and also is another reason why your description should be long. Including “PayPal” is an interesting suggestion. I wonder how much our plugin would come up in search, only because there are so many plugins focused on PayPal integration.

    2) Great tip. As any developer would know, if the code is clean and well documented it makes it much easier to manipulate it in the future.

    Thanks again for the suggestions.