In my mind, Advanced Custom Fields is one of the most versatile and useful plugins for developers of WordPress. It’s a must install for practically every WordPress powered client job I’ve ever done.
Aaron Rutley, and his business partner Ben Pearson, obviously feel the same way. They have built their own freemium plugin, called ACF Theme Code, that automatically generates code snippets for you based on your Advanced Custom Fields settings.
ACF Theme Code lets you copy and paste code right into your themes and get working with Advanced Custom Fields quicker and more efficiently than ever before.
Aaron, one half of Melbourne-based hookturn, talks to us about ACF Theme Code’s beginning, working on a WordPress plugin so tightly integrated with another plugin and creative methods to market his product.
What’s the story behind how you got started working on ACF Theme Code?
I’m a big fan of Advanced Custom Fields, I’ve used it for years creating custom WordPress themes for clients. I found it time consuming to implement these fields in my projects, especially if I was was working on a large or complex project within a team.
I had the idea to create a plugin that would generate all of the code necessary to implement Advanced Custom Fields in my WordPress projects. Early last year I told a good buddy of mine, Ben Pearson about the idea and he was onboard right away. A couple of months later we released ACF Theme Code & ACF Theme Code Pro.
Advanced Custom Fields is probably one of my favorite WordPress plugins. It’s just incredibly useful in a variety of ways and ACF Theme Code fills a common need for users. Is there any concern that, maybe someday, what you offer will just become a native feature of Advanced Custom Fields? Did that thought cross your mind during development?
I agree, I don’t think I’d be using WordPress if it wasn’t for Advanced Custom Fields! That’s a really great question. It did cross my mind and I’m not concerned as I know Elliot, the developer of ACF, quite well. I shared an early version of our Theme Code plugin with him and he provided some great feedback and encouragement. We catch up regularly and, as I understand, he’s happy for features like this to exist as a third party plugin to keep ACF core as lean as possible.
What has marketing ACF Theme Code been like? Are there any particular tactics or promotions you found more successful than others to reach your target audience?
It’s been challenging, we’ve learnt a lot about plugin marketing WordPress plugins over the last 12 months. The only paid marketing tactic we’ve been using is sponsored Tweets. We’re able to display tweets to our very niche target audience of WordPress developers & ACF users – these sponsored tweets convert reasonably well.
Like many WordPress plugins, we have a freemium business model. We offer a free version of our plugin in the official WordPress.org repo and a Pro version on our site hookturn.io. This has been our most successful strategy, the free version of Theme Code generates over 25% of the sales of our Pro version.
We’ve also created a site called AwesomeACF.com it includes a directory of over 170 extensions for ACF as well as snippets, videos and tutorials.
One of the first things I did when I started The Plugin Economy was built an always updating list of WordPress sites as a feature I thought would get people in the door, so to speak, to eventually read more of my posts and it worked pretty well. AwesomeACF.com seems like a similar plan. Can you tell me more about how that came about?
It was inspired by a GitHub repo that contained a list of extensions for ACF, the repo was no longer maintained so I built this site and doubled the number of extensions. We recently added a lot more content to the site, we’re ranking quite well and have a steady flow of visitors. We’ve successfully grown the Twitter following & gained a large list of newsletter subscribers. It’s been quite a lot of work, I don’t think it’s directly generated many plugin sales but we expect that to improve over time.
How did you decide what features to exclude from the free version and include in ACF Theme Code Pro?
To keep it simple we decided the free version of our plugin would support all the fields found in the free version of ACF and our Pro version would support all the fields found in the Pro version of ACF, plus a whole bunch of third party add on fields. We figured if a developer had purchased ACF Pro there was a good chance they would also be willing to purchase our Pro version.
Has your pricing stayed consistent since the launch of Pro or have you done experimenting to find the right number? If so, was that based on direct customer feedback or just observing sales patterns?
Our pricing was consistent for the first 11 months and we’ve had a consistent number of monthly sales. We’ve recently started experimenting, we’ve increased our price and we’re observing the effect on sales, revenue and renewals. We’ll be experimenting further thought the rest of this year to find right number.
What’s next for ACF Theme Code?
Our next version will be feature the ability for developers to customise the output of the code we generate. That will most likely include the ability to strip out PHP tags and the ability to easily wrap fields in conditional logic. Our plan is to keep improving ACF Theme Code Pro by focusing on features that will save developers the most time!