WordPress Marketing Tips from Alex Denning

Alex Denning

Marketing questions are some of my favorite to ask here at The Plugin Economy. It’s a topic that myself and many other WordPress plugin developers struggle with every day.

In order to try something different, I reached out to Alex Denning to see if he could share some insight into WordPress product marketing. Alex specializes in working with WordPress-related businesses to improve their marketing and sales efforts. His company, Ellipsis Marketing, focuses on solving marketing problems for WordPress businesses.

Alex answered my questions about marketing on a budget, building a newsletter list, freemium models and effective cold outreach.

What is the easiest way to start marketing a WordPress product or service when you are on a budget?

Thanks for having me Brian! I’ll answer this indirectly: the three most important questions to ask about marketing a WordPress plugin are as follows:

  1. What problem are you solving?
  2. Will people pay you to solve that problem?
  3. Can you reach the people who will pay you?

The most successful plugins start from these core principles, and build their product from there.

The easiest way to start marketing a WordPress product or service is to think about these questions before you make your product. Fundamentally, you must be making something that people actually want, and you must be thinking about marketing right from the start.

Everyone and their mother has an email list now. Is there one technique or approach to growing a list that you find most businesses are missing out on?

Yes! Really, genuinely provide value. I don’t want another impressively-long PDF that will sit in my downloads folder unopened; I want something that I can actually realistically consume, and I want that something to really provide value, or solve a problem, for me.

Think about your email list through this lens, and you’ll find growing a lot easier.

A great case study for this is MasterWP, which I co-run with Ben Gillbanks. MasterWP is a weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals. There are loads of other weekly newsletters about WordPress, but we’ve grown incredibly quickly in the last year because the whole thing is really good. Every newsletter is laser-focussed on providing value, and the whole thing is wrapped in a high quality design experience.

Think about the email newsletters you get, and the email newsletters you actually read every week. How can you make your email list be on the must-read list?

Do you have any thoughts on the freemium model for WordPress plugins and themes and its effectiveness as a marketing method?

Freemium can be incredibly effective when done right. ThemeIsle have been incredibly effective following this model over the last couple of years, and find themselves in a very strong position in a very tough theme market as a result.

Obviously, for this to work you have to know that you can convert your free customers into paying customers, and doing this in practice is a lot harder than it sounds. You can return to the first principles up top: what extra problem are you solving in the paid version? Some products lend themselves a lot better to this than others.

The other thing to consider is freemium adds a layer of complexity to your product and marketing. For most people starting out I suspect a single paid option will be a lot easier to manage and market. You only want to split your attention across two products (free and paid) once you’re confident you have the capacity to handle it.

There’s so much emphasis on digital marketing efforts. Is word of mouth dead, dying or still viable for WordPress products?

WordPress products are digital products, so I think the focus on digital marketing makes sense. You could also argue that good digital marketing generates word of mouth, so they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

A related question would be if “offline” marketing, such as sponsoring WordCamps, is viable; for most people the answer will be absolutely yes, but only at a small scale.

Sponsor your local WordCamp, get a stall, and actually talk to customers to find out what they like, what they think, and what they want. The caveat, however, is that for most people this is only viable once or twice a year – booking out WordCamp US would be very hard to justify. At WPZOOM we basically followed this strategy, and found the experience incredibly valuable.

My list of WordPress sites is one of the most popular pieces of content at The Plugin Economy. What’s one quick tip for people doing cold marketing outreach to improve the odds of getting a response?

Blogs about WordPress can be a fantastic source of lead generation for WordPress products! However, this has to be done right. I work very closely with WPShout.com, one of the sites on your list, so I see a lot of these emails. Unfortunately, I have to report the vast majority never get a response.

The key trick here is to approach this through the value lens. Ask: how can I provide value to the person I’m emailing? Put yourself in their shoes; if I run a popular site that’s on your list, I probably get a dozen cold emails a week. I just don’t have time to take a look at your plugin, try it out, or promote it for you. Even if you offer me 25% affiliate commission, you’re asking me to do a huge amount of work for very uncertain return. Most cold outreach emails just want something, and that’s a very ineffective strategy.

Once you’re thinking through the value lens, you can start working out how to stand out. Work out how you make this a “no brainer” for the person you’re emailing. Can you do the work for them, and provide text they can paste into articles (with their affiliate links already added)? Can you personalise your offer for their site? Can you offer cash, or an improved commission? Even better, can you add value by doing something for the person beforehand, so you’ve already got a relationship in place? Cold marketing outreach is never an ideal situation to be in, but look at it through the value lens, and you’ll be in much stronger shape.

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