Before Koen Reus, the developer of the Post to Google My Business plugin, contacted me I didn’t know much about the My Business service at all. Koen was nice enough to explain what Google My Business is as well as discuss how he got started building a WordPress plugin that integrates with it, the pitfalls he ran into during that process and what he is doing to market and sell a premium version of the plugin to customers.
Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself and how you got started building WordPress plugins?
My name is Koen Reus. I’m 25 years old and I live in a small village in The Netherlands from where I also run my business.
I’ve been interested in technology and business since a very young age. At about the age 8, one of my very first “businesses” was a museum of old radios, tv’s and other household appliances in a barn on my parents’ property. People passing by could visit the museum for a small fee.
My interest in computers and programming was piqued when I got my fathers old IBM PS/2. In the years following, I learned Visual Basic, and more recently, PHP. Fast forward to 2012, I studied systems management, and decided to start my own web development business.
I used to build websites for local businesses and acquaintances. Initially, I had programmed my own CMS, and outsourced the design work to a friend. I also used to do a lot of custom programming projects for clients to solve very specific problems or to automate things they used to do manually. More and more clients needed custom solutions for WordPress so I started building custom plugins for them. I figured that way of doing business wasn’t scalable and I was essentially working for my own business from 9 to 5.
In 2017 I converted all of my existing client websites, both WordPress and custom built, into a single WordPress Multisite environment so it would require less maintenance. I automated most of my business processes. I put all my side projects on hold and almost quit doing custom programming work for customers. This was so I could focus on building something scalable.
How did the idea for Post to Google My Business come about? Also, kudos for making a product that explains exactly what it does in the name.
I wasn’t aware of the posts feature in Google My Business, until an acquaintance told me about it, and that it would be great if he could create those posts directly from his WordPress Dashboard. I thought it was a great idea so, instead of building something custom just for him, we agreed that it would be okay if I used the idea as long as he could use it for free.
So I did my research to see whether it was viable and decided to go through with it. I had already been in contact with Vova Feldman of Freemius regarding another plugin that I had made a while ago. It was a plugin that created nice looking payment pages for a Dutch payments provider. That project is still on hold, but it reminded me of their awesome “WordPress Plugin Business” e-book which was really valuable, as well as the help and advice of Vova. The plugin now operates based on the freemium model, using Freemius, with a free version in the WordPress Plugin repository.
For those of us who don’t know, what is Google My Business and why is it important?
Google My Business is Google’s relatively new tool to manage the presence of your business across various Google services. The main attraction is the ability to manage the info in the box containing your business information when people search for your business or products. Now with Google My Business Posts, you can directly publish posts, events, offers and products to the search engine result pages and they will be visible to anyone searching for your business. It is a great marketing opportunity that is often overlooked.
Google is focusing more and more on keeping visitors within their own ecosystem instead of sending them to your website. Actual websites are becoming less apparent in the search results, and the answer to search queries can often already be found at the top of the results page, without having to go to any website. This is especially apparent on mobile. You actually have to find and click a “View web results” link for some queries in order to see actual search results from the web. So embracing whatever Google is offering to make your business more visible on Google is very important.
Google My Business feels very well integrated with their ecosystem and is easy to use, contrary to their less successful attempts such as Google Places and Google+ for Business.
What was the hardest part, from a technical perspective, in building Post to Google My Business?
Working with the Google My Business API was tricky. The Google My Business API is (unsurprisingly) closed to the public. You have to be manually approved after filling out the request form. I wanted the process to be as easy as possible for the users of my plugin, so requiring them to submit their own access request for an API key was not an option. Ideally they should download the plugin, authorize with their Google account, and they should be ready to go.
So my thought was, I can request access to the API and run all the queries from every installation of the plugin installation through my API key. I feared my idea would not have been approved, after all it kind of steers away from their “keep everything within Google” philosophy. But luckily I was accepted.
That brought up a new issue however. When authenticating through oAuth, you can only enter a couple of accepted domains that can initiate an authorization request, or where the user can be redirected back to after authorizing. Not ideal if the plugin is to run on potentially millions of websites. Plus I would’ve had to hardcode the private API key into the plugin.
So I’ve built my own API over the Google My Business API in order to make it all run as smooth as possible. Plus it also gives me a lot more control. For example: in the event my own Google API key becomes invalid for whatever reason, I can change it within my own API, and it wouldn’t cause a disruption for the users of the plugin. They don’t have to update it or anything.
Is your target customer individual business owners or agencies and freelancers who have to deal with Google My Business for clients?
Initially it was targeted more at individuals but, after major interest from SEO and web development agencies, I decided to change course a bit. Agencies naturally see the benefits of Google My Business Posts for themselves and their clients, and adopt such new features quickly, while individuals may not yet be aware of the new feature or they don’t see the benefits.
While the plugin is very easy to use and matches the WordPress look and feel users are accustomed to, I’ve also listened to the needs of agencies and implemented more advanced features. To name a few: post scheduling, automatic re-posting and text spinning.
And how are you most effectively reaching out to those people to let them know about your plugin?
The first thing I personally do is see if there is a free plugin available for whatever functionality I need. Hence the free version of the plugin on the WordPress Plugin Repository. It is a great source of potential buyers. They can actually see your plugin functioning before making any decisions. They can choose to opt-in to my mailing list through functionality offered by Freemius. Because the plugin doesn’t function without authorizing with the Google API, and it asks for permission to share the users’ name and e-mail address, I can cross-match those details with contact details supplied by Freemius.
The contact details from the Google API are usually a bit more accurate, because Freemius leverages the username set in the WordPress Dashboard, which is often still set to something like “admin”, which doesn’t make for a good opener when sending e-mails.
Being in the early stages, any publicity I can get for the plugin is great and I’m actively approaching blogs, participating in forums, among other activities. I’m also hoping to be able to attend some WordPress meetings in the near future.
Is your pricing structure something that’s in flux or are these prices you’ve found effective through testing?
Post to Google My Business is still a rather new plugin so I did not yet have a lot of time or opportunity to test different pricing points. I wasn’t sure about what to do with the pricing either and which features should be free or premium. The current pricing structure and feature plans is what I came up with after discussing it with Vova. Initially I only offered single site licenses, but after I got some requests for multisite licenses, I added a 5 site and 25 site plan. The prices I initially had in mind were too low to make the plugin sustainable in the long run. Its my first time really venturing into the world of WordPress plugins so I’m learning as I go. Seeing what others developers are doing and discussing it with them is really valuable.
What’s next for yourself and the plugin?
I still have a lot of great and unique features planned for the plugin. I want to turn the business side into a well-oiled machine so I can focus on maintaining and improving the plugin itself. While I put my side projects and web development work on a low level for now, I plan to fully phase them out in the future and make maintaining the plugin the primary focus of my business, and scaling it up. Hopefully also resulting in a bit more free time and financial security to work on the house and my hobbies. Still into vintage tech, I have some old pinball machines in need of some TLC, but they have been collecting dust for the last couple of years.