It feels like WooCommerce is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of plugin ideas and WordPress-related products. Product Extras for WooCommerce is the latest plugin from Catapult Themes to take advantage of opportunities in WooCommerce. This plugin gives WooCommerce store operators the ability to let their customers customize products through options and choices before checkout.
Gareth Harris, from Catapult Themes, is back again to talk about this latest plugin and how difficult it is developing for WooCommerce, thriving in such a competitive market and his approach to content marketing.
We’ve spoken before about Wisdom, your plugin for user analytics, back in November of 2017. How have things been going not only with Wisdom but your WordPress business in general?
Thanks for having me back. Things are going in the right direction generally though I’m still in my eternal dilemma of trying to find the sweet spot between developing products, marketing products, and doing client work.
What inspired you to build Product Extras?
Product Extras came from a client request for some specific functionality that wasn’t available in a plugin at that time. The client wanted the ability to accept competition entries on their site and existing plugins didn’t quite meet their needs.
With their agreement, I built a plugin for them that I could also make commercially available. Having researched this particular area, I realised that there were some gaps in the functionality available in existing plugins so it seemed that there was an opportunity here.
There seems to be some complicated parts of Product Extras, and dealing with a giant codebase like WooCommerce is never simple, so what has been some of the hardest technical challenges developing the plugin?
Well, let me turn that round and say that working with WooCommerce is in many ways a lot less challenging than working with some other plugins I could mention. It’s well documented and there’s a developer blog that will keep you informed of any forthcoming changes that are going to affect your plugin.
WooCommerce is built with developers in mind so it’s full of action hooks and filters that make it really flexible and extendable. It very much follows the WordPress philosophy in that respect and it’s something that I’ve tried to take into my own plugins – to make them as developer friendly as possible.
I’ve spoken to a handful of developers making plugins for WooCommerce now and it seems like a very popular (and lucrative) market. Do you ever worry about competition in the space and how are you currently dealing with it?
There’s always going to be competition of some sort – I think I’d be more worried if there wasn’t any competition, as that could indicate that the market wasn’t there.
In terms of Product Extras and the ‘Add-ons’ type plugins, there are several plugins in this area, notably WooCommerce’s own plugin, which is clearly the market leader, plus some products on CodeCanyon, and some independent developers’ products, like mine.
What I’ve tried to do is simply to build the best one. I’ve tried to learn from my experience of testing some of the other plugins in terms of usability. I also look to ensure that my plugin has all the features that are common to its competitors, while regularly adding less common, but frequently requested, features like conditional logic.
One example is a ‘flat rate’ feature I recently added. This just isn’t available from most plugins in this area yet is often requested. It allows you to create a product add-on that applies a once-only cost to a product, whatever quantity the customer purchases of the product. So it’s really useful for printers, for example, who might want to apply a one-off charge for uploading an image to print but don’t want that charge to be multiplied 1000 times if the customer chooses to buy 1000 copies of the print.
I also concentrate hard on support and make responding to support requests my first priority. I think this is an area where devs working on their own can gain an advantage over the bigger companies, provided the number of support requests is not overwhelming. I’ve found from my own experience that some of the larger companies can be quite slow in responding to support requests and not always that helpful. And because I’m on my own, not just one support tech among many, it’s possible to build a relationship with customers that just wouldn’t be possible for larger companies.
Do you have any advice for WordPress developers who are considering building and releasing their own WooCommerce plugins?
That’s a good question. My WooCommerce plugins have come from client requests for specific functionality that didn’t seem to be available anywhere. That’s how I’ve been able to identify where there might be an opportunity.
When you’ve made the decision to build for WooCommerce, and this probably holds true for any plugin, make sure it’s extendable. I’ve looked at a lot of third-party plugins for WooCommerce, some of which are very popular, and it amazes me how little thought is given to how developers might want to use the plugin. If you make your plugin popular with developers, they’re going to promote your products to their clients.
You are taking the content marketing approach with Product Extras. What has been your strategy in that regard and can you tell us anything about the results?
Well first of all, your choice of the word ‘strategy’ is probably a bit generous. As I mentioned in my last interview, marketing is not my favourite activity. I find it laborious and uninspiring. However, I’ve been making an effort in a few areas:
Content marketing – I’ve really had to force myself to work hard here. I’ve written several long articles (upwards of 3,000 words) like How to personalize WooCommerce products with additional options that pull in a decent amount of traffic every month. Before writing this type of article, I spend time researching keywords using online keyword analysis tools. This, in particular, I find to be quite a soul-destroying activity. There’s something nullifying about trying to lever in different combinations of the same terms into your article. It can also take a couple of days to write an article like this which makes it a big time commitment for a developer working on their own.
Another area that I’ve been concentrating on is what SEO people call ‘outreach’ – which is basically cold-calling people. I’ve seen some real benefit in this when I’ve contacted bloggers who have written list articles, like ‘Top Ten WooCommerce Plugins’, and requested that they add one of my products to the list. If you’re going to try this kind of approach, I would suggest writing an obviously personalised email to the author, not something generic, and offer to provide the content and images just to make it easier for the blogger to add you.
I’m also continuing to write technical articles that aim to solve problems developers might encounter when developing features that might be found one of my products – for instance, how to add a custom field to WooCommerce. It’s the kind of thing that you might be trying to develop yourself, run into difficulties, and just decide it’s simpler to buy the plugin instead.
I’ve found that technical articles like this are my most popular, pulling in most of the traffic to my site.
And finally, I’ve started to write use cases for products – these are a mix of content marketing and how-to guides, not technical in terms of actual code but aimed at site owners wanting to create specific types of product, e.g. How to build a ‘create your own pizza’ product in WordPress. These show the user from scratch how to create their WooCommerce product then how to set up the plugin options within the product to build the kind of product they want.
I suspect that these posts will not pull in a huge amount of traffic, as they’re fairly specialist, but hopefully they will be reasonably well-converting as they should meet a defined need.
Writing blog posts is a real discipline which I don’t always succeed at. Content marketing articles tend to be quite dry and not always that fun to write; technical stuff is more interesting (to me anyway) but I find that I’m not always that eager to write up a problem that I’ve already solved.
However, in terms of results, I have tripled the traffic to my site over the last 12 months so it helps in terms of motivation to see that kind of result.
I read your article about the mistakes you made developing WP Word Count and your remarks on difficulties encountered while marketing products really struck a chord – and I think it’s a common theme in many of your interviews. I feel there is an opportunity in this area for an agency that specialises in WordPress (maybe) helping out developers who need marketing assistance and advice. I’d love to have someone work a few hours a week on this for me, rather than have to fumble my own way through it.
What was your reasoning behind offering both monthly and yearly pricing? Has one seen significant success over the other and why do you think that’s so?
Yes, so I’ve got several options for anyone buying this plugin. There are three levels that determine how many sites you’re eligible to use the plugin on, i.e. 1 site, 2-5 sites, or unlimited sites. Then you can also choose between a monthly and annual subscription for each level, making it six options overall.
The idea behind the monthly pricing was to encourage people to try the plugin without feeling they are risking a year’s subscription (though I have a money-back guarantee as well, so there shouldn’t be any risk).
At the moment, I’m not convinced I’ve got any clear evidence either way to say if this experiment has been a success. But I want to make it as attractive as possible for people to get started with the plugin so I’ll continue with this pricing model for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, I expected more people to be taking up the Monthly option but there’s still a healthy number of people going straight for the Annual.
Most probably the next change I’ll make to pricing is to simplify the number of levels just to a Basic (1 site) licence and a Pro (unlimited sites) licence. Six options is too much choice for people. I’ll also start to introduce certain features into just the Pro version in order to encourage users to upgrade / purchase the more valuable licence. I’ve done this successfully with other plugins.
What’s coming in future releases of Product Extras and are there any more WooCommerce-related plugins coming from you anytime soon?
So far this summer I’ve already introduced two key features: the ‘flat rate’ add-on that I mentioned and the ability to add options at a global level.
The next release will see the ability to display an image for each field. You can already see this in the ‘build a pizza’ demo.
After that, I’m going to look at the ability to add options that are priced as a percentage of the product price and a calculation feature – where a price is calculated according to the value of other fields.
And as I mentioned, some new features will be premium, so you’d need to buy the Pro licence rather than the Basic licence in order to get them all.