Wisdom by Gareth Harris


As a WordPress plugin developer, user data tracking and analysis has always been of interest to me. Of course, there’s a lot of legwork involved with setting something like that up and when time is an issue features like this fall to the wayside.

If you are interested in improving your understanding of your user and customer base then checking out Wisdom, a WordPress plugin offering user analytics, would be a good place to start.

Gareth Harris, the man behind Wisdom, took some time to answer my questions about his plugin. He talks about the technical challenges of creating Wisdom, the importance of content marketing for his business and offers his thoughts on plugin pricing and the WordPress marketplace as a whole.

How did development on Wisdom begin?

It started because I wanted to know more about what was happening with my own plugins that were hosted on the WordPress directory. I found (still find) that the information there for developers is completely inadequate: I wanted to know how many users were deactivating a plugin and why but there’s just no means to find out. Considering how much of the web runs on WordPress, and how many plugins are out there, the lack of information seems staggering. That’s why I started to build Wisdom.

I’d seen similar things on larger plugins, e.g. Yoast and EDD. It seemed reasonable to me that the kind of information being gathered would be useful to all plugin developers so I decided to make it a commercial product.

What were some challenges you experienced building Wisdom that might be interesting to other WordPress plugin developers?

Briefly: building for other developers is quite daunting. There are also issues connected with data collection – see the recent discussions on telemetry in WordPress as a whole.

From a technical viewpoint, I was discovering challenges that I hadn’t encountered before. For instance, as the data I was collecting started to really grow, I needed to find ways to use WP_Query more efficiently. I have, at the moment, entries for around 35,000 websites that I’m tracking – trying to query data for that large a dataset is challenging.

Wisdom collects a variety of data points about your user’s WordPress setup.

How have you gone about reaching your target audience, WordPress plugin developers, and what marketing techniques have proven the most successful?

Marketing is definitely not my strong suit. I enjoy development, mapping out ideas, thinking about how it’s all going to change the world, getting into the coding – I really like that. Marketing, less so.

Nonetheless, I have been writing more and more blog posts. In the case of Wisdom, because I initially developed it for my own use and I’ve been using it for several months, I have quite a lot of real-life experience with it so I’ve been trying to capture that in articles that I think will be useful for other developers. I’ve written a couple of case studies on how I’ve used the plugin to make improvements with my other commercial plugins. For example, how I used data I’d gathered through Wisdom to improve a plugin’s onboarding process and reduce the number of deactivations.

Alongside this, I’ve tried to write technical tutorials on specific aspects of WordPress. When I encounter a problem in development I always ask myself if it’s something that might be worth writing about – e.g. running massive queries I mentioned above. I now have several technical articles on my site that attract up to 1,000 visits a month. Many of these visits are from plugin developers.

How did you settle on your current pricing structure?

I want to say that the pricing structure was formed using sophisticated business modeling techniques and in-depth research but that just wouldn’t be true. I picked a price that seemed reasonable, affordable and value for money – it was a price I felt I would pay if I was looking to purchase the plugin.

There’s quite a lot of discussion in the WordPress blogosphere at the moment about pricing for plugins and themes. I understand why plugin vendors want to charge more for their product and I understand the argument that expectations should be higher among customers. However, I think people forget that it’s not just their software that people are buying to run their business. As plugin developers we have to remember people are using multiple products. On my own sites, I’m using a couple of EDD extensions, including Software Licensing, Gravity Forms, WP Affiliate, WP Rocket, WP Migrate DB plus assorted other plugins and services. I’m also using or have used a couple of premium themes, some WooCommerce extensions, plus paying for hosting, Mailchimp, and so on and so on.

All this adds up. I want to sell at a level where I can make a profit but that is affordable for most people. A lot of plugin developers are not making huge profits – I don’t like the idea of ramping up prices because you’re just putting stuff out of reach of people.

For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with Woo’s recent move to make renewals 100% of the original cost. Once a customer is established, I think they cost you less in terms of support. Plus you have an advocate and supporter. I think that move alienated a lot of people.

I am, however, interested in the idea of low monthly subscriptions. These are more affordable for people – no one likes to be hit with a couple of big renewals in the same month every year. This is something I want to look into.

So, in fact, although I didn’t put an awful lot of thought into Wisdom’s pricing structure, I have thought a lot about pricing in general – from the point of view of a consumer and a business owner.

Wisdom Deactivation Screenshot
Wisdom’s deactivation popup asks Users why they are turning off your plugin.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Well, I have to admit that I’m terrible at taking advice so whatever someone had told me at the start I would probably have ignored – right up to the point where I realized they were right all along. I need to experience something at first hand before it really sinks in.

Having said all that, probably the one thing I wish someone had told me and that I’d listened to is to start marketing early. I tend to have an idea, get excited and rush into development, then hit a wall when I get to the end because I’ve got a product that I think people will like – but no one knows about it. So it’s easy to get deflated at that point.

I mentioned that I’ve been concentrating more and more on writing in-depth blog posts to draw traffic to my site: I wish I’d started doing that earlier. I’m now spending at least one day a week writing blog posts. I realise that this is a long-term strategy but I have seen enough results from what I’m doing now to feel that it’s worth sticking with.

What does the future hold for Wisdom?

For one thing, I’m working on better integrations with Mailchimp. At the moment, it can add new users to specific lists and even do some conditional logic, e.g. add all new users who are running specific plugins to a specific list. One way I want to develop this is based on a suggestion to add users who deactivate your plugin to a list so that you can follow up with them.

Also, I’m going to look at reporting back settings from frameworks like Redux. At the moment, it will report back on what features your users are using provided you’ve set them with the Settings API.

I’d also like to refine the reports so that you can pull out more information. Maybe an export to CSV feature would be useful from this respect.

I’m always really open to user feedback. The chances are that if one user thinks a feature would be helpful then it would be helpful for lots of users.

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