WP Native Articles converts your WordPress posts into properly formatted Facebook Instant Articles. I’ll have to admit that before I conducted this interview I had no idea what Facebook Instant Articles even were so I’ll let Edward Dakin, the developer of WP Native Articles, explain them to you here in a moment.
Edward was nice enough to answer a few of my questions over email about how he got started working on WP Native Articles, the biggest challenges he’s faced during its development so far and how he’s adjusted the free version over time to try and convince users to upgrade to his premium release.
For the uninitiated, can you describe what Facebook Instant Articles are and how WP Native Articles works with them?
Facebook Instant Articles launched over two years ago and are essentially a srtipped down, super fast version of your WordPress posts that are shown to users when they view your articles using the Facebook App (very much like AMP but for Facebook).
WP Native Articles is what converts your WordPress posts into this new Instant Article format and makes them available so Facebook can use them, with a load settings, analytics and extras thrown in for good measure.
How did development on WP Native Articles start?
I work part time for a media company and we were on the beta program for Instant Articles. We used the official WordPress plugin for a long time but it was causing us more and more headaches with how it was converting our WordPress posts to Instant Articles.
After thinking around the issue for a while I came up with what I believe is a much better way of doing it. Over the course of a weekend I sat down and wrote the first draft of the v1 content parser for what would then become WP Native Articles. I tried it out on the site it produced much better results, so I just continued and wrote the rest of the plugin around it.
What were some challenges you experienced building the plugin that might be interesting to other WordPress plugin developers?
As mentioned above, our biggest challenge has always been the content parser and converting WordPress posts to valid Instant Article markup. With all the various plugins, themes and embeddable content there’s really no structure to WordPress posts. Instant Articles on the other hand have a very rigid structure and a strict list of HTML elements that can and can’t be used.
We’ve actually just released v2 of our content parser that makes extensive use of DOMDocument, we basically deconstruct the post’s HTML into individual elements, convert them as necessary, then reassemble it in valid Instant Article format. It works amazingly well for all kinds of nasty HTML.
Our second biggest was splitting the Free & Premium versions of the plugin. We wrote a Composer package that we run for every release that parses our master repository and spits out the Free and Premium versions based on comments and if statements within the code. It works well, but if I was to do it again I wouldn’t bother, I’d just make the Premium version an addon that requires the Free version rather than a complete replacement but hey ho.
What have been some of your most successful marketing efforts?
I see it as there being four main channels for marketing / acquiring customers: WordPress.org, Search, Social and Paid (both display & paid reviews).
We put quite a lot of effort into our WordPress.org listing early on and quickly climbed to the top of the results which is when we saw our first big uptick in sales. A couple of months ago we re-worked the upselling from the free version of our plugin and that actually doubled our conversions overnight, which was our next big uptick.
Search, we’re not where we want to be but we’re moving in the right direction. The other two we’re almost nowhere with, but they’re on the roadmap for 2018.
What specifically did you do inside the free version to improve the upselling to premium?
From launch we had the standard upgrade page in the Free version plus links to our site, nothing revolutionary. The big change came when we started actually adding in the Premium features into the Free version. They’re disabled of course, and it’s just the display code none of the logic, but people seemed to really like seeing exactly what was available in the Premium version and it lead to a huge increase in conversions.
Here is a screenshot from one of the disabled pages in the Free versions so you can see what I mean.
How did you settle on your current pricing structure for WP Native Articles?
This is rather uninspired but we pretty much just copied Pippin’s pricing structure (before he changed it all). We figured he had a lot more experience than we did and they seemed about right as price points go!
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Building the plugin is only a third of the work. You’ve still got to build a website, create branding assets, write documentation, and come up with marketing blurb. And that’s just pre-launch. It’s the same with maintaining. As well as coding new features you’ve also got to deal with support requests, creating newsletters, updating your blurb, marketing your plugin and, most importantly, test everything!
What does the future hold for the plugin?
There’s a Trello board as long as my arm of new features to implement!
We’re having a big onboarding and documentation drive over the next few months. We’ll be the first to admit that we’ve been favouring new features over documentation and that it’s lacking (developers hate writing docs!!) but that’s going change. We’re also working on an onboarding flow for when people first install the plugin to help make it as easy as possible to get them up and running.