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Complete Marketing Guide for WP Developers, Part 1: Pre-Launch

This post is part of a series called Complete Marketing Guide for WordPress Developers.
Complete Marketing Guide for WP Developers, Part 2: Launch

Ok, so you fancy yourself as a hardcore WordPress developer who knows the most popular CMS in the world inside out; You can design and code a WordPress theme in a weekend; You crank out a WordPress plugin with the cleanest code possible. There's nothing you can't do with your godlike coding skills... but nobody is using your plugins or themes. "What gives?" Today we're kicking off a new series that examines just that: How to effectively market your plugins and themes.

I am Stephen Ou, the founder of Artsy Editor, a premium WordPress editor that is helping hundreds of bloggers and clients write more efficiently. In this series, I am going to share with you an actionable marketing guide starting from the moment when you had your idea to months after you launched your theme/plugin. I will be talking from a paid product standpoint, but most of them do apply to free themes/plugins as well. This series is going to be separated into three parts and spread out across this week:

  1. Part 1: Pre-Launch
  2. Part 2: Launch
  3. Part 3: Post Launch

Oh, and we recently looked at how to How To Publish To The WordPress Plugin Repository, which may also interest you as it has a lot to do with releasing open source plugins through! Ok, let's kick this off!

Don't Start Coding the Moment You Have Your Idea

The first problem that lots of great developers have is clarifying their ideas for plugins or themes into real world solutions. They come up with what they think is an awesome idea, then dive straight into the coding phase without really thinking it through in any meaningful way. This usually results in half-baked end products that make perfect sense to the creator, but don't do much to attract lots of attention from anyone else.

Before you even start coding, ask yourself these questions immediately after you had your idea:

  1. What problem is your idea solving?
  2. What type of people will use it?
  3. Who are the 5 people (list them by names) that will be interested in your idea?
  4. How is the problem affecting those people right now?

If you are unsure about any of these questions, your idea might not contain as much potential as you think. The logic behind this is simple. A theme/plugin can not succeed without strong demand. And strong demand can not be created without an existing problem.

Idea Validation

Once you have those questions answered, it's time to go out and start talking to potential customers (or users, if you are planning to make it a free theme/plugin). I consider this as the point that will make or break your theme/plugin. Because this is the time when you can learn about the market you are conquering and decide whether or not it is worth moving forward.

There are three possible outcomes:

  1. If you completed the idea validation process and learned that your idea generated interests, you are in perfect shape and you can move on.
  2. If you completed the idea validation process and learned that your idea did not generate interests, it's not too late to stop and start something new.
  3. If you did not complete the idea validation process and you move on, you will be asking the question I started the series with "Why is nobody using my theme/plugin?"

You can start by emailing your network of friends, colleagues and business contacts:

  1. Draft a short email (no longer than six sentences) explaining the existing problem and your proposed solution.
  2. At the end of the email, ask if they are willing to use it and if they are willing to pay $x.
  3. Send the email to a small list of people first. Start with the 5 you listed above that will be interested in your theme/plugin.
  4. Keep a list of your email records in a spreadsheet. Have a column to track status such as ready to send, sent, replied, accepted, rejected, etc.
  5. Refine the email template based on previous responses.
  6. Rinse and repeat 10 times.

Here is the initial email I sent to validate the idea of Artsy Editor:

Had an idea: a distraction-free WordPress WYSIWYG editor. Similar to &, but runs on WP as a plugin.

Will you use it? Also, what features do you feel missing on WP's default editor?

If you have few minutes to spare, please reply. :-)

Thank you.


It doesn't matter how many responses you actually receive from all those emails... even just a couple real responses should give you a much better and more realistic view of your idea. And you should be clear on whether or not it is worth pursuing the idea further.

Create a Landing Page

This is not one of those stealth, tweet-or-like-three-times-in-order-to-get-priority-access type coming soon pages. I am talking about a real landing page that fully demonstrates your idea and collects email leads.

You should not invest a lot of time in this. When I created Artsy Editor's landing page, it took me less than 60 minutes because I use WooThemes' Placeholder theme. You can easily get a simple, clean landing page template on ThemeForest for a reasonable price or even create your own using helper tools like HTML5 Boilerplate.

Communicating your idea is the primary objective of your landing page. I recommending using visually-appealing pieces to communicate your idea. If you have video production experience, make a short intro video can maximize the results. The next approach is to show screenshots or mockups of your idea. Text on the page should be short and concise. Try using bullet points instead of paragraphs since they are a lot more readable.

Email addresses collection is the secondary objective of your landing page. You can start an email list and get embeddable forms using software such as Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, or Constant Contact, and make sure to put the email form at a prominent place after you've showed them your idea.

Here are just a handful of plugin landing pages that you might be familiar with:

Design and Develop the Theme/Plugin

I am obviously not going to dig into the details of design and development because I know many of you are much better than me at this. But there are few points you should remember when designing/developing your theme/plugin:

  1. Keep conversations going with potential customers. It's important to continue validating your idea because you will learn something new from each and every person you ask. Who are the people you should email to? Right, the ones that opted in on the landing page! They already showed interests and it is valuable to research further.
  2. Read the email responses regularly. It's easy to lose track of your objectives while you are digging deep into coding. I used to spend 15 minutes every day reading over all the email responses I got during the idea validation process. It kept my mind fresh and didn't get lost.
  3. Don't add unnecessary features. During the long period of time working on design and development, there has to be some feature ideas bouncing around your head. My advice is don't add them because they sound "pretty cool". Only include the ones that your users need, which should be clear after the idea validation process.

Create Hype for Your Launch

Send Out Previews to Email List

A week before the launch, send out a preview newsletter to your email list sharing a little bit of details that can get them excited. The purpose is to reconnect with those subscribers and give them some fresh information about your upcoming launch. Release more screenshots, tell them about your launch schedule, explain some behind-the-scene stories, or even start a pre-launch sales with heavy discount are great ways to create buzz around your email list.

Connect with Relevant Blogs

Only find the blogs your target users are subscribing to. I know it is many people's dreams to get on major tech blogs like TechCrunch or Read Write Web. But if your target market doesn't read them, it is better off saving your time to pitch a news site whose readership are your potential customers.

Don't start off by asking the bloggers to cover you. This is the time where you start to build trust with the bloggers. You should always make soft connections first, find what you both have in common. Offer something valuable upfront that makes them feel good. And do not worry about asking for press coverage just yet.

Build Up Reputation on Relevant Communities

Communities are where conversations belong. If your theme/plugin is going to solve a huge headache for members in the communities, you should be able to generate a lot of buzz.

Use the "Helping Out" attitude instead of the "Check It Out" attitude. Tell them how your theme/plugin will help them save time and money. Show them what benefits your theme/plugin provides in their workflow. Then, ask them to enter their email addresses on the landing page if they are interested. It will produce a much great outcome than simply telling me to check something out.


Let's review a little bit before closing for today. There are 5 things you need to remember during pre-launch:

  1. Don't start coding the moment you had your idea.
  2. Communicate with potential users to validate your idea.
  3. Create a real landing page to collect email leads.
  4. Keep the conversations going and don't add unnecessary features.
  5. Start to create hype for your launch by sending out previews to email list, email relevant blogs, build up reputation in relevant communities.

In our next post, I will be talking about the most meaningful and arguably the most excited moment many developers are looking forward - that is launching your theme/plugin to the world. Check back tomorrow for that post! (oh, and if you have any of your own insights into the pre-launch process, let me know in the comments!)

  1. Part 1: Pre-Launch
  2. Part 2: Launch
  3. Part 3: Post Launch
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