Why & how we sell premium WordPress plugins

About 2 months ago I released my first premium plugin for WordPress, my Video SEO plugin. A lot of people have asked me about the how and why of the selling and I thought it’d be a good idea to outline that in a post.

Why sell premium WordPress plugins?

Of course we got some backlash for making a plugin available to the world and daring to charge for it. Unfortunately there are still people in the WordPress community who think everything should be free. What they don’t understand is that not everything can be free.

I’m the author of several highly popular WordPress plugins. My Google Analytics plugin is nearing 4 million downloads and my WordPress SEO plugin has over 2.5 million downloads. They’re both free. I’m not saying making those free plugins hasn’t made me any money, of course it has. There are some (though few) donations, there are people ordering website reviews, hiring me as a consultant etc. But we’d make more money if we didn’t release those plugins. That’s the cold and harsh reality. I’m not willing to stop releasing those plugins though. I’ve always said they’ll be free and I want to keep those that I’ve released for free, free.

Other plugins though, like the Video SEO plugin, require a bit more support and continuous updating to work with video networks, new embed codes, changes from Google, etc. When I was looking at what needed to be done for that, I knew that releasing it for free was not going to be a viable option. Which is why we made it premium. Some people think its price tag $89 is too much. Well, in that case, you’re not seeing the value yet and I probably need to explain better. Anyone who knows what this kind of search traffic is worth to their site knows that $89 is dirt cheap.

Making money directly == more time to invest in development

Getting paid to develop a plugin means you can invest more time. I don’t have to make my money doing consulting on the side now, working on those plugins is paying for itself. This means development on these plugins accelerates quite a bit. I’ve been able to add support for a nice list of video embedding plugins to the Video SEO plugin because of that and the next version, due tomorrow, will add two new video hosting providers, Wistia and Vippy.

I can honestly say that this has done very well for us. The plugin has made us a nice amount so far and users seem to be very happy. Reviews like this one from Bas and this tweet from Bryan make me very happy and proud:

You now know the why, on to the how:

How we sell premium WordPress plugins

When I decided I wanted to go premium, I needed an infrastructure to sell those plugins. I looked at ThemeForest / CodeCanyon and several other marketplaces. All of them wanted an extraordinary percentage of sales, considering how much extra sales I estimated they would add. Of course I do have a head start, being in this industry for a while and having been blogging on this blog for at least 7 consecutive years.

So, I decided to go self hosted. I tried several ecommerce plugins and while each had their benefits, they all failed to do well what I needed them to do best: deliver digital goods. All of them failed, until I found Easy Digital Downloads.

This plugin was built with the exact purpose of what I needed to do in mind, and built by a coder who actually knows how to write decent code, Pippin Williamson. He has a good model around it too, the core plugin is free and can be found on WordPress.org, while he has a growing set of extensions of which some are premium.

The first ones you’ll want to grab are for payment gateways. I’m not in the US, so I can’t use Stripe, unfortunately, which left me with PayPal (which is built-in and free) and Moneybookers. It’s not ideal, so I’m trying to figure out a better solution, if you have ideas, do let me know in the comments.

I use another one of these premium extensions, the software licensing one, to generate my license keys and several others to perform various other tasks and tricks, like a MailChimp extension to sign people up to my mailing list when they buy, an AWS S3 extension to host my files on Amazon, etc. etc.

Google Analytics eCommerce tracking for Easy Digital DownloadsIn fact, I even wrote my own, an extension to track sales in Google Analytics ecommerce tracking, which is now for sale for $15 on the EDD site. It has allowed me to optimize my sales process already, and if you start selling, I hope it’ll help you too. The fact that it was relatively easy to write this extension is a testament to how well written Easy Digital Downloads is.

Conclusion: use Easy Digital Downloads & sell!

If you’ve ever considered selling plugins or ebooks or other digital goods, this is the plugin you need and it’s written by the kind of guy you want to rely on. Pippin has been tremendously good in support and has given some very smart advice.

Also, I can definitely recommend selling plugins. It’s funny and a bit sad at the same time, but I realized the other day that while I get abusive, support demanding emails for my free plugins on a daily basis, each and every paid user that needed support has been great to work with. It’s as though when people pay for stuff, they respect that you have a job to do, whereas some free plugin users seem to not think about you at all. Loads of people have been telling me I should charge for my WordPress SEO plugin. I won’t, but it’s good to know that there are a lot of people willing to pay for my work.

We’re very close to releasing our second premium plugin, one that is geared towards Local SEO, make sure you sign up for the newsletter on the right or below this post to get news about that and the other cool stuff we have planned.

I would love to hear what you think of all this, let me know in the comments!

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40 Responses

  1. Ian MasonBy Ian Mason on 12 November, 2012

    I personally would pay for WPSEO and other plugins just because they’re very well written, you keep up with the latest search/social tech developments in them, and they’re stable.
    Thanks for the writeup.

  2. JoelBy Joel on 12 November, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your system! I’m thinking of moving my system over to this particularly for the license key generation part and it is much less complicated than what I currently use.

  3. WendellBy Wendell on 12 November, 2012

    Great article and I agree that Pippin is a great guy to buy plugins from. I also feel your pain regarding the free/cheap customers versus the paid customers. I have tried several times to do favors for people and they are by far the most abusive and demanding. The higher-paying clients are generally easy to work with and we get more accomplished because of the mutual respect we have.

  4. Brian DeeneyBy Brian Deeney on 12 November, 2012

    Hi Yoast
    There is a new service for accepting payments online via bank transfer. https://gocardless.com

    I’m using your video plugin and it is really great. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to Local SEO plugin.

  5. Matt RussellBy Matt Russell on 12 November, 2012

    Yoast,

    Having worked with you on a couple of website reviews and using your WordPress plugins on all of our WordPress sites, I’d have no hesitation in buying / paying for a plugin from you. The work that you do is of a high value and charging a nominal fee for a plugin that enables you to do even better work makes perfect sense to me.

    I second Brian’s recommendation of GoCardless. We just added them to WebHostingBuzz UK to accept direct bank payments.

    Matt

  6. John WardBy John Ward on 12 November, 2012

    People thought everyone was crazy to try to sell WordPress themes in the beginning to. I mean who would pay for something you can get for free? What happened was that people realized you could get a better quality product with dedicated support by paying. Just look at the economy and ecosystem that has been built around a free product.

  7. SaqibBy Saqib on 12 November, 2012

    Really agree with you here. Not everything can be free. People had the same thought when they saw premium themes, but now they are understanding the advantages of a premium theme.

    I say that if a product is worth selling, its worth selling.

  8. HannesBy Hannes on 12 November, 2012

    Hi Yoast,
    Great article! I’m in a similar situation with free and premium plugin users and also used EDD but at the moment I still prefer WP E-commerce, because my clients normally don’t sell digital goods, so I prefer to specialize on one shop plugin.

  9. PaulBy Paul on 12 November, 2012

    Thanks for informative post I’ve made a few WordPress plugins and get asked a few questions for support but don’t really have the time to support a free plugin. I end up putting off the support for a long time which I would prefer not to. I’ve been thinking of removing my plugins from wordpress.org and self host them, this way I can charge for them and provide better support. EDD is something I have been looking into but haven’t used it yet. I hear Pippin is doing some really good work with it I think I might use it to sell my plugins.

    • PippinBy Pippin on 12 November, 2012

      I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have :)

  10. JoeBy Joe on 12 November, 2012

    I agree with your philosophy regarding free/premium plugins. I think the free and pay model work very well together. In the pay for plugin/theme model there is an element of surprise, the question of compatibility and longevity of the script. If the developer has a free version or some other free scripts we can quickly assess the quality of the code.

  11. OttoBy Otto on 13 November, 2012

    What sort of feedback have you gotten about selling plugins being bad? Nothing wrong with selling a product, in my view.

    • Ian MasonBy Ian Mason on 13 November, 2012

      that feedback is probably from people in the support channels or people who take the time to contact him elsewhere to tell him something about WPSEO isn’t satisfactory etc..

      For anyone here who enjoys watching Top Gear, you may remember the infamous and recurring invisible character who writes mean letters to the Top Gear guys… “Mr Needham”

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 13 November, 2012

      Oh just general whines from people not willing to pay for anything and finding it ridiculous that I’d charge for something, sad but I’ve managed to overcome ;) .

  12. AnwarBy Anwar on 13 November, 2012

    Yoast did you never consider creating a membership part of your website. That way people can download your premium plugins and get access to the member area where they can buy other plugins or stuff SEO video’s you record?

    I personally don’t want to set my timer to watch a webinar, but I’d love to watch some quality video’s on SEO on something like a membership basis.

  13. JoydeepBy Joydeep on 13 November, 2012

    Getting something free always remains an advantage and helps to capture the attention of the user. Thus, WordPress is still to the old trick. Although, I agree that one would make more money if the plugin gets released some other way. Selling plugins is not bad, after all every business sells in some way or the other.

  14. Duane StoreyBy Duane Storey on 13 November, 2012

    Congrats on making the transition! We had a similar dilemma years ago with WPtouch – we were happy to provide it for free, but the number of support requests we received were simply daunting for two guys moonlighting with PHP.

    We eventually made the reluctant decision to create a premium version, and it’s been great for us and our customers. It has allowed us to continue to develop our products, both free and commercial, and to deliver proper support.

    One thing we have found has worked well for us is to offer a 7-day refund policy on our Pro version – if a user purchases it and isn’t happy, for whatever reason, we’ll give their money back within the first week.

    But infrastructure wise it seems similar – we use Amazon S3 to host our products, a customized upgrade/license system, and a Paypal/Canadian payment gateway solution (since we’re based in Canada).

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 13 November, 2012

      I actually have a 30 day refund policy, but need to highlight that better.

  15. Justin ParksBy Justin Parks on 13 November, 2012

    I’m disappointed Joost. Disappointed that you had to begin this post with an explanation about doing business and the need to explain why something worth having will inevitably cost money.

    We both/all know and love how the WordPress community works but reality, inevitably, bites. Cast your mind back to 2009 – maybe you recall this? http://www.justinparks.com/have-you-made-donation-to-your-wordpress-plugin-developer/

    2009 – 3 years ago! Things obviously haven’t changed much. In my opinion – I prefer premium plugins. I will happily cough up the fee if I reckon the plugin is an asset. 89 bucks is – as you say – a drop in a massive ocean – for what this plugin achieves (and many others!)

    Anyone who is complaining about free plugins needs to wake up and appreciate what they are getting. Our business is complicated – evolving and a massive time sink – if your aiming to produce something quality. Time is money – and quality has no price. These plugins (and the rest) don’t happen by holding ctrl – alt and del.

    I think I better stop now before I start using swear words. Prefer to spend my time and money on your stuff and get on with conquering the interwebs. ;)

  16. UsmanBy Usman on 13 November, 2012

    All Yoast plugins especially the WordPress SEO plugin are the best. I always prefer them over others because of their quality and support available everywhere.

  17. Anders PedersenBy Anders Pedersen on 13 November, 2012

    Hi Joost,
    Nice write up and yes I would gladly pay for premium plugins and software.
    A question: I see that you have iDEAL payment in your checkout but thats not a module of EDD, how did you do that?

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 13 November, 2012

      Hi Anders,

      I use a Moneybookers merchant account which supports that.

  18. MenachemBy Menachem on 13 November, 2012

    Thanks for your great work there really is no reason you need to apologies to the community to do good work takes a lot of time and effort. I guess the people how are complaining try to get around investing the time and effort.

  19. Pat FortinoBy Pat Fortino on 13 November, 2012

    I totally support charging for software. Yes WordPress is free and a lot of us use it to make a living…sort of. But should plugin developers have to rely on donations to fund their plugin development? I don’t think so. In fact, I’d rather pay for a plugin and get support and continued development than to get a free plugin that never gets updated or improved.

    • Pete EricsonBy Pete Ericson on 13 November, 2012

      Thanks for this. Although we are fairly new at the premium plugin business, we use s2member tied to PayPal which allows us to create a membership which is good for one year of support and upgrades. We generate APIs for each purchaser to track individual installations. Renewing the membership (at half price) allows us to continue to provide upgrades and suppo.

      I will also add that when users pay for a plugin you are really motivated to provide 1st class support, and as suggestions for improvements come in we are more likely to implement them quickly to produce a better plugin which ultimately sells more.

      Great thread Yoast

  20. ManoloBy Manolo on 14 November, 2012

    Your plug ins are GREAT and they helped my website to grow. the Model of having a good FREE core plugin and than paying for extra feature is a win-win.
    so i m 100% into that.
    As i stated earlier it would be great to have a “early bird” offer to your loyal fans, but just because I am a cheap ass :-)

  21. Syed BalkhiBy Syed Balkhi on 15 November, 2012

    Congrats on the great launch for Video SEO. I can personally vouch that it’s an amazing plugin :) I’m looking forward to the Local SEO addon.

    I need to give a deeper look to EDD because we have some products under our sleeves as well.

  22. VipulBy Vipul on 16 November, 2012

    Hay yoast
    Thank you for all the work you have done . I really like the plugins that you created. Thank you for the time and effort that you spend on all these works

  23. Luis AlejandreBy Luis Alejandre on 16 November, 2012

    Go for it, Yoast !
    I´d rather like you releasing premium plugins than not developing those great plugins at all.
    Plus, there is something I can´t reach to understand in the WordPress community: people regard premium themes as something natural and worth the money, but usually hold a very different opinion when it comes to plugins.
    Can anybody explain that to me, please ?

  24. Reynolds DigitalBy Reynolds Digital on 16 November, 2012

    WordPress plugins really help us to add value to some of the sites we’re building on http://www.reynoldsdigital.com especially some of the SEO related plugins. At the end of the day as a fellow developer we appreciate that everyone has to earn and therefore purchasing good quality plugins is part and parcel of making a quality product.

  25. ZimbrulBy Zimbrul on 16 November, 2012

    What I’ve noticed out there is that are some doggie plugins sold for 9-15 $ and probably make theirs developers good money.
    I thought you’ll release WP SEO as a paid plugin and if you do I’ll buy it because is an awesome plugin and I’m convinced Im not just buy a plugin but I invest in it to become better.

  26. RobaggioBy Robaggio on 19 November, 2012

    Hi Yoast,
    you might consider the EDD extension for PayMill.
    https://easydigitaldownloads.com/extension/paymill-payment-gateway/
    Since I can’t use Stripe in Europe I will try my luck with them. Just signed up for an account today.
    Their pricing is based on Stripe like the whole business model as well.

  27. Mark LewisBy Mark Lewis on 19 November, 2012

    Everyone wants the best thing for free — but if there’s one thing my father taught me while growing up it was that there is NOTHING free in this world….and boy did that turn out to be true..haha!

    You really do get what you pay for, and if it’s for your business, you shouldn’t moan and complain about the money. You’re paying for somebody else’s hard work and time. That’s why you pay for it, the work has already been done and it’s convenient.

  28. JaimeBy Jaime on 20 November, 2012

    I think you are a genius and as soon as I have the oporttunity to buy one of you premium plugins i will run for it. MOstly because I am so sure is going to be amazingly well thought.
    Take care Yoast.

  29. WarnerBy Warner on 21 November, 2012

    Hi Joost,

    Please read this post by Elliot Jay Stocks on Paypal;

    http://elliotjaystocks.com/blog/good-riddance-paypal/

    I hope you find it informative.

  30. DanBy Dan on 22 November, 2012

    I am the type of person that wishes everything WordPress related was free, but as explained not everything can be free. Especially the plugins that are really high quality, and provide a great quality of usage. However, there are some plugins that are considerably high quality and do not compromise on being free to use. One example is Johnsons boxes, which is a great, easy to use plugin that can be useful for any WordPress blog.

    http://johnsonboxes.com/

  31. willBy will on 26 November, 2012

    i’d rather pay for plugins if possible. As a developer I want to see other developers get paid for work and i appreciate the time it saves me. $30-100 on a plugin thats written well and supported professionally is a good deal.

    w

  32. ChrisBy Chris on 2 December, 2012

    Hi there,
    I figure you tried Jigoshop, as part of your comprehensive review of ecommerce plugins to sell your products with. Curious as to what you didn’t like about it over EDD. Feel free to email me, using the email I’ve provided so I can continue to improve Jigoshop

    -Chris

  33. FanusBy Fanus on 4 December, 2012

    Good Day Joost,

    You have asked for e-commerce recommendations in your post above.

    Have you had a look at Marketpress – http://premium.wpmudev.org/project/e-commerce/

    It does offer digital downloads. Just not sure how you would go about the issuing of licensing but you can always check out their forum – http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/tags/marketpress#question

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