Making the Plugin Installer Easier for Premium Products

This morning I helped a new customer of Sprout Invoices install his recently purchase pro version. The customer didn’t know that the plugin they just purchased needed to be installed, instead they expected to input their new license key and the Pro features of SI would be enabled with the free version of Sprout Invoices already installed; along with that misunderstanding came the confusion that they couldn’t search for “Sprout Invoices Pro” on the Add Plugin screen to install the Pro version that is available for download within their purchase email receipt or their account page at

Obviously this was a rather frustrating support thread because I don’t want anyone’s first time experience with our products to be confused, especially this early.


What I’ll be doing is working on the on-boarding experience via triggered emails after purchase, improving the email receipts, and documentation.

Not an Oddity

That said, I’m still a bit nervous that WordPress users without (most of) our personal history with the platform that the ease of use is harming premium product sales. Consider that the new customer I described above isn’t an oddity, he’s definitely not; as WordPress becomes more user friendly to broaden it’s reach people will expect that the only place to get a plugin 1 is via the admin. Improving the on-boarding of these customers can only go so far.


I don’t expect .org having a plugin marketplace anytime soon, or while I’m still in the WP product business. Which leads me to a couple ways that I could prevent this type of issue again and improve the overall experience of purchasing a premium product:

Drop the freemium model – Like so many others don’t offer an upgrade at all. Build a business around a free product with extensions/add-ons, i.e. easydigitaldownloads. Link to your own marketplace or build one into the admin that allows for purchasing and easy installs.

Build an upgrade routine into the free product – I want to dislike this idea because it means that the free plugin (from the repo) would need to either: download the pro version from an external source, activate it, and then delete itself; or download & install files from an external source into itself. I could see this as being an issue for any plugin review team member.

Have the free version modify the search results – Have the search results return the pro version, which links to a download (or purchase) link. I don’t ever see this passing the plugin review team.

What am I going to do?

I already have plans on building the add-on marketplace into the admin, which will permit purchasing and easy installations/activations. That solution (I believe) resolves familiarity issue, where installing plugins from the admin is easy. The issue of someone expecting for those add-ons or pro upgrades in the main plugins search results will likely always be an issue regardless of how much I improve my messaging.


  1. This includes themes.