Gravity forms make over 5 Million Dollars per year, according to Scott Bolinger.
$5 Million, from a single plugin! Developing plugins used to be something developers did mostly for free in order to solve WordPress related issues.
Nowadays, freelancers and companies alike are trying to think of ways to create a plugin as a business model. Tom Ewer discussed such models in his article about making money through WordPress. Here at Pojo we have developed a wide array of plugins over the past two years. From a form builder, a user activity log, to a plugin that makes short URLs.
So what are the best ways to think up winning plugin ideas?
If you’re wondering about techniques that help developers come up with winning plugin ideas, I’ve compiled a list of 17 plugin inspirations. This is the second part in our series on plugin development, following the in-depth interview we did with CaptainForm.
These are not groundbreaking ideas, but can certainly help you get the push you need, if you are currently in the “developer’s block” stage. I’ve included real world examples for each plugin ideas, so you can better understand how to reverse engineer each method and use it yourself to come up with plugin ideas.
1. Problem solving.
This is the most obvious, and commonly mentioned method to get ideas for plugins. It’s mentioned in another great post on the subject, published on the Freemius blog. The best way to find out which plugin to develop is to solve the problems you come across in your day to day work routine. Maybe you want to create an extended menu, and cannot find a single plugin that does that function exactly like you need. This occurrence, of trying to do something and not finding a solution, could be a great motivator to create a plugin that performs that functionality.
How we got inspired: Our own Activity Log. Problem solving is the method we used to develop our most popular plugin, the Activity Log, that monitors logins and activities on your site. It has been downloaded over 20K times.
2. Facebook groups & forums.
You can find many Facebook groups that are focused on WordPress related topics. A lot of these group members will add a question about how to do something. This can spark a plugin idea for a solution you can think of. Advanced WordPress is an example for such a group.
How I got inspired: Thumbnail Grid with Expanding Preview. While searching inside the Advanced WordPress group for the key phrase “looking for a plugin”, the first answer that popped up was of a request for a plugin that creates a grid much like in this site. Such requests can provide inspiration to deliver related plugins. Don’t forget to send the finished plugin link to the person who asked the question. This person did spark your idea, after all.
3. WordPress ideas.
WordPress Ideas is a great resource for ideas suggested by the WordPress community. While some of the ideas may be integrated into the WP core sometime in the future, you can still develop plugin solutions until that time comes. The ideas page shows the latest suggestions, the most popular ones, as well as ideas filtered according to category, so it’s very convenient to navigate through.
How I got inspired: Built in tags (or categories) for media files. This suggestion came from our colleague Rami Yushuvaev and is both a great idea as well as one which generated a lot of interest from the WP community. Instead of waiting for WordPress to integrate the relevant solution into their next version, you can try and develop a plugin that builds tags for media files.
4. Popular plugins.
You can search the most popular plugins in order to find out which plugins are most downloaded and liked. This list is made of plugins which have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times by WordPress users. There are some recurring topics among the best seller plugins like security, slider and performance related plugins.
How I got inspired: Nextgen Gallery. This plugin has been downloaded over 13 million times. This plugin also stood out to me because it had the worst rating for top plugins, averaging 3.2 starts only. It also had 383 single star reviews. You can go through all the bad reviews and find out ways to improve on the cons depicted by creating your own Gallery plugin. The goal here is not to compete with Nextgen and gain 13 million downloads (even though that would be awesome), but instead foster a small user base that will appreciate the fact you created improvements on the plugin.
5. Technology updates.
Periodical updates on new technologies that can potentially influence WordPress are a common occurrence. The recent AMP project is one example. If you stay ahead with these developments you can generate the related relevant WordPress plugin that deals with the new technology everyone is talking about.
How I got inspired: The PageFrog plugin tackles the recent technological updates for Google’s AMP and Facebook’s instant articles. By responding quickly to recent updates you are able to get a growth edge simply by being the first mover in the field.
Following successful startups, not necessarily related to WordPress, could be an excellent method for getting ideas. If a startup, like Airbnb, starts to take off, WordPress related themes and plugins are bound to come up. People will want to copy the success of startups by using an easy to install plugin that emulates the startup functionality. You can use SimilarWeb’s top US sites to see which sites are most popular.
How I got inspired: Reddit. Social voting and content sharing sites are great, but is there a plugin for that? Unfortunately, A thread on Quora confirms that such a plugin exists: WPedit. Examining highly successful startups is still a great way to get inspiration for your next plugin.
What takes up a lot of your time and can be automated? This is a method that has created some of the most popular plugins. The best automation tools are the ones directed at the most boring tasks, like migrating a WordPress site or creating a custom navigation. Take a couple of days and write down what takes up a lot of your time, or is just tedious for you to do. Then think of ways to automate the task through a WordPress plugin.
How I got inspired: NextScripts: Social Networks Auto-Poster. These guys probably took inspiration from tools like Hootsuite and Buffer, and created a plugin that automatically publishes posts from your blog to your Social Network accounts. The plugin has over 100K downloads.
8. Outdated plugins.
A lot of the free plugins stop being updated and supported. These are plugins that could still have thousands of users. Finding such plugins could be a great way to grow, because you’ll be able to pretty much copy the previous plugin and still offer a better plugin, simply because yours is a more updated and supported plugin. You can also track all the blogs that mentioned or recommended the previous plugin and ask them to transfer their recommendation to your more updated version.
How I got inspired: The Dropdown Menu Widget is a plugin I have personally used in the past, downloaded over 40K times, and which has not been updated in over 2 years. One could create a similar plugin, make some extra tweaks and features, and gain rapid growth. There are also marketing methods to target websites who link or mention the outdated plugin and get them to link to your new plugin, but we won’t go into this now.
It’s hard to stay updated with all the WordPress related blogs. It is still important, and can be a great venue for plugin ideas. If you want to focus on just one site, I suggest you follow WPtavern. Another great source is WPmayor, which offers a weekly curated list of WordPress news.
How we got inspired: Pojo Accessibility plugin. By following current trends through WordPress blogs and news sites we were able to learn that accessibility is a growing need and concern.
Giving support is a great way to communicate with WordPress users and understand their needs and wants. Our company focuses on premium themes, but we constantly get asked about unrelated plugin questions. These are questions in the form of: “which plugin does X”. Even though these issues are unrelated to the theme the customer had bought from us, we try to resolve every issue. We are happy to offer our expertise, in order to offer a great service. We have also gotten ideas from these questions, relating to which plugin they could use.
How I got inspired: Trello Board. WP Rocket have a Trello board that includes customer feature requests. This can be seen as the evolution of getting ideas from support requests.
11. Alternatives to premium plugins.
Could you build a plugin that will offer a free service that is only available through paid plugins? This is a great way to gain an instant advantage over competitors, simply because your offer is free. I would recommend thinking a lot about the business model of this option, because developing a plugin that people are already paying for is not easy. You can later use a plugin like Freemius to turn those free users to paying customers.
How I got inspired: Social Warfare Alternative. Social Warfare is a very popular plugin to create a floating social sidebar, and it’s pricing plan starts at $24 a year. While this is not expensive, you could create a similar plugin and offer it for free or for a cheaper plan. Until now I have not found a free alternative that is worth while (I found Sumome’s version too heavy). Finding similar premium plugins like Social Warfare can be a wonderful idea generator for your plugin portfolio.
12. Google autocomplete.
This is not the best practice for getting plugin ideas, but it is still viable. Using keyword.io, type “WordPress plugin for”.
How I got inspired: Booking system plugin. After entering the relevant keyword, scroll down and you’ll be able to see ideas like: “WordPress plugin for booking system” and “WordPress plugin for menu dropdown”.
13. Plugin disadvantages.
No plugin is perfect, not even the most downloaded plugins. By examining a popular product, and listing its disadvantages, you’ll be able to possibly create a smaller plugin that has an advantage exactly where the other plugin fails.
How I got inspired: Pojo Forms. The way we came up with Pojo Forms was because we felt the Contact 7 plugin was not intuitive enough, and certainly not easy to customize. We created a form plugin that is completely drag and drop, and is fully customized without the need to code anything. From the feedback we get from customers using this plugin I am very pleased with the result.
14. Complex features.
WordPress is extremely easy to use, but its advanced and complex features are often hard to grasp for the common user. This is a great source for you to come up with plugin solutions for. Some examples of these advanced features include custom post types, taxonomies and custom fields. While these features are very useful, they are inaccessible to most WordPress users.
How I got inspired: The ACF plugin. This is a great example of a plugin that makes a WordPress advanced feature more accessible. It has been downloaded by over a million users, and is one of the most popular plugins.
15. Extensions & integrations.
Sometimes the most useful plugins are extensions of already popular plugins. For example, Woocommerce has over 1,000 related plugins in the WordPress repository. The most popular of these, YITH WooCommerce Ajax Search, has been downloaded by over 100K users!
How I got inspired: WooCommerce Multilingual. This plugin has been downloaded by more than 40K people, and is a great example for building a great product that extends an existing one.
Use this site to search for plugin inquiries that are unanswered. You can search for phrases like “Is there a plugin that” to find the most relevant question.
How I got inspired: A marketplace plugin. I found this question on Quora: “Is there a marketplace plugin for WordPress and WooCommerce?”, that also had a decent amount of followers. Because I have personally needed a marketplace plugin in the past, I know this is a real and sought for plugin.
There are a lot of WordPress tutorial blogs that explain how to do things with code. WPBeginner’s tutorial section is a great resource you can use to get all sorts of plugin ideas.
How I got inspired: A migration plugin for Squarespace. A quick browse through WPBeginner let me find out about this article: how to move a site from Squarespace to WordPress, published on March 10th, and gave me a neat idea to create a plugin that does exactly that functionality.
So, what are you waiting for? Start writing the next big plugin! If you need help in getting started, I suggest you read the Beginner’s Guide To WordPress Plugin Development on hongkiat.
I would like to end this post with a related quote by Behance founder Scott Belsky: “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” If you have any other suggestions for getting ideas for new plugins, please let me know about them in the comments.