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Freemium WordPress plugins are 200% more likely to survive after 3 years

Last November I published an analysis of the WordPress.org repository where I showed that after a period of 3 years there’s an 80% to 90% chance that the plugin you picked from the repository won’t get any updates.

The analysis was also relayed on WPTavern and there were quite some comments to that post. In some cases people misunderstood the objective of that analysis, thinking that I was trying to cast some bad light on plugin developers who don’t maintain plugins properly over time. That wasn’t the case, I was simply looking for interesting information to share with the community.
<digression>To me the repository is a great source of inspiration, learning and I believe it’s a major reason of WordPress success. Every developer who has contributed to the repository has my respect and gratitude.</digression>

If you like to play with data like I do, you know that this type of data exploration often leads to uncharted territories. Which is what makes this type data exploration activities interesting in my opinion. This time I actually set out to find an answer to some specific questions and this is how it went.

How it started

This post is a result of a discussion I had with Vova Feldman. If you regularly read WordPress news, you have surely stumbled on his Freemius blog. If not, well, you should bookmark it.

The discussion we were having was about finding a way to identify certain plugins in the repository. Vova wanted to understand if the amount of plugins having a freemium strategy was increasing, while I was interested in identifying “freemium” plugins in order to add this as a filter on the Addendio search engine.

The reason for having this type of filter is rather obvious from my point of view. You want an easy way to find out if the plugin has premium features/support.

Definition of Freemium

Let’s be clear about the definition from the start: we classified as “freemium”, plugins having either paid add-ons, a premium version or service (e.g. premium support). You might disagree with the definition, but it’s important that you are aware of it when looking through at the data.

After a quick brainstorm with Vova I pulled out some data and I could identify with reasonable confidence a list of plugins currently proposing premium features. It’s not a bullet proof methodology, but we did proper sample checking and I am reasonably confident about the quality.

You can easily check which plugins have been identified as “freemium” through our WordPress search engine, our WordPress plugin or you can use the WordPress Chrome extension to get the flag while you are browsing through the repository (the Chrome extension is brand new, your feedback on this is highly appreciated).

Addendio Chrome Extension

Freemium Plugins in the repository

Let’s start by answering Vova’s question. Are we seeing more plugins in the repository with a freemium strategy?

In absolute numbers the answer is a clear “yes”, as you can see from this graph. This is of course influenced by the fact that more and more plugins are being added to the repository each year (around 7,600 in 2015), so it’s essential that we also check the evolution in terms of relative numbers (see next graph).

 

Freemium Plugins in the repository

The same holds true in terms of percentages. As you can  see from this graph the percentage of freemium plugins in the repository is increasing. I did remove 2016 from the analysis as I did not want to draw any conclusions on just 3 months of data.

Freemium Plugins as % of total

After this initial analysis I decided to have a look at the findings from my past post, this time by introducing the new dimension concerning the freemium strategy. The question I wanted an answer to was the following: Do plugins with a freemium strategy have a better life expectancy than the average free plugin in the repository?

The data gives a positive answer in this case as well. Taking into consideration years prior to 2013 as a reference (remember that we want to check survival rate after 3 years right? ) we can see that on average 50%-60% of “freemium” plugins have been updated in 2015 or 2016. This is a significant difference compared to the findings of my November analysis where the percentage was around 10%-20%. We are looking at a 200%  improvement.  These results seem to hold true across the years. No matter when the plugin was introduced, the update rate is rather stable.

The way to read this graph is the following: on the X axis you have the year the freemium plugins were added to the repository, while on the stacked bars you can see in which the year the plugins were updated for the last time. The red color shows the percentage of freemium plugins that were updated before 2015, while the blu color identifies plugins that were updated in 2015 or 2016. If you take the year 2012 on the X axis (from the above graphs we are referring to 268 plugins for 2012) you can see that around 65% of those plugins were updated in 2015/2016.

WordPress.org Freemium Plugins

 

Conclusion

From what I just illustrated we can draw some very simple conclusions:

  1. If you are looking for a plugin that is going to be key for your website activity, make sure you take into account the “freemium” variable as part of your selection criteria. Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes, but from this analysis you can see that you will more than double your chances of having those plugins maintained in the future.
  2. The WordPress ecosystem is growing and more and more developers are creating plugins with commercial capabilities. This is great news for the community!
  3. In order to quickly check if a plugin offers premium services/features, you can simply use our Addendio search engine via our website, our WordPress plugin or our Chrome extension (you have no excuses :-).

 

IMPORTANT: If you are a plugin developer and your plugin is not correctly classified, please reach out to me , I will be happy to correct the mistake and improve the detection.

Hope you found this post useful and as for all things related to data feel free to discuss about it. One thing I know for sure: every analysis is debatable!

ciao

Luca

Author: Luca Fracassi

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