WordPress Plugin Authors: Don’t Assume a User’s Skill Level

The WordPress plugin ecosystem is large. And there are products aimed at a variety of audiences. Some are focused squarely on web developers. Others look to onboard new users.

Plugin authors should communicate according to their audience. But context is still important. Documentation should provide clear explanations in either case. And it should be easy for anyone with the requisite knowledge to understand.

What if a user doesn’t possess this level of knowledge? It’s an opportunity to point them in the right direction. Add a link to a tutorial or other third-party content.

Don’t leave users hanging. And don’t assume their skill level. Allow me to explain why this matters.

A Plugin Upgrade with Vague Instructions

A recent upgrade to a developer-focused plugin got me thinking about this. It wasn’t the most user-friendly experience.

The plugin’s changelog indicated a database edit might be necessary. Fair enough.

The plugin would display a warning in the WordPress dashboard if this were the case. We’re still good.

It’s probably a matter of clicking an “upgrade” button, right?

Unfortunately, a roadblock was right around the corner. A database column needed to be added to an existing table. And how are we supposed to do this?

The plugin offered a vague message regarding the next step. Upon further research, I found that using the WordPress command line (WP-CLI) was recommended.

Forcing users to use the command line is one thing. But failing to provide adequate instructions is another.

Clear Instructions Mean Happy Users

The lesson here is to communicate the basics to users.

I don’t claim to be a high-end developer. I know my way around some of the tools involved. And I write a bit of code. I’ve even used WP-CLI in the past.

But the lack of clear instructions here was frustrating. And I wonder how many others felt similarly.

Web developers may be the plugin’s audience. But even they need relevant background information. Otherwise, users are left searching for answers.

The lesson here is to communicate the basics to users. Spell out any actions they need to take. List the tools they’ll need to use.

A few extra minutes of thinking about the user experience might have helped. And a simple explanation could have saved a few frustrated support forum posts.

Always Start from Square One

Perhaps the plugin developer was in a hurry. Or they assumed that users would know what they were talking about. The intent wasn’t malicious either way.

But communication is just as important as functionality. It doesn’t matter how complex (or not) your plugin is. Users still need to know how to, you know, use it.

WordPress product makers who don’t communicate well are missing out. It may inhibit growth. And it’s sure to frustrate existing users.

So, take a deep breath. Explain the process. And don’t assume everyone understands things in the same way.

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