Welcome back to the annual WP Fusion year in review 👋
Quick summary in case you’re landing on our site for the first time:
- WP Fusion is a plugin that integrates WordPress with CRMs and marketing automation tools. For example
- The first version was launched February of 2015, so we’re going into our eighth year of business.
- WP Fusion is entirely bootstrapped, with a small team of three.
- WP Fusion is currently running on 24,000 websites, with another ~3,000 running the free WP Fusion Lite.
- In the spirit of open-source-ey-ness and transparency, I’ve been publishing these Year in Review posts since 2017. You can find the earlier ones at:
(If you’re into this kind of thing, check out https://reviewyears.com/ for more.)
#Why the transparency?
Justin Ferriman put up a post last April called I Just Don’t Understand Transparency Reports,
Sales data aside, why reveal your entire playbook?
You are practically inviting strangers into your home by letting others know what works, what doesn’t work, and how much you make from what works. One of the strangers is likely to have very deep pockets, and they’ll be able to move quickly on this information.
From a business perspective— yes, sure. If the goal is to make the most money and defeat the competition, there’s no benefit in sharing revenue numbers or business insights 👍
I guess I came into it from a different direction— I was not an entrepreneur who saw a growth market in WordPress, I was a maker/hacker/tinker-er trying to create solutions that would save time for me and my clients. As a part of that, I stumbled into being an entrepreneur.
Along the way, it was reading the transparency reports by the likes of Pippin Williamson, Elliot Condon, Iain Poulson, etc., that gave me the confidence to try and launch a commercial product, and I also learned a ton by reading what worked and what didn’t for them.
To be fair, WordPress in 2022 isn’t the WordPress of eight years ago.
It’s amazing to me that we were able to create a simple plugin over the course of a few weeks, throw up a website with a checkout (there was only a paid license at this point), and with very little marketing see steady sales in just a couple of months.
I don’t know if that would be possible today.
The barriers to entry are higher. More plugins are moving towards one-page apps, in either React or Vue, which makes the kind of integrations we do difficult.
Our integration for widget visibility used to be 35 lines of PHP and HTML. When we tried to rebuild it for Gutenberg, we ended up with thousands of lines of dependency code and build files (that ultimately didn’t work).
Other companies are launching with a SaaS-first model, where the “plugin” is just a bit of code that handles authentication between WordPress and a cloud service. For the most part we can’t integrate with those at all.
And of course there’s a lot more money now. Seven and eight figure deals were being inked seemingly every few weeks in 2021. I was approached by at least a dozen companies looking to acquire a WordPress plugin. Most of them had no experience in WordPress at all— they just saw it as a growing market.
It’s…. I don’t want to say “sad”, because of course money is good to have. But the vibe has changed in a lot of ways.
So I guess what I hope, by posting these Reviews, in addition to letting our customers know what we’re up to— is that it is maybe helpful to someone who is just launching their own product, and is wondering if it’s still possible to make it as a founder / developer / solo-preneur in WordPress in 2022.
And if some “stranger with very deep pockets” decides to use our insights to launch a “WP Fusion killer”, then maybe that will be my signal that it’s time to move on to the next thing.
Without further ado, let’s get started….
- Plugin updates and new features
- Usage insights
- Support insights
- Other initiatives
- Summary and looking forward
#Plugin updates and new features
The main WP Fusion plugin is updated every Monday, with whatever features and fixes we’ve completed over the previous week (we used to do Friday releases but this resulted in too many emergency weekend support tickets 🤦♂️).
And then if there are any issues with the Monday update, or any unexpected changes due to another plugin or CRM API update, we’ll sometimes release a hotfix during the week.
The pace of new CRMs is slowing down. We support 52 of them now, so there aren’t a whole lot of quality platforms out there left to integrate with.
In 2021 we added support for:
Of these, I think Bento is the most exciting newcomer. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t yet. It does a really good job of tying together customer information from multiple data points— page views, purchases, chat, emails, forms, ads— and then making that data available in a powerful automation builder.
The WordPress REST API has opened up some interesting opportunities with Groundhogg, FluentCRM, and Autonami (all three are plugin-based CRMs).
All three of these have pretty good integrations with the rest of your WordPress plugins. While we support it, you don’t need WP Fusion to sync WooCommerce customers to Groundhogg. That’s already a part of Groundhogg ✅.
But, these plugins are all limited by the fact that they only collect data from the same site. If you’re running your courses on a subdomain, selling products on multiple ecommerce sites, or just want to have your CRM and email sending on a standalone WordPress install, you’re out of luck.
So in 2021 we added REST API integrations for FluentCRM, Groundhogg, and Autonami. This means you can now run your CRM plugin on a subdomain (like
https://crm.mysite.com), and WP Fusion can connect to it over the API just like it does with ActiveCampaign and other cloud-based CRMs.
You can even sync data bidirectionally between your CRM plugin and multiple WordPress sites, which opens up the possibility of separating your ecommerce site from your membership portal on a subdomain— while using WP Fusion and tags in your CRM to grant access to content 😎
👉 Read more about those integrations in the posts Running a “headless CRM” with WP Fusion and Groundhogg, and Introducing FluentCRM + REST API.
#New plugin integrations
We added support for 18 new plugins in 2021, bringing the total number of supported plugins to 132.
In order of release:
- BuddyBoss App (for in-app purchases)
- Piotnet Forms
- WISDM Group Registration for LearnDash
- WS Form
- Upsell Plugin
- Login With AJAX
- Download Monitor
- Simply Schedule Appointments
- WooCommerce Payment Plans
- Jet Engine
- If Menu
- User Menus
- Block Visibility
Proper block-level access controls: My favorite feature in 2021 wasn’t actually even developed by us, it was created by Nick Diego over at Block Visibility.
We’ve had a basic integration with the Gutenberg editor since the end of 2018, using a Secure Content Block to allow protecting page content with CRM tags. This worked okay but the layout and UI was starting to get buggy with later updates of the block editor, and it was becoming too much work to maintain, especially for such a niche feature.
Block editor visibility control is complex enough that it really deserves to be its own plugin, and so in March I was delighted to discover Block Visibility.
Nick was open to adding WP Fusion compatibility to the plugin, and now when WP Fusion is active you can use CRM tags as visibility conditions for blocks in addition to user roles, screen sizes, and many more features in the pro version.
Block Visibility also works with the new block-based widget editor, and it should also work to replace our existing menu item visibility controls when those settings get converted to the block editor in a future core update.
Event Tracking: In November we launched a new Plus addon plugin, the Event Tracking Addon.
In short, it builds on WP Fusion’s existing capabilities for syncing custom fields with your CRM and applying tags, by letting you also track “events”.
What’s an event? If you think of tags like a state, i.e. “Gold Member”, an event is an activity that happens at a specific time, such as “Completed Lesson One”.
For our users with LMS sites who were using (sometimes hundreds of) tags to track progress through courses, events provide a much simpler way to monitor a student’s progress without cluttering up your CRM with a bunch of tags.
We launched it with integrations with a handful of the most popular plugins folks use with WP Fusion, but we’ll be adding compatibility with many more in 2022.
For more info check out the event tracking documentation 👀
Time for charts 🎉
Ok, but seriously 😉
How do we come up with usage charts?
When WP Fusion (premium only) calls home to check for an update, it also lets us know the user’s connected CRM and active plugin integrations. We track that in a database, and that’s what we use to build these reports.
This year we’re drawing from a sample of 24,467 sites where WP Fusion was installed and the setup was completed.
Pretty similar to last year, with ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft/Keap in first place. Some notable changes:
- FluentCRM has replaced Groundhogg for third place
- HubSpot has moved up from sixth place to fourth, which is nice to see— we’ve been focusing on attracting new HubSpot customers, and it’s been a really great platform to work with.
#Most popular plugin integrations
We can also see which plugin integrations were the most popular with WP Fusion users. See here for last year’s chart.
Note that we only track which integration modules are loaded within WP Fusion, not the actual plugins that a customer has active on their site.
Like last year, there are too many integrations to make one clear chart, but I didn’t want to leave out half the data either, so I’ve broken it into two. First we can see the 50 most popular plugin integrations, based on the percentage of WP Fusion-powered sites they’re active on.
No real changes from last year. The top 10 or so plugins basically remain the same (BuddyBoss usage actually grew in 2021 but it’s farther down the chart now that we’re tracking it separately from BuddyPress).
The bottom 85 integrations all come in at under 400 (or 1.75%) of active sites.
Like last year, we can also look at some plugin groups to see what the breakdown is in verticals like Membership, Ecommerce, Events, and Form Builders.
#Plugin Popularity – Membership
Almost exactly the same as last year.
#Plugin Popularity – LMS
Near the bottom of the rankings, LearnPress saw some gains, while eLearnCommerce appears to no longer be in the plugin business (conveniently, they disappeared shortly after running a lifetime deal 😆).
As an aside, I was not super impressed with LearnPress when we first added the integration back in 2018, but we recently overhauled our LearnPress integration to better integrate the settings and support course auto-enrollments, and it’s come a long way— at least a lot of the sketchy code has been cleaned up and standardized, and the admin experience is much improved as well. Might be one to keep an eye on in 2022 👀
#Plugin Popularity – Forms
This chart has been kind of unreliable in previous years, because most of our form integrations load using the relevant plugin’s “feed framework” and so we can’t always tell what’s loaded at the right time.
This year I think we’ve finally mostly sorted that out and the chart is a more accurate representation of what form plugin folks are using with WP Fusion.
Note that I didn’t include Elementor Forms (despite it being quite popular) because it’s not possible to detect Elementor Forms usage separately from the Elementor Pro plugin in general.
Fluent Forms has passed WPForms for the third most popular (congrats to the WPManageNinja team! 🥳)
#Plugin Popularity – Events
Event and bookings are basically unchanged from last year— with The Events Calendar / Event Tickets the clear leader.
In second place, Modern Events Calendar passed FooEvents which is…. disappointing, since I think FooEvents is a superior plugin, but also not surprising, since MEC had a lifetime deal on AppSumo around the end of 2020.
I wonder if we’ll see MEC decline again next year once the LTD honeymoon phase has worn off a bit.
#Plugin Popularity – Page Builders
This year we’ve added a new category for page builders.
No real surprises here. Elementor is the page builder of choice for about 74% of WP Fusion users. Within that, about 3/4s of sites are using the free Elementor, and another 1/4 are using the Pro version.
#Plugin Popularity – WP Fusion addons
With our Plus license we have six “pro” addon plugins for WP Fusion.
This year I thought it’d be interesting to see which of those are most popular, and what percentage of customer sites are running one or more of the addon plugins.
It turns out that the Logins Addon is the most popular, active on about 14% of sites.
For example syncing Easy Digital Downloads abandoned carts in real time with ActiveCampaign is only possible with WP Fusion + Abandoned Cart.
But on the other hand, performing login redirects based on CRM tags (which is a main feature of the Logins Addon) is almost universally applicable to anybody using WP Fusion with a membership site— and membership sites are a key demographic for us, so I guess it makes sense that it would be the most popular addon, even though it’s a smaller and simpler plugin.
We’ve peaked! 😩
No, nothing so dramatic— but it does seem like the days of revenue doubling every year are in the past.
In 2021, revenue grew 23% to $684,245, with 1,230 sales (almost exactly the same number of sales as last year).
The chart follows the same trends as 2020, with the best months in August and November (due to Black Friday), and the slowest months in June and October.
In November we crossed $100k in revenue for the first time, which was a super cool milestone 🎉.
Summaries for WP Fusion in 2021:
- Total revenue: $684,245 (+23%)
- Revenue from license renewals: $326,813 (+68%)
- Revenue from license upgrades: $34,358 (+60%)
- Average customer lifetime value: $1,073 (-8%)
- Commissions paid to affiliates: $12,336 (-19%)
#New customer trends
I said last year that I thought the pandemic had a net neutral affect on our revenue— a lot of businesses closed or had to cancel their subscription, many new businesses were launched, and needed WP Fusion. There wasn’t any real way to measure at the time, but I felt like it evened out.
I think, in retrospect, a lot of the growth we saw in 2020 was a result of the pandemic, and especially government stimulus payments.
At this point about half of our revenue comes from subscription renewals, so it’s hard to look at the revenue chart and see obvious trends.
But if we look at just new customers for a given period, we can get a clearer sense of changes in purchasing behavior.
In this chart I’ve plotted out just new customers, by month, and overlaid it with the three US pandemic stimulus payment periods (in orange).
About 56% of our customers are from the US, so I didn’t include the stimulus policies of other countries, but similar stimulus plans were being rolled out around the time in many other places.
If you ignore the November peaks for Black Friday, three out of the four best months ever for new customer acquisition were the three months where stimulus checks were being deposited in the US. Pretty interesting! 🤓
We have five price points with WP Fusion. Like last year, we can look at licenses sold in terms of volume, and revenue.
Basically unchanged from last year. The volume of Lifetime Updates licenses went up from 5% to 7% of the total. I’d like to keep this number below 10%. So far that looks okay, but if we see the number going up again next year we may need to revisit / increase the lifetime pricing.
#Renewal rates and churn
I’ve been working on a model for calculating renewal rates (and churn) since 2019, the basic premise is:
- For each year, calculate the total list of new customers in that year
- For each customer, see if they have a renewal payment in the following year
- Calculate the portion who renewed vs. the total number eligible for renewal = the renewal rate
This year I’ve modified the formula in four ways:
- Customers who purchased a license and then requested a refund will no longer be counted as churned, since they didn’t ever come up for renewal anyway
- Customers who purchased a lifetime license are now excluded
- Customers who received a free license are now excluded
- Customers who renewed their license but then requested a refund on the renewal (i.e. they were on auto-renew and forgot to cancel) will now be considered churned
For first year renewals, we had 929 new subscribers in 2020, and 593 of those renewed their license in 2021, giving us a 63.83% license renewal rate.
If you’re comparing to last year’s version of this chart, you’ll notice some differences— notably the renewal rates are now higher for 2015 to 2017 because we’re no longer counting free licenses as churned when they don’t renew, and the renewal rates are lower for 2017 to 2019 because we’re no longer counting a renewal as successful if it was later refunded.
However you calculate it, this year was our best yet in terms of first-year renewal rates. My guess is because we got rid of the 30% renewal discount for new customers, effective Jan 1st 2021.
So that means everyone coming up for renewal this year got a message like this:
My assumption is some folks saw that and were inclined to keep their subscription active and keep the discount (we would of course let you cancel and renew later with the same 30% discount, but that was kept purposefully vague 😈).
If that’s correct then we should expect to see a drop-off in renewal rates in next year’s report (looking at just January 2021 to January 2022, the renewal rate has already dropped to 48.5%… but it’s a bit too early to draw any conclusions since some folks may have just forgotten to update their credit card on file).
As another way to look at it, we can visualize the retention rate by cohort:
#Black Friday – Cyber Monday
The only sale we ever do is over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend, with 30% off all new licenses (excluding lifetime).
I like to keep it simple and run a “traditional” Friday to Monday sale. No giveaways, no Pre-Sale Sale, no fancy tricks.
Again the BFCM weekend was our strongest revenue window for 2021, with 111 sales, and total revenue of $59,590 over the four day period.
That’s about a 25% decrease in sales and only 8% increase in revenue over 2020. To me, that’s just fine.
I know some folks who dread BFCM— they start planning their sale at the end of August, bring in outside consultants and designers, run complex ad campaigns, etc., etc. It’s a ton of work and incredibly stressful.
This year, BFCM prep was about as complicated as doing a “find and replace” on last year’s materials. We sent the same emails, used the same popups. It took no more than a couple of hours to prep the sale.
Certainly we could have brought in more customers + further increased revenue by doing more outreach and advertising, but to me it’s just not worth the stress.
Across email support (via HelpScout) and chat support (via Chatra) we had 5,096 support conversations this year, from 2,216 customers, with 10,453 messages received.
The support stats basically follow the new customer stats— we had 9% more new customers in 2021 over 2020, and an 11% increase in customers who contacted support.
This is awesome. I am super pleased about it 😊
Keep in mind, support volume for 2020 was a 50% increase over 2019, and up until June of 2020 I was doing all customer support myself. It was an incredibly stressful time, especially since it was the first few months of the pandemic.
Ace from LevelUp joined us on the support team halfway through 2020, and as a result the total number of support conversations I handled myself declined 39% from 2020 to 2021. This has freed me up to spend more time working on documentation, tutorials, and feature requests 💯.
Response times during business hours (8am to 5pm UTC) stayed about the same in 2021 (down a little bit from 2hrs 18 mins in 2020).
Resolution metrics stayed about the same as well.
I think that’s about as good as we can expect with the current support volume. If you contact us during business hours you’ll almost always get a reply that day, otherwise you’ll get a reply the next business day.
If support volume increases significantly then we might look at bringing on an additional support rep in a timezone better suited to overlap with the US— but at the moment there aren’t enough tickets to justify having another person on it full time.
#New customer support request rates
As I mentioned last year, we’ve been making a big push towards making WP Fusion easier to set up, and also steering users away from configurations that could possibly cause problems.
We’ve been updating error messages from our various APIs with suggested steps to resolve the error, and also adding notices to the plugin where anything might affect the performance of your site (for example running Filter Queries on all post types simultaneously).
The goal being for a new user to be able to get everything set up successfully without requiring a support touch— and if they do run into any issues, they can hopefully resolve them on their own.
Like last year, we can see if these changes are having any effect by cross-referencing new customer license keys with support tickets to see the percentage of customers who requested technical support in their first 30 and 365 days.
Pretty good! Not as dramatic a change as from 2019 to 2020 but still a move in the right direction. In 2021 23.8% of customers requested technical support within the first 30 days, and an additional 8.7% requested support during the rest of the year.
#Refund request rates
Refund request rates held about the same from 2020 to 2021, going from 6.24% to 6.5% of new customers.
I’m including this chart because it was in the report last year— but I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in the older data.
It’s unfortunately a quirk with Easy Digital Downloads that numbers don’t always match up in the admin. In this case the EDD admin said there were 81 refunded orders in 2020, which is the number I used for last year’s report…. but actually exporting the full payment history for that year showed 122 refunded orders. But then EDD also doesn’t count a renewal order as a completed order, which meant that side of the equation was off as well.
Anyway. There have been some long-overdue updates to EDD since they were acquired by Awesome Motive in September, maybe we can hope for some reporting improvements next. Wink wink nudge 😉
As of this writing, we have 334 total pages of documentation, containing 135,977 words (more than The Return of the King), and 870 inline images. That’s a lotta docs! 😅
About halfway through 2020 we opened a public feature requests portal, and in 2021 we further integrated it into the development pipeline and also added a roadmap page showing the tasks currently in progress.
In 2021, 101 requests were submitted and accepted, and 79 requests were completed.
I understand there are arguments for and against having a public roadmap— but it’s been helpful in our case where we get a high volume of relatively simple integration requests (or requests for enhancements to existing integrations).
It’s not possible to accommodate every request, so this system lets us get a sense of what new features will make the most impact with users.
As well, we often get integration requests that are declined due to technical incompatibilities, and now the discussion around that is available publicly for anyone looking for the same feature/integration, which has cut down on some duplicate support threads with multiple people requesting the same integration.
WP Fusion Lite: The free version of WP Fusion hit 3,000 active installs on March 5th, 2021. 🎉
WP Fusion Lite also brought home 3,375 web sessions, and $22,774 in attributable sales (I suspect the actual numbers are higher, since not everyone would click the UTM link).
Facebook Community: Our Facebook group, Marketing Automation for WordPress with WP Fusion, recently passed 2,000 members. It’s a great place to get community tips and connect with others using WP Fusion and the marketing automation tools we integrate with. If you haven’t joined already, we’d love to see you there!
This year felt less stressful than 2020. Obviously the world is a lot less crazy, but also things slowed down a bit with WP Fusion and we finally had some time to focus on some big-picture projects in terms of performance, refactoring old code, updating documentation, etc.
Ace on our support team has now been handing about 70% of support requests, so that’s a massive weight off my shoulders (thanks Ace! 🧡). The default mode has definitely moved away from “putting out fires”, which has been great for my mental state.
I took up running in earnest in 2021 and ran in the Berlin half marathon in August (1 hr 57 mins! 🏃♂️🥇). I’m looking forward to doing it again this April.
I also deleted Facebook from my phone in April of 2021, and that’s been a mental health win. I love interacting with our customers one-on-one, and admin-ing our Facebook group, but the notifications are endless and it’s easy to fall into a habit of refreshing the feed late into the night. Now I just use Facebook at my desk, during working hours, and it’s been great to be able to sign off at the end of the day.
(Twitter, you’re next 🐦🪓)
As a self-styled “digital nomad”, I felt a wee bit of an identity crisis being stuck at home for most of 2020, so it was great to get to start to travel again this year.
I was finally able to attend Chris Lema’s CaboPress conference in Los Cabos in October (I was originally invited in 2020, but we all know how that went… 😅).
It was a great opportunity to make a personal connection with some people I’ve known professionally for a long time, as well as learning a ton from the talks and workshops— mostly in a pool 🏖️!
If you ever get the invite, I highly recommend not passing it up, it’s truly a unique event. Thanks Chris! 🧡
I know it’s cliche to say, but one of the best decisions I’ve made was in 2019, joining an
emotional support group mastermind with some fellow WordPress business owners. We’ve managed to meet every two weeks for over two years now, and we’re active in Slack in the times between.
It can be lonely and a bit overwhelming being a solo-preneur— there are so many decisions to make, and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.
Even just simple questions like, “is this worth investing time in?”, “does this landing page pop?”, “is this optin consent language clear?”… it’s really a game-changer to be able to get input from people who are working in the same space, and have maybe already solved the same problems. Sooo… thanks guys! 🧡
#Summary and what’s next
I think 2021 was a great year for further settling into our niche with WP Fusion.
We’ve definitely seen a slowdown in new customer acquisition— I think that can be attributed (at least partially) to two factors:
- Folks who are just looking to automate actions between plugins are more likely now to choose Uncanny Automator over WP Fusion, since it’s specifically designed for that, and doesn’t have to deal with syncing data to third party services (which adds a lot of complexity and latency).
- Folks who might have come to us looking for an integration with the latest LTD, or open source self-hosted script are now more likely to use a WordPress marketing automation plugin, like Groundhogg, FluentCRM, or Autonami. All of these have native integrations with many popular plugins, so unless you’re trying to run the CRM plugin on a subdomain, in most cases you don’t need WP Fusion.
Both of these were never ideal customers— the first cohort found themselves massively underutilizing WP Fusion by not integrating with a 3rd party CRM, and the second cohort was often jumping from one LTD to the next, and trying to tie dozens of apps together in an attempt to create the “perfect stack”.
WP Fusion can be a part of a strategy like that, but it led us to integrating with unreliable platforms with slow APIs and unavailable support, and spending time troubleshooting the really complex integrations that come about from trying to sync bidirectionally with multiple tools simultaneously.
Where I’m quite happy is with 75 to 100 new customers a month, who are wanting to get the most out of ActiveCampaign, HubSpot, Ontraport, Drip and other established platforms by integrating their marketing tool bidirectionally with their WordPress membership, LMS, or ecommerce data— in order to increase conversions and member retention, while automating repetitive admin tasks 👌
That’s what WP Fusion was designed for, and where we see users have the most success— but I think for a couple of years we were trying to be everything to everyone, and ended up overextended.
#So what’s next?
We have a few interesting things coming down the pipeline.
- We’ve just released a MooSend integration, which was one of our most requested integrations of 2021.
- This month will see an Event Tracking update which adds support for bbPress, BuddyBoss, WooCommerce Subscriptions, Gamipress, and Presto Player. With more integrations to follow.
- After two years in the works, we’re finally ready to launch a Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM integration, which has been requested by dozens of people and I think will open up a large pool of potential new customers.
- I am determined to find a solution to making WP Fusion work with multi-object CRMs. This is one of the biggest pain points experienced by our Salesforce, Zoho, and HubSpot users (and a big cause of refunds), because our current technical framework makes a multi-object bidrectional sync almost impossible. I don’t yet know how we can make it work, but I know it would make WP Fusion an invaluable tool for enterprise users, and so it’s at the top of my mind to try and find a solution that’s flexible while still being performant.
That’s all I’ve got for this year 🙂
Thanks again for reading, and thanks to all of you who’ve supported this project, and also me personally over the years— this really has been a team effort by everyone who contributed code, feedback, ideas, or just bought a license. It literally would not be possible without you.
Best of luck to all of you in 2022 and beyond! 🎉
— Jack Arturo
P.S. How does everyone have these Year in Review posts ready to go on Jan 1st? 🤯 Am I the only one who spends six weeks on it? 😂