Yoast’s Black Friday Fumble
Are you doing anything for Black Friday?
Yeah, we’re running a sale. 25% off. You?
Yeah, I’ve got a discount too. But it’s hard to cut through the noise. I’m not sure how to tell people about it.
I agree. We’re on a list-post or two. It’s hard to advertise.
Maybe we should put a notice in the WordPress admin dashboard! 😏
We all laugh.
😂 That’s a terrible idea!
Imagine our surprise when the next morning, that’s exactly what Yoast, and some others, did in their plugins.
The reaction from their users, and the WordPress community in general, was swift (and pretty nasty!).
Many others took to WordPress.org to express their outrage, leaving Yoast SEO 75+ 1 star reviews over 2 days.
Yoast once was a fantastic plugin. It’s since devolved into a collection of decent tools heavily overwhelmed by unnecessary bells, whistles, and upsales.Shyzer
Absolutely outrageous to have intentionally spammed millions of dashboards… Yoast took the opportunity to betray the trust of millions of WordPress admins and owners.The Old Man
The fact that this decision took place and code was written to make this happen, speaks volumes for the management and leadership of this plugin. Unfortunately, they cannot be trusted, especially in a professional environment.9Xpi
Spam the dashboard ? OK => DELETE ALL MY YOAST INSTALL IMMEDIATELY…locomint85
In the end, Marieke van de Rakt (CEO at Yoast) set things right. She issued an apology, and Yoast released an update removing the banner ad.
The question has to be asked: Who thought this was a good idea? And who approved it? A business the size of Yoast would have likely had a process something like this:
- A Marketer suggested the idea
- A Product Manager approved it
- A Business Analyst defined how it should work
- A Designer designed it (questionable in this case)
- A Developer implemented it
- In this case, it was actually developed twice
- QA reviewed it
That’s six different people who all just went along with an objectively awful idea. Was there any internal conflict or discussion? We’ll never know.
I don’t think there’s any long-term repercussions here for Yoast. They made a mistake, they fixed it, they promised not to do it again. But with such a violent reaction from their users, it’s worth diving into why this hit a nerve.
Is This Allowed?
The free version of Yoast is run on 15% of the top 1 million websites. Not 15% of WordPress – 15% of the web. If the success of this ad outweighs the negative reaction, is there anything stopping Yoast from doing this again?
From the WordPress.org plugin guidelines:
Advertising within the WordPress dashboard should be avoided, as it is generally ineffective. Users normally only visit settings pages when they’re trying to solve a problem. Making it harder to use a plugin does not generally encourage a good review, and we recommend limiting any ads placed therein.Detailed Plugin Guidelines
So… not recommended, but not disallowed. Yoast couldn’t be delisted from WordPress.org as a result of ads.
Yoast’s Black-Friday-Faux-Pas is an exercise in extremes. Their bright yellow and cyan full-width banner, animated like it’s 1999, was displayed on every – single – page. Freemium plugins including a small up-sell ad on their settings page don’t cause this kind of uproar.
Is there a place for ads in WordPress? Maybe there is. Certainly a sustainable plugin ecosystem is good for everyone, and the Freemium model seems to be an effective one.
Ads Done Well
Of course, the offensiveness of advertising prominence will always be subjective. Here’s a few plugins that I believe do a great job of letting their free users know about a premium option.
Advanced Custom Fields – everybody’s favourite custom meta plugin takes a very understated approach. You can’t even really call this one an ad, it’s so subtle (maybe a little too subtle?).
WP Migrate DB has a Pro ad in the sidebar. It only shows when you’re using the migration tool. Importantly, it outlines precisely how Pro improves on the Free version.
WP Migrate DB uses a formula that keeps things simple and unobtrusive: Call to Action > Value Statement > Social Proof. Mix and match to taste.
Some plugins add an item to the menu. In these cases, a sub-menu item showing the availability of Pro might be acceptable.
The advantage here is that visually there’s no “Ad” in the plugin (similarly to ACF above), but information about Pro is available for users who might be interested.
Ads Done Poorly
Contextual ads sound like a good idea in theory, but in practice can be
borderline annoying. This is where you show users the features they could be using, if only they upgrade to Pro!
I imagine that it is possible for this type of advertising to be done tastefully, but it’s hard to find an example that doesn’t leave me feeling aggravated.
Yoast is famous for this brand of advertising. Who wants to use a tool that’s littered with bright yellow Calls to Action?
This is the worst. I haven’t even had a chance to try your product yet – at least let me see what it’s all about before hitting me with an upgrade prompt!
WooCommerce literally tries to have me install 7 additional plugins during the onboarding process! Some of them may be free, but all of them lead to paid services. I haven’t even seen WooCommerce yet.
This is extremely heavy-handed, and in my opinion, a textbook example of advertising gone wrong.
But even Woo is not quite as bad as WordFence, which, upon activation, creates a takeover model which requires an email address, and then promotes Pro! Again, before anyone has had a chance to use their plugin.
Advertising Guidelines for the WordPress Admin
There’s clearly a right way and a wrong way to advertise in the WordPress admin. If you, like Yoast, can’t figure out what counts as acceptable, here’s a handy guide:
1. Don’t advertise after plugin activation
Even if you’ve chosen to avoid the full-screen modal for your onboarding (👍), let your users at least interact with your product before hitting them with a Pro prompt.
2. Only advertise on pages created by your plugin
This includes post meta boxes, the Dashboard, and the Plugins list page.
3. No animations
I mean, that really should go without saying.
4. No teasers
“More features available in Pro” is fine.
Feature X is only available in Pro. Upgrade Now!
Feature Y is only available in Pro. Upgrade Now!
Feature Z is only available in Pro. Upgrade Now!
… is not fine.
5. Say it once
Don’t include more than one ad per page.
6. Advertise the product, not the sale
Introducing ads for limited time events is tacky. It’s also code bloat and will last forever in your version control.