Do you like to try a product before you buy (or download) it? You’re not alone. Product demonstrations have long been a part of our culture.

However, the idea of a WordPress product demonstration is more complex. Traditionally, the process has required users to download and install a theme or plugin. It’s not always prudent on a live website, though.

Some are trying to rethink what’s possible. The advent of the browser-based WordPress Playground has brought fresh experimentation.

For example, recently added (and briskly removed) live preview functionality from the plugin repository. Click the button and see the plugin in action. Well, sort of. It turns out that not all plugins work in this environment.

The situation shines a light on the challenges of WordPress product demos. Building one isn’t easy. It goes beyond spinning up a new playground.

Both users and product makers could benefit from this functionality. But there are challenges involved. Here’s a look at what stands in the way.

Product Demos Aren’t One Size Fits All

WordPress products – particularly plugins – can serve many purposes. Some are niche items that do one or two things. Others extend an existing ecosystem like WooCommerce.

Context matters with these products. For example, consider a plugin that lets you bulk-edit eCommerce transactions. A product demo would need example orders in place. Users can get a sense of how the product works.

That’s why spinning up a WordPress Playground instance wouldn’t be helpful. Not without an example WooCommerce site in tow.

A form builder plugin wouldn’t need such detail. A user should be able to experiment without dependencies.

As such, product demos aren’t one size fits all. Much depends on the product and its purpose. Automated solutions aren’t currently suited for this kind of nuance.

WordPress Still Lacks a Unified Onboarding Experience

Not all WordPress products are intuitive. A user may be able to install the product. But what happens next? Even seasoned developers may get stuck here.

Some people may not know how to get a theme to look a certain way. Nor would they understand how to configure their SEO plugin. It has long been a problem in the WordPress ecosystem.

Thus, a product demo should guide users each step of the way. But WordPress doesn’t include an onboarding API. Product makers must craft custom solutions or use third-party tools.

The result is that some products fall short in this area. For instance, a plugin author may have difficulty thinking like a new user. Or they may not have the resources to build an onboarding UI.

Both written instructions and video tutorials can help. Interactive onboarding could be a more effective teacher, however. Having access to a standard way to implement these features would benefit everyone.

Some, like theme author Mike McAlister, have attempted to create a better onboarding experience. He wanted to include this in his Ollie theme product. However, the WordPress Themes team rejected McAlister’s inclusion of the onboarding feature in the repository.

There is still no official solution – yet. But McAlister’s efforts could be a turning point.

What Can Product Makers Do?

The situation leaves WordPress product makers in a bind. Creating a quality demo is on their shoulders. Yet they must do so without much guidance.

The job isn’t impossible, though. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Keep Your Demo Relevant to Users

How do you expect people to use your product? Your demo should reflect those expectations. Include common workflows and use cases.

The trick is to keep it simple. Avoid being overly technical in your examples and explanations. Give users what they need with as few distractions as possible.

Interactive or Not?

Your demo doesn’t need to be fully interactive. Even a series of animated GIFs or video clips can do the job. The decision comes down to what type of product you have.

A complex plugin with lots of settings may benefit from a WordPress install. Users can tweak and customize to their heart’s content. A more simplistic product might not require that kind of depth.

Consider what’s best for users. And don’t forget about placing your product in the best light.

Find Ways to Guide Users

Complexity also plays a role in onboarding users of your demo. It’s important to show them how to get from Point A to Point B.

There are several ways to go about this. You could use tooltips or other UI enhancements. Or you might include a short video or animated sequence.

Pricing might also be a factor. Some enterprise-level products offer a human-guided tour. That’s not a fit for everyone. But certainly an extra nicety for big ticket products.

Again, think about ways to make the user’s job easier. They’ll be more confident in your product.

Take Control of Your Narrative

If and when live previews come back to, take them with a grain of salt. They may or may not be the best solution for your product.

Use your product’s website as a source of information. You’ll have more control of the narrative. And you can introduce product demos with the proper context. That may not be possible with the official repository’s solution.

Regardless, it’s your product. Give potential customers the information they need.

Here’s Hoping for a New Age of WordPress Product Demos

Product demos offer a way to stand out in a crowded market. Product makers must take advantage of them.

Why? WordPress users are often left to download and test products on their own. That’s a missed opportunity. They may not get the best experience without guidance.

A demo could be the difference in their decision-making process. That alone makes them worth the effort.

There’s still the challenge of building a great demo, however. Product makers need better tools. And the barriers to building interactive demos need to be lowered.

Perhaps we’ve come to a tipping point. WordPress Playground has lots of potential. And more people are experimenting.

Let’s hope so. It could be a step forward for those selling (and buying) in this space.

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