WordPress Plugin Settings Are Complex — How Wizards Can Help

Settings. The bane of the developer and the bane of the end user. If you install 99% of WordPress plugins they have too many settings, a setting of a setting, of a sub-setting and to top it off, add another setting on. 

If settings were cake WordPress plugins would be that delicious chocolate cake that the baker decided to add one too many layers of chocolate and made it too sickly, difficult to digest. 

See working in WordPress I can tell you often there’s a user request that reads “Hey {team}, please add a setting for feature X”. 

The problem with that is most plugin shops’ instant reaction is to add it, often these plugin shops are on the smaller side but larger plugins are guilty of the same thing. 

Because why not? A user is happy and in that moment it makes sense. 

Here’s the thing… it makes zero sense at all. 

Settings Complicate The User Experience

Imagine going into a settings screen and having hundreds of settings to configure? Even if you know what every setting is, it’s a pain in the arse. Chances are you or more for that matter your user won’t know what every setting is. 

Now the setup time has gone from an afternoon to a couple of weeks. Because it’s not just a setting, it’s;

  • Reading documentation,
  • Making sure that your site still works after enabling the setting. 
  • Writing into the support team and asking any relevant questions. 

And that’s just the start. Every setting you add, adds complexity and time for the user. The crazy thing? You can assume most settings automatically. 

Basic Mode/Advanced Mode

You get a shiny new game and boot it up, do you want to play on expert or beginner? Expert’s a challenge, but beginner still lets you see the game and get where you want. 

It’s common in the gaming world and is something that I wish more WordPress developers did. See your users don’t need 250 options, you only think they do. 

Now imagine your users want to get started as quickly as possible. You add basic mode and it’s the default for your plugin. It hides 80% of settings. 

And to make it work you utilize a wizard to make the decisions automatically. Yet how does that even work?

Branching Dialogue Trees

If you’re a fan of JRPGs, or RPGs in general you’ll be familiar meeting an NPC (non-player character) that gives you a quest but the quest or outcome can depend on what answers you select throughout the dialogue tree. 

You can use the same principle for your setup wizard. Ask the users a set of questions and change the next set of questions and the behind the scenes features as they answer them.

Let’s say you have a membership plugin you might ask the user in the wizard “Do you want to offer free trials?” With the options yes|no. If the user selects yes, you can enable the feature automatically.

And that’s a really simple example. Depending on how complex your plugin is, you can automatically configure 10-20 settings with one or two questions. 

Then once the wizard is finished you don’t show all the settings to the end user. Instead this is where advanced mode comes in. 

In your settings panel somewhere you have a toggle switch called “Advanced Mode”. 

Advanced Mode in WordPress Plugins

Advanced mode is like playing a video game on expert difficulty, it’s meant to be for agencies, developers and those who are experts in their field and need to see everything to configure each piece of the website. 

These users are generally more technically savvy and can figure out things for themselves whilst making use of official documentation and tutorials. 

Imagine how much easier it can be for your users by hiding all those pesky settings they never need after the initial setup of your plugin?

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