Blog Navigating the Pros and Cons o...
Last Updated At: 05/21/2024

Navigating the Pros and Cons of Building Plugins for Third-Party Stores!

Explore the upsides and challenges of building third-party plugins and extensions. Learn to leverage user bases, navigate policy constraints, and succeed in the Chrome Web Store and Apple App Store.

a mobile device showing a gps interface with 3rd party app stores as icons

In today's digital landscape, extending the functionality of popular platforms through third-party plugins and extensions has become a powerful strategy for developers. Whether you're enhancing productivity tools, adding unique features, or streamlining workflows, creating plugins and extensions can significantly boost user engagement and expand your product's reach. According to reports, the Chrome Web Store boasts a staggering 188,620 extensions available

However, this journey isn't without its challenges. From leveraging established user bases to navigating stringent policy constraints, building successful extensions requires strategic planning and adaptability. In this blog, we'll explore the benefits and hurdles of developing third-party plugins and extensions, offering insights and strategies to help you thrive in marketplaces like the Chrome Web Store and Apple App Store.

I truly believe that focus makes for good products, and third-party stores provide just that; focus. It is a net positive to be building on established software with a third-party marketplace: Chrome Web Store, Apple App Store, Figma’s Plugins, Shopify, Canva, Atlassian, etc… There is just so much to build!

Of course, there are some dependencies, but it comes with a lot of net upside. Let me break it down!

Being an indie hacker, who has been building the Kanban Tasks extension for Google Chrome for the past couple of months, I can break down the pros and cons of building plugins for third-party stores from my own experience;

Pros of building plugins for third-party stores

  1. Extended Reach

Third-party stores often have a broad user base, providing your plugin with exposure to a larger audience beyond your typical channels.

Given that my product targets Google Workspace power users, I anticipate a significant increase in reach and engagement within this specific audience segment. It gives you a narrow focus, for both your product and your marketing activities - you know where your users are and what they are doing! 

  1. Built-in User Base

Leveraging an existing user base of a third-party store can jumpstart your plugin's adoption as users actively search for new functionalities within the store.

Since mine is a Chrome plugin, I’m hoping to tap into an existing user base. Moreover, as I’m offering the most sought-after functionalities by Google Tasks users, hoping for increased adoption rate. Since I’m counting on the majority of my users being Google Workspace subscribers I know for sure they already have a SAAS subscription and would be willing to pay monthly for a product that adds value. I’m not breaking new ground. 

  1. Easier Discovery

Users can easily discover and install your plugin within the store's ecosystem, streamlining the user acquisition process.

I am aiming for strategic optimization of keywords, engaging visuals, and positive user reviews to make my extension easily discoverable besides taking the advantages offered by the marketplace. Additionally, I will be promoting the plugin through various channels that will enhance its visibility and encourage user downloads. Being in that marketplace already brings a sense of trust. In this case, Google already has done a vetting process on everything that is in the store. So users will trust and thus try your plugin sooner. This also means I have to take that into account when applying my subscription plans. Offer a free tier!

So in conclusion it provides focus and you already have an estimate of the established user base. But as with everything nice in the world, there are some cons too.

Cons of building plugins for third-party stores

  1. Platform Dependence

The obvious one… You are relying on a third-party store, which means your plugin's success is partially dependent on the store's policies, guidelines, and potential changes in their ecosystem. Just to name one if you are successful, you can get sniped (the official term for Apple Apps). E.g. the creator of the flashlight app was (obviously) sniped by Apple.

I totally vouch for this con. During my Kanban Tasks Extension building journey, I had to halt many times to dance to the whims and fancies of platform-specific constraints. In the midst of development Google made two significant UI changes as well. There has always been the platform risk of building on top of shifting interfaces and 3rd party dependency

Fortunately, I could (and will always try to) find workarounds, and still build something of value to my users. 

  1. Competition

Third-party stores often host a multitude of plugins, making it a competitive space where visibility can be a challenge.

Competition is intense. But as long as you have a USP, do not worry about it. Bring value to your users, interact with your users, listen to their feedback and keep on improving (shipping).

  1. Policy Constraints

You may be subject to the policies and regulations of the third-party store, potentially limiting certain functionalities or features.

Google Chrome policies have posted real challenges on my product development journey. As Google does not share many API elements, I had to find workarounds to add value to my product. 

  1. Limited Control

You have limited control over the user experience within the store's environment, and updates may be subject to the store's approval process. So if you ship a bug (which never happens of course…), it could take a while before your new version is approved with the fix. So be sure to test and check your features before shipping.

In conclusion, building plugins on third-party stores can offer significant advantages in terms of reach and discoverability. However, it comes with challenges related to competition, policy constraints, and dependence on the store's ecosystem. Careful consideration of these factors is crucial when deciding whether to leverage third-party stores for your plugin distribution.

Conclusion

We have witnessed a remarkable era of diverse software solutions flourishing within organizations. However, in the current economic climate, there's an observable trend towards organizations increasingly streamlining and unifying their software ecosystems.

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