How to Build a WordPress Theme Business with Easy Digital Downloads

About a year ago, I made the decision to build a WordPress theme business.

I knew it was something I could do after playing around with the theme building process and realizing it was incredibly easy to put a working theme together.

I took to Google only to find that almost every article on how to build a WordPress theme or plugin business described the integration of several components that weren’t originally created to work together. That’s bogus.

I ran across one plugin and its extendable components that could get the job done and I was determined to use it. I did… and I built my business. Here’s how.

This is not a technical guide full of code examples. That information is specific to your software and Easy Digital Downloads. Everything stated in this article will sound very easy. That’s because it is. Don’t attempt to complicate it. Also, this article applies to WordPress themes and plugins alike.

Shipping Your WordPress Themes or Plugins

Before we get started, let’s get something clear. Laziness needs to be eliminated and fear needs to be confronted. Period.

medium_3702176604Nothing you create is ever going to be perfect. Your products will never solve everyone’s problems. You can put a dent in the needs of the majority but there will always be an unsatisfied group.

Don’t spend all of your time trying to please everyone. This goes for future customers, fellow developers, and WordPress itself.

Leave it up to everyone else and you’ll have three different versions of your software. That’s nonsense.

Write the code that’s best for the problems you’re solving [in the environment you’re doing it in] and make the transition from development mode (before shipping) to improvement mode (after shipping).

If you don’t plan to man or woman up and ship your software, just stop reading.

WordPress Theme or Plugin Business Components

There are a number of things you want to make sure your system can do in order for you to distribute your software, make money, and easily maintain your business.

  • Process financial transactions
  • Automate software distribution
  • Manage software updates
  • Optional: Manage affiliates and affiliate payments
  • Optional: Manage a support system

The amazing thing is that Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) is ready to assist you with each of these. Let’s talk about them one by one and then we’ll talk about EDD.

Process Financial Transactions

paymentsIf you want to take naps while customers buy your software, get this part right.

You’ll need a shopping cart so customers can manage their future purchases and a checkout system so they can pay you money for the items they’ve selected.

They should always be able to pay you if they have money. Period. This means you may need to accept credit cards, PayPal, or whatever your customers expect. Be flexible here if you want to get paid.

Automate Software Distribution

After purchasing, don’t make customers wait for their software unless you want drama. Almost immediately they should receive an email (or be taken to a protected area) with access to their software or instructions on how to get it.

Your system needs to do this for you. Unless you absolutely have to manually approve purchases and you have a team ready to do this for you instantly, automation is key here.

Also, considering we’re talking WordPress themes and plugins, you will most likely need a members area so customers can come back and download their software at any time.

Manage Software Updates

Let’s be real. People are spoiled and they don’t want to do any more work than what they feel they have to. That means either you or your system is expected to do the work for them.

Many theme and plugin updates can be as easy as using FTP to replace old files with new ones. “Wait… what’s FTP?”

Get it?

You’ll want your system to send some type of notification to customers that tells them a new version of your software is available. From that notification, the update steps should involve as few clicks as possible.


Again, this is not absolutely necessary. I’m just trying to save you the headache. People want 1-click updates from their WordPress dashboard. You don’t have to give them everything they want. But give them that.

Manage Affiliates and Affiliate Payments

You certainly don’t have to have an affiliate program. Why wouldn’t you, though?

If people like your product, they’re going to tell people about it anyway. That’s free marketing for you.

Yes, I said free marketing. Even if you pay a commission, it’s still free. Why? Because that affiliate reached someone you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Paying them 30% of the total purchase is not money lost. It’s actually 70% of a purchase price gained in comparison to the 0% you would have gotten from that customer had they not been referred by your affiliate. Think positive.

Manage a Support System

bbpress-support-forumsLastly, you need a system in place for customers and potential customers to contact you or your team.

Listen, no matter how simple your product is, there will always be questions. In this digital age where transactions happen quickly and reading is boring, many people will purchase your software based on what they think it should do instead of what it does.

From pre-sale questions to technical support requests to submitting bugs, this feedback you get from your customers is what will make your software better.

Allow people to respond to their experiences with your theme or plugin. They’ll be a valuable think tank behind the development and improvement of your software.

Selling WordPress Themes and Plugins Integrated with Easy Digital Downloads

Now it’s time to get into the good stuff.

Because I can’t see your software, I’m not going to get into the highly technical details here. EDD’s extensive documentation has that covered.

Instead, I’m going to point you in all the right directions. If you’re skilled enough to put together a WordPress theme or plugin, said directions are all you need from me.

As stated before, EDD is ready to handle the aforementioned components. Either through its core features or from an extension disguised as a plugin, EDD’s functionality can be tailored to your business’ needs.

Installing Easy Digital Downloads

The first thing you want to do, assuming your theme or plugin is already built (seriously… do that first), is install Easy Digital Downloads on the site you’ll be distributing your software from.

300x250EDD is free! Just as a standalone plugin with no extensions, it’s extremely powerful. Optin Agent is a business I’ve built with EDD and it uses absolutely no paid extensions. How cool is that?

Once installed, do as you always should and look through its features and settings.

Understand what it can do for you before moving forward. I’m willing to bet that at least one additional plugin you thought you’d have to use will be eliminated once you see what EDD can do.

The first two components we talked about before were processing financial transactions, which includes the shopping cart system, and automating software distribution.

Congratulations. You now have those two components.

Setting Up Easy Digital Downloads

Under your new “Downloads” menu of your WordPress dashboard, you’ll have access to all of EDD’s settings. Visit the “Settings” menu for configuration.

The settings are self-explanatory. Visit each of the tabbed pages and read each setting.

You want to make sure you have your payment details setup along with your automated emails and other miscellaneous settings.


With these basic settings configured, you’re ready to start uploading your digital downloads and making them available to the masses.

Integrating EDD Software Licensing (Automatic Updates)

This is where Easy Digital Downloads starts to show you its power.

The Software Licensing extension is what brought me to EDD in the first place. I was considering using the plugin already but as soon as I saw this extension, I made my decision and never looked back.

Understand that the licensing system does not need to be used to block functionality of your WordPress theme or plugin unless you want that.

Instead, you can use it just to allow automatic updates. For most, that’s all you’ll need.

There are two things you’ll need to do in order to use this extension.

  1. Install the extension on the site distributing your theme or plugin
  2. Integrate the software licensing code with your theme or plugin

With the software licensing code integrated with your theme or plugin, users will be able to enter the license key that is automatically generated for them at the time of purchase into your software’s options panel.

wordpress-theme-plugin-updaterThat will link their installs to the “download” entries (Custom Post Type) you’ve created on your distribution site where you host the latest version of your software.

With that connection established, simply controlling the version number of your download item will send an update nag to those using your software with an active license. No active license? No update nag.

This is bread and butter of your passive income generating WordPress theme or plugin business.

With a shopping cart, checkout system, automated software distribution, and automated update system in place, I do believe you’re ready to make money and manage your software like a professional.

Purchasing the Software Licensing extension also gives you access to the free sample theme and sample plugins that both have the extension integrated into them already.

Following the EDD documentation along with the sample software, getting the extension integrated with your software is way too easy.

Setting Up Your Affiliate Program

As stated before, an affiliate program is free marketing and more revenue. Take advantage of it.

Just like the Software Licensing extension, EDD can also be extended to work with a number of affiliate programs, including affiliate plugins fully managed right in your WordPress dashboard.

affwp-postEven better, though, is a fully dedicated affiliate marketing plugin created by Pippin, the creator of EDD. It’s called AffiliateWP and it’s designed to work with EDD as well as other ecommerce systems for WordPress.

Every aspect of my affiliate program is managed directly from my WordPress dashboard. It allows me to manage affiliates, set commissions, track referrals, and even generate PayPal mass payment files for easy payouts to my affiliates.

Again, this is all done in my WordPress dashboard! I can’t stress that enough.

Creating Your Support System

The final part of the process is setting up your support system. Sure, you can set up a contact form for a simple support ticketing system. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, if you’d like to integrate an actual support ticket script or forum, EDD has you covered there too.

Popular choices for support community managers using WordPress are bbPress and BuddyPress because they’re free and have tons of useful functionality. EDD has an integration plugin ready to integrate directly with your downloads.

Check out the rest of the support extensions for more options.

Build Your WordPress Theme or Plugin Business with Easy Digital Downloads

Remember when smartphones took over the world and we all started saying, “there’s an app for that”? Well, I’ve been saying “there’s an extension for that” for the last year or so and it carries the same exact weight.

For just about everything you’ll need to sell digital downloads online through WordPress, EDD and its extensions have you covered.

Oh, there’s an extension that helps you sell physical products too. 😉

What I outlined in this article is absolutely all you need. I know I made it sound easy… that’s because it is. Setting up certain systems in WordPress has been complicated for a long time.

Innovative individuals work hard to simplify these systems. Pippin Williamson did just that with Easy Digital Downloads. Use it.

First Image Credit: Source

  1. Nice post Sean with great insights.
    EDD is what I use as well for my Thesis skins along with Affiliates extensions and a couple more to spice it up. And I can keep writing praises about EDD, it’s one of the most powerful and easy-to-setup plugins. I remember it took me less than 15 minutes to get it up and running with all required extensions.
    “Innovative individuals work hard to simplify these systems. Pippin Williamson did just that with Easy Digital Downloads. ” I second that!

    • It’s kind of crazy how useful it is, right? I was kind of in shock myself. I still am. I’ve convinced, though. It’s easily one of the best plugins ever built for its purpose. And Pippin… what a workhorse. Definitely inspiring. One of the best things about EDD is you know it will always be supported and improved! Piece of mind goes a long way.

  2. Yes EDD has turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for a digital download site gig currently working on in thesis. Great functionality. I found this EDD plugin from following you on twitter Sean so thanks mate! Agreed Pippin’s a machine 🙂

    • I’m glad you put it to use! I’ve been raving about it for a while on Twitter now. So it’s obvious how much I like it haha.

      Tell me, how has it been integrating EDD with Thesis? Are you keeping it simple or making full EDD-based templates? I’d love to hear more about it.

  3. You’re absolutely right Sean.
    I’ve recently launched a website in which I sell digital content, and EDD has been invaluable. I have my eye on the ‘Marketplace Bundle’, and I have no doubt that it’s going to help me take my business to the next level.

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