On May 31, 2017 I’ve got an interesting message in my Inbox:
I work on the Facebook partnership team and would like to connect with you on how we can work together.
But this was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It was, in fact, the start of a strange dialog between a gigantic company (Facebook), and a very small WordPress plugin developer (me). A dialog full of nice words, interesting discussions, a great dinner, and a bit of back-stabbing.
I am Cristian Stoicescu, the guy behind a WordPress plugin called PixelYourSite, and this is my story.
When I opened that message, I had to read it a few times. It was coming from the right domain (fb.com), so it had to be genuine. But it was still quite unbelievable. I never imagine Facebook will contact me. I was curious and happy.
In 2017 PixelYourSite already had tens of thousands of users and it was doing great. The only tag we implemented back then was the Facebook Pixel, and we had a few unique and powerful features.
After a couple more emails, I had a pleasant video chat with the head of Facebook’s Partners Team. The plugin was known to them, and they love it. Wasn’t this the best news ever?
We kept in touch and exchange messages now and then.
It was during this time that I found out that they were working on their own pixel plugin. Eventually, they will develop not one, but two pixel-plugins, both in partnership with Automatic (the owner of WordPress and WooCommerce).
Competing with a Facebook/WordPress developed plugin was kind of scary, but hey, what can you do! I thought that adding strong features will be enough for PixelYourSite to survive.
I also thought that expanding the plugin to other tags would help.
This is when we started to add Google Analytics, Google Ads Remarketing tag, Pinterest, and eventually Bing.
The product was growing, the number of users was growing. We were not just surviving, we were doing great.
The dialog between me and Facebook continued with sporadic emails and a few video chats. As per coincidence, the exchange intensified before and during important steps of their pixel related plugins. Immediately after reading one of the nice messages, I was looking for any updates or progress with their plugins.
The first minor conflict
PixelYourSite free version is hosted by the WordPress plugins directory. We have to follow their rules, and they have tremendous power over small developers.
One day I noticed an email from WordPress in my inbox. It said that I need to change the plugin’s name immediately, or it will be removed from the directory. Why? Facebook has demanded so. Plugin’s names can’t start with “Facebook”. Back then, the plugin’s title was “Facebook Pixel by PixelYourSite”.
No problem! I can change it to “PixelYourSite: manage your Facebook Pixel”. I ask if this is alright, and I get a positive answer. Change, commit, all good. No service disruption.
The change didn’t affect our search ranks in the WordPress directory at all. Back then Facebook’s plugins were still in BETA, and not available through the WordPress directory. Almost any other competitor had a similar issue, so we were all equals. PixelYourSite was still ranking first for the key search, “Facebook Pixel”.
An invitation and a great dinner
Things were doing great for PixelYourSite. We reached a hundred thousands users, sales for our paid version were better than ever, new features were added. The plugin was consolidating its position as a WordPress tag manager. We supported Google Analytics and Pinterest with our free version, and Google Ads with our paid one. Bing would soon follow.
But the Facebook Pixel was still our main working horse. People knew us for it, and we were good.
The relation with Facebook was also blooming. We started to get in contact with their East-European partners’ team, and an invitation to their Praga offices soon followed.
The visit took place at the beginning of 2019. A full day of contacts, discussions, video conferences, followed by a great dinner. I went home with my mind spinning.
Facebook loves this small plugin.
They respect it.
They want to help. “How can we help you?”. They want to help me!
They also showed me some incredible numbers. The number of active plugin users, and the revenue generated by them. It was mind-blowing.
They made me guess it first, and I was quite generous with my guessing. And yet, the actual number was 6 times bigger. I could not believe it. I can’t make it public, because I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But you would be surprised, I guarantee it.
The crocodile bite
After the visit, we kept in touch. A few things were implemented, but not much. This wasn’t very important, because I never relied on their help. I had my plans, my users to take care of.
The competition was getting harder. The Facebook – WordPress developed plugins were added to the WordPress plugins directory. I knew that staying in the game will get harder and harder. But I had my users, I need to think of them. It will be fine!
The best part of it, in WordPress directory PixelYourSite was still ranking first for “Facebook Pixel”, followed by Facebook’s own plugin. That was nice.
25 September 2019 I was on a short holiday in Sicily. The weather was perfect, the food was great. When I got back to my room and opened my email I saw a message from WordPress in my inbox. It’s urgent and is bad. Very bad!
They told me that the plugin was temporarily removed from the directory because Facebook asked them to do it.
This was not a warning, they removed it!
The reason was simple: Facebook doesn’t want any plugin to use the word “Facebook” in the plugin’s title. Only they can use it.
It was fine to use it before, I was given the OK by the WordPress review team, but yet, the plugin was removed without a warning.
They didn’t tell me to change the name or face the consequences. They acted first and explained later.
The first time the name problem happened there were no Facebook – WordPress developed plugins in the directory. This time they were two. This time it was different.
I immediately changed the plugin’s name, removing “Facebook” as instructed. I hoped for a quick fix, but I was told that removed plugins must pass a security check first. So no, not a quick fix, after all, I had to wait. This time was different.
I didn’t want Facebook’s help, I didn’t ask for it. I was just hoping for some fair treatment. They knew how to contact me. They did it before. Why not drop an email asking for the name change? Why the bullying?
And then WordPress themselves. Why not do the same as before? I followed their instructions when renaming the plugin. They said it was alright. Why should they remove it with no warning?
My first reaction was “fuck it, I won’t do anything Facebook-related anymore!”. But then I realized is not just about me and my team’s work, is not about Facebook either. It’s about the plugin’s users. They trusted PixelYourSite, they relied on it for such an important job. They are the one that matters.
I’ve written this article in the heat of the moment, during the 27 hours the plugin was suspended. Those 27 hours felt like 27 weeks back then. Once things settled, I wasn’t sure that I should publish it. Eventually, I decided to do it. The tone might be a bit overdramatic, but the facts are all real. It’s an insight into the existence of a very small business, with its ups and downs. And it’s not like all the world is going to read it, just a few of our old-time users that care for this blog. And you deserve some personal insights 🙂
Is PixelYourSite still available on WordPress plugin directory?
Yes, it is! After some back and forth with the WordPress review team, the plugin was re-approved.
What is PixelYourSite?
PixelYourSite is a popular WordPress plugin that helps you manage pixels and tags. It has fantastic Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics integrations. It offers a Pinterest Tag integration via a free add-on, plus a Bing Tag paid add-on. It lets you implement any other script using a smart Head & Footer option. PixelYourSite has a free version available on WordPress plugin directory, and a paid one, available on www.pixelyoursite.com
Was PixelYourSite breaking WordPress rules when using Facebook in its title?
No, it wasn’t! These are their terms when this article is published: “Plugins may not start with a trademarked term or name of a specific project/library/tool unless submitted by an official representative”. The bold part is theirs.
Is PixelYourSite affiliated to Facebook?
No, PixelYourSite is by no means affiliated to Facebook, Google, Pinterest, or Bing. We simply offer a smart way of implementing their tracking tags. And we plan to add some more!
Was Facebook’s coffee any good?
Yes, it was alright. The Sicilian cappuccino was way better!