I’ve had a few conversations lately with friends who build WordPress websites for clients, and I was surprised to hear all of them say things have slowed down.
I thought at first it might just be a certain segment, or maybe just the smaller shops. I asked around and it seems this slowdown is affecting everyone from 2 person shops to a 100+ employee agencies. This information is coming straight from the shop owners.
The biggest question I wondered is: why?
I believe there are several factors, some of which are obvious. There is one that surprised me, but it makes total sense when you hear it.
Let’s look at why there’s a slowdown, what it means, and what is growing instead.
Saturation and Slowing of WordPress Growth
When you look at the big data sites like w3techs or builtwith, it doesn’t look like WordPress growth is slowing. However, I’m not sure how those sites collect their data, how accurate it is, or what we can infer from the data.
Just because there are more WordPress sites doesn’t mean there is more money flowing into the ecosystem. They could be mostly hobby sites that will never pay a dime, who knows. As website builders like Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify get better and better, they are inevitably going to take customers away from WordPress. I’m not qualified to make a ruling on this, so let’s assume WordPress is still growing at a good pace. That would mean that the services market is getting over-saturated.
A few months ago I wrote about how the WordPress product market reached a saturation point. I think client services may be there now, or has been there for a while.
There are just so many agencies and freelancers out there, and sites like Upwork and Codeable are making it easier for clients to find them.
Saturation, website builders, and slow growth may be contributing to the problem, but I think the second point is even more important.
The Technology Adoption Curve and Less Major Changes on the Web
WordPress was in a hyper-growth period for many years, but that may be over now. It’s hard to say for certain, but it feels like we are on the downward slope of the technology adoption curve.
Since 2003 WordPress has been continually adding major features like a modernized admin design, custom post types, and a REST API. The digital landscape was also changing quickly in that period, most notably with a shift towards mobile.
During that time there were millions of businesses with outdated websites either using static HTML or a clunky CMS system. Updating to WordPress provided them with a way to publish to their site without needing a developer. They also needed to update their sites to be responsive, and they needed freelancers and agencies to help. There was work to be done everywhere, and there weren’t as many people competing for that work.
After the shift to mobile, the big changes stopped coming. WordPress continued to improve over the last couple of years, but nothing came out that was as game-changing as custom post types or mobile responsiveness (The WP-API was game-changing, but not in a way that caused clients to redo their sites en-masse). A regular business that already used WordPress could just press the update button and enjoy, they didn’t need an agency to do a full redesign.
Now, most of the businesses that wanted to update to a modern CMS have already done so. They are happy with their current system, even if it still needs some improvement. That means there is less work for the companies that make their money off of full website build-outs.
Many more agencies have formed to meet the demand, but now that demand is slowing. Less demand and more supply explains why client work is slowing down.
That’s not to say there isn’t work out there, because there is still plenty. No one I talked to is going out of business or even downsizing. Some are re-thinking their position in the market, and looking for new opportunities with products. The smart business owners will notice this shift in the market and re-think their strategy to keep pace.
If Agencies are Slowing, Who is Growing?
Products and maintenance providers.
Companies like WP Site Care and Valet have been killing it (as far as I can tell), and it all makes sense to me now. As the demand decreased for full website build-outs, it increased for small fixes and maintenance. There have been more and more of these maintenance companies popping up to meet this demand.
Products can still do well in the current landscape, because they can be tacked on to an existing website with minimal cost. As I’ve written about before, the product game is getting more and more competitive, but I believe demand is still high for great products.
If I were starting a new business I would be looking at adding value to an existing web presence instead of building new websites. That could mean improving on an existing product, marketing, SEO, maintenance, etc. As with any business, being better in a unique way is critical no matter what you do.
I think there is still plenty of work for website builds and redesigns, and there will always be. It looks like the market is normalizing, which is healthy and expected. Those who were riding the wave of accelerated growth will have to adjust to these new conditions, and find different ways to thrive.
Do you agree with my assessment of the market? Are you seeing these trends in your business? Let me know in the comments.
After posting this article a lot of people commented that they have not slowed down at all. Others are saying last year was slow but it’s picking back up now. I heard this from both small and medium size agencies. I still think market conditions are changing, but not everyone is being affected the same way.