Perspective on WordPress

I just got back from an eCommerce conference called Content and Commmerce Summit.

It was very different from the WordPress conferences I usually go to, and it gave me a lot of perspective.

I go to the same events every year, and talk to the same type of people. I love WordPress, and so do everyone at these events. We do things a certain way in the open source tech community, and we think our way is the best way.

We get into this echo chamber about how WordPress is used way more than any other publishing platform, open source is the greatest, and let’s sell more plugins and themes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s important to get out of the bubble once in a while.

It really opened my eyes going to an event where no one even said the word WordPress once. The audience at this conference was non-technical, mostly marketers selling stuff online. I watched a presentation where the presenter had slides with 20+ different recommended tools on them, and not a single mention of WordPress.

This is an eCommerce conference, WooCommerce is 41% of all eCommerce stores, and not a single person said the word WooCommerce. All I heard about was Shopify and Amazon.

Why wasn’t anyone talking about WordPress? Does it matter?

Shopify is more important than you think

I had a conversation with a friend at lunch, he sells clothing on a Shopify site. He will do over $1M in gross revenue this year. (Here’s his site)

He loves Shopify because it’s so easy to use. I mean he’s crazy about it, he doesn’t just tolerate it. He absolutely loves Shopify and thinks it’s the future. I got the feeling that most people at that conference felt the same way.

Shopify is growing fast, and they are doing really well in the enterprise space. If this conference is any indication, I think Shopify is more important than many people think. It’s not just people starting out on this platform, many of them are doing big numbers.

I asked my friend what he liked about Shopify, here are the main things I heard:

  • It’s so easy to use, really user friendly.
  • My site is super clean, I built it myself and it was really easy.
  • I can use tons of plugins (apps) to do anything I need easily.

You might make these same arguments about WordPress, but it’s not the same.

Some people say WordPress is easy to use, it’s not. When my friend said Shopify is easy to use, this is a whole different category of great user experience. This is building a site from scratch for a completely non-technical user, and them loving the end result and the experience.

Granted, Shopify is a SaaS, and they can control the user experience end to end. WordPress won’t ever have this advantage, except when other people build paid platforms on top of it. The problem is that many people don’t care if it’s a SaaS, or self-hosted, they just want it to be easy.

This is a really hard problem for WordPress to solve, it would have to be done at the host level. One-click install with a much improved onboarding experience. WordPress is a long way away from this, because it’s not just onboarding. It’s installing themes and plugins, configuring widgets and menus, building pages, and more. There’s a lot of work to be done.

I’m not bagging on WordPress, I’m just being honest. This is the biggest weakness in WordPress: that it’s not made for a great end-to-end experience for non-technical people.

Even a platform like wordpress.com that is supposed to have a better onboarding experience is not much of an improvement. I started a blog with my wife years ago on .com and she had a very frustrating experience just trying to do simple things.

WordPress is not for non-technical people

If we’re honest, the strength of WordPress is not that it’s easy to use for non-technical people. It’s an open-source platform that is easy for developers to extend and customize for clients.

The reason it’s so popular is that people are using it for their blog only, or agencies and freelancers are building them more complex sites. The experience my friend had setting up his Shopify store does not exist with WordPress. Non-technical users don’t get a domain, hosting, setup WooCommerce, an SSL cert, a payment gateway, a premium theme, a few other plugins, and then rave about how easy it was. That does not happen.

Do you know how many steps there are to setting up a self-hosted WordPress site with WooCommerce, a theme, and a few plugins? It’s a daunting task for a newcomer, they will most likely end up frustrated.

WordPress is great for B2B. Companies with money can pay an agency to build their site, and their team can learn how to use it.

It’s great for people with a low budget who are curious about learning new tech, and really want to own their data. They can learn how to use it and build their own site if they are motivated.

There is a large contingent of people who just want to get stuff done, they don’t want to fuss with the tech. They don’t care about open source or owning their data. They don’t want to install a theme and setup their widgets, or search thousands of results to find the best SEO plugin. They don’t want to setup “managed hosting”, an SSL certificate, or a payment gateway. They just want to sell their products and make money as fast and easily as possible.

This community is not being served by WordPress.

What should we do differently?

This article is not a manifesto that WordPress core needs to change course, or we all need to jump ship to Shopify.

This post is a set of observations from one person going to one conference, so take it with a grain of salt. I still love WordPress.

I think core is making some great strides in improving the UX, including the theme customizer and Gutenberg. The problem is that these are silos of improvement, we are still a long way from an end to end experience that rivals Shopify.

How much does it matter? Does WordPress need to be the best solution for non-technical users?

I don’t know.

The point is that we don’t hear about this stuff if we are only talking in an echo chamber. We need to pay attention to what other technologies are doing better than WordPress, and acknowledge it. Then learn and get better.

We need to look at trends and opportunities that exist outside our comfort zone, even if that means building a site for a client that doesn’t use WordPress (gasp!)

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