Market Share and Version Control

Is WordPress getting too hard? Are the masses really leaving? How big is the moat that keeps WordPress safe?

The same questions year after year. (I even found a post I wrote about it for MasterWP two years ago). That’s not to say they’re unimportant questions- in fact they’re probably more important than ever. WordPress got really big for an open source project. Is that sort of momentum sustainable or even desirable?

Market Share & Market Fit

There’s definitely a consensus that WordPress’ market share has plateaued around 40% of the web. More than it, it seems that much of that market share is based on older websites, and that if you just look at newer sites, the number is much less. That’s the premise of Noel Tock’s must-watch presentation The Future of WordPress from WordCamp Asia this year.

At least anecdotally, the use case for WordPress is smaller than in the past. I used to be a “build everything in WordPress” person, but I’ve shifted to using Laravel for more complex applications and recommending simpler landing page builders for very small businesses or personal sites. I’ve made the mistake of pointing friends/family members to WordPress when what they really wanted was something like Squarespace.

I would love to say that WordPress is still a great “website builder” for those small 5-page marketing sites that used to be our bread and butter, but that’s less and less the case. As long as WordPress keeps the “blog” as the central concept, instead of landing pages, it’ll be more attracive to go build your small marketing site on something like Squarespace or Canva. WordPress is complicated and the internet isn’t really expected to be “complicated” for the average user anymore.

For content creators, you’d think WordPress would be a perfect fit, but it’s losing ground there as well. Substack and Ghost are easier solutions for newsletter writers than whatever WordPress has to offer (Jetpack? Some other plugin?). WordPress is missing out on the Fediverse momentum with Ghost and Threads on their way to beating WordPress (and Tumblr) to full Activity Pub support. Even WooCommerce is struggling to define it’s value proposition against Shopify. Search Engine Optimization (once WordPress’ strong suit) is starting to lose it’s grip as the “most important thing” for publishers as users (and Google itself) turn to LLMs with their queries.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love WordPress, especially as a CMS (when you have a lot of content). Blocks are great for publishing as (sorta) structured data and then reusing it in other “headless” tools, like mobile and web apps. As platforms like Webflow impose stricter pricing on sites with more content/traffic, WordPress will continue to win out, especially if your site is constantly publishing or if you want your content available across multiple mediums.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a narrowed focus that tries to be really good at fewer things. But will more than 40% of websites need what WordPress is currently offering?

Built to Scale

The problem is that much of the WordPress ecosystem as we know it is- like tech in general- built for growth and scale. Large hosting companies can’t compete without continued growth, without more, more, more. Even the plugin companies, page builders, and larger agencies need a steady income of new WordPress sites coming online at scale.

Right now WordPress is mostly useful for a specific type of complicated website build, one where SEO, content, and personalization are mission critical. WordPress still really shines for “complicated,” which is probably why hosting companies suddenly seem more interested in developers than DIYers.

If you’re a medium-sized agency, you might be more insulated from the larger shift away from WordPress because you don’t need scale and exponential growth, you operate with fewer customers who are (for now) more valuable and “high end”. That said, we are part of a larger ecosystem, so that broader health is important, especially if those companies are the ones giving back to the open source project.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more hosting and plugin companies slowly stepping back their generosity to the community and focusing more on squeezing out their existing customers. I’m sure you can feel it already.

Where to?

The WordPress user base is evolving, and WordPress needs to evolve to meet it. One big evolution is Gutenberg, and I’m still excited about the trajectory of the visual editor.

Just last week I met with a client as she worked on populating content to their new WordPress site. She raved about the block editor and how much fun she was having filling out and tweaking all the custom patterns we’d built. There really is potential and every year I feel like we’re just one more year away from feeling really good about blocks and site editing.

So where does WordPress go from here? WordPress used to be the “anything store” with 60,000 plugins, a theme directory, a pattern directory, an free image directory and a million other things. The problem is that all of them are not… great. They’re not bad but they’re not… great.

I wrote a while back that WordPress needs a suite of canonical plugins that take away the burden of choice: a core solution for SEO, forms, subscriptions, etc. They don’t have to be nearly as powerful as the premium options, but they should solve basic needs (think 80/20 rule) and feel extremely native, as if they’re built into core itself. That said, I’m not sure who would actually do this work.

In his talk, Noel makes a really strong case for integrations as the next frontier that WordPress needs to dive into. Yes, there are a ton of plugins for things like ConvertKit or Salesforce, but is there one really good one that we can recommend? It’s a really great point and it definitely has me thinking. In fact, I would put it in place of Data Liberation as a project priority. True data liberation would be the ability to use core WordPress with your other software, keeping WordPress relevant, not trying to pretend like migrating content from Wix is what’s holding WordPress back.

WordPress loves jazz, and I think “jazz” is the perfect metaphor. Jazz started out as revolutionary, counter-cultural, and freeform, but it has become a bit stiff, outdated, dogmatic, niche, and mostly still relevant in the public sector (NPR <==> NASA).

I’m still optimistic about WordPress, but I also think it’s ok to be realistic about the future and about the project itself, rather than just a cheerleader offering vague inspirational platitudes. The broader ecosystem is undergoing dramatic change, and that change will effect all of us. What do you think?

Other Exciting Things…

Version Control Livestream this week

Are you a WordPress developer or builder? This week I’ll be hosting a livestream going over the basics of version control with Mark J Szymanski. This is not going to be a technical breakdown: Instead Mark asked if we could talk high level ideas on a livestream- what really is version control for WordPress, when do you need it, and what problems does it actually solve? Join us and please jump into the live chat! Releases Studio

Last week released Studio, a new local development tool. I offered my thoughts- and compared it to Local WP – on my YouTube channel:

WordPress 6.6 Roadmap

The great Anne McCarthy wrote up a Roadmap to 6.6 for the Make WordPress blog. I would say it mostly aligns with my last newsletter (5 Promising PRs – a WordPress 6.6 Wishlist) with a few surprises that I wasn’t expecting. We’ll see how it shakes out as we get closer to release.

That’s everything on my mind this week. How do you feel about the future of WordPress? Let me know. Thanks for reading and hope to see you online.

Brian Coords
Modern WordPress Development

Learn Modern WordPress Development

I’m sharing the best resources and tutorials for developers building in and on the block editor.

One response to “Market Share and Version Control”

  1. James Fallon Avatar
    James Fallon

    I came from the “Front Page” era of website design and I was and still am just doing the simplest of sites. I remember studying what the “best” software was supposed to be and all the articles at the time pointed to WP. Then I started using it and I was totally baffled by it.

    I STILL struggle with the template hierarchy, and I think this is the major PIA for anyone who “needed to be pointed to Squarespace” instead.

    They shouldn’t need to be pointed to Squarespace, WordPress needs an environment for those folks, Guttenberg is good enough for me so far, but not ready for those folks yet. They should be cultivating that crowd, not letting them get away. I almost thought could be for them, but then I drowned in all the upsells, I like many others have subscription fatigue and am currently in rebellion against it.

    I have dropped my Page Builder (subscription) and moved to stock block 6.5 and am striving for as few plugins as possible. I do feel like a new easier to use era has come with Block Editor. But the Squarespace crowd wants a few pages, and no confusion about the Home Page, or is it Front Page, or is it Index or that whole mess. To regular people it’s a mess, to the WP Dev crowd it must make some kind of sense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.