The blue-collar WordPress worker and the 2,500+ websites built to grow the CMS
I’m not foolish enough to think that the entirety of WordPress’ growth is driven by our love for the software, but that we consultants are responsible for a sizeable portion of it. A portion that shouldn’t be ignored and one that should be welcome to the discussion more often.
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I know many of you are like me, we don’t run 100+ person agencies, we don’t have 1mil+ plugin downloads, and we haven’t been contributing code to core for the last decade. However, what we do share in common is a life of servicing customers in the online business space. Servicing customers or our local community by way of building websites — helping organizations amplify their message.
This act of service is deeply rooted in using our favorite tool, WordPress.
Sure, we’re talking less and less about the tech side of things lately, but we know that it delivers a massive advantage as a platform to our customers. An advantage that might not matter to them in the short-term, but in the long-term sustainability of their business.
While many might join the ranks of offering WordPress services simply for the fact that it represents a big market to cash in on — and we all know that person — I believe many of us are in it for the right reasons:
- Promote the use of open source software.
- Give our customers a chance to own a sliver of their online presence and/or data.
- Provide a flexible & sustainable platform for future opportunity.
- Earn an honest living through service.
It’s at this point where I begin to disagree with a part of Matt Mullenweg’s theory of WordPress’ growth. Granted, he has a WAY better vantage point from atop a tower of data that I (we) don’t have access to. I’m relying on my own gut instinct, naivety, and feedback from my audience to deliver this message — take it for what it’s worth.
Who is responsible for all of this WordPress?
A business can’t survive without strong sales & customer service, two competencies that are arguably the lifeblood of a company.
Many of you reading this fill that exact gap for the open source WordPress project. I don’t mean this as a slight to the thousands of wonderful people that build the software, document it, and support it in the forums, but that consultants (doing it right or wrong) are also fueling this locomotive too.
There are no official sales or customer service channels at WordPress.org and us consultants bear the brunt of it — for better or worse — and that’s where our job comes in. Just as you trust a core contributor to spot-check her code and ensure that we’ve sanitized all the things!
Consultants are the boots on the ground, and as you’ll see below in my feedback section, represent a disproportionate ratio of launching many more websites than an individual website owner. Mullenweg alludes to the end-user (what I’m calling the solo site owner) as the driving force behind growth. He might (probably does, can we have it please?) have more data than me, but on the flip side, it might be a vanity metric. If you count all the 1-click installs on GoDaddy or .com installs, perhaps, but how many of them were influenced or eventually turned to a professional to take over the reigns?
Just back-of-the-napkin math, a consultant might launch 50-to-1 websites in a year versus an individual blogger or business owner launching their first and only website. What happens when that number compounds over 5 years? On paper, I’m responsible for 500+ WordPress sites in the wild not counting the hundreds of other people online and in my local community I’ve influenced over the years.
I’m sure you’re in a similar boat as an individual or team that is responsible for the growing adoption of WordPress.
Thank you for that. Thank you to everyone else that makes this project possible.
1-to-many vs. 1-to-1
Again, maybe I’m just naive but out of the 500 websites I’ve helped build in some way, roughly 70% of the list counted on me to sell them on the software and support it. I was sales + customer service for the open source CMS. I was the face of their decision and the person they relied on to get it all working.
You too, I’m sure.
I could have offered Drupal, Expression Engine, or Squarespace and my customers would have bought it regardless. Many of my WordPress peers are making that same adjustment today. Sure, I would still have to support it regardless, but those applications and parent companies have an easier story to tell.
The waters aren’t muddied. You pay for a product, you know the expectations.
Matt, if you’re reading, do you know how hard it is to explain to someone new in this space what the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is? Add Jetpack, an Automattic company, to the mix and heads begin to explode. Especially when in-app ads cause uncertainty.
When you compete with yourself
Step outside of the WordPress bubble for a moment and imagine selling a product that competes with itself. Think of the confusion and apprehension a customer might feel when hearing that you have another paid alternative that’s getting coined as an “easier all-in-one” alternative or “made by the team behind WordPress…dot com. I’ve actually been there before, selling Chevrolet’s when customers would ask “What about GMCs?” Two of the EXACT same products, by the same company — different badges.
We all know how that turned out, General Motors went bankrupt. Maybe not directly because of mixed-brand recognition, but certainly adding this line of confusion didn’t help. They axed Pontiac and Oldsmobile because as a result — the least performant of the mix.
Enter in: sales. That’s where us consultants spend time selling. The story, the benefits, the future growth.
Blue-collar WordPress workers need a seat at the table
I consider myself a blue-collar digital worker.
I’m pulling at the strands of “WordPress” as it begins to move away from me. Jetpack + .com + Gutenberg are reshaping the opportunity we once knew into something — else.
A lot of what we do has already been commoditized in the last two years and it’s only getting worse. I’m a believer that once the market corrects, we will discover new inroads, but for now, we fight to find ways to earn. I don’t know about you, but I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands a lot dirtier navigating these uncharted seas.
On one hand, everyone has a SaaS, a podcast, an info product, or an agency to service customers. On the other, Jetpack and .com set their sites directly on consultants & product creators to ramp up their own revenue efforts potentially squeezing us out of the middle-market. I’ll let you formulate your own caricature of the upper-class vs. middle-class in this context.
Don’t lose sight of us
When I first had Matt on the show, it was off of his remarks that Jetpack was responsible for a large portion of the growth of WordPress. A comment that was almost thrown out or lost in the shuffle. To that I say:
- What about the free/paid plugins?
- What about the free/paid themes?
- How have these helped boost the adoption of WordPress?
See, even some many years ago, Matt knew where Jetpack was going as a monetization platform that we weren’t aware of, yet. Now it’s staring us down the barrel of its golden money gun. Jetpack was about to take on the feature set and revenue share of other plugins — big and small — in the market.
And now, as I write this piece, I feel that the same squeeze play will begin with consultants. Not by taking away our livelihood, or that VIP will launch a services business, but that we’re not being considered to shape the product as our clients use it.
I am so very passionate about the guidance of WordPress because it represents free speech, the democratization of publishing, and the livelihood of so many hard-working people around the globe. see: heropress.com
- I respect the decisions being made from core & Auotmattic and expect the same in return that our collective voices are heard — regardless if we can contribute code or not. That not all of WordPress growth comes from a fancy feature or a new design language think tank, but from how real world people are using the software.
- I yearn for the ambitious days where WordPress wanted to be the operating system for the web and not settle as just a Wix competitor.
- I want to connect my refrigerator to a custom post type via the REST API — well — because I can.
I celebrate everyone that contributes to WordPress’ success from the smallest line of code to the sponsorship donations at WordCamps. You all have built something truly worthy of global recognition. If you’ve not yet contributed in your own way yet, I ask that you start however you see fit. A blog post, a YouTube video, or join over at make.wordpress.org.
Either direction you take, it’s important you make your voice and opinions heard. Like Mullenweg said before me, I too believe that what got us here won’t get us there — a better software for all.
It’s up to us to get involved
While I feel that new mediums must be created for greater community feedback, we have some tools and places you can go to get involved. If you want to effect change, visit the following channels or conferences:
- Get involved here: https://make.wordpress.org/
- The Make.WordPress Marketing group: https://make.wordpress.org/marketing/
- The Make.WordPress Community https://make.wordpress.org/community/
- WordCamp central https://central.wordcamp.org/
- Learn more about starting your own meetup: https://make.wordpress.org/community/meetups/
- Get more involved on Twitter!
- Join a WordPress professionals group like WP Elevation or Post Status
Who’s responsible for all the WordPress growth?
The following list of quotes & feedback comes from a question I sent to my newsletter based on Scott Bollinger’s post, Perspective on WordPress. Consider joining to stay connected. I’m incredibly proud of the feedback I received, not just because someone took the time to respond, but because of how diverse these answers are.
I hope you all use this feedback from my valuable audience to understand how we all define the growth of WordPress.
I’m early on in my freelance career, but I do think we as WordPress Experts and consultants we are responsible for a large amount of WordPress’s growth. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about holding on to my clients and always being on hand to support them to grow online, after the website is launched. No one wants to see abandoned WordPress sites sitting sad! — @deandevelops 5 WordPress websites
WordPress’ growth as a platform is primarily the outcome of a large community of independent creators who want to publish multiple ideas without technical limitations – that’s why WordPress is used and promoted by so many technophiles. — Brennan Bliss 40 – 60 WordPress websites
The WordPress Growth is facilitated through adoption. Adoption specifically by developers, integrators and service providers. It’s also facilitated by time. At the time of WordPress’ birth, there were few alternatives that did it as well as WordPress. That though was a double-edged sword, by identifying the need we established a new market.
When I sit back and look, site builder platforms can be to WordPress, as WordPress was to Typepad and other solutions 10 years ago. They’ve gone one step further in the simplification process, and similar to WordPress, are building their network on adoption with developers and integrators. Interestingly enough, they don’t require service providers.
One of the very interesting things about WordPress was it’s ability to build a new economy for developers / integrators. Very few other platforms were able to do the same. This new economy propelled the platform forward. Today however, new economies are being built on site builders – Shopify being the most prevalent. Five years ago, when talking to website owners WordPress would be common language, these days the conversation starts with website builders first, WordPress second or third. When asked why, the responses are almost always uniform – it’s too much to deal with.
So yes, there has been growth. That’s undeniable. But there is also a slow down in it’s adoption, and I’m not sure downloads numbers count as an accurate measurement to best represent adoption. I travel the world, speak to a great number of website owners and small business, and at an alarming rate I am seeing a shift in the conversation around the solutions they use. There was a time when I would spend time with the Joomla! community and I would ask them what they work on. Almost sheepishly they would always mutter, out of ear shot, they build WordPress sites on the side to keep the lights on. These days, much to my surprise, from WordPress dev’s, I hear – I built and support [insert site build platform] on the side too. I find this to be a fascinating trend, and a strong indicator of what these platforms are contributing to the market.
Our successes tomorrow won’t be based on how amazing we were yesterday. Yesterday we fit a need, today that need is being satisfied by so many others. — Tony Perez a lot of WordPress websites
A big % of WordPress growth has been agencies/consultants pushing it. Clients want a site that’s done and maintainable. They use whatever platform we say is best. — John Locke 65+ WordPress websites
I believe the growth in WordPress usage is because it is easy to learn, free to use, and the community support is amazing! — Jay Van Houtte 7 WordPress websites and counting.
I agree with Scotts wife it was super hard to figure out this platform. I build square and wix sites now and had to code my first ecommerce site back in 1998. Then I was off grid for about 7 years and came back to a whole new world.
I spent endless hours working it and with chat help and I almost bailed. I only stay on for the social media aspect of it.
I admin some facebook pages but am just me on my one wordpress site. — Gretchen Mauer No longer user WordPress
Open source FREE, plugin selection, popular Word camps and awesome developer community are the reason behind growth — Ronik Patel 120+ WordPress websites
WordPress is growing because of its enormous value to small businesses; it provides a great deal of autonomy and value to the end user. — Seth Shoultes 100+ WordPress websites 40,000 active plugin installs
WordPress’ power is its flexibility. I can design whatever I want, and the client can easily update content. We both do what we do best. — Lisa Cerezo roughly ~150 WordPress websites
The growth of WP definitely comes from non-technical users. Developers are the foundation, but users are rockets! — Anh Tran 80 WordPress websites
WordPress has grown not because everyday users prefer it, but because the people *that they trust* prefer it. — Aaron Hockley 25+ WordPress websites
There are tons of free resources for learning more and a plugin to do just about anything, making it one of the most accessible yet flexible web building tools around. — Jackie Latham 50+ WordPress websites
I’ve probably influenced over 1000 people to become aware or use of WordPress – at least.
From my perspective, one major factor for WordPress growth is the technical and creative industries advocating WordPress (agencies/designers/devs), and the community creating paid/free plugins pushing the limit of what WordPress can do and thus making it a perfect fit for so many needs.
Extra comment: If the industry as a whole had seen a better CMS as an option in the past, WordPress would have faded to the background like all the others that didn’t have a commercial industry sitting alongside it to drive it forward.
Extra summary: It’s grown through advocacy. — Paul Lacey 250+ WordPress websites
I would bet only a handful of my clients, in the history of my business, would have found WordPress on their own without me. The setup process for anything other than a basic blog is too much for average users in my experience. A lot of my clients are in an industry with high turnover and it’s a constant struggle to onboard new employees on the inner workings of the WordPress admin. — Brian Link 15 WordPress websites
WP has grown because people view it as all free or they think they want/need more control. — Corey Maass 24+ WordPress websites
WP has grown quickly because of the helpful inclusive community, enthusiasm of builders and developers, ease-of-use, and the GPL. — Eric Amundson 500+ WordPress websites
I think WordPress grows in tune with the democratic back-bone of the internet. Sure we cane it for business, but ultimately wp represents the freedom to self-publish and the boundary-less opportunity of the net itself. — Woody Hayday 500+ WordPress websites
I attribute the growth of WordPress to the quality, simplicity, and extensibility of the product and the diverse and perpetually generous community supporting it. — Brian Dusablon 75+ WordPress websites
In the early days Matt had to differentiate and position WP as a non-technical platform during the days of strong Joomla and Drupal presence. Now with clear dominance in the CMS market and its size of not just users but of the support community, technical support community I might add, is the result of its learning curve. Because WP was never a WYSISWYG Squarespace experience. — Vadim Mialik 70+ WordPress websites
Besides all the great WordPress sites on the Web, there are also countless dead, half-finished or poor SEO link bait sites. — Lisa McMahon 200+ WordPress websites
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