Since it’s initial release in 2003, WordPress has gone from virtually unknown to the leading content management system in the world. As of right now WordPress is reportedly powering a whopping 26% of the web, with a 59.4% share of the CMS market. Compare this to its closest rival, Joomla, which has a 6% share, and you start to get an idea of how big WordPress has become.
WordPress is not only the largest CMS (by far). It is also the fastest growing. It has over 600,000,000 related searches in Google and it’s WP 4.5 update has been downloaded 25,000,000 times.
Not bad for a company that has under 500 employees.
So what is it that has allowed WordPress to dominate a competitive (and lucrative) industry so convincingly?
Well, there are a few things:
WordPress Is Open Source
When software is open source it means its source code is freely available to be distributed and modified by third parties. This makes it attractive to small businesses and organisations on a budget for several reasons. The first is that startup costs are initially lower (the software is free to download, after all). The second is the amount of customisation that can be achieved with little in the way of resources.
Open source also allows WordPress to build a collaborative and supportive community around its software, with first and third party developers continually pushing it forward with new themes and plugins that can be downloaded from online marketplaces (more on this later). Removed from the usual financial incentives of a closed source technology company, WordPress is renowned for its ‘customer first’ approach, allowing the wants and trends of its customer base to ultimately dictate the direction of future releases. This is perhaps the most important contributing factor to its enduring success.
For the non-tech savvy business owners amongst us, using an open source platform like WordPress can be a blessing. The sheer amount of documentation and help that exists online makes it far easier to solve issues than if you were tied to a different company with their own customer support team. With everything already available you don’t have to wait around to take action.
Plugins & Themes
If being open source is the basis for WordPress’ success, then its variety of plugins and themes is one of the main factors for its extraordinary growth. As was mentioned above, WordPress has some of the most extensive and well-maintained documentation of any system. This has allowed an ecosystem of developers to grow around the platform, continuously building new plugins and themes for an ever-widening market of small (and large) businesses looking to improve their digital presence.
The marketplace for WordPress themes and plugins has been beneficial for two reasons. The first is that it is lucrative. The average WordPress developer earns just shy of $50,000 (£39,345) and almost everything you need to know to kickstart your career can be learned online through various resources. The second is that, due to the ever-increasing competition in the WordPress marketplace, the standard of the product is extraordinarily high. This means end users can pick up fantastic themes and plugins for next to nothing and talented developers can become financially wealthy by selling to a mass market (like the guys behind the theme Avada, which has generated 12 million dollars in revenue throughout its lifetime).
It is one big positive loop that shows no signs of slowing down. And why should it?
Plugins are also a great way for business owners to extend the functionality of their site without employing expensive developers to build something from scratch. With a quick search of the WordPress plugin library you can do things like add social media buttons or create units for advertising, both of which can help with customer engagement and drive revenue.
As we said in the preceding point, WordPress really is a great opportunity for developers looking to earn a great living from their work. The rise of online courses and tutorials has made learning these skills far easier and, as a result, the market has grown exponentially, pushing it to even higher levels of quality.
WordPress is also absolutely fantastic at keeping its documentation updated and maintained. Its Developer Documentation, which you can see here, is a comprehensive collection of meticulously written reference guides, allowing any developer to actively contribute or modify the existing WordPress code. It covers everything; from plugins to APIs, to blogging and coding standards and, as always, everything is free to use.
Easy To Install
Back in the early days of the web setting up a CMS could be a real minefield. Even the most technically-gifted developers were often seen with their heads in their hands, looking at a screen full of random errors.
WordPress changed all of that.
As a young company with a good grasp of what their market needed they pioneered the easy set up process, making it far easier for non-tech savvy people to build and run their own content management systems. This also gave them a large advantage over their closest competitors and contributed significantly to their overall growth.
One of the main reasons for WordPress’ ease of use is their effort to ensure backward compatibility with different server software. This makes the installation process a generally smooth experience, with far less troubleshooting.
The power of a simple installation cannot be understated. In an industry fraught with complexity and jargon inaccessible to the outsider, WordPress is now synonymous with the word “simplicity”. And it’s true. It works. Everyone can get to grips with it. And the internet is a better place because of it.
Google Loves WordPress
WordPress is based in PHP and MySQL. The code is clean and simple and, as a result, is very readable for different search engines. Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s webspam team, has even gone on record to say, “sites built with WordPress are capable of ranking higher in search results because the CMS takes care of 80-90% of Google’s crawling issues.”
Much of this is due to how the content editor in WordPress works. Each page, post, and image can have its own metatags and descriptions, as well as being optimized for specific keywords that will be indexed when Google’s spiders come crawling. The result for business owners is a high probability of ranking well in the SERPs, which means organic traffic to your site and, essentially, free exposure.
The fact that almost all WordPress themes are now mobile responsive is another reason for Google’s favoritism. It has been reported that Google drives almost 96% of all mobile traffic so any site that is responsive to mobile design is going to get priority over the ones that don’t.
Your Business Will Be Secure
Unlike some other platforms, WordPress is generally very good at keeping their websites safe. However, when hacks do occur they tend to come from several sources, namely: out of date plugins and themes, out of date core software, easy to guess login credentials or poor hosting. The good news is that all of these are preventable! You can learn more by searching official WordPress documentation for security best practices.
There is also the WordPress security team, which comprises many of the lead developers and researchers in the WordPress ‘core team’. The ultimate responsibility for the safety of the platform as a whole falls to them.
The Future Of WordPress
With a community of millions and 30% of the top-ranked websites in the world as clients, what’s next for everybody’s favorite CMS system?
WordPress bet big on more media-rich posts in the future with their Project Gutenberg update (WordPress 5.0) at the end of 2018. In one of the biggest changes to date, the ‘core team’ totally reimagined and redesigned the much loved WordPress editor, fundamentally changing the way we will create content within the platform going forward.
Utilising the new block-based editor, we can now create more intuitive page layouts, work cross-device and do more with fewer plugins. It was a bold move to transform one of the platforms most popular features and time will tell how it plays out with regards to pre-Gutenberg themes and plugins. In the meantime, if you are used to doing the old way of doing things you can use the Classic Editor.
As of this writing, work is now underway for Phase 2 of the Gutenberg Project. Whereas Phase 1 was all about the big reveal of the new editor, Phase 2 will focus on 9 core areas, including merging the site health check plugin into the core platform and providing an opt-in for the automatic plugin and theme updates.
We hope this has given you an idea of what WordPress is about and where it is going. The platform and its community continues to go from strength to strength, maintaining and even growing its dominant market share, making it an easy choice for business owners looking for a fast, responsive website.