Does WordPress have a problem?

By Martin Dower.

WordPress might be the biggest digital platform in the world, but basing your digital services on it is not without issues and risks.

I was tempted to title this article “Is WordPress Doomed?” – but it isn’t, and I don’t like clickbait. Besides, there have been folks predicting the downfall of WordPress for years.

WordPress runs 27% of the Internet. But, maybe all is not as rosy in the WordPress garden as that number would suggest. Put simply, companies do not get to this level of domination without facing serious challenges – and some of them are big enough to topple the giant. WordPress has some fantastic things on it’s side, but this article is about risks and issues.

We are a WordPress agency (in fact one of the first in the UK), so why would we be so critical? We’ll, we strive to stay ahead in the digital space (we’re not sheep) and that means a deep understanding of the marketplace and being ready to adapt to change. We love WordPress, and we recognise it’s limitations.

No f***king marketing.

In a world seemingly defined by product positioning, brand values and reach it’s amazing that WordPress has got this far. Contemporary competitors such as Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and even Godaddy spent about half a billion dollars on above-the-line advertising in 2016, versus zero for WordPress.

WordPress has reached this default position of first choice just simply because other folks use it. Much like the growth of Google, Facebook, or Amazon. And that includes some pretty high-profile organisations such as GOV.UK and a slew of emerging digital publishing platforms such as Mashable and pretty much every News Corp site including The New York Times. It really is the world’s first dominant digital publishing platform.

However, very few marketers understand the ethos, brand, value, culture or even that another company is behind WordPress. The absence of communicatiing this leaves holes for others to fill.

The fractured eco-system must improve

WordPress is not a standalone product, it needs glue to make it work and here is where WordPress can get messy.

The meteoric rise of the platform has created a skills scarcity that’s not going away anytime soon. Outside of the top WordPress agencies, the paucity of good skills and experience manifests itself in low quality agencies, inexperienced coders and a lot of bandwagon-jumpers.

The end result is often over-priced, under-delivered, poorly serviced and bloated digital projects. This all hurts WordPress in the longer term as it create unmanageable, unscalable, unusable crappy solutions that will need to be thrown away.

The race to the bottom is well underway – the skill and experience to find and secure long-term partnerships is rare and expensive. Hopefully, we will see market consolidation, increased supply of skills, and the flushing away of the crap at the bottom of the market.

Security and vulnerability risks

If you are the market-leader then you’re going to attacked and WordPress gets it’s fair share of attacks.

A lot of attacks are easily managed by having properly supported, secure web environments – but so many WordPress sites are out-of-date or insecure so attacks pose a real threat. But it’s not always the users’ fault, recently discovered holes in the WordPress REST API caused mayhem and highlight the risks associated with using such an open web platform.

Loving an 800lb gorilla is tough

27% of the world’s web traffic makes WordPress very significant, and maybe too dominating. There is comfort being in the embrace of the biggest player on the block, but one should keep an eye on what they are doing at all times.

Whilst that is channeled using good corporate governance all is well. But it doesn’t always stay that way – you may recall Microsofts lost decade? And at some point, the VCs and founders behind WordPress will want to exit, probably via an IPO, and that will change the corporate culture. It has to.

The WordPress platform is quite clearly not going away – it may have moved past “peak early adopter phase”, but there’s a lot of life left in even the current platform, easily into the next decade. Its also clear there are risks and issues, and for those organisations who don’t understand them (or who can’t find the help to address them) the risks and problems of using WordPress may simply be enough to drive them into the arms of a competitor.

Looking back 5 years (or more), I clearly recall an emotive argument within our development team around the long-term future of WordPress, addressing some of these points but also arguing that “technically, WordPress is a dinosaur”. Looking back, it might simply have been a case “I know what I like, and I like what I know”. Or maybe not.

My advice? Keep your eye on that gorilla.