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WordPress is used by 33% of all websites: What makes it such a popular CMS?

The publishing landscape has evolved significantly over the past decade. Yet, WordPress continues to be the go-to CMS choice for online magazines and corporate blogs.

According to W3Techs, WordPress is used by 33.2 percent of all websites. The platform has been acquiring 2 percent on average over the past eight years.

Both digital magazines and small business websites have contributed to the ongoing growth, closely competing with other hosted website builders and occasionally, CMS platforms such as Drupal or Joomla.

So, what are the key reasons publishers select WordPress for their online presence? Let’s dive into the history of the project and its rich feature set in order to find out.

WordPress launched as a blogging platform

Unlike other web management platforms, WordPress was initially designed as a blogging platform back in 2003. Its roots can be traced back to b2/cafelog, developed in 2001 as a “classy news/weblog tool” primarily aimed at bloggers.

An infamous transition in competitive blogging tools like Movable Type in 2004 and 2005 has piqued the interest of tens of thousands of bloggers slowly moving over. The ongoing development of WordPress has been predetermined by its initial audience.

In contrast, Wix, a popular hosted alternative of WordPress started in 2006, openly offers a blogging feature set to its own users.

Its own blog was actually hosted on until mid-February (now finally transitioned to their own infrastructure).

A platform started by bloggers for bloggers simply would not omit critical features for journalists and publishers.

A fully-fledged content management system

Since blogging has evolved significantly since 2003, WordPress has followed suit.

By 2010 (and its major 3.0 release), the platform has turned into a complete content management system, effectively handling various data types and collections, and supporting ecommerce and social features.

Publishing has since become more competitive. Ad-driven publications are more sophisticated, employing programmatic ads via header bidding platforms. Others have been relying on paid memberships or launching digital forms of print magazines.

Expanding upon a core feature set and growing into different directions (depending on the dynamic evolution of a magazine) has been possible with WordPress. Freedom, combined with unparalleled flexibility, fueled the platform for the coming decade.

An intuitive learning curve for bloggers and hobbyists

From my own current vantage point, our most prominent buyer persona is a marketing director joining a new company, planning a website rebuild on top of WordPress.

Marketers have been using WordPress for various reasons: running their own weblogs, maintaining corporate websites, and submitting guest posts. Some have even bootstrapped their own consultancies or ecommerce platforms for training courses or digital items.

Chances are, they will progress and take on strategic marketing roles throughout their careers, work with other industry professionals, and hire additional humanpower well-versed in WordPress, too.

This continuous nurturing on top of WordPress as a foundational publishing framework has inevitably positioned WordPress as one of the leading solutions whenever a new platform is discussed with senior executives and the technical leadership team.

100 percent control over design considerations

Headless web applications and decoupling content management systems are gaining more popularity over the last three years.

Prior to this digital trend, web applications were designed to work coherently: providing the feature set and design as a monolith singular solution.

Most publishing options fall into one of the following two categories:

  • Hosted website builders
  • Other CMS/web platforms

Hosted solutions cannot be altered indefinitely. They present a collection of templates and a small set of customization options. Soon, these presets become a deal breaker in terms of visual innovation and user experience.

Other open source CMS platforms provide a nearly complete editing experience. In the early days though, edge cases were faced at unexpected times, often near the end of a project build. The template frameworks placed minor limitations which were hard to overcome, requiring compromises with the initial designs.

This has been mitigated (for the most part), but not without giving a competitive advantage to WordPress in the meantime.

Proven backward compatibility

The Washington Post publishes an average of 1,200 pieces per day. Ecommerce platforms occasionally host tens of thousands of products with numerous variations and color combinations.

Investing in an army of content producers and editors requires fine attention to detail. Any deviations due to technical upgrades may be disastrous for the entire business.

Alternative CMS’s like Drupal proudly ignored backward compatibility for well over a decade. Announced in their own website, “Drupal development is always on the cutting edge, and with each major release there will be radical improvements.”

After the next endless wave of backlash, Drupal’s founder announced they “found a way to innovate fast yet provide a smooth learning curve and upgrade path from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9.”

Hosted platforms have always been questionable. The lack of a secure way out or data ownership considerations (a common topic of medium users) makes them a risky investment for a serious publishing business putting all their eggs in one basket.

WordPress webmasters frequently feature success stories after upgrading 10-year-old websites with zero data loss or compromising existing functionality. Backward compatibility is a leading core principle WordPress started with from day one. Building a sense of trust in both users and technical administrators makes it a safe bet for growing publishers.

The broadest set of integrations in the market

Over 50,000 free plugins and thousands of themes are hosted on the free directory. This excludes the hundreds of private shops or marketplaces selling solutions for different industry verticals relying on WordPress.

The broad set of features in WordPress is a well-known selling feature of the platform. More importantly, the trend won’t go away anytime soon. With a 33 percent market share, any SaaS invests in building integrations with WordPress. Ignoring a third of the web is irrational, which is why hundreds if not thousands of new plugins are published for moderation every single month.

The future is bright for WordPress

While code quality is subjective (and assessed on a case by case basis), quickly testing an integration is what makes WordPress shine, regardless of whether you need a quick membership add-on, an email opt-in solution or an infinite scroll addition to your archive pages.

Of course, this doesn’t conclude the complete set of features that make WordPress shine. Its out of the box SEO support is another strong contender that publishers truly love.

Google’s strong interest in WordPress for its AMP project and Ad Manager turn the CMS into a bleeding edge digital solution. And the latest introduction of the new editing experience called Gutenberg just solidified the position of the platform as the number one choice for publishers across the globe.

Mario Peshev is the Founder, CEO and WordPress Architect of DevriX. He can be found on Twitter @no_fear_inc.

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