On May 27, 2023, WordPress celebrates 20 years of extraordinary growth. It powers approximately 43% of all websites and is the leading content management system by far.
How did WordPress achieve this milestone and will it be able to continue as arguably the most successful open source project ever?
About This Article
This article was initially conceived as a comparison between Duda, WordPress, and Wix.
However, as I spoke to the developers and people behind the scenes at each company I realized that each platform was the best at solving the problems they set out to solve.
So, what began as one article about three platforms became a three-part series about each platform individually.
Today we look at why WordPress is popular with web design agencies, search marketers, enterprise publishers and ecommerce sites, to name a few successful uses of WordPress.
This article features Josepha Haden Chomphosy (LinkedIn), the Executive Director of WordPress, as well as others who partner with WordPress, to discuss why WordPress is so successful.
WordPress Democratized the Internet
Previous to WordPress one had to spend a small fortune for an enterprise Content Management System (CMS) to obtain what WordPress gives away for free. The alternative was to learn how to code or at the very least to know how to use software like Dreamweaver.
The launch of WordPress democratized online publishing, and arguably became the single most important innovation to spring from the Internet. The positive economic impact on millions of people worldwide cannot be overstated.
A strong case could be made that WordPress, a free open source software, is the most important innovation of the Internet age today.
Secret to Success: Make it Easy to Use
What makes drove the success of WordPress is the fact that it is purposely designed to be easy to install and get publishing fast. This is literally a guiding principle of virtually every decision made in the development of WordPress.
This principle is laid out in an official statement of the WordPress philosophy:
“Great software should work with little configuration and setup. WordPress is designed to get you up and running and fully functional in no longer than five minutes. You shouldn’t have to battle to use the standard functionality of WordPress.
We work hard to make sure that every release is in keeping with this philosophy. We ask for as few technical details as possible during the setup process as well as providing full explanations of anything we do ask.”
Underlying their philosophy is the dedication to freedom.
The webpage on philosophy promises WordPress users:
- “The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
- The freedom to redistribute.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.”
Launched Millions of Businesses
This focus on simplicity, freedom and fostering an ecosystem of innovation has, over the course of the past 20 years, resulted in the launch of millions of websites and the success of millions of businesses around the world.
Tom Zsomborgi, Chief Business Officer at managed web hosting company, Kinsta, had this to say about the power of WordPress:
“Smaller merchants benefit tremendously from WordPress. For them, budget is often limited when it comes to building and maintaining a site, not all can afford a developer.
WordPress gives them the software for free without the need to pay a monthly fee for using it, which includes the free WooCommerce ecommerce plugin that unlocks ecommerce capabilities.
Tens of thousands of plugins give the freedom and flexibility to merchants to tailor WordPress for their custom needs.
Plus it doesn’t require a steep learning curve. Learning how to use WordPress is easy.
But all these benefits attract not just smaller merchants but also big enterprises and huge media companies, too.
I’ve seen many times a store starting with one product turning into a big e-commerce store with thousands of offerings in just a few years or a blogger sharing her thoughts and turning that little blog into an industry news site with millions of visitors.”
WordPress Is Adaptable
A major reason why WordPress is so popular is that it is adaptable for seemingly any use case, from simple blogging to ecommerce and even enterprise level publishing.
Leading websites such as TechCrunch, Southern Bancorp, Vogue, Sony Music, The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, all use WordPress.
Jason Cross, SVP of Digital Presence and Commerce, Newfold Digital (parent company of Bluehost) offered his observations on the remarkable adaptability of the WordPress publishing platform.
“WordPress delivers broad compatibility with existing technologies and rapid compatibility with emerging ones.
WordPress’ greatest advantage is its flexibility and the way you can incorporate practically any imaginable feature through plugins.
If a feature does not yet exist, the open platform allows web developers to build custom functionality.
Managed WordPress, in turn, bridges the best of open-source and proprietary CMS by providing powerful all-in-one solutions and the relative ease many closed platforms offer, but with significantly more control and long-term reliability via open-source software and data formats.
All of the data and code on your site is yours; you can take it with you as you upgrade to more powerful platforms, switch domains, make a backup or move the data to another platform or service.
Since WordPress is portable, you can start out on an affordable shared hosting plan with a low barrier to entry given the cost, flexibility and functionality available.
Once your site picks up in popularity, you can upgrade to a Managed Hosting plan for additional peace of mind and a much of the same functionality a closed platform provides.
Many hosts, Bluehost included, are actively working to simplify the website setup journey.”
Managed WordPress hosting takes care of the technical overhead typically associated with using WordPress, allowing publishers and ecommerce stores to focus on publishing and selling products.
Factors such as site speed, automatic backups, hacking defense, software updates and maintenance are all handled by the managed WordPress hosting provider.
That a web host can configure WordPress to provide an experience similar to a closed source system is an example of the remarkable adaptability of the WordPress publishing platform.
Interview With Executive Director of WordPress
We interviewed Josepha Haden Chomphosy, the Executive Director of WordPress, to explore why WordPress is the first choice for so many publishers and developers around the world.
WordPress was initially known as a blogging platform but it’s actually a good platform for ecommerce, as simple or as complex as is needed.
What kinds of merchants benefit most from creating in WordPress?
WordPress’ mission is to democratize publishing, meaning merchants of all sizes and types can benefit from creating with it.
Whether they use WordPress to build their entire business—from stores and customer management to marketing and communications—or as part of a suite of tools, they get more control and ownership of their brand over time.
However, if I were to choose a single group that benefits the most, it would have to be small to medium business owners. They can get high-quality sites and tools at costs that work for any business budget while ensuring that their software is here to stay.
Can WordPress scale with a business?
“The versatility and freedom of tools offered by WordPress are key advantages for businesses of all sizes over other solutions.
It’s software that gives you everything you need but lets you remove anything you don’t want, no matter your size or what you’re doing.
But on top of being flexible, it is absolutely scalable.
WordPress is a high-performance platform with strict security standards that powers millions of sites ranging from blogs to internationally recognized corporations and media outlets, attracting millions of daily page views.
This demonstrates how powerful and trusted WordPress is as an open source content management system (CMS) and its scalability to meet the needs of the highest volume, most security-conscious, and most demanding digital properties.”
What is the cost-benefit of a platform like WordPress versus closed-source solutions?
“While owning a copy of the WordPress software is free and requires no licensing fees, like any site solution, there are some costs associated with hosting, domain registration, and premium upgrades.
Yet, the cost-benefit of choosing WordPress lies in long-term predictability and ownership.
No matter what platform you choose to create your online presence, it can take a few days to get started.
And after that, it can take you a few months or years to build your audience.
The benefit of choosing WordPress is that you own all that hard work (and that hard-won audience attention) for as long as you want to keep your site.
We have no centralized content recommendation algorithms, no claims of ownership over your published work, and no terms of service changes that can cut you off from the effort you put in.
It’s yours. And that’s it.”
How does managed hosting add value to WordPress?
From the outside, managed hosting of WordPress has the same benefits as any hosted proprietary solution—namely, the convenience of not managing your own server.
As a bonus, content and configurations made on a managed host are still yours to keep. So you can move your sites from a GDPR-conscious host to a sustainability-conscious host if you want and not have to start over from scratch each time.
WordPress Creates Opportunity
WordPress enables people to create a business and livelihood online.
But it also helps create thousands of jobs around the world, from web hosts and domain registrars to theme and plugin developers, and web developers whose jobs exist because WordPress exists.
WordPress comes with a massive community of supporters that help make anything possible with it.
Josepha had this to say about the WordPress community:
“WordPress creates jobs around the world. I’m thinking of web developers, plugin developers, and so on.
The WordPress ecosystem creates opportunities that no other closed system can claim.
WordPress owes so much of its success to the open source community, and one of the key elements that being open source gives us is that we are open by design, which lets us be inclusive by design.
Contributors explore problems, test solutions, and teach each other all in public, creating an environment of innovation for the software and a vibrant town square mentality for the people who contribute to it.
By staying true to the guiding principles of free, open source software, we can recognize that ‘good ideas can come from anywhere‘ applies to all parts of our ecosystem, including who can participate and thrive in it.
This understanding led us to create the Five for the Future program and initiatives, ensuring the software’s continuity and the future sustainability of the project and its ecosystem.”
WordPress Is Here to Stay
What makes WordPress a viable product is that it has a strong community supporting it, which means that it is here to stay.
The Five for the Future is a program that encourages WordPress related businesses to give back to the community in order to help keep it healthy and viable.
According to the WordPress Five for the Future webpage, contributing can take many forms:
“Anyone can contribute to Five for the Future.
Many contributors focus on the technical side of WordPress, such as core development, but there are also teams working in other areas like marketing, translation, training, and community.
There is always a way to get involved, whatever your skill set.”
WordPress is the most popular publishing platform today with an ecosystem of support that can help anyone start a site and grow their business, no matter what kind of business it is.
It has transformed the face of the Internet and is the reason for millions of jobs. The websites published on the platform are quite easily a part of everyone’s life today, even if a reader discovering something new doesn’t know it.
Happy 20th birthday, WordPress!
Featured image by Shutterstock/Ink Drop