Why has WordPress become so popular?

Newcomers in creating websites may be surprised that WordPress is used on more than 30% of sites around the Web. And I should say, it’s a huge part of the market, especially comparing with other competitors (Drupal, Joomla, etc.).

In this article, I want to share my personal opinion about why it has happened, based on my 8 years of experience in the WordPress ecosystem.

First of all, WordPress has a description of its principles on its website, the page that is called “Philosophy”. And I could finish my article here because that page has many points explained, but… It’s quite abstract and needs examples. And some reasons (that are important for me) are just consequences of those principles.

Low entry threshold

I started my web development career in 2012 by working with Bitrix (commercial CMS that is quite popular in Russia). You can predict my impression from dealing with such stuff in those days. It was something between depression and horror. Design, usability, distribution model, developer experience… oh, just let’s continue talking about WordPress 🦄.

And after that, I got a job in a web-studio and met It… It was another reality: free, minimalistic (comparing to Bitrix definitely), having many other cons and simple in general and simple to start with.

Hundreds of possible settings were hidden from the admin panel by the “Decisions, not Options” principle.

It had an intuitive minimalistic interface provided by “Striving for Simplicity” and “Clean, Lean, and Mean” principles, but extendable (it will be discussed below).

And all that for regular users by “Design for the Majority” principle.

It was a pleasure to use it as a regular user. And it was even more comfortable and inspiring personally for me that it had the same simplicity in extending via code because I was just a junior web developer.

As we can see, the strategy for getting 30% of the Web was simple (sarcasm :)).
PHP (the programming language that WP based on) – was easy to learn.
Publishing (blogging) especially was quite popular in those days and perspective.
So you just needed to create the simplest publishing tool on the simplest to learn programming language … PROFIT! Something like that.

And I should mark that from a view of developer it can be not obvious, that you should be oriented on users and their needs not on tools you like. Sometimes it’s hard, believe me.

Wide ecosystem

WordPress is easy to extend. It has the lowest entry threshold for developers, in my opinion. Users (many users) were beginning using it, and they needed extensions (plugins) for achieving via goals.

First, plugins used to be very small and simple (one file, and sometimes even several code lines). But the Web was growing, and requirements too. So plugins were becoming large and smarter, and their number was increasing.
Now we have thousands of plugins for many purposes in the official repository. It’s a huge advantage.

As I mentioned before in my own example, WordPress can be a good start point for junior-developers. But good advice is not to lock yourself only inside the WordPress ecosystem. Look around the PHP ecosystem, at least (for useful tools and libraries it has that can improve your workflow).
One day, I read a quote in a book about improvisation on bass guitar:

It isn’t that important only to be a good bass guitar player. It’s better to be a good musician whose specialization is playing bass guitar.

This quote is applicable for WordPress and PHP (JS, Computer science, whatever), respectively.

Backward compatibility

Have you ever discussed or read on the internet about updating from one major version of Drupal to another (e.g., from v6 to v7)? Often it meant rewriting the most part of your site. A lot of job, expenses, nerves just to keep your project actual and get new features. Bitrix had the same problems but in less quantity. The same is true for PHP-frameworks.

The code inside WordPress Core is written with the backward compatibility principle in mind. A new major version of the tool mustn’t break any critical things from the previous version. And I remember how painful my life has been before I started using WordPress.

This level of stability is applicable to plugins/themes as a result. For example, I wrote one of my plugins in 2013, and it still works 🙂 It’s cool!

Big blue button (Update)

Just try to work with and maintain any other self-hosted content management system (especially updating this software), and you will feel what I’m talking about.

Backward compatibility with proper admin UI allows us to update wp-core, plugins, and theme with one click on a button. Nothing to say. It was a killer feature for me in 2012, and it works excellent now days too.
Don’t even try to find out how the same problems used to be solved in Drupal and Joomla back in those days, it’s a sad story.

After that, we’ve got auto-updates for these entities. Core auto-updates have made the whole ecosystem more stable and protected in terms of security.

Design and Style

I think that in 2012 WordPress was the only place where people cared about design and visual style. And again, I don’t even want to remember my experience with other CMS systems, no-no-no.

WordPress has this nice tradition of making default themes yearly. Of course, design is a debatable topic, but It has been a regular constant investment of time in a certain problem. It deserves respect, at least.

Today, the market of themes (free and paid) inside the WordPress ecosystem is very developed, and it’s a big advantage for regular users.

Automattic behind

WordPress is an example of successfully monetizing open-source projects.

There are many strategies, but the most stable is to found a commercial company that uses an open-source project providing premium/enterprise services around it or based on it.

That’s how Automattic and its main service wordpress.com were started in the middle of 200x-es (simplifying things).

Now Automattic has many other tools and services: Jetpack, Gravatar, Akismet, VIP hosting. I hope all will be fine in the future because I think that this company’s support for the OSS part of WordPress is critical.

Community

Wordcamps are my final point. Working with the community is one of the strongest parts of the WordPress ecosystem.

Nice events with presentations, coding days, after-parties, and a lot of time for discussions with nice people. I can judge only by my experience in Russia, but I think it’s a common pattern for any country.

I won’t describe it a lot. Just visit it in your country, you won’t regret it 😉

Conclusion

I can discuss this topic much longer than just an article. It’s a story about decisions and consequences, global vision, principles, and about many people sharing them.

In the end, I still use WordPress after all these years, and maybe it means that all those decisions were right 👍.