"The customer's brand is the hero," said WordPress.com chief marketing officer Chris Taylor in an interview with TechRepublic. "[WordPress] is not like a closed social network, where [your brand is] secondary." Sites built on the platform, he said, own the audience. "[Your] community is never far away."
For thousands of startups and small business, this is a big deal. "While WordPress may not be a household name... chances are you know people who have sites that are built on WordPress." Taylor is not exaggerating. Today, according to the company, WordPress now powers 27% of all sites on the web.
WordPress is publishing software available as a free and as a commercial product. The free code, WordPress.org, was developed in 2003 in by developers Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. Open source development drove WordPress' market growth. Launched in concert with the open source GNU license, WordPress.org allowed developers to augment and expand the software framework at no cost. WordPress evolved to support design themes and plugins that extend the software's functionality and fertilize a vibrant ecosystem of third-party developers that create and sell custom code. Today the WordPress.org platform, including themes and plugins, is used by consumers, small and medium business, e-commerce companies, and large publishers.
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Bifurcated development helped WordPress attract customers and grab market share. Automattic, the startup created by Matt Mullenweg, manages a commercial, for-profit version of the software called WordPress.com. "[This] speaks to what makes WordPress so special and why the open web is so important for businesses in 2017," Taylor said. "You can go to thousands of different websites that are all powered by WordPress, but they each look completely unique. This is why businesses love it, and why the website is still the most important digital home for a brand."
Taylor's job is to expand the WordPress market in a way consistent with the product's humble roots. He started his career in research and analytics and continues to use data to drive marketing decisions. "I have always been a numbers person and loved the challenge of trying to figure out what wasn't working, what was, and how scalable the wins were," Taylor said. "WordPress.com has a long history of growth, and great investor support. But the company never really had to do much marketing." The "Quietly Powering" campaign emerged as a data-driven campaign deferential to the brands and publishers that made WordPress a success.
Taylor spoke with TechRepublic about technology, marketing, and how SMBs can take advantage of WordPress software.
The CMS landscape is diverse and crowded, yet WordPress has evolved and remained competitive for over a decade. What's the winning formula?
WordPress is an incredibly unique brand, in that it became the world's most popular web platform—for both small and large businesses, and even individual bloggers—because of the open source community that contributed to its [development]. That is to say, organic community and word-of-mouth brought WordPress to this point.
WordPress.com is just one piece of that, but it's an important piece because it's aimed at non-developers who want to get a beautiful site up and running in seconds. We see tremendous growth in the small business category, and so we want to provide them with offerings that are, on one hand, very simple, but on the other hand, a door to the millions of other [users] who can offer their own expertise. In this way, I see a lot of opportunity for us to integrate traditional marketing with the power of community.
WordPress has a unique distribution method: Part of the product is premium, the other open source. Can you explain how the strategy functions?
There are many advantages to open source. We open up our code for others to build off or contribute to it. It means our users can be assured they will never be locked into a proprietary trap that they can never get out of. For small businesses, the biggest benefit is that, unlike closed website builders with a finite set of features, your business' needs will never outgrow WordPress. You'll be able to start with a quick and easy website, but you could also eventually expand to an enterprise-level, e-commerce solution with us and our sister company WooCommerce. Automattic more broadly is focused on services for every segment of user, from individual business owners or bloggers to enterprise offerings for big companies like Microsoft and Time Inc.
What technologies are fundamental to WordPress.com and .org? How does the tech help scale the product?
Explain how the developer community contributes to WordPress' overall success.
They are so, so important to WordPress and what makes it special. A brilliant, diverse set of people contribute and build their own specialized services and features on top of WordPress. That means if you're a small business and want to find a solution for something, the chances are very good that someone has built a plugin or theme specifically for that need.
Small business is one of your core markets. How do you help companies scale?
First, we are focused on a set of tools geared toward audience-building and growth. It's no longer about just creating a beautiful static landing page. We want to make sure businesses can build on their [online] presence. That means deep social media integration with networks like Facebook and Twitter, and other tools that help you quickly launch a site and publish updates for your customers, with built-in features for SEO.
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Second is community and customer support. We have hundreds of experts... around the world, who are available for real-time help with a site and setting it up in a way to reach new customers and grow your business. WordPress.com is also a [social] network so you can follow other like-minded sites and start to build your audience even within the world of WordPress.
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Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.