Development

Is WordPress Dying?

It’s a common refrain among some within the web development community, but is it accurate?

A picture of Alex Sanchez smiling

Alex Sanchez-Olvera

March 27, 2019

Image credit Fikret Tozak

The odds are pretty high that if you’ve spent any significant amount of time in the world of online business, you’ve heard of WordPress at least once or twice before.

You might’ve even had it recommended to you for your business website.

For quite some time now, WordPress has been one of the simplest — and by far the most popular — platform for creating websites.

In the 17 years since its initial release, WordPress has evolved from a simple blogging platform into a full-featured content management system (or CMS) for users to easily create and edit dynamic websites.

According to W3Techs, WordPress currently powers almost 40 percent of all websites on the internet and commands a 64 percent market share among CMS-driven sites.

These include websites belonging to several high-profile individuals, businesses, and organizations — including the White House, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.

What’s more: WordPress’s market share is only projected to increase over the coming years, especially in relation to straggling competitors like Joomla! and Drupal.

Given all of this, it might be surprising to think that WordPress could possibly be on the decline.

And yet it seems like every other month there’s an article published somewhere heralding the death of WordPress and/or its underlying technologies, especially PHP.

While much of this premature grave-dancing is likely due to developers’ infamous hatred of WordPress — some of which is deserved — there are still some valid points to be made by these detractors.

So let’s take a look at some of the most common (and valid) reasons given for the so-called “death” of WordPress, examining how they might prove challenging for the platform in 2019 and beyond.

The Return to Static

In the early days of the internet, all websites were static. This means that they were all written in pure HTML and CSS. (JavaScript did not become widely adopted until later.)

The advent of CMS like WordPress led to the proliferation of so-called dynamic websites, or those utilizing sever-side scripting languages like PHP to serve content from a database.

CMS-driven dynamic websites became popular because they were so simple to create and manage. But they also came along with several notable disadvantages, including performance and security issues.

According to StaticGen.com, there are currently more than 300 static site generators on the market — written in a number of popular languages like JavaScript, Ruby, Python, and Go.

Users can even find specialized generators like Next.js for server-rendered React sites and Nuxt.js for serverless Vue applications.

While static site generators are certainly powerful and effective tools for creating modern, performant websites, they’re still far too complex for the average DIY website builder or designer.

A number of potential solutions — including API-driven CMS like CloudCannon and Statamic — have attempted to make static site management easier for clients and content editors.

In addition, modern tools like Webflow allow designers to create static websites coupled with lightweight content editors that allow clients to easily manage on-page content.

These solutions still fall far behind WordPress in terms of overall market penetration and are still perhaps a bit too technical for layman use.

However, they represent an extremely promising opportunity for non-developers to capitalize on this recent industry shift toward static site development — and all of the benefits associated with that trend.

All-in-One Competitors

Much of WordPress’s popularity and market share dominance has been due to the fact that, for most of its existence, it was the simplest solution for quickly getting a website up and running.

This is no longer the case, as the platform has now begun to face stiff competition from all-in-one website builders like Squarespace and Wix that aim to simplify the web design process even further.

These all-in-one solutions are geared toward absolute beginners — those with little to no previous web design or development experience.

So while they might be more restricted than WordPress in terms of design and functionality, they also feature much shorter learning curves and much less of a headache for non-tech-savvy users.

As a result, both Squarespace and Wix have begun to slowly chip away at the “low end” of the WordPress client base — personal users and micro-business owners.

This leaves WordPress occupying an awkward sliver of the market.

With the exception of blogs and other content-driven websites — which is what WordPress was actually created to manage — WordPress is no longer the go-to solution for many (perhaps most) projects.

Those users in need of a simple, no-fuss website for personal use can easily and affordably create one themselves using a template-based tool like Squarespace or Wix.

Meanwhile, those in need of more robust or performant solutions (such as business owners) would be better off hiring an experienced developer to create a custom website or application.

Reliance on Aging Technologies

Just as WordPress is no longer the “default” or ubiquitous solution that it once was … its underlying language PHP is no longer the prevalent back-end scripting technology it used to be.

In particular, the recent growth of Node.js (a popular JavaScript run-time environment) has led to the proliferation of back-end JavaScript tools like MongoDB and Express.

These technologies have the advantage of streamlining the development process — as one scripting language can be used across the entire development stack — while improving scalability and performance.

And though PHP has come a long way since its first release in 1994, it is beginning to fall out of fashion.

In fact, according to Stack Overflow’s most recent survey of popular web technologies, PHP ranked eighth among programming, scripting, and markup languages.

JavaScript, meanwhile, was first — followed by other popular technologies like Python and Java.

And for good reason.

Almost anything that can be created in WordPress could be created much more securely and performantly in a framework like Django (Python) or Angular (JavaScript).

Both of which currently enjoy more popularity among professional developers, according to the same Stack Overflow survey.

In Conclusion

Despite what the naysayers may write, WordPress is decidedly not dead — nor is it dying.

The platform continues to dominate the web in terms of market share, and it shows no signs of slowing down or being meaningfully overtaken by one of its competitors.

Nevertheless, WordPress faces a number of significant challenges that might threaten its market dominance at some point in the future.

It’s no secret that technology, especially on the web, changes at a rapid clip.

Successful developers need to be prepared to pivot along with changing industry trends — whether that trend happens to be WordPress, static, PHP-driven, Node-based, or something else entirely.

Subscribe

Stay up to date

Subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you're the first to know whenever I publish a new blog post.

(Don't worry. I won't send you spam, and I'll keep your email address safe.)