Although the internet is by nature competitive and egalitarian, there are a number of areas where one brand tends to dominate.
The UK search engine market is mainly Google’s. Office software generally comes from Microsoft. WordPress websites are often chosen almost without thinking.
It’s not immediately obvious just how dominant WordPress websites are globally.
Our website was built using WordPress. So was BBC America’s site, and the New York Times. Sony Music, Disney, Bloomberg, Facebook…all rely on WordPress to an extent.
So what’s so special about this free, open source site-building utility? Why has it come to underpin an estimated 40 per cent of all the world’s live websites?
Word’ to the wise
To understand WordPress’s dominance, we have to consider the time before it existed.
In the early Noughties, creating a site on the burgeoning internet challenged even people familiar with older programming languages like BASIC and PASCAL.
The main options were to code the HTML yourself before employing a hosting company to launch it, or to outsource everything to a web design firm.
The former was complex, while the latter was expensive – and often involved surrendering control of design or functionality.
Then WordPress came along, revolutionising the concept of creating online content.
Gone were the days of coding header tables, or poring through tranches of HTML to identify missing characters.
Gone also was the reliance on GeoCities or MySpace pages. A standalone website could be launched quickly, easily and affordably.
WordPress libraries gave us power
From its launch in Spring 2003, WordPress introduced millions of people to the principles of a content management system, better known as a CMS.
Libraries of generic site templates were uploaded for people and businesses to customise and publish, replacing stock text and graphics without altering or damaging the site’s functionality.
WordPress provided many people with their first taste of WYSIWYG graphical editors, automatically rewriting HTML as page elements were added and modified.
In-house designers and marketing professionals could endlessly fettle corporate websites until they were ready to publish, without requiring computing or coding qualifications.
Because only aesthetic elements could be adjusted, WordPress websites were stable, loading quickly and displaying consistently on differing devices and various web browsers.
Yet that wasn’t the real genius of WordPress.
In an age before app stores, the concept of plugins was transformative.
A plugin is a small piece of program code, which can be bolted onto a basic website framework.
If you need it, it’ll spring into action on command. And if you don’t, it doesn’t require installation.
Less code means quicker loading times, and fast-loading webpages will appear more highly in future search engine ranking results.
WordPress quickly became the darling of Google and Bing, with sites routinely outperforming the various competitors which sprang up throughout the Noughties.
As search engine optimisation (SEO) rose to prominence, having a rapid and reliable website also gained importance.
Today, there are almost 60,000 separate plugins available to download from WordPress.org. Many are free to use, since open source software can be modified and republished at will.
WordPress has grown in tandem with this vast plugin directory.
A company which only had five employees 15 years ago has evolved into a global giant, offering fully customisable sites through the streamlined (if controversial) Gutenberg interface.
While rival platforms like Wix and Weebly have their merits, WordPress’s market dominance is easy to understand once you start exploring and using it.