Building a website with WordPress means an almost endless range of possibilities. You can use the content management system (CMS) to create any look and functionality imaginable. This flexibility is one reason why it is the market leader.
But power can be a double-edged sword. On the flip side, WordPress has a learning curve. This makes building a website difficult for a first-time user – especially those who are not already familiar with code.
WordPress has made efforts to simplify site building. Block themes and Full Site Editing (FSE) are prime examples. Together, they are an effort to empower non-designers.
And while those new tools are a step forward, they aren’t necessarily enough to lure users away from DIY platforms like Squarespace or Wix. There are still additional layers of complexity to WordPress, and not everyone is interested in learning them.
Yes, WordPress would love to capture the do-it-yourself (DIY) market – but how? Here are some ideas on how the world’s largest CMS can be more newcomer friendly.
Modernizing the Onboarding Experience
A new user can be forgiven for being overwhelmed the first time they log into the WordPress dashboard. While a fresh install provides an initial widget, there are still many views to add. For some people, they might want to be dumped in the middle of an alien planet.
Where to even begin? Without reading through a tutorial (or 10), what comes after installing WordPress can seem like a mystery to the inexperienced eye. How do I install a theme? Where are all these great plugins I’ve heard about?
This is where a modern onboarding experience can be a big help. Imagine an (easily dismissible) interface that greets new users and takes them on a WordPress journey. It could show, among other things:
- Where to find themes;
- Where to find plugins;
- How to set up a custom home page;
- How to create a menu;
- Links to official WordPress tutorials;
That initial onboarding may provide a route to more related leads. Navigating to the Settings > General a screen, for example, could provide a quick overview of important options such as setting the site’s time zone and title.
Although on-boarding can go a little too far, it can have a positive impact on users.
A Careful Approach to the Ecosystem
If a WordPress admin can be overwhelming, what is there to gain from the massive theme and plugin ecosystem? It’s another area where users (experienced or not) can get lost.
Quantity is an issue – but so is quality. Some themes and plugins are better than others when it comes to functionality, stability and support. Making the wrong choices here could be enough to drive a user away from the platform altogether.
One possible solution is medicine. When new non-technical users have access to a short list of the best (or at least the most viable) options for a given need, they have a better chance of success.
The biggest question is who would be responsible for maintaining lists of themes and plugins. Any bias towards specific items of the WordPress project is likely to be affected. Therefore, it seems more reasonable for third parties to take over the task.
Managed WordPress hosting providers may be the most suitable. Many are getting plugins and themes, however. And they would have the ability to create a UI that combines their “best of” lists within the dashboard.
Realistically, no list will be perfect. And there will always be biased questions. But if the idea is to guide DIY users, medicine could serve as a solid starting point. At the very least, it would steer people away from products known to be of poor quality or no longer maintained.
More Uniform Administrative Interfaces
Clicking around within the WordPress dashboard can lead to very different visual experiences. The block editor is sleek and modern. Core settings screens are minimal. Meanwhile, some plugins and theme screens provide a unique look.
Even the ever-ubiquitous left sidebar menu takes a back seat now and then. It is hidden by default in the block and site editors, and some plugins do the same. The result is that it is more difficult to get from place to place.
For longtime WordPress users, this may be a minor inconvenience. But the differences between UIs and the large number of options available can confuse those getting their feet wet with the CMS.
It may not be realistic to have control over what plugin and theme authors can do in terms of UI and what they can do in terms of UI for an open source project. But a more uniform core admin experience might make WordPress less intimidating.
And, as WordPress has done with other features, a streamlined admin may be optional. This would allow those who are comfortable with the current setup to stay where they are, while everyone else gets a brand new look.
An Outreach That Shows What WordPress Can Do
Finding new users is a challenge for any software. But, unlike those corporate DIY platforms, WordPress doesn’t have a marketing machine to make its offer – and it doesn’t have the budget to build one.
However, it has something that its competitors do not: a large and passionate community. These dedicated designers, developers and users could play a key role in attracting the DIY crowd.
There are many ways the WordPress community can help. For example, tutorials that show how to put together a basic website with a block theme. Or with products designed to make the task extremely simple for non-technical users.
On a more personal level, WordCamps can serve as a great introduction to the CMS. Sessions aimed at beginners and non-coders have great potential. And the one-on-one connections that come with a human event are invaluable to everyone involved.
When you think about it, these experiences are what brought many of us to WordPress in the first place. But as the software and the community evolved, the content for newbies didn’t always keep up. This is something that everyone can help change.
Making WordPress the best choice for DIY
A lot of effort has gone into making WordPress a DIY-friendly tool. There have been some major changes to the software when it comes to building themes and content. And it will continue in this direction for a long time to come.
The above ideas are not perfect. There may be challenges and consequences that I have not considered. But their goal is to keep things moving in that direction and encourage conversation within the community.
As the web creates more seamless experiences, it’s important to consider how WordPress can join in on the fun. How can we best ensure that anyone can create a basic website in a matter of hours?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t still have the ability to build larger and more complex sites. This ability is as important as ever. But if WordPress wants to continue its goal of democratizing publishing, it needs to keep the software accessible to people of all skill levels.