It’s clear I like WordPress better than its major competitor, blogger.com, because I chose it to host this blog. There are pros and cons to any service, and you can read a great review on Computerworld of both WordPress and blogger here, but there are a number of reasons I love WordPress, and some of them go a bit beyond the features themselves.
At the top of my list is the fact that the free package is really solid. WordPress uses a freemium business model, which I personally believe in, having co-launched a web hosting company based on a similar business model. What I learned through that experience, though, is that the free service has to have real value, or it doesn’t really work to draw in the kinds of customers you might not otherwise get, and that is one of the reasons a business chooses to offer a service for free. The hope is that the customer will love the free service, then want some of the premium, fee-based options, as well. What some companies don’t get right, though, is that if the free service offered is so stripped down as to be almost worthless, you lose an opportunity to create brand loyalty.
If the free portion of the service is lacking, that doesn’t mean you won’t land customers. Especially if the premium services are comparable in quality and price to those offered by competitors, you’ll still draw people, as we did with my web hosting company – you just won’t land a lot of those entry-level customers that have the potential to grow into larger paying customers, or to be amazing word-of-mouth advocates of your service. I believe that it’s not easy to find value anywhere for free today, so when I do, I tend to genuinely like that company. When it comes time to step things up notch, which in the case of blogging might be as simple as adding a domain name or purchasing a premium theme, it’s not so painful to part with that cash, because you already like who you are giving it to. When a company can create a connection with consumers like that, they’ve won.
Even when you do create that winning connection, though, you still have to maintain it, and this is another area where a company can really get it wrong.
Again, I’ll speak to my experience. When we launched our web hosting company, it was vitally important to us that we not grow beyond our means and that meant making our service as scalable as possible so our overhead didn’t grow leaps and bounds as our customer base grew leaps and bounds. We were successful at this, but not nearly as successful as WordPress has been. Granted, I’m talking about different services – there are many more people in the world that want to have a blog than there are developers that use the niche web hosting technologies that we supported – but it is still remarkable how few people WordPress has to employ to serve such a huge audience. As of today, WordPress.com employs 108 people, but touches over half a billion each month. I can’t think of any other company that can approach those figures. It’s impressive, to say the least.
There are important things that WordPress has done right in order to achieve the volume they have, not the least of which has to do with their user interface. UX (user experience) design has risen dramatically as a focus area for applications across all industry verticals as companies try harder and harder to create services that work for non-technical customers. For a self-service model to work, it has to be easy to use and essentially error-free, or the service provider will be buried by technical support. I learned this first-hand with my web hosting company, too. We tended to do well with automation and created a wide variety of features that we knew our client base wanted. We jumped from 10s of customers to 1000s of customers without having to hire any additional employees. Where we occasionally erred, was in creating services that weren’t as easy to use as they could have been, or by releasing new features too soon when they still had bugs in them.
There’s nothing worse as a customer than seeing a new feature you know you’re going to love, but then not being able to figure out how to use it, or having it break the first time you try. As a company, make these mistakes too often, and you’ll watch your customers bail more quickly than you can pick up new ones. No company can create error-free code, though, and sometimes it takes a few tries to sort out the best user experience. After you have customers, your only line of defense becomes your customer support. You’d think most companies would figure out just how important support is, but surprisingly few do well in this area, and those that do support incredibly well are even more rare.
I’ve only interacted with support at WordPress once, so I’m no expert on their track record, but my one experience was a good one, and resulted in my purchasing a premium upgrade to achieve what I was after. I think it’s telling that every new hire at WordPress must spend their first three weeks working in customer support. I’m a strong advocate of cross-learning in any organization, but it is particularly important when you work for a company that does largely “virtual” business with its clients. If you aren’t in a role that deals directly with customers, it is all too easy to forget their perspective, and without it, you run the risk of making painful mistakes.
These aren’t the only reasons I love WordPress, but they are big reasons, and you can expect I’ll share a few more in a follow-up post in the future.