WordPress: Where It’s Headed in 2022

November 29, 2021 | By Brian Francoeur | 3 Comments
November 29, 2021
By Brian Francoeur

3 Comments
WordPress is fighting back with genuine innovation, evolving the WordPress core and ecosystem to meet the needs of its users -- Brian Francoeur
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Let’s take a look at where WordPress is at today, where it’s headed, and what we can expect from the world’s most popular CMS in 2022 and beyond.

In 2003, Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg found themselves in a tough spot. The developer of the b2/cafeblog software disappeared, leaving this proto-cms project dormant. Devastated by the loss, Mike and Matt forked the b2/cafeblog source code. They kept the good bits and added improvements, with the first version of WordPress launching in May 2003. They never intended for WordPress to eat the internet -- all they wanted was a way to blog that was simple and easy to use. Since then, WordPress has grown to be the leading CMS in the world, with a whopping 76% of global market share (source: Wapalyzer).

Where WordPress is Compared to the Competition

Content Creation and Publication

At the time of writing, Wix is the only website building platform that is slightly easier to use than WordPress. To get started in Wix, you don’t need a theme -- just create a page and start adding your content! Most of the rest of the WordPress competition isn’t as easy to use, while a handful of startups are just easy but lack the ecosystem to drive faster growth.

Ecommerce

WooCommerce has helped make WordPress a leading platform for e-commerce websites. In May 2019, Automattic acquired WooCommerce, bringing the successful plugin into the WordPress fold. Out of the box, WooCommerce provides power and flexibility without requiring the user to write a single line of code. Wix comes the closest to WooCommerce in terms of UX, while Shopify tends to require custom coding if you want a layout that’s not already available in one of the Shopify themes.

Security

There is a perception that WordPress is not as secure as other platforms. Like Microsoft’s Windows operating system, WordPress gets a bad rep because it’s the leading CMS. It powers millions of websites, and hackers see those websites as gold mines of personal data that can be stolen. When compared with the competing platforms, WordPress core is just as secure as the others. When it comes to themes and plugins, however, the level of security varies widely from one product to the next.

Performance

This is the weakest link in the WordPress chain. While WordPress core is developed with fast load times in mind, the countless themes and plugins created for WordPress often aren’t optimized for performance. A single plugin can drag your website to a crawl when someone lands on it. The best workaround for this is to stick with popular themes and plugins that have a lot of downloads and a high number of 4-star reviews or higher.

Ease of Use

WordPress is getting there, but they have a little ways to go. Wix arguably has the easiest user interface (UI) for designing pages, adding content, and publishing them. The current default theme for WordPress, Twenty Twentyone, is ok, but it’s still kind of limited in what you can do. Also, if you never used Gutenberg, learning how to use this theme may take a bit of effort on your part.

Thankfully, there are some popular page builders that offer a Wix-like experience. Here are the top five page builders for WordPress:

  • Elementor (5,947,367 user)
  • Visual Composer (4,168,660 users)
  • WP Bakery  (3,567,074 users)
  • Divi  Builder (2,177,591 users)
  • Beaver Builder (229,473 users)

Source: BuiltWith

Of the three, only Elementor has a free version. The paid version is a lot more powerful than the free version. It offers more modules which make it even easier to create custom layouts for your website. Overall, each of these page builders is fairly easy to use to create your custom design.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Francoeur
Brian Francoeur is a freelance WordPress web designer and developer. He is known for his depth of knowledge about WordPress and his commitment to helping clients grow their businesses through innovative design. When he’s not busy on a project, he’s thumping out funky bass lines or playing with his dog Zavalla.
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So, Where’s WordPress Headed?

(Or, what are they doing about the problems?)

Here are three major areas the WordPress Performance Team is focused on:

  • Performance
  • Creation of a Theme to End All Themes
  • Headless WordPress (it’s already a thing)

Performance

Within the last few months, WordPress has put together a Performance Team to tackle the myriad issues that affect WordPress website performance. This team is made up of contributors from WordPress, Google, and Yoast (a popular SEO plugin). They plan to tackle these issues first:

  • Excessive Page Load Times
    • Image size
    • JavaScript
    • CSS
  • Caching
    • Asset Caching
    • Page Caching
    • Object Caching
  • Theme and Plugin Development
    • Provide developers feedback on how their products perform
    • Create performance signals to help developers identify and address code that slows a website down
    • Provide guidance on how to create themes and plugins that are optimized for today’s internet

Excessive Page Load Times

This is a major issue with WordPress sites and the top three factors that contribute to excessive page load times are:

Image Size: Photos that aren’t processed, resized, and optimized through Photoshop, Lightroom, or other image editing software tend to have large file sizes. This puts a tremendous load on the server and causes the website to load slowly or not at all. There are two ways to optimize photos: 1) Use a lossy image compression, such as the “High” quality setting in Photoshop, and 2) Resize the photo to the actual dimensions it will display in the web page.

JavaScript and CSS: While some themes and plugins are beginning to manage how much JS and CSS are loaded on each page, there are still way too many that load all of the JS and all of the CSS on every page. This causes delays of up to several seconds while all that code loads. This leads to users abandoning your site before they can give it a chance.

Caching

Caching is something you don’t really see on the front end, yet it has a tremendous effect on how fast your web pages load. Caching is basically storing a copy of something that’s ready to go, like a web page, instead of building the page on-the-fly. All code, images, and design assets are pre-loaded and stored so that, when a user lands on a page, a copy of it that is already built is served instead of building it at that moment. The Performance Team will be looking at caching to find ways to improve it so that pages load faster than ever.

Theme and Plugin Development

Code quality varies widely from one theme to the next, and from one plugin to another. The Performance Team plans to work with developers to identify performance bottlenecks and make suggestions to help the developers optimize their code. Hopefully, the WordPress developer community will quickly get onboard with this and embrace this new level of guidance from the core WordPress team.

Other WordPress Developments

Two of the major developments in WordPress include the emergence of GatsbyJS, the framework for Headless WordPress, and the creation of the theme to end all themes (maybe?), Twenty Twenty-Two.

Headless WordPress

This isn’t about a particular horseman from Sleepy Hollow. Rather, it’s about cutting the head (a.k.a. the front end) off from WordPress, separating it from the back end. This powerful move enables you to manage content using WordPress while distributing it across multiple channels and platforms.

The greatest benefits to using Headless WordPress:

  • Content creators can continue to use familiar WordPress tools to publish their content while developers can use the tools and technologies they prefer on the back end.
  • Improved performance -- Because a static page is displayed to the end user, pages load lightning fast.
  • Improved Security -- Since the front end is completely separated from the back end, cybercriminals find it a lot more difficult to hack a website
  • Tremendous Flexibility -- Content can be distributed throughout large, complex websites and to other platforms.

One caveat... while all of this sounds great, installing and setting up a Headless WordPress website is a lot of work. For users with small, simple sites, Headless WordPress probably won’t serve you well. However, if you have a large, complex site, or need to publish content across multiple channels, Headless WordPress is for you!

Twenty Twenty-Two and the Full Site Editing Promiste

The latest default theme from WordPress is currently under development. This theme includes new block patterns that allow you to easily create a custom website with the convenience of a drag-and-drop page editor (no need to install a page builder), and a set of six color schemes you can use. For those who have their own color scheme, you can create your own and save it.

Twenty Twenty-Two will be compatible with Full Site Editing, which is currently in beta. At the moment it's still quite rough around the edges and not quite ready for production, but this is the biggest step thus far towards a future free of page builders. That said, there is no reason why different page-building tech can co-exist. It will be interesting to see how it’s received by WordPress users in general after its release in 2022.

My Take

If you were to ask me a couple of years ago, I would have predicted that WordPress would start to lose market share to another platform that managed to do everything is much more user-friendly way. Matt Mullenweg saw the writing on the wall and decided to do something about it.

Some of the changes that occurred over the past year were impressive, but the development of a WordPress Performance Team that’s going to help developers, along with the increased adoption of GatsbyJS (Headless WordPress), and a new editing experience that promises to simplify page-building... wow. I stand corrected. WordPress is fighting back with genuine innovation, evolving the WordPress core and ecosystem to meet the needs of its users in 2022 and beyond.

Comments

  1. Cleaning up script enqueuing and dequeuing seems like a layup for the performance team. It's amazing to me in 2021 (and so close to 2022) that this CMS still allows plugins to load scripts and style sheets on the front-end where the plugins are not actively being called. That's bonkers, is it not?

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