WordPress has been praised for years as an easy to use content management system. This was not only because of its famous 5-Minute Install marketing slogan. However, currently there are voices expressing that WordPress is rather difficult. It's even getting to a point where major parts of WordPress are being reinvented. But is WordPress difficult to use? Let's try to find out!
- Gutenberg – an approach to make WordPress easier
- Is WordPress difficult to use?
- Documentation and education is key
- Guidance from within the WordPress dashboard
- Do we need to reinvent the wheel?
- Feedback from end users – not developers – is crucial
Gutenberg – an approach to make WordPress easier
WordPress 5.0 will possibly include the new Gutenberg editor (currently available as a plugin). The Gutenberg editor claims to make WordPress easier and more beginner friendly, while making WordPress future proof and ready to compete with Wix, Medium, Squarespace or else.
At the moment Gutenberg is being discussed rather controversial, since it will heavily change the way WordPress is used today. Gutenberg may possibly even replace widgets or shortcodes, features that are being used on millions of WordPress sites. Instead the new editor provides a way to place and arrange blocks of content through a single interface. It's hard to describe, you need to test it yourself.
Is WordPress difficult to use?
Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of the WordPress project and CEO of Automattic, recently said “Right now WordPress makes you learn a lot of concepts – shortcodes, widgets, the stuff that exists inside TinyMCE as blocks today”. The question is, are these things difficult to learn and do people really have issues using things like widgets or shortcodes on their self-hosted WordPress sites?
Recently we did a customer survey as we wanted to find out how people are using our MH Magazine theme. We wanted to learn what we're doing well and where we can do better. Of course we gather already lots of feedback while providing customer support, but we wanted to have a compact survey with feedback and results. This survey also contained questions about ease of use and happiness.
MH Magazine is one of the most popular magazine themes for WordPress. The theme does involve exactly the features in WordPress that are being considered as problematic. The initial setup involves creating a static front page, selecting page templates, placing widgets, using options in the customizer and it even involves custom meta fields at some point – without providing a one-click install. But what do users think? Are they struggling with this or even abandon WordPress?
It was interesting to see that 88% of users said that the theme was easy to configure. We already expected a good result since we're not seeing much support requests and overall we're getting great feedback. But still it was surprising to see that 9 out of 10 users find it easy to work with page templates and widgets. It's also worth mentioning that MH Magazine includes a rather complex front page with up to 12 widget areas! It seems widgets in WordPress are rather simple to use.
In addition 95% of users are happy with MH Magazine and they would recommend the theme to other people. Since the theme involves many WordPress features that recently have been considered to be rather complex, it still leaves the question, is this really the case? Do people really need a new way of working with WordPress? Or are there possibly other issues that need to get solved?
Documentation and education is key
From our experience education is key! We created extensive documentation (videos and tutorials) to help people configure their sites. It's important to tell users what they need to do, from their point of view. Unfortunately, this is where WordPress has a huge deficit at the moment.
When checking the documentation in the WordPress Codex or the Developer Resources it becomes rather obvious that this information often (not always) has been written by developers or by people that are heavily involved in the development process. It's rather complex and unstructed information. It doesn't really cater to end users who have no idea how to start using WordPress.
While supporting users on a daily basis (mostly WordPress beginners), we notice very often that most of the time users are struggling with WordPress basics. This includes creating custom menus, understanding category archives, etc… While we have created some basic WordPress tutorials as well, most of our documentation of course is about our products, not about using WordPress.
That means we often need to refer users to WordPress tutorials and that's often where the confusion starts. Even our support staff sometimes struggles to find proper documentation for WordPress newbies on WordPress.org. We often end up sending users to 3rd party sites like WPBeginner or else where they can learn using WordPress. The lack of beginner friendly documentation is one of the main issues. Yes, writing documentation isn't always fun, but it seems more than necessary.
Guidance from within the WordPress dashboard
In my opinion WordPress can become much more beginner friendly by offering guidance from within the WordPress dashboard. There are hosting companies which have already implemented this through a plugin. It offers lots of little hints and instructions for users to configure their sites. Why isn't this available in WordPress core? This would immediately improve the onboarding process.
Instead of forcing users to browse through the WordPress Codex with information most of them won't understand or let people Google to find a suitable tutorial (which may be outdated) the guidance could be right in front of them. This would lead to much less frustration and educate beginners instead of making them dependent from answers in support forums or else.
Do we need to reinvent the wheel?
The big question is, will Gutenberg really make WordPress easier? What happens with Gutenberg once it will be extended by themes and plugins? Is browsing through tons of icons and managing blocks really easier for beginners than having a clear separation between writing content and doing layout stuff like placing widgets or else? Do we even need a search engine for blocks at some point?
I think what WordPress really needs is a better editor which improves the writing experience. The purpose of the editor should be to create and publish content. In my opinion the current Gutenberg approach goes way too far. Letting people manage blocks (which also may require design skills at some point) rather than just writing their content may become more complex and confusing.
Do we really need to reinvent the wheel and make everything in WordPress blocks? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to let people use what they are used to and improve / iterate on that? Changing the workflow in WordPress affects 28% of the web, it should be carefuly considered before making drastic changes. Just think about all the outdated tutorials and support threads on WordPress.org people will be looking at. Does that solve the confusion and help beginners using WordPress?
Feedback from end users – not developers – is crucial
I think at this stage of the Gutenberg project it's crucial to get feedback from end users – not from developers. Why not doing a survey? Right in the WordPress dashboard (e.g. with WordPress 4.9) and not on Github or else. Would it really be appropriate to change the life of 28% of the web without asking end users first? What if the majority of users doesn't want Gutenberg in its current state?
The question is if Gutenberg has already been decided to be much more than an editor to write content. Or is the goal to make it easier for users by asking them what is important to them? Yes, using WordPress may be hard for some people. But this also applies to social networks or even the internet itself. You can't cater for anyone, but you can listen to your user base and iterate to make your product better. With that being said, Gutenberg is a chance to make WordPress better or worse.