WordPress announced in a January 4, 2021, blog post that it will now offer custom-built websites for a limited number of ecommerce, education, and professional services companies. Interested businesses must apply through a form at WordPress.com, and the price starts at $4,900.
WordPress is offering these custom sites in response to the growing popularity of drag-and-drop website builders like Wix and Squarespace, which are quickly growing in market share. According to a study by SiteBuilderReport, Wix runs 3.8 million websites, while Squarespace is behind 1.9 million sites.
In comparison, WordCamp Central estimates that WordPress runs over 75 million websites, while the site WhoIsHostingThis.com estimates that over 455 million websites are built on the software. But the number of sites that are hosted by WordPress.com—the money-making side of the company, rather than the free and open-source WordPress.org software—is harder to pin down.
The community speaks out
Community reaction is mixed. As reported by Post Status, the WordPress community has lots of feelings about the announcement. Some, like Morten Rand-Hendriksen, insist that the services will take money out of the pockets of agencies that cater to small businesses. Others, like Matt Mullenweg (one of the original WordPress developers), think the move will keep creators on WordPress during the key moment of frustration when they might otherwise move to competitor builders. Post Status pulled a Mullenweg quote from a Slack thread on the matter:
The market for this is people who have more time than money, try to get started on .com, hit a wall and go to Wix or Squarespace / etc. will be referrals to external folks, and 100% certain this will drive more up-market consulting in the future that may be a better budget fit for folks in this room… but if they go to another platform altogether, there’s no opportunities for them in the ecosystem down the road.Matt Mullenweg via Slack
The appeal of builders without leaving the platform
As a freelance marketer who has helped individuals build sites on both WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress sites, I understand that sentiment. The CMS isn’t entirely user-friendly. There is an appeal to visual website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly, that take care of the technical aspects and deliver a usable product.
Companies that just want to get in front of their first customers don’t necessarily have time to learn the difference between a page and a post. If these business owners get frustrated trying to customize the font on their theme, they are likely to jump ship to Squarespace or Shopify that offer easy-build options for small to enterprise businesses. In the end, if the business builds on WordPress, they’re more likely to stay with the CMS for the long term.