Web design platforms have been competing in a race that has been going on for over 14 years, and some signs are starting to show the race drawing to a close, with one of the two main contenders taking the throne.
To fully understand how each side had arrived to this point in the battle, one must go back to the first launch of WordPress, back in 2003.
The rise of WordPress
In the early days of the internet, a website was basically a bunch of static pages that resided within the same domain. Later, programming languages like Dot Net and Java were introduced, allowing the creation of much more complex websites.
The websites written in these programming languages were built as a closed circuit, meaning you had to rely on your developer to get even the smallest changes done. The developer was the only one with access to the site – front and back.
That closed circuit was apparent when it came to the services required to manage the site, including hosting servers and web design software. In the case of dot net, for instance, you had to have a licensed Windows server as well as a licensed Visual Studio in order to get your dot net website up and running.
In the early 2000’s, 3 new Open Source CMSs, or Content Management Systems, appeared one after another and allowed for a much easier way to create websites. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla were all open source CMSs and made it possible for site owners to create content and edit their websites without relying on technical assistance.
The three platforms started out pretty equal, and each attracted their own followers. Over the years, WordPress has vastly outgrown its competitors in popularity. In 2011, it powered 13.1% of all websites, and by March 2017 that number had grown to 27.6%.
WordPress was first created as a blogging platform, but over the years has evolved into a fast and optimized platform for creating any website. Whether it’s a complex eCommerce website, a forum, social network site or any other website, WordPress is up to the task.
When asked in a 2013 Time interview how WordPress remained relevant for over a decade, WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenberg said: “It’s not any one feature, but about how we do things — the community, being inclusive, always changing. We try to keep some of the agility of the best startups while also building things in an open-source fashion.”
This statement is more than just lip service. WordPress was created, as stated in the WordPress official policies page, as an open source project which set out to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software. This open source attitude was apparent throughout the development of the platform, from its reliance on volunteers, through its opened and free plugin and theme repository, down to its elaborate documentation called Codex.
In another interview to Memeburn, Matt stated that the role of WordPress was democratizing the web: “I think it’s (democratizing the web) the most important thing. As the web becomes more and more of a part of our everyday lives, it would be a horrible tragedy if it was locked up inside of companies and proprietary software. Part of the reason I do this is because I believe that open source is the most important idea of our generation and the only way to get the web on open source is to create a better product.”
The alternate rise of Wix
A few years after WordPress was launched, a new startup joined the website creation race. It used Flash technology (a technology later to be changed to JS) to enable its users to create websites visually, with an easy to use drag and drop editor.
While WordPress made creating websites simpler, it still required some technical knowledge to setup and manage. Wix took it to the next level and made their focus on creating websites with no technical knowledge requirements whatsoever. Everything was visual, you no longer had to deal with the hassle of hosting, databases or installation.
Wix uses a freemium business model, as opposed to WordPress’s open source model. Their initial sign up is free but is limited. They can build a website as a subdomain of Wix, but they have to pay to get premium upgrades, like connecting their sites to their own domains, removing Wix ads, adding e-commerce capabilities, and so on.
There is another difference which is important to understand between Wix and WordPress. While WordPress is a CMS, Wix is not. A CMS is a system that organizes content, making it easy to manage blogs, forums, magazines and other types of websites.
Wix was initially a platform to help design single Flash pages, which were later switched to HTML5 & JS pages. Even though it has expanded its abilities, Wix has still remained in many ways a system for designing pages, and not a CMS. As Wix itself states: “Wix is a website building platform, and works differently than other Content Management Systems (CMS). Wix does have components and applications that function as part of a CMS, but Wix itself is design-driven and, as such, is not a ‘pure’ CMS.”
Wix has had lots of rivals over the years: Squarespace, Weebly, Webydo, Jimdo to name a few. Through aggressive marketing, it has surpassed them all in popularity and recently surpassed 100 million websites. Superbowl ads, top models and actors commercial, Wix spared no expense in getting more and more people to recognize their brand.
There were other factors that led to its success, like its App Market, which was introduced back in 2012 and allowed Wix users to integrate third-party apps to their websites.
Wix going after WordPress
It’s pretty clear that Wix recently changed its focus, directing it towards competing with WordPress and gaining more technically savvy users. It is trying to become, in many ways, more of a CMS than a simple tool for designing web pages.
For instance, Wix recently created a large marketing campaign, where it tried to debunk the long given criticism, that its platform is not SEO friendly. The campaign offered a prize of 50,000$ to anyone who outperforms their own Wix page for the term “SEO Hero”.
In another example, it introduced a forum feature, allowing their users to create a community within Wix. It has added, in the last couple of years, eCommerce, blog, restaurant management and other features previously seen on CMSs and not on online website builders.
WordPress going after Wix
WordPress, on its part, is shifting its focus on improving the areas where it falls short of Wix. These areas include making it easier for non-tech savvy people to build a website with WordPress, as well as providing an all-inclusive website solution, with hosting, domain registration and other services related to site management.
As you would expect from an open source project like WordPress, its improvement efforts are made not only by the WordPress organization itself but also from everyone else involved in the project.
The WordPress community behind WordPress.org has recently put an emphasis on developing the Customizer, a drag and drop interface that helps build the basic framework of your site visually.
Automattic, the organization created by Matt Mullenweg, is making efforts to become an all inclusive solution. It has recently announced a new feature: the ability to edit in Docs and publish in WordPress, making it much easier to create WordPress posts and pages.
Finally, there are efforts from the WordPress community of developers. Theme and plugin providers are creating themes and plugins that simplify the website creation process. Such is the page builder that my company has developed, Elementor, a visual drag and drop page builder plugin that matches WordPress’s design capabilities with that of other website builders and broadens it even further.
The struggle of each platform, Wix and WordPress, to catch up with the other and match its advantages, might suggest a point in the future when one of the platforms surpasses the other in capabilities as well as in popularity.
For me, it’s very easy to pick a side in this battle. I have been using WordPress for over 10 years, and currently, work in a company that provides WordPress related products. I have experienced WordPress’s growth firsthand, and have personally grown alongside it, so I appreciate the value of its open source attitude.
When researching for this article, all of the Wix-WordPress comparison articles I have found compared the platforms’ various features head-to-head. This seems to me like a never-ending task, as these features keep evolving with each competitor racing forward. In a race such as we are seeing, such a comparison is irrelevant, as the features provided by each platform change and improve constantly to match and surpass the other.
In the next few years, we can expect both systems to become even more similar. Wix offering solutions for more advanced websites, and WordPress becoming more and more user-friendly and accessible. This rising in similarity between the platforms will accentuate the basic and more essential difference between WordPress and Wix, one open source and community driven, the other centralized and paid subscription oriented.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.