Early this week Automattic launched “Built by WordPress.com Express,” an awkwardly named “webdesign” service.
Here’s the sales video:
The tagline “Real sites, built by real people.” is a good one. It acknowledges that most people who need a website are not web designers. It positions their service as an alternative the steep learning curve to doing-it-yourself (with WordPress or elsewhere).
It feels a little like WordPress VIP lite (very lite!). In fact, I’m fairly certain some of the screenshots in the video are from VIP clients.
Reading between the lines, the service seems to be a layout service. You pick a pre-existing theme, provide the content and US$500 and then they’ll “do it for you.”
This is bad on so many levels! (well at least 4 I can think of off the top of my head)
Easy To Replicate
Some are speculating that this service is a desperate attempt to increase profitability for an upcoming IPO. I find this plausible.
Unfortunately, if this service proves to be a hit, is incredibly easy for Elementor, Wix, Squaresquares, etc to replicate. Set up a network of “experts” poached from fivrr and some minimal organization to manage the workflow.
Whether A8C’s competitors could pull it off as well with good templates, solutions that work and great support is almost besides the point. This segment of the market is just looking for a solution to the basic problem of “I need a website.”
Hard to Support
A $500 WP Express customer is going to expect the same level of support as a $500,000 WP VIP customer. Period. If the goal is raising profit, the support costs are sure to challenge that goal.
Solves Half The Problem
The design — as in the visual appearance — is only half the problem you need to solve when building a website. Maybe even less than half in many cause.
A beautiful website is useless without a cohesive content strategy. Professionally written, thoughtful content will always give you a leg up on the competition… the competition who whipped together a website for $500 without a second thought.
The marketing copy on the sales page strongly implies that your content is unimportant. Providing content is simply the 3rd item on a 5-item list, equal weight to providing your business address and sitting back and relaxing.
This is the biggest problem.
The popularity of WordPress is built on the hard work and goodwill of freelancers. Passionate people who’ve spent the past 2 decades spreading the Gospel of Matt.
Any of these freelancers will tell how hard it can be to convince a potential client that their website is worth more than approximately $500. Imagine how much harder this becomes when wordpress.com is setting the going rate at $500! Why would they ever hire you?
To quote @briancoords on twitter “a massive private company and also the sole entity allowed to commercially profit off the WordPress trademark devaluing WordPress could be harmful for anyone trying to earn a living anywhere at any price point.”
Not to mention that the templates themselves are kind of ugly.
This feels like a gut punch.
I’m always rooting for Automattic. But I hope this goes nowhere fast and we never hear about it every again.