WordPress.com launched a new website building service today with prices starting at $4,900. Automattic has been beta testing the service since the last quarter of 2020. The product announcement invites customers to let WordPress.com’s professional team “translate your vision into a compelling and modern website” but does not specify pricing for more customized websites:
Whether you need a fast and performant eCommerce store for your products and/or services, a polished website for your professional services firm, or an educational website for your online courses, our experts can build it for you on WordPress.com, the most powerful platform for businesses and enterprises large and small.
Initial reactions from the WordPress developer and freelance community were mixed. Some see the competition as good and others perceived it as a threat to WordPress consultants and small agencies, because a product from WordPress.com carries the full weight of the official WordPress brand.
“Whether this succeeds or not there are a lot of folks with a sick stomach today because of it,” WordPress developer Chris Wiegman said.
Automattic stepping into the $5k website market came as a surprise to many, after years of keeping to the enterprise space with its WordPress.com VIP service. (Sometime in 2019 the service started going by “WordPress VIP” without the “.com” appended to it.) Freelancers haven’t had to worry too much about competing against a large company like Automattic when trying to attract clients. It’s also an interesting move because the company seemed stretched thin when it came to maintaining plugins used by VIP clients in 2019, despite seeing “demand for WordPress in the enterprise market like never before,” according to Nick Gernert, head of VIP.
“Can’t say I’m surprised by this announcement, but it doesn’t bode well for the community, to be honest,” WordPress consultant Joshua Nelson said. “Freelancers will be hurt the most. A for instance: My custom built sites start at $3k. Once you factor in a designer that $4.9k rate looks very competitive.”
In response to community concerns on Twitter, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg said the product is targeted at people who have a difficult time getting started with WordPress.
“I would be extremely surprised if this impacts anyone’s consulting business, if you do have a current or potential client leave for it please let me know — it should be all new-to-WP users who wouldn’t have been successful getting started,” Mullenweg said. He also confirmed that the new service was set up for “referring business out” and referenced a previous experiment in 2018 where WordPress.com partnered with Upwork to refer clients for custom development.
It's actually referring business out. We had a previous experiment around this partnering with Upwork.
The product launch lacked this information and some noted the copy was confusing with phrases like “Built by us” and “Our experts can build it for you.”
WordPress professionals took to Post Status‘ Slack to discuss the implications of Automattic’s new offering. Mullenweg responded to them, saying he is “100% certain this will drive more up-market consulting in the future” to consultants who handle larger projects and potentially bring more business to plugin and theme developers. He also noted that Bluehost’s full service product is a similar solution and that services like Web.com have been competing in this space for awhile.
“Typically these are called DIFM (do it for me) vs DIY (do it yourself),” he said.
Automattic must be witnessing a strong demand for DIFM, as participants in the discussion at Post Status referenced Mullenweg’s comments on the topic during his most recent State of the Word address delivered in December 2020:
Lots of people lost their jobs. Lots of people were looking to supplement their income. This drove an incredible amount of entrepreneurship, so people who were looking for people who knew WordPress. And on the other side of that, normal folks who knew or learned WordPress found that they had a lot to demand for their work, so they were able to supplement or replace their income, essentially for folks who have a do it for me mentality, so someone who is looking for someone else to build a website. It’s never been a better time to learn and invest in improving your WordPress skills.
The idea behind this product is to help those who get stuck with WordPress before they turn to competitors that market website creation to beginners. It indicates that WordPress still has a long road ahead before it is truly an approachable tool for beginners embarking on their first site building experience.
Automattic has not published a pricing structure for the features included in a basic $4900 website. Based on images on the landing page, the sites do not seem extensively customized beyond what existing themes offer. It seems like more of a website setup service and does not explicitly promise custom development.
When asked how agencies can apply to be put into the pipeline for referrals from WordPress.com’s new service, Mullenweg indicated that the product is still in the experimental stage.
“It’s unclear if anyone wants this yet, so for this experiment don’t have that yet,” Mullenweg said. “If it works then definitely we will try to open it up.”
most business owners do not even know what WordPress even is, maybe they’ve heard the term but I’m not sure how much brand recognition even exists amongst that audience.
I don’t know Benjamin. I’m a freelance web developer and over the last few years I’ve had A LOT of prospective clients mention WordPress unprompted.
They have a range of technical aptitude, but the WordPress brand is probably similarly known to small business owners as Stripe or Xero.
sure, but still doesn’t actually mean they know what it is though. 🙂 also a site developer and I’ve had to explain what WordPress is many times not sure many of them understand what it is to this day.
I was coming here to say the same exact thing. Almost all my customers know WordPress as the software that runs their site, not a company that can offer them professional services.
Not true. WordPress has been very popular especially for the past 5 years. Almost every business owners know WordPress now.
This isn’t a surprising move by Automattic. What I do find surprising is the price point. If, as Matt suggests, this is for people struggling to get started, I’m not sure they’re going to be in the ~$5k market.
I don’t think it would impact any digital marketing agency especially in India, Because the price is way too much
Interesting. Let me ruminate, there is a lot to say on this. The Venn diagram will only potentially land on a very small cohort of potential clients interested or aware of such a service. Benjamin makes the point above.
Dare I say that it relates to that particular ailment that big tech companies and related owners sometimes suffer from: ego, opinion, and dominance?
In any event I would say that with much of this the service will be limited by what the powers at WordPress considers a website and, judging by the block editor, it doesn’t include many use cases.
From experience much of the work on projects revolves around getting the client into an understanding of what they need to do to have an online presence.
So for niche topics, I think designers will be unaffected. And, when it comes to the content of a site, if the client hardly understand their specific business model, crafted into good content, I don’t see the WordPress teams being clued into cajoling said clients into the right space to achieve this. A lot of this is specific to local culture with the specifics of each topic.
In Germany we have a saying: “Schuster bleib bei Deinem Leisten”
Roughly translated, that means a professional should stick to his profession and the good job that he does, should not try to do everything else which will likely weaken the quality of his profession.
I generally don’t like to see big companies trying to grab all potential lucrative pieces of the cake.
I very much agree with that mentality and, in addition, German companies plough back in a high percentage of their revenues into R&D. I wish more countries in the EU followed this policy. Perhaps our damp climate in Ireland contributes somewhat to our brain fog.
WordPress is a household name among most business owners so this approach makes sense. It will likely take some simple jobs away but there’s plenty of demand. It shouldn’t hurt most agencies as there’s still a huge market targeting custom dev that’s far more profitable. I think it’s overall positive for the industry.
4900$, seriously dude? Here, we are getting ecommerce site and two mobile application (user and store) for around 250$ in laravel. Not even 1000 and yes its laravel.
I don’t see this as being an issue. If they want to have any success with this they need to change their target market. The typical individual struggling with WordPress is not going to have 5k lying around or they wouldn’t be trying to do it themselves. Either way, a little competition won’t hurt anyone.
Until now the WordPress ecosystem has been a live and let live ecosystem. It was kind of a win-win world for all who participated. In theory this could change now if Auttomatic starts spreading its wings into areas that usually freelancers worked.
This is all theoretical until now since probably nobody right now fully knows how this will evolve.
They are using their brand to move into the market. Their rollout and price point seems not well thought out for what they are offering. But they have deep pockets and have time to adjust. Once they get their act together, freelancers will be like goldfish competing against a shark for food. This is not good news long term.
Imagine WordPress consolidate all WordPress developers and designers, then match with all projects inquiries that the page collected. Such move is actually helping more freelancers to focus on technical work, and let WordPress to do the sales funnel and marketing.
And because of the price range and limited manpower, other WordPress agency can still leverage on the marketing path done by WordPress.
In short, expand WordPress market, not to compete with each other within the same circle is the key. Convert new or non-WordPress website will be the main focus.
Just my two cents.
Jagole – Web Reimagined
Well, for 4900, offshore shops can put together amazing things.
$4900 for a non customized job seems insane. For $5k my agency can give you damn near anything you want. With that said the Freelance community, I work for an agency and work on the side like many Devs, is going to be hurt the most. That is assuming most people could afford that. They are going to trust the Big Name that most people know. I will be very interested what WordPress and Automaticc think $5k is worth. It seems like they are basically getting the page live and have a basic theme installed. If that is the case it might be time to look into other CMS because that is criminal if that is the case.
What agency do you work for? The only reason I ask this, is because we are looking for wordpress design, and we aren’t finding much outside of $10k for basic web design on Freelancer – I agree with you… $5k should get someone virtually anything they want… A simple theme/asset “tweak” should require less than $1k investment… many YouTubers show how to tweak these free WP themes in minutes, not months… I don’t see where the $5k – $10k charge comes in, when simply tweaking existing free themes… Nobody whom quoted me would include SOME content. It was virtually a theme from $5k – $10k. Can I contact you privately?
Based on the landing page it sounds like the $4,900 sites aren’t just simple content sites:
Online Sites – Easily accept one-time, recurring payments, reach your customers, and design your site so it stands apart and converts more…
Educational Websites – Create a single platform that helps you connect with your audience, build a following and earn an income…
I’m imagining deep WooCommerce integrations and the service leveraging the entire WooCommerce ecosystem as well as all the other plugins, themes, tools, etc.
How can freelancer’s and small agencies compete with this? I have to believe this could impact larger agencies as well, why spend $30k if you can spend a fraction of that…
Are we seeing evidence of a new “trickle-up” economic theory:
Mullenweg responded to them, saying he is “100% certain this will drive more up-market consulting in the future”
I have a really hard time seeing this as good for anyone, except for an Automattic IPO…
Small businesses almost never have a 5k budget for web projects. I think it will take a while before freelancers really feel the impact.
I don’t see this as Automattic trying to take a piece of the freelance market. Instead, it’s like they recognize that people need more onboarding help now. Now more than before.
“It indicates that WordPress still has a long road ahead before it is truly an approachable tool for beginners embarking on their first site building experience.”
Irony about this is, go back 10 years, or so. WordPress was THE tool for absolute beginners to make their first site. And almost free. Anyone could do it, and was doing it. Not just blogs, but online shops (remember WP eCommerce plugin), forums, sites for selling services and courses. They did this all with the classic editor.
WordPress used to be easy for beginners, and it no longer is. Automattic is trying to fix this by this new onboarding attempt.
While the admin panel (e.g. content editing experience) may have gotten more complicated, I disagree with the part that making a website with WordPress could’ve been done by anyone 10 years ago. There were no one-click installers or managed WordPress hosts (that I could find anyway) you had to actually know what a web host even is, what FTP is, and how to get files from your computer there. Then figure out what is a database, how to make one and how to connect it. WordPress back then, as my memory recalls, was done by hobbyist tinkerers, not by average anyone who wanted a web presence.
GoDaddy had an easy one-click install for WordPress 10 years ago. Even on their cheapest hosting plan. I had several of those back then. No FTP needed. You just paid and they’d let you know when your WordPress site was up and ready. It wasn’t called “managed hosting,” it was cheap shared hosting, but that interface has been gone for a long time.
All that is fine but how are they going to secure the WordPress sites, It takes some server skills and HTACCESS coding skills, plus a few other things to secure and protect such a site, never mind getting it up. The site needs to stay up. No where is security even mentioned or what will be used.
To secure a website and keep it up 24/7 365 is usually the first step to a successful website.
I don’t think this should come as a surprise to the freelancer community. The goal of Automattic has been to stamp it’s footprint into the SaaS market for quite some time now. A market already flooded with inexperienced theme enablers and cheap WordPress site building labor shops.
While it may be negative to the small business and freelancer community, I do think it’s a net positive for the internet. I assume WordPress.com folks create the utmost quality websites, and while I would like that to be the norm with small web agencies and freelancers, I have found it to be more of an exception instead as they are pushing more for quantity than quality since small-to-medium clients rarely want to pay much.
If anything, maybe this will push those small web agencies and freelancers to up their quality game and push for even more polish, thus making the web a bit more enjoyable.
What doesn’t make any sense is that Matt himself claimed their target is Wix/SquareSpace users. Not to mention slamming the WP ecosystem for lacking the ability to service people going to Wix/SquareSpace.
“Tell me what the goal, or the point, is of providing this service if the expectation is that it has no impact on the agency ecosystem that surrounds WordPress?” – Tim Nolte
“To keep people who need more help than our support can provide in the ecosystem of WP before they just give up and go to a proprietary builder like Wix or Squarespace.” – Matt Mullenweg (https://twitter.com/photomatt/status/1346258115507834880?s=20)
This makes as much sense as it would be for Home Depot to begin building homes for people.
WordPress is a great tool to deliver content and brand for small businesses that need a web presence. However, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Anyone with a little time and some technical knowledge can install WordPress, pick a theme, and boot up a basic website. But what is that worth on its own? On the content side of things, building a web presence is about helping clients organize and develop content that speaks to an audience. It’s a labor intensive process that requires personal attention to all of the details. On the design end of things, to really customize a theme requires a similar commitment to design and code quality. In order for this service to ultimately benefit end users, Automattic would need to invest a huge amount of manpower on both sides of this equation, and I just don’t see it happening. Also – no offense to any of my clients – I spend a huge amount of time just explaining how all of the pieces fit together. This is worth it to me in building long-term relationships which pay off when those relationships grow, but not something I can see a big company investing for a product with a $5k price tag.
Democratizing publishing cuts both ways. This is the GPL. Automattic gives a lot and takes A LOT as well. They are free to enter any market they like. However the WordPress branding is not okay IMO, never has been.
I’m not foreseeing any real problems though with new endeavor.
Their targeted customers are the political/public figure/corporate companies and such for Promotional project (a few pages of site, site for information/events etc), who needs relatively simple site but require certain hosting they can trust and rely.
Pretty sure, their are lots of demand from high profile people/companies who want to rely on WP.com to make their occasional/frequent needs for small to medium size projects, instead of contacting a WP VIP agency to cut some costs, for them $4900 starting point would allow them to cut some costs in the end.
There is nothing magic about WP’s announced price point of $5K. If they need to shift the target to $3.5K or lower, they will.
The interesting thing is what this move says about how WP values it’s community, or at least, the freelance web builders in its community.
I believe, WordPress did take care of the freelancer community, considering the price point. What doesn’t make sense is their alignment of the target audience at this price point – because anyone who is at the initial stages of setting up their businesses aren’t likely to have that sort of capital. The average freelancer community won’t be affected as such, however, it could be a challenge to agencies who’re functioning at the same price point, as now their competition is with WordPress’ brand itself!
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