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WordPress 5.0 Is Out and The World Didn’t End

Transparency Report #46

Welcome to the 46th edition of the monthly transparency report (for November 2018). In this series, I discuss what has been going on in the business and share my learnings and strategies along the way. Click here to see the previous reports.

Our Black Friday experience in 2018

There were two main sides to our Black Friday efforts this year: we hosted an exclusive offer over at ThemeIsle.com, and we also published a roundup of the best deals in the WordPress space on this blog. Let’s have a word on how it all went:

🛍️ Let’s start with the former – our Black Friday deal.

We decided to do something very similar to our last year’s promo. We applied a site-wide discount with no coupon code required. Every new membership was 30% off for the first year (previously it was 25% off).

Overall, we saw a 50% increase in sales compared to this October. This is a very similar result to the numbers we saw last year. That being said, we didn’t do any ads this time, compared to the previous Black Friday when we spent a few thousand dollars on Facebook ads. You can read more about that in transparency report #34.

At the end of the day, Black Friday 2018 wasn’t too huge for us, everything considered. I know of other businesses in this space that did much better. I think that having a week-long sale at 25-30% off is generally a good strategy for theme/plugin stores.

🤩 Now, for the other side of the barricade – publishing a roundup of Black Friday deals on this blog.

We decided to make this year’s post much smaller than a year before. Previously, we had close to 200 deals in total, which resulted in some serious time investment when handling the post. The thing needed to be updated every day, with new deals appearing, becoming available, ending, etc. It was a ton of work.

This year, we only featured 15 or so of the top deals.

We picked those based on what the readers seemed to enjoy the most last year and also considered the overall reputation of the companies offering the deals.

We did it to both make things easier on the readers and at the same time make the workload significantly less brutal on ourselves.

black friday post

As it turned out, lots of other blogs published lists of 100+ deals, most of them unreadable. Plus, I’m personally not that convinced that huge roundups like that are actually useful to anyone. There’s just too much stuff, so some excellent deals can easily get lost in the mix.

However, our plan to minimize the workload was only half successful. While the roundup was indeed 1/10 the size it was last year, we still got tons of emails from companies that wanted to get featured. Lots of those requests we simply deleted, but many of them could use a response / explanation, particularly if they came from a partner or someone we knew.

A side note; the volume of various outreach messages that we get is getting more and more annoying. Even though we have a dedicated person handling them (not me), it’s still a lot of wasted time. We’ve always tried our best to answer and find creative and valuable ways to work with whoever’s reaching out. But most people just spam, and they’re not ready to put in any other work than what they read in some “how to do outreach” guide on SomeRandomBloggingAdviceBlog[dot]com.

To sum up, we got about three times more organic traffic to the Black Friday post this year than the year before.

These were the top 3 most popular deals this year:

  1. Envato
  2. Creative Tim
  3. Elegant Themes

WordPress 5.0 is here; the world didn’t end, it’s all fine

I don’t think there was another thing ever to appear in the WordPress ecosystem that was hated as much as Gutenberg.

People hated it with a passion. Some still do. Especially now – it being a part of WordPress 5.0.

And, I get it. As humans, we are naturally reluctant to change. Or, rather, we’re reluctant if the change is being forced on us.

Gutenberg is a huge change. Even for those planning to keep using the classic editor, they won’t be able to do that indefinitely. TinyMCE is simply going away. And that change seems tough if you’ve been used to interacting with TinyMCE ever since you first entered the WordPress dashboard.

I can relate to this personally. While I am excited for new stuff and curious about things, I pretty much hate to change my habits and have to re-learn stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I like to learn things that are completely new, not things that try to replace something that wasn’t broken and worked perfectly well. I guess that’s how many people feel about the WordPress editor.

Though, looking at this objectively, the new editor is obviously a great idea. Even if the current execution isn’t ideal – it can’t be – it’s still a great thing that should be pushed forward and improved upon.

new wordpress editor

While we could have waited a bit more and made the editor better before the final release, as they say, the timing is never right. Due to how the WordPress ecosystem works, the core push was needed to offer a big enough incentive for plugin and theme developers to start building for the new editor.

Otherwise, being a developer, it’s always more appealing to work on features that your users will pay for vs on integrating a new editor that’s probably years away from being included into core. With everything sped up this much, we’ve started seeing plugins and themes built for Gutenberg really quickly.

This brings me to my lesson here. I really didn’t envy Matt Mullenweg when all this was going on. I saw the awful position he was in, from a personal perspective, not business.

We are all humans, and we like to be appreciated and loved. For example, I get frustrated pretty easily whenever I read some mean messages on social or support channels, saying something bad about me or the company. I can only imagine how difficult this was for Mullenweg.

On the one hand, he knew that what he was doing was the best way to move the platform forward and keep it relevant as more and more tools begin offering better user-centered experiences for site building. But on the other, he regularly saw people argue on social media and blogs about how crappy the Gutenberg idea was. It’s easy to imagine how some of those arguments would turn into personal attacks, which must have made it painful to go through.

Having to deal with things like that makes you feel more like a politician than a CEO. You certainly need a lot of support to balance all this negativity.

At the end of the day, though, as we can all see, the world didn’t end with WordPress 5.0. Nobody’s site broke, and the majority of the people who tried the new block editor ended up loving it.

How WordPress 5.0 will affect the market?

I personally don’t see anything radical here. I mean, it’s 100% clear to me that the change was needed to push the platform forward, and it makes working with WordPress a lot easier for the end user, who can now finally showcase their content in a nice way.

Of course, some will benefit more than others from this change, and the themes and plugins market is likely to shrink a bit overall. Moreover, with various web hosts offering more integrated WordPress solutions each month, it can be tougher to convince users to install new themes and/or plugins on top of what the host has already given them for free; but that’s a topic for another time.

At the same time, I don’t always agree with the things that Automattic and the WordPress foundation are doing, and how Mullenweg frames some of the decisions he’s making. I tend to focus more on the facts and the trends that are likely to emerge for the WordPress ecosystem.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the market goes next regarding themes, plugins, and even content businesses as a result of all this.

Is AdSense still a thing?

A few months back, while trying to figure out a way to grow and improve our financials, I decided to do something old school. I reintroduced AdSense to our sites. Yes, you’re reading this in 2018, not 2008.

I started with JustFreeThemes and then added ThemeIsle to the mix as well. Sidebar only at this point – so nothing too brutal.

ad on ThemeIsle

Granted, sidebar ads aren’t the best in terms of CTR and overall potential. However, you don’t get a lot of options if you don’t want to affect the reading experience too much. I didn’t want to turn the blogs into ad-first publications where you have to get through a handful of AdSense blocks before you can get to the actual article.

Anyways. With this being called transparency report, you’d now expect some raw numbers on how worthwhile the whole AdSense experience has been. Well, according to the AdSense T&C, I am not allowed to share any specific data. So let’s just stay with the following overall conclusion:

It’s not worth the hassle.

I guess I’m not surprising anyone by saying that there really are better ways to monetize a blog going into 2019.

Still, I consider this a worthwhile experiment. You do get a lot of first-hand experience, plus you can set a benchmark for your site as to what should be considered a successful monetization level above what you can get from AdSense.

Not to mention, while running AdSense on your site and not blocking the ads in your own browser, you learn a lot about the landscape and who’s actually out there advertising to audiences like yours. Some of the products will surprise you. But it’s not just the advertisers that matter; it’s also interesting to break down how much those people are willing to spend and what the lifespan of the average campaign is.

This sort of info is really invaluable if you have a competing product in the same space.

Can AdSense boost your organic rankings?

To stay with the topic of AdSense, there’s this little thing that’s grown to a near conspiracy-theory level hype.

Here’s the question: Does adding AdSense actually boost your organic rankings? As in, if you have AdSense on the site, does the sole fact help you rank?

Sounds odd, okay, but there are some good arguments why Google might want to give AdSense sites a boost. Chief of them is the mere fact that the more AdSense-powered sites in the top 10, the more money goes back to Google’s pocket.

While it does make sense (somewhat), I don’t believe that it’s what’s actually happening. One argument is that ads from Google search bring a lot more revenue than whatever’s coming from the content network (AdSense on sites).

But let’s see what our own data says about this:

a) ThemeIsle blog

Unfortunately, we added AdSense precisely one day after launching the redesign of the whole blog, so it’s hard to point fingers at AdSense as the cause of any fluctuations in our rankings.

Overall, we did indeed see improvements to some of the numbers (10% traffic increase), but I would attribute it more to the much more substantial modifications to the entire site.

ranking improvements 1

b) JustFreeThemes

We saw a 5% increase in organic traffic. Damn it! I really don’t have a strong case here for busting the myth, do I?

ranking improvements 2

Anyway, at the end of the day, I encourage you to do some experiments of your own and see how AdSense performs on your site, both in terms of getting additional revenue but also scoring some better spots in Google search.

Business models – real talk!

The recently leaked Facebook docs are a gem.

Despite the doc being 250 pages long, it’s really worth a look. There are some interesting points there, especially if you want to learn how strategizing works at Facebook’s scale.

For instance, the one part that was really interesting to me was a thing about business models. Particularly, how a business model improves with scale.

For example, let’s say that you’re selling WordPress themes, and you’re at 100 themes a month. If you grow to 1000 themes a month, you will pretty much make 10x the money, obviously. However, your business model itself doesn’t get better with scale.

In comparison, if you look at a successful blog’s business model, it’s often that they can make much more money above what their linear growth might indicate. For example, if the main monetization model for a blog is affiliate income, then many merchants will bump your commission the more leads you generate. You might get, say, $50 per lead when you generate 10 sales, but $150 when you generate 100. It’s not an uncommon practice.

Apart from that, the more popular your blog gets, the more people want to write for you, more prominent influencers start reaching out, bigger companies want to do business with you, bigger partners want to advertise, and so on. The business model improves with scale.

To simplify the idea, think of it this way; is having 10 businesses like yours going to be the same as having one business that’s 10x the size?

To put it another way, do you think that having 10 or 50 wordpressupload blogs is the same as having one TechCrunch – considering you get the same traffic when summarized?

I think not.

On the other hand, having 10 smaller theme shops vs having one bigger shop isn’t that much of a difference. Or I might be wrong. Is it?

Speaking of wrong:

When I am wrong…

I’m making so many mistakes and missteps on a regular basis that I think I should create a “mistake of the month” column here. Anyways:

Exactly one year ago, I made a bet to introduce a collection of landing page templates and add them to Orbit Fox.

From a user’s perspective, you could just pick from a pre-made design (based on Elementor) and use it with any theme; all in a couple of clicks.

The plan was to also port the templates to work with Gutenberg later on.

I was very excited about this idea and decided to pursue it as the next thing on the agenda. While the idea itself might have been brilliant 🤓, I haven’t thought much about whether we are indeed the right company with the best position to execute on it.

For example, much later, Envato launched their own plugin aiming at a similar idea, and I realized that they’re in a much better position to make it work.

Design isn’t something we can just pull out of a hat and have done quickly, while Envato can pretty much launch a collection of 100 landing pages overnight.

It’s tough to realize those things, but sometimes you’re just not the person to pursue a given idea, even if it seems brilliant at first.

But what do you think? Should we even worry about such things? After all, no matter what you want to do, there’s always someone bigger out there that can come in and dominate the market overnight.

Okay, that’s all I have for you this month. Thanks for reading and for supporting us! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.