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Everything Is Content: WordPress in the 2020s
6 min read

Everything Is Content: WordPress in the 2020s

The next generation of WordPress sites aren't content publishers. Meet Content-Based Platform Experiences: WordPress-powered SaaS startups.
Everything Is Content: WordPress in the 2020s

Over the last decade, WordPress has established itself as the go-to content management platform for online newspapers, magazines, and blogs of all sizes. It’s also begun to gain footholds in the broader world of publishing: corporate newsrooms, brand sites, and content marketing vehicles. Despite WordPress’ commanding presence – nearly a third of the web’s top million sites – there’s still significant opportunity in up-ending more bluechip offerings, like Adobe Experience Manager and SiteCore, as the “first CMS” for large enterprises.

Beyond WordPress’ potential to take down commercial platforms within six-figure-per-year licensing fees, it stands at the door of another opportunity: redefining what content is, and how we manage it.

Historically, the definition of “content” (and, by definition, WordPress’ place in the world) has centered around the written word: journalism and blog content (like this). Though forward-thinking publishers have begun to embrace other forms of media – video, images, infographics, and audio – as part of their publishing approach, this model still centers around the notion of a collection of articles, rolled up into groups like categories.

But WordPress is slowly taking hold in another domain. Over the next few years, in fact, I expect it to become the driver of much of WordPress’ continued growth. Content-Based Platform Experiences.

What is a Content-Based Platform Experience?

Content-Based Platform Experiences are digital solutions that facilitate the creation and distribution of content outside of the traditional realm of articles. Fundamentally, they’re still content management systems under the hood – supporting authoring and distributing words, images, and videos – but with editorial and end-user experiences specifically tailored towards the challenges at hand.

Consider LearnDash, a learning management system – an online course platform – built atop WordPress. Online courses, at their core, are a collection of lessons containing some type of content, rolled up into units and courses. They’re augmented with additional features, like membership support, quizzes, and discussion features, to support the learning experience.

While it’s possible to build an online course using an out-of-the-box WordPress install, it won’t be easy. Because the editorial experience isn’t tailored towards organized content like a course is organized, managing content will be cumbersome. Value-add features like membership and quizzes will need to be bolted-on using third-party plugins. And the ecosystem of thoughtfully designed and built themes tailored towards this specific use-case is limited.

Content-based Platform Experiences like LearnDash leverage WordPress as the foundation for a thoughtfully-strategized and carefully-crafted product that focuses on the unique and specific challenge of each niche. They recognize that, for many digital products, the definition of “content” has rapidly expanded–and that that content, whatever it may be, deserves a solution that’s flexible, robust, and supports best-in-class experiences across the board.

Why WordPress Is the Perfect Solution

Typically, building a new software solution comes with three sets of challenges:

  1. Architecting and building a customer (end-user) facing experience that’s engaging and intuitive;
  2. Designing and implementing an administrative experience that’s efficient and easy-to-learn;
  3. Selecting a technical platform that enables you to be quick to market, is robust and scalable, and accommodates your customers’ varying levels of proficiency.

WordPress provides a viable starting point for all three of these challenges that’s significantly more robust than any other off-the-shelf framework or platform.

For customer facing experiences, its built-in templating system has proven robust enough to support an ecosystem of thousands of commercial themes with widely varying feature sets and use cases. The templating system’s close integration with WordPress’ plugin system also provides a turnkey solution for optional and extended functionality – empowering an entire ecosystem around a Content-Based Platform Experience with little additional work. And, with WordPress’ out-of-the-box REST API support, even more technically-complicated decoupled experiences work just the same.

Similar efficiency exists for the back-office. WordPress’ administrative experience is familiar to a broad spectrum of internet users, and can be extended to support nearly any workflow imaginable. The out-of-the-box tools, including WordPress’ block-based content editor, Gutenberg, and the Customizer, provide a rich foundation for building well-thought-out administrative experiences.

For developers, WordPress’ support for custom post types and taxonomies, though originally designed for more traditional content models, support nearly every relational dataset imaginable. Built-in support for authentication and permissions management saves substantial time and effort in building out any unique platform’s table stakes functionality. WordPress’ multisite support, coupled with its ecosystem of third-party hosting providers, provides turnkey distribution for both SaaS and licensed software models–while empowering Content-Based Platform Experience developers to focus their efforts on their platforms themselves, leaving infrastructure concerns to others at an affordable overhead.

Across the board, WordPress solves many of the challenges that kill technical products before they ever get off the ground – letting founders channel their energies and efforts into building the actual experiences that drive their businesses.

There’s Already Prior Art

This isn’t entirely hypothetical – there’s already a number of platforms that have seen tremendous success by building atop WordPress.

LearnDash has seen adoption across major universities, Fortune 500s, and online learning entrepreneurs. It provides a turnkey learning management solution that rivals Teachable and other SaaS-based platforms, while empowering creators to own, deploy, and customize their educational platforms as they see fit. Depending on your budget and level of sophistication, your implementation approach might vary from a commercially-available theme and a few plugins, all the way to a fully bespoke online training platform. And, even more importantly, this flexibility exists across a spectrum–empowering LearnDash customers to grow into more complex needs as their products prosper.

WooCommerce began as a WordPress plugin for selling products online, and has since become the world’s most popular e-commerce platform – powering over six times as many sites as Shopify. A whole ecosystem of commercial themes and plugins has grown around it, enabling creators to get their stores off the ground quickly and easily, with little technical knowledge or WordPress background. And, for more complicated use cases, a rich suite of developer-focused functionality remains at hand.

Easy Digital Downloads has been a WordPress community staple for simpler e-commerce initiatives for years. Though significantly more developer focused than LearnDash or WooCommerce, it, too, has built a rich ecosystem of third-party plugins and themes that enable folks to get off the ground quickly.

The WordPress of 2025

Many of today’s existing Content-Based Platform Experiences lean heavily into their WordPress foundations. They’re branded and promoted as WordPress plugins, and actively position themselves as the de facto way to do X with WordPress. Looking ahead, I expect to see WordPress’ status as the foundation of these (and new) to become less of a talking point – with products instead focusing on the benefits that WordPress provides: rich customer and administrative experience and a flexible developer-friendly ecosystem.

WordPress-powered Content-Based Platform Experiences also provide a significant flexibility that traditional SaaS products lack: they can be built and sold as SaaS solutions and on-premise (self-managed) products virtually out of the box. By leveraging the benefits provided by any number of the big names in the WordPress hosting space, alongside WordPress’ multisite support, founders can offer the full suite of deployment options to fit every customer’s needs.

As the next few years take shape, I expect to see an increasing number of digital products built atop WordPress to take advantage of its developer-friendliness, ubiquity, and rich ecosystem–with many new businesses (and WordPress-powered websites!) launched as a result. These sites, along with increased WordPress adoption for more traditional content management use cases across enterprise users, will drive the next generation of WordPress growth.

Opportunities Abound

The breadth of possible Content-Based Platform Experiences is substantial. Nearly any SaaS product – particularly those with universally-lambasted user experiences – is vulnerable.

Take MindBody Online, a popular management and booking platform for fitness storefronts (gyms, boxing clubs, yoga studios, etc.), as an example. Though studio owners find its management interface overly complicated, and its customer-facing experience suffers similarly, it’s well-entrenched due to the difficulty in building and managing a SaaS-based platform. Imagine a WordPress-based alternative – built iteratively over time – focused on solving challenges in class registration, club marketing, and back-office management?

Alongside individual Content-Based Platform Experiences, the market is also ripe for tools that support these endeavors: reducing friction in SaaS-style operations or independent deployment onto a managed WordPress host, tackling billing and distribution challenges, or a curated marketplace that highlights the best-in-class platforms built on WordPress.

Though the fact that each Content-Based Platform Experience is built on WordPress won’t independently ensure their success, a talented founder that’s able to focus solely on the problem they know best is far more likely to find it than one that’s bogged down in more cumbersome approaches.