WordPress.org launched a new design for the Theme Directory just over a month ago and the meta team has continued to fix bugs and add enhancements. Preliminary stats and feedback indicate that the directory improvements have had a positive impact on users’ ability to hunt for themes.
WordPress.org contributor Konstantin Obenland reports that user engagement has taken a significant jump:
Users stay longer on the site, look at a lot more pages, and are way less likely to leave without any interaction. Comparing the week before the relaunch with this past week, session duration is up 9%. The amount of pages a user looks at is up 34%. And the overall bounce rate went down from ~30% to under 10%. Even on the homepage, where the bounce rate was at around 45%, we can see that drop by 2/3.
The new design has not affected the directory’s search engine ranking or download numbers. Obenland states that visitor numbers remain constant, as do search engine referral numbers and theme downloads.
While the new image-heavy grid design makes it easier for users to find the best themes on WordPress.org, the Commercial Themes page has suffered a sharp decline in stats.
“The Commercial Themes page saw a drop of ~40% in visitors between the old Directory and the new,” Obenland said. “That number was at 60% right after launch, but it recovered and continues to recover with some adjustments we made to the link placement on the site.”
Despite the prominent placement of “Commercial Themes” link on the main theme directory page, users are spending more time browsing for free themes. The previous design of the directory made it tedious to search for a new theme, but it’s likely that the new UI is helping users to discover how many truly beautiful, high quality free themes are available on WordPress.org.
The Commercial Themes page received the same UI updates as the main directory, but the chief complaint from commercial theme developers following the design switch was the placement and labeling of the link. This particular aspect of the design has been iterated upon several times since the launch.
However, relentlessly pursuing better stats for commercial theme shops is contrary to the purpose of the WordPress theme directory, according to an email reply received by one concerned user who contacted firstname.lastname@example.org:
“Our goal wouldn’t be to maximize traffic to the sites listed on the commercial page so much as making the site as functional and useful as possible,” the WordPress.org representative stated.
The commercial themes link has ultimately received an even more prominent placement than it had in years past and is also benefiting from the updated design. If stats remain down, it’s possible that the new design better reflects the quality of the free themes available. Satisfied users are less likely to turn to commercial options when they can easily browse and filter free options. For now, commercial theme shops listed in the directory will have to settle on improving their marketing elsewhere.