The WordPress community is filled with resources to learn about WordPress but finding them can be difficult. WordPress is developed around the clock and locating material that keeps pace can also be a challenge.
Lynda.com is an online learning center devoted to teaching topics such as, business, technology, design, and photography. For more than five years, Morten Rand-Hendriksen has taught and maintained the WordPress Essential Training course on Lynda.com. The course has been viewed by more than 100,000 individuals and to celebrate, Lynda.com is making it available for free for one month.
By maintaining a WordPress training course, Hendriksen is in a unique position to see trends. He’s also had to keep up with and monitor the vast changes to WordPress that have occurred in the last five years. In the following short interview, Hendriksen describes common pain points users experience with WordPress and shares advice for new users.
Short Interview with Hendriksen
Which aspects of WordPress do users have the most trouble with?
Based on course feedback and a myriad of emails and questions on Twitter, the hangups people encounter when using WordPress fall into three main categories:
- Installation and migration
- User interface and feature changes
- Theme and plugin inconsistencies
Installation and Migration
More and more users create local installs to experiment before launching their sites, and they’re creating quite advanced sites on their local computers. When it comes time to migrate these sites, they often get stuck.
I think this is partially due to lack of official and understandable documentation about migration, and partially because the general level of technical know-how necessary to build a local install is decreasing. Thanks to tools like MAMP/WAMP, BitNami, and ServerPress, more advanced skills like migration and external hosting become bigger steps up than they were previously.
User Interface and Feature Changes
As WordPress evolves, user interface changes are fairly common but in most cases, they are left unaddressed in release documentation. Recent examples include the removal of Advanced Image Options and Link Title from the editor modals. When changes like these are encountered by existing users, their first response is to assume they are doing something wrong or there is something wrong with their install.
In my opinion, this is justifiable: In other software and in most other situations in the physical world, when a feature is removed or altered in such a way it is not easily found, this change is clearly addressed.
In WordPress, it is usually only the large feature changes that are explained while the smaller ones are left for the user to discover on their own. When these features are part of the user’s workflow, that becomes a problem. This is further exacerbated when meta-conversations in the advanced community go public providing confusing and often contradictory information for new users.
Theme and Plugin Inconsistencies
The final grouping is the most obvious one. As the theme and plugin landscape becomes more diversified, users often feel overwhelmed and confused about what solutions to choose and how to use them. A search for membership plugins, business themes, or booking calendars returns hundreds if not thousands of widely different solutions that often have little in common.
Meanwhile, you can find blog posts and lists claiming that pretty much every one of them is the best one and the rest are inferior copies. On top of that, more and more themes and plugins are released as freemium offerings or shells that lead the user to a third-party service.
All of this comes together to produce a confusing and frustrating user experience that leaves many users feeling like they are not smart enough to use the application or that they made a wrong choice in going with WordPress.
These are all issues that could be resolved by creating consistent user experiences and by theme and plugin developer communities becoming more mindful of what kind of experiences they provide for the user when they ship freemium solutions or third-party up-sells.
Are there more roadblocks to overcome than there were five years ago?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. WordPress has more roadblocks for the beginner, but for the more experienced user there are also more opportunities. I think one of the major challenges we are facing as a community is that WordPress is becoming too advanced for its core user base. The appeal of click-and-publish services like WIX and SquareSpace is that they do not require an in-depth understanding of the underpinnings of the application for it to work.
In striving to become a full-fledged CMS for advanced developers and large publications, WordPress has let itself drift away from its core philosophy of democratizing publishing by adding the very level of complexity it originally aimed to remove. Combined with the theme and plugin issues described above and a lack of modern tools that users expect such as, drag-and-drop design tools and front-end editing, I see new users respond the same way to WordPress today that they did to Drupal five years ago.
On the plus side, these roadblocks are more like speed bumps than fortified walls. With patience and access to well-crafted and easy to understand training materials, I stand by my claim that anyone, regardless of previous experience, can learn to build a great website with WordPress. What has changed is the level of complexity, both in use and in what you can produce.
What advice do you have for those new to WordPress?
My number one piece of advice for new and existing WordPress users is to always remember that WordPress is just a tool that makes it easy for you to put content in a database and your visitors to retrieve that content. When learning a new tool as technically advanced as WordPress, it is easy to get so caught up in the tool itself, that you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Whatever your goals and intentions were when you picked up WordPress for the first time, make sure you remember them and keep working toward them.
When learning WordPress, whether you are teaching yourself, learning from books or videos, or going to class, remember that every person in the community, even Andrew Nacin, was at some point in time where you are now: Just trying to figure it all out. While every person’s path to learning is different, they all have one thing in common: They all learn from each other.
So reach out online, in person, through Twitter, Facebook groups, Meetups, WordCamps, and beyond, and find like-minded people who want to learn with you or help you on your way. When you meet someone who is just starting out, help them get their footing and invite them into the community.
Finally, remember that WordPress is not an island. The web community is a rich ecosystem with many differing solutions based on the same core technology. Learning how the web works gives you the power to use WordPress to move beyond its borders and it’s beyond those borders where true magic is found.