After 10 years in the WordPress ecosystem as one of the most popular plugin businesses, Yoast is branching out with a new SEO app for the Shopify market. The app will offer Shopify merchants a set of optimizations for search results and Google Shopping, automatically add structured data, and allows users to optimize for desired keyphrases. It will launch in the Shopify app store on January 18, 2022.
“An app on the Shopify platform is a huge business opportunity,” Yoast CEO Thijs de Valk said. “Shopify is growing fast. It makes sense to build an app and profit from the growth of that specific platform.”
Shopify is the second-fastest growing CMS, according to W3Techs’ 2021 data, used on 4.4% of websites, up from 3.2% last year. The next closest contender, Wix, passed up Joomla and Drupal in 2021, furthering a trend of hosted, closed source software platforms burying open source CMS’s.
In his biannual CMS market share analysis, Yoast founder Joost de Valk observed WordPress’ slowed growth as compared to earlier in the pandemic and commented that the platform does not appear to be heading towards 50% market share as he would have projected based on the numbers a year ago.
“Shopify continues to show amazing growth, in some months in the last 6 months it even managed to match the growth of WordPress in absolute numbers,” de Valk said. “Similarly, Wix has stepped up the pace and is growing rapidly.” He projects Shopify’s market share will be over 5% within the next six months.
“The growth of Yoast (up until now) has been highly dependent on WordPress,” Thijs de Valk said. “That makes us a bit vulnerable. When deciding to build the Shopify app, we were not acquired by Newfold Digital yet. The decision to build that app was also one of risk-diversification. Having an app or plugin on multiple platforms just makes sure that our company can grow sustainably.”
Breaking into a new market, de Valk said the experience so far is very different.
“Shopify is a different ecosystem, much more commercialized than WordPress,” he said. Product pricing for the hosted platform is higher than what users might pay monthly for a plugin in the WordPress ecosystem. The Yoast SEO app is starting out on the Shopify App Store at $29/month, which de Valk says is competitively priced.
“That makes the Shopify market attractive to extend to,” de Valk said. “We have big dreams to grow our company further (in and outside of WordPress) and success in Shopify would make that a lot easier.”
Unlike the WordPress plugin repository, the Shopify App Store doesn’t publish numbers of users for each app, so it’s not easy to see who Yoast SEO’s main competitors will be. SEO apps for Shopify are already a someone crowded space and many apps, such as SEO King, have more features, a free plan, more competitive pricing, and hundreds of positive reviews already. Yoast SEO will have a challenge ahead, entering a market with many established competitors.
de Valk said Yoast has not hired any Shopify developers but is relying on the current employees’ skills.
“Most of what was needed we already knew, or learned on the job, as we do,” he said. The company has had internal discussions about the fact that employees are now asked to write closed source software.
“We’re breaking with our tradition to only release Yoast SEO software to open-source platforms,” de Valk said. “Shopify is closed source. We had a lot of conversations about that because at Yoast we’re open-source fanboys and girls. At the same time, making the web better is also something very dear to our heart. And we think that Shopify is making the web better.”
de Valk confirmed that all Yoast employees were on board with developing closed source software and none of them moved on as a result of the change. The company’s more nebulous “making the web better” mission trumped its commitment to open source software in this case.
In 2021, Yoast was one of the biggest contributors to WordPress core through its Five for the Future pledge. The company plans to continue its commitments to WordPress and will be expanding its charitable giving from the expected Shopify profits. Yoast is calling this new initiative “Five for the web.” This strikes me as an odd choice, as the intention of the Five for the Future program is to avoid the “tragedy of the commons” scenario, which affects open access resource systems like open source software. This is clearly outlined on Yoast’s website in the section on open source where it states, “At Yoast, it’s at the heart of what we do.”
“With the money we make in Shopify, we want to give back as well,” de Valk said. “We’re going to give that money back to initiatives that make the entire web better. We’re already doing some things there. Yoast is a member of the W3C, and our very own Jono Alderson is in the AMP advisory board. We’re planning to grow our efforts and initiatives to make the web better and give 5% of our Shopify revenue back to the web.”
Yoast’s intention to support the controversial AMP project with a portion of its 5% profits is a curious choice, as the initiative is already heavily financially backed by Google and doesn’t appear to be soliciting donations. When asked what kind of influence or accountability the company is bringing to the AMP Advisory Board, de Valk said their primary goal is to offer advice.
“AMP is just one of the things we do, we also support w3c, we make tools for PHP testing, and we’ll be supporting a lot more,” he said. “We put time into the AMP advisory committee with the goal to provide advice to the Technical Steering Committee. And in that way we try, as I said, to make the open web as strong as possible.”
Yoast will be hosting an Online Yoastcon – Shopify Edition on January 20, which will kick off with a product demo. The event is free and attendees can expect to hear from SEO industry experts and learn how to improve their online stores.