Forget AI and machine learning, WordPress is about to disrupt your business

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When faced with ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, as David Bowie sang, one must turn and face the strange. Change is healthy, and in the world of tech, very often, tantamount to progress. But facing the strange—outpacing developments and staying ahead of the curve—is very often the difference between success and failure.

Such is the case with the recently announced WordPress 5.0 update. It’s perhaps overdue, and certainly welcome. On the micro business and blogger side, WordPress faces stiff competition from the likes of WIX and SquareSpace. On the SME and enterprise side, it faces similar competition from sister PHP CMS systems like Silverstripe and Drupal. Now that WordPress is moving to a Gutenberg system it makes sense as the publishing experience will be superior.

But it requires some serious groundwork in anticipation of the as-yet unrevealed launch date. A staggering 75 million websites use WordPress globally, including numerous companies in sectors ranging from ecommerce to banking. A website is the beating heart of any digital business; it’s the shop front, the first port of call, a business’s public facing image and central brand identity.  

Maintaining superior customer and user experience (depending on the nature of the website), in a world of insurmountable choice and lagging brand loyalty, is of paramount importance. Consumers are impatient, have short attention spans, and will gladly take their commerce elsewhere within seconds of a site not loading properly. Herein lies the problems that the WordPress update may present.    

There exists quite literally thousands of plugins for the site, from social interaction to voucher input to the way your customers physically pay. When the day comes that it moves over to the new system, if a business hasn’t prepared for compatibility with the update, it could damage the brand’s user experience, pushing loyal customers elsewhere, reducing traffic, and potentially ruining the reputation of the website.

Consider a scenario involving a plugin for enquiry forms. At first, a drop-off in enquiries could be perceived simply as a bad week. The second week is likely to arouse suspicion. But if you hadn’t the technological know-how to realise it was a failed plugin, by the third week you might be questioning your existence a bit. How much commerce would you lose out on? It would take some time to recover.

Bad user experience

Perhaps more superficially, consider plugins for galleries and layouts - the way your clients interact with your page aesthetically. If you consider your website your shop front, it’s a bit like a digital broken window. Visibly bad layout begets bad user experience. Your shop has just moved to a bad part of town.

In a Google survey, 52 per cent of users said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company. Ensuring that customers or users can accomplish what they intend to, without being restricted, is very often the difference between conversion or not. It’s the usability, accessibility, performance and utility—the overall human interaction with the brand.

Not coincidentally, user experience is a part of the design process that you don’t hear about until something goes wrong. And if plugins start dropping like flies, the experience will be seriously compromised.

Bad user experience is undesirable, but rectifiable. But, less superficially, an expired plugin or an unpatched version of WordPress could lead to a hacked website. If you leave the door open, nefarious actors will stroll right in. As of this year, WordPress powers 30 per cent of the internet, and hackers spend their time and energy on the biggest target—quite simply because that gives them access to the most websites. Any WordPress site is a potential target for hackers, regardless of its traffic or content.

In light of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enforced in May this year, leaving the back door open takes on drastic, potentially expensive, connotations. To name but two, you will potentially have failed to integrate Privacy by Design (PbD) and failed to securely process data. If a breach happens and there is damage to the integrity of customer data, there is a possible fine of either €10m, or two per cent of gross annual turnover, whichever is higher.

Bad UX and potential data breaches should keep business leaders up at night. And yet remarkably, ongoing projects of this nature often take the back burner for more sexy, buzzwordy investments in AI and the like. I’ve seen it time again. Prioritising the basics should take precedent, but shiny new toy syndrome wins the day.

Bread and butter

We’ve seen what happened when TSB failed to plan a major overhaul of a digital channel. And while it’s unlikely that millions of your customers will have other people’s money dumped in their account (though they might be happy if they do!), it serves as a stark warning to firms that don’t plan carefully for upgrades, updates and new systems.

TSB's home page basically now serves as a running update on a chaotic parade of IT-related problems and fixes. But there are simple steps firms can take to avoid going the way of the TSB dodo. To safely perform this future update, it’s worth getting a developer or agency to help review and evaluate the compatibility of your current plugins for the future upgrade.

At Cyber-Duck, this sort of work is our bread and butter. We help organisations from the Bank of England to Thomas Cook Money provide the best user experience in the most efficient way.

It’s really not all doom and gloom. As I said at the start of this article, the update is overdue and welcome—I’d go as far as adding that it’s actually quite exciting and presents a good excuse for businesses to revolutionise their online channels. The update is in alignment with industry trends to more complete website editing within the CMS. You will get considerably improved functionality in your editor and control in the content layouts.

In terms of improving user experience, the update will be abundant with opportunity. But with every opportunity lays a journey. Making sure you check the map before walking down the path will ensure you arrive safely.  

Danny Bluestone, Founder, Cyber-Duck
Image Credit: David M G / Shutterstock