This past spring, WordPress.com made some critical changes to the organization of its website and I’m certain I can’t be the only one who has caught on. The changes most noticeable to us, the bloggers, are the ones which impact the content non-subscribers are able to view as well as how easily our blog can be found when browsing the site. Ultimately these changes have altered the interaction of the community WordPress.com is built upon and your comments and page views have likely taken a hit as a result. If you’re like me, you may have been wondering why you blog has been receiving substantially fewer visitors even with the same frequency of posts and quality of content. Well, it’s not you – It’s WordPress.
As a creature of habit, I’m slow to warm to unsolicited change and so I didn’t want to form an opinion without first giving myself some time to adjust. I didn’t know if the changes would be permanent or if their impact would be decidedly negative. Now, nearly 6 months later, I’m concluding both to be true.
If you’ve joined WordPress in the last 6 months – feel lucky, you’ll never know the difference. If you’re a veteran WordPress user and haven’t noticed these changes, your personal impact may have been too subtle to notice (Warning: You may become acutely aware of these changes after reading the rest of this post). But if you’re a fellow blogger working hard for every new subscriber you earn, you may feel just as confused and agitated as I do with the blogging platform you’ve loved and supported above any other. So what happened, WordPress – Why’d you go and change?
Isolation of Non-Subscribers – Before I was ever a blogger or even a registered user of WordPress, I enjoyed visiting WordPress.com to browse through the day’s blogs. I was in awe of the chosen few who were featured on the “Freshly Pressed” section of the homepage that immediately greeted you with big pictures and intriguing article titles. As a loyal WordPress blogger for more than a year and half, I only recently noticed the different welcome page non-subscribers are now being greeted with when my computer decided to log me out one morning. Without logging in I could only access limited pages that resembled more of a commercial for WordPress than a blogging community. I get it, WordPress – you want new subscribers just as much as I do! But you have to give people a preview of the incredible content this community shares everyday to make someone want to join in. What first brought me, and as a result many of my clients, to WordPress (over other blogging platforms) was the way it openly shared blogs, allowed for easy browsing and even showcased a select few with the honor of being “Freshly Pressed” adding incentive for quality content. Now a wall has been built around the outside world and though the entrance inside only comes at the cost of an email address, this is enough to deter those who aren’t yet ready for their own blog or who want to remain an anonymous (though loyal) blog browser for right now.
For logged-out users, the OLD WordPress.com homepage used to greet you with its Freshly Pressed articles of the day and the option to browse more blogs under those topics. Note: this is without needing to sign in.
Now logged-out users are only able to get as far as “Get Started.” They’re denied any interaction with the community until they agree to create an account.
Freshly UnimPressed – I still believe being chosen as Freshly Pressed by WordPress is one of the most exciting honors for a new blogger. I was chosen two months after starting my blog and received nearly 3,000 blog hits in a single day and a large residual of hits and subscribers for months after. Truly this experience alone can launch a blog to stardom! Since the changes, I’m no longer as impressed with the publicity of Freshly Pressed – and it breaks my heart to say this. This stems from two main reasons. First, Freshly Pressed articles used to be featured on the homepage of WordPress.com and this produced far greater traffic for the featured blogs. Now that it’s no longer the default landing, users have to actively select the Freshly Pressed tab to view the blogs. Though even a minor additional step, this still creates a substantial roadblock that users won’t take the effort to do. I know I’m guilty of not visiting the Freshly Pressed page every day, whereas it used to be my starting point when visiting WordPress.com. Second, only registered users/subscribers can view Freshly Pressed blogs. This option no longer appears on the homepage for users who aren’t logged in. This change alone blocks out a substantial portion of potential web traffic to these blogs.
Not-So-Hot Topics – Do you remember when there used to be an option to browse by “tags” from the WordPress.com homepage? I do and it drove a great deal of new and random visitors to my blog (the best kind!). You can track how people find your blog by checking your stats under “referrers.” Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a recent referral from a tag used in your blog, because the new organization of the site has all but brought this perk to a halt. Again the culprit is that to browse by topics (aka tags) you must go through several different steps to get there. Each additional step decreases the number of people who actually make the effort to do so. Take a look here:
This is currently the homepage I’m greeted with when I’m logged into WordPress.com. I see a blog feed of only the blogs to which I am subscribed. While there’s a column of topics/tags on the left-hand side, I have to choose to see these topics and again they only appear as a slow-loading and single-listed news feed.
Furthermore, WordPress.com seems to randomly generate the topics listed in the left-hand column by pulling from topics/tags I’ve used in my own posts. But what if I want to browse blogs on a new subject? I tried once to clean-up and customize my topic list only to have it reset the next time I logged in. I’ll still hoping to get that half-hour of my life back somehow…
Remeber when browsing by tags/topics was easy and attractive like this:
Now the only way I can figure out how to achieve this browsing capability on the new WordPress is to click “Explore Topics” and type in the topic I want to sift through. But instead of the attractively laid out format as above, the topics read more like a newsfeed and load at a terribly slow rate. Instead of simply clicking Homepage–>Tags, I now have to go to Homepage–>Reader–>Explore Topics–>Type in and Search Topic–>Wait for page to load and scroll through single-listed blog feed. To any less-motivated of a blogger, this process isn’t happening and it’s likely your blog hits from new or random visitors have declined as a result.
Segmenting a Community – The ostracizing of non-subscribers, devaluing the honor of being Freshly Pressed and creating yet one more roadblock for new visitors to reach your blog are all unfortunate results of the changes made to the new organization of WordPress.com over the past several months. But my biggest concern isn’t with any of these individually. Rather, it’s the concern that the WordPress community which I have blogged and bragged very openly about is at risk for disengagement. Together these changes produce a WordPress in which it’s harder for fellow bloggers and visitors to find your blog and for you to find theirs. If an interactive blogging community is indeed one of the major points of differentiation for WordPress.com – and I’ve always thought it to be – then it should be made a priority above all else (i.e. more subscribers and up-selling bloggers on customized domains and blog templates). I’m disheartened by what appears to be permanent changes, but it’s not just because of the decrease in blog hits, comments or subscribers. It’s because of the time and effort I put into learning and adapting to the WordPress community and interacting with new blogs daily. If future changes continue in this direction, I’m worried my single efforts to encourage engagement won’t be enough to preserve the WordPress community for what it once was.
If anyone has had a similar or different experience with the impact of WordPress.com’s recent changes, please share! I’m very aware it’s possible I could have overlooked a benefit of these changes and would gladly welcome knowing if they exist.