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Using WordPress as a SaaS: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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As we began to think about “what’s next for us, and for WordPress?” it was important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the average user, as opposed to our professional developer experience.

What was obvious, from speaking with our own customers: site owners want a properly configured, consistently updated site that delivers an excellent user experience for their own site visitors and prospective customers.

What they don’t want, and can’t afford to do, is to spend all their time elbow-deep in website administration and maintenance tasks.

Most users just don’t have the time, the skill level, the experience, or often the interest required to successfully perform all the associated WordPress work that’s necessary to construct, deliver and maintain that kind of quality user experience.

 

using wordpress as a saas
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WordPress professionals want to deliver a well-made, aesthetically pleasing, and easy-to-use site that our clients can be proud of and that will help them achieve their goals. Most of us have enough pride in what we do to deliver an excellent product that is properly maintained, updated, and optimized reflects on their professional reputation.

Often, though, we’re not able to do that. Sometimes, we’re only hired for a very specific job, and keeping the site maintained and updated on a continuing basis isn’t within our scope. We can try to persuade our clients that this work is necessary and worth the expense. But often that attempt to persuade is seen as “the hard sell” — as an attempt to simply grab more money. And often, that’s because the user has utterly absorbed the public perception: “WordPress is easy…” The follow-up to that: “… so I can just do it myself!” In some respects, that myth is true. A user who’s committed to mastering the learning curve can teach herself to put up a site.

The Artbees team members think we’ve hit on the right solution for both users and WP professionals: transition from a one off purchase mechanism to subscription-based products which provide users with peace of mind that all the bells and whistles will be taken care of.

Most WordPress professionals know there’s so much more to it than that. And most users eventually come to that conclusion on their own. Unfortunately, by that point, the message has often been driven home by a catastrophic failure caused by the failure to update or secure the site.

As user-friendly as WordPress is, it still carries a learning curve, and it still takes time, to keep a site properly updated and maintained. The Artbees team members think we’ve hit on the right solution for both users and WP professionals: transition from a one off purchase mechanism to subscription-based products which provide users with peace of mind that all the bells and whistles will be taken care of.

using wordpress as a saas

The WordPress “Menu”

Put yourself in the shoes of a small business owner who needs a website. You do a little research, and you conclude that WordPress is a budget- and user-friendly way for a non-coder like yourself to create, grow, and maintain an attractive, functional website.
Now, consider the following list of WordPress-related tasks. We’re willing to bet that the full scope of what’s involved in operating a well-maintained WordPress site starts to feel overwhelming.

  • Learning to navigate and use the platform itself
  • Initial installation and configuration of core files, plugins, themes, and widgets
  • Updates
  • Security measures (scans, backups, etc.)
  • Comment/spam administration
  • Hosting
  • Domain registration/renewal

For the average user, this list would constitute an additional unpaid job. Depending on the size of the site and user base, it could even be a full-time gig! Of course, WordPress professionals can move through these necessary tasks more efficiently and effectively, even if we put aside issues of skill level or expertise.

Or take hosting, which used to be a fairly simple matter. There were a few big players, a handful of which offered simple one-click scripts to install WordPress with fairly consistent pricing. It was simple to pick a hosting company that was “good enough.”

These days, however, there’s a huge degree of variation in hosting product quality, value, and service. Cheap, fly by night hosting providers can mask themselves as “the better deal.” Today, you’re far more likely to get what you pay for in the hosting field.

Another major concern is the fact that updates aren’t happening the way they should, when they should. When only around 20% of the community regularly updates plugin, core, and theme files, that puts not only their own sites, but other users at risk as well, especially in a shared hosting environment.

When only around 20% of the community regularly updates plugin, core, and theme files, that puts not only their own sites, but other users at risk as well, especially in a shared hosting environment.

The WordPress community is generally responsive when problems are uncovered. But vulnerabilities do exist, and they will be exploited. Most users aren’t prepared to properly protect their sites against those vulnerabilities, or to clean out their sites when they get infected or compromised. So, the WordPress learning curve keeps getting steeper and takes a lot of time to master. Most site owners simply don’t have the time to stay on top of that.

The result: a lot of frustrated users whose perspective of the entire community/product is colored by that frustration.

Why WordPress-as-SaaS Makes Sense

How would WordPress as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solve those problems?  

If we set up a WordPress “experience” on the SaaS model, then there’s no “setting up” hassle for the site owner. All of the initial setup, installation, and configuration tasks will be taken care of, with some automated scripts to create the initial site environment.

using wordpress as a saas

Updates would be automatic and risk-free as all of the development process would be tested in the same server configurations.

How would all this automatic awesomeness support the WordPress SaaS business? Users would pay a flat monthly fee for maintenance, thus giving developers a higher profit margin. Result: you can invest more in maintenance and improving the product you deliver.  

And this approach could potentially resolve a lot of those cheap hosting issues. Server configurations could be top-shelf with proper server configurations.

As a team, we’re currently exploring ways to transform our own business structure so that we can better serve users who simply want to run their own businesses and enterprises, instead of running a website.

Final Considerations for Using WordPress as a SaaS

While we fully admit that much more thought needs to be given to this notion, we do think the next logical move for the WordPress community would be to reshape the platform itself into a SaaS service, perhaps in combination with various highly targeted microservices for different niches.

As a team, we’re currently exploring ways to transform our own business structure so that we can better serve users who simply want to run their own businesses and enterprises, instead of running a website. Our customers just want the best user experience possible — that’s true of all WordPress users, and all site owners generally, we believe. We think we’re in a good position to give them that by structuring services and products in such a way that will enable us to deliver a seamless, turnkey site experience.

In Application, Development
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