Making sense of the WordPress.com Redesign

In pursuit of awesome conversion rates, I’ve been amazed by all sorts of landing pages over the years. The redesign of WordPress.com in the last day was obviously one to watch out for.  I however can’t help but wonder if they’re going to see the amount of sign-ups decline? The first rule of conversion club is make no assumptions, but I’ll go out on a limb as to why this may not work.

Too heavily inspired by Squarespace

I’ve been a big fan of Squarespace landing pages for years. They constantly A/B test and as a result have been able to evolve significantly over the years. One of the biggest things I’ve learned running happytables, is that you don’t ship code, you ship decisions. So when a company creates a design based off of another’s code, it’s taking action without understanding why. This is the overwhelming feeling I get from the redesign, I have the impression it will work against WordPress.com.

Wordpress dot com landing page

Squarespace migrated to the big background image and simple call to action. WordPress did the same, but turned cold showing only black and white images. To make matters worse, there is not a single human being in any of the frames. It also completely misses on the point that the Squarespace image is in fact a real customer (hidden on the screenshot above, but noted on the website “PARTS AND LABOR DESIGN, Manhattan Design Firm, Squarespace Customer”).

squarespace landing page

Social Proof has been Destroyed

I’m a big believer in using as many third parties as you can to validate your business. I already mentioned human photography being absent, but with the new design I don’t even know if any humans use WordPress.com at all. Let’s look at the old landing page:

Old WordPress.com landing page

There’s a lot I love about it, the biggest being this sense of “activity” and “momentum”. Some noteworthy points:

  • Insane statistics right next to the call to action.
  • Faces, diversity and life as whole. It shows off WordPress at its best, quite literally “trying to make the world a better place”. I’m a sucker for this statement and wish I could copy it for happytables. I think it’s an important part of Automattic’s brand that should continue to be reflected on the new landing page too.
  • Zero clutter, maximum conversion.  I often considered testing this layout for happytables, showing off six to nine real restaurants above the fold (and leaving the sales’y gibberish out).
That’s all gone now.

Final Touches?

The custom domain input isn’t clickable (yet feels like it should), the language block is floating randomly and subsequent call to actions on the page are subdued. I get it, it’s the minimum viable product of a new idea. But if the goal is to test the concept of the Squarespace landing page, it won’t work. Squarespace is a 12’000+ pixel behemoth that has been polished over and over again internally. They’ve taken the long copy landing page (that SEOMoz once crushed) and transformed it into a “long media” landing page. It’s some really innovative stuff that I’m sure sparked a number of internal debates and probably took way more iterations than originally intended  (maybe someone can share?) .

In my opinion, WordPress.com is too big to test this early in the design process, but hopefully someone can prove me wrong.

Your thoughts?

I’ve been wrong many times, even for what I thought were “obvious” A/B experiments. I for one would love to get my hands on the analytics/testing data of WordPress.com, so maybe someone will share hard figures in the near future.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on this redesign?

  • Point and Stare

    WordPress.com now looks like a standard WordPress clone.
    Errm …

  • Point and Stare

    WordPress.com now looks like a standard WordPress clone.
    Errm …

  • Point and Stare

    WordPress.com now looks like a standard WordPress clone.
    Errm …

  • Point and Stare

    WordPress.com now looks like a standard WordPress clone.
    Errm …

  • Point and Stare

    WordPress.com now looks like a standard WordPress clone.
    Errm …

  • The thing really missing for me is what you ‘hit on the head’ regarding the personal touch. There feels a coldness that is such a shame – that is only relieved quite a bit down the page. There is a ‘nod’ towards the personal touch with the colourful icon graphic at the bottom which actually is my favourite bit about it.

    It unfortunately also does smack too closely another design to not be directly compared and that in itself will do it no benefits. It also feels a bit ‘squashed’ compared to that design – particularly the middle sections.

    I’ve noticed a few ‘topic’ landing pages around and perhaps those are going to be the human touch more. I certainly like those. It also feels like this landing page is maybe not fully fledge, perhaps that’s something that will bring more to it – I kind of hope it will. It doesn’t feel ‘full baked’ yet.

    It all feels such a missed opportunity to do something amazing. I truly felt the previous version was bang on with featuring what was going on in the community. You can have both a sales focus and a human touch – that’s what we need to all remember. I’m vaguely holding onto the hope another such community focused page will appear as a sub page if this is meant to be purely for conversions.

    The clickable / not clickable drove me a bit nuts too – my cursor even went to text input to add insult to my already puzzled brain.

    Before, to me the WordPress.com design even though was arguably ‘older’ still stood out as a refined, elegant design solution. I’ve always loved the refined sense of design running through many Automattic projects – this just doesn’t have the same refinement to me and that’s kind of a sad thing.

  • Agree with every one of your points. They seem to have blindly gone with the current trend rather than understanding why these sites have made those decisions.

    I’d be surprised if this performs better

  • Squarespace’s design feels completely right for that product’s targeted users (designers who can’t code, I believe), and this new WP home page feels totally wrong for WordPress’s democratic, worldwide DIY publish vibe.

  • I agree with most of your logic. The parts I’m not so sure about are the ones defending the wisdom (even if partial), of the previous layout.

    To me, this says it all:

    …you don’t ship code, you ship decisions. So when a company creates a design based off of another’s code, it’s taking action without understanding why

    And I would even add:

    …, even if you think you do understand why

    which might have been the case here.

    The similarities to Squarespace are too obvious to be dismissed as coincidence, which makes me sad; I know for a fact that Automattic has highly qualified and innovative designers but they seem to have had very little intervention here. It’s enough to look at the VaultPress and WordPress VIP pages to illustrate my point.

    The conclusion I draw, given the available information, is that this was a business-only decision, looking at the competition (why is Squarespace competition, by the way?) and trying to replicate its design decisions. The problem being that those decisions almost certainly resulted from different, unknowable constraints and goals.

  • Love the article and the points you’ve made. I was a SquareSpace junkie before I moved to WordPress (and still believe SpSp is great). I can see the point of the redesign, but following another brand’s style in a similar market just doesn’t make sense at all – and WordPress didn’t even pull it off as you stated.

    I do have to say that it is admirable that WP is taking a new approach to communicating the brand experience and trying to show the world that it’s simple, effective, and powerful. They MUST do this to get more people on this great platform, but they have to think differently about it.

  • Devin Price

    I think the redesign makes a lot of sense for conversions. The original home page was more about exploring content with a large section of the screen devoted to fresh pressed. This new design is all about sign ups, focusing on the major questions:

    1) Who: Designers, artists, foodies, etc.
    2) What: Make a beautiful website
    3) Where: On WordPress.com, with a wordpress.com domain or your own
    4) When: Now
    4) How: By clicking one of the two sign up buttons, or typing your own domain

    The example theme designs on the home page are nice, so you have an idea of what your site could look like without having to dive into a couple more screens. The option to sign up with a custom domain is helpful for folks who want to get started right away (and maybe weren’t aware that they could use their own URLs).

    I assume sign up statistics are being tracked, so it would be interesting to know. But I also think the redesign is excellent, much better typography and imagery than the previous version.

  • Totally agree with your doubts about Wp.com decision to completely change the design.
    It’s good looking as far as I can tell, but what I love of WP is that it has always pursued great content coupled with good design.

    Now all I can see is design, surface. But where’ content?

    Still, I also agree that I’ve been wrong so many times that I know that I know that mine is just a perception but not a convinction. Only time (and statistics, and people) will tell.

    For me the only sure thing is that Squarespace is increasingly becoming a believable alternative to WP. And yes, people at WP do seem to know it.
    Interesting article Noel.

  • I agree with your analysis. I think they went overboard with minimalism and cut out the social proof that makes signing up an easier decision (for instance, the counter that indicates 55 million WP sites in the world). The design itself is gorgeous but I don’t think it fits the purpose.

  • I agree with your analysis. I think they went overboard with minimalism and cut out the social proof that makes signing up an easier decision (for instance, the counter that indicates 55 million WP sites in the world). The design itself is gorgeous but I don’t think it fits the purpose.

  • Kristen

    You should compare their theme pages too. Something tells me WordPress is scared of this: squarespace.com/developers

  • Kristen

    You should compare their theme pages too. Something tells me WordPress is scared of this: squarespace.com/developers

  • Michael Soriano

    you’re absolutely right. the new design is mostly “websites” – not conversations like before.

  • Nollind Whachell

    Squarespace has always been superior at using visual design to sell their service (especially under the creative leadership of Tyler Thompson who is now at BigCartel).

    The failure to me here wasn’t in trying to copy Squarespace’s layout, as it’s an effective selling layout, but in not effectively understanding it and thus “owning it” (as you noted). So instead of it being an amazing perspective that shows the authentic heart of WordPress, it instead looks like a cheap superficial knock off.

  • JohnB

    This is WordPress.com not .org, so essentially the same audience as Squarespace.

  • johndurbinn

    This is rediculous. I did the redisign and I think it’s briallian, so fuck you.