I was listening to the latest Please Advise podcast, with guest Jason Schuller of Press75. The show’s hosts Mike McAlister, Jake Caputo and Chris Molitor cover various topics related to WordPress and WordPress theme development.
About midway through the show, the subject of theme options and the new WordPress theme customizer (built primarily by Daryl Koopersmith and Dominik Schilling) came up. I was really surprised to hear the guys on the show say the following about the customizer:
I popped it open once, and kinda played with it for a few minutes, but I haven’t put any real time into it.
I opened it to look at it for the podcast, and that was the last time.
It might be one of those things that kinda fades away.
These are all professional theme authors, whom I have a lot of respect for. But I think they’ve totally missed the point of the new customizer. I’ll even go so far as to say the customizer is absolutely critical to WordPress’s continuing success, and here’s why: Now, more than ever, it is becoming increasingly easy for the average person to build a completely customized website.
Competition is coming
I’d like to suggest that competitors like Squarespace are going to start eating WordPress’s lunch on the “ease of use” front if WordPress does not adapt. I can’t speak for other companies, but a big percentage of our customers are self-taught website builders who use WordPress because it’s easy to use.
However, there’s more to “easy” than just installation and setup. A major piece of building a website is making that website look just like you want it. To support my case, the Please Advise crew mentioned that a large portion of their support questions are customers who want help customizing their themes. We have the same experience here at The Theme Foundry: few customers are happy with a theme “as-is”, and they want to tweak to their liking. That’s what the whole theme options debate is about, isn’t it?
Customizer to the rescue
So where does the customizer fit in? Well, to recap:
- WordPress is competing with easier-to-use products.
- Most WordPress theme support questions are “How do I change X?”.
It’s pretty clear that the theme customizer is not just a “nice to have” thrown in along the way. The customizer is a strategic move to neutralize the threat posed by competitors offering powerful website customization tools. Drag-and-drop interfaces have been lacking in the past, but they’re only getting better. If WordPress doesn’t answer, it will start bleeding customers to these simpler competitors.
Granted, the theme customizer has a long way to go to match some of the competitors in ease of use and power. I think we can all agree it’s not quite where it needs to be. Even so, the customizer is the cornerstone to WordPress’s continued relevance in the “build your own website” market.
That’s why we’ve built theme customizer support into our most recent themes, and why we’re planning on updating our older themes to use the customizer. In fact, our Struts options framework has built-in customizer support for all options – we think it’s that important.
I’d love to get your thoughts on why you think the customizer is or isn’t important, because we view it as a critical piece of WordPress’s (and our own) strategy.