This post originally appeared on Please Advise.
They say software is eating the world. They’ve been saying it for a few years now, actually. It started with a widely-cited WSJ op-ed from entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, and the point has only been further underscored in the few years since.
Despite not actually owning any cars, Uber is the largest cab service in the world—and on the way to delivering more than people—thanks to its intuitive mobile software. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the digital broadcasting spinoff of MLB, has taken its place in creating the future of television by leveraging its streaming software in providing the backbone of services like HBO Now, WatchESPN and WWE Network. Spotify surged past Apple’s offerings almost overnight with a software model that gave users access to every song, all the time.
We’re seeing it more and more: the best software wins.
In terms of digital publishing, and managing content on the web, identifying the best software is easy. That’s WordPress.
As of November, the popular content management system reached a significant milestone, as it now powers 25 percent of the internet. Yes, statistically, one out of four websites run on WordPress—that includes this one.
WordPress has reached that milestone for a number of reasons, but ease-of-use is the biggest. Whether through WordPress.com or users’ self-hosted WordPress-powered sites, the CMS is great for blogs, sites for small businesses, personal portfolio sites and basic retailers. You scoop up the vast majority of those and you can own a sizable corner of the Internet.
The thing is, WordPress is quickly moving beyond that subsect of the web. A recent post by Lauren Nguyen of Pantheon, a website management platform, highlights the broadening applicability of WordPress—drawing on a survey of thousands of agencies in their partner network.
The survey revealed that 60 percent of respondees said their WordPress budget had increased in the past year, and 8 percent even said it more than doubled. A key reason is, as mentioned, its growing number of viable uses:
30% say they are leveraging WordPress for publicly traded companies, 53% for big brands, and 36% for media companies.
43% said that WordPress is replacing proprietary CMS.
…we see a trend of enterprise customers across all industries turning to WordPress. Historically, big companies have relied on proprietary enterprise CMS solutions, but many are getting wise to the fact that open source CMS can give marketing teams the flexibility and agility they need to iterate and improve faster.
We’re still not at the majority on the key point in the middle there, but the idea of WordPress replacing proprietary CMSs is interesting in a vertical that has plenty of them.
While the draw of WordPress is simple—89 percent of respondees listed ease of use for their clients as a top benefit of WordPress—there are still some issues.
Overall, we’re seeing remarkable adoption of WordPress amongst enterprise sites, with the number and size of sites increasing. And WordPress seems to be gaining popularity across a variety of industries where proprietary CMS has long been dominant. However, WordPress still faces challenges. Anecdotally, many respondees shared that WordPress still isn’t ideal for very complex sites, but were hopeful that the WordPress API would open up new possibilities.
Yes, complex sites. And I think it’d be more than fair to characterize law firm websites, particularly sites from the Am Law 100 and 200, as being ‘complex.’
But it’s the last sentence there that’s key, on the WordPress API. Earlier this year, WordPress announced that what it calls its JSON REST API will be part of WordPress core. This API allows the WordPress CMS to interact with, well, basically everything—other sites, other software, other interfaces.
Plucked from a good post from WPMU, here’s the simplest synopsis I could find on its impact:
To put it in a nutshell, the integration of the JSON REST API will mark the final transformation of WordPress from its humble roots as a blogging solution into a fully-featured application platform.
By providing an agreed, standardized programmatic interface between WordPress and the outside world, the software opens itself up to every other application and development environment on earth.
What does this mean for law firms? Well, there’s two immediate opportunities I see—while there will obviously be countless others.
1. Law firms will be able to better integrate their publishing efforts
Large law firms almost universally agree that publishing independent digital publications has is ideal, as 92 percent of blogs run outside firm websites. Firms thrive on building reputations and audiences around specific niches and industries—because clients now hire lawyers and practice based on those things, instead of hiring law firms as a whole—and they’re better served doing that on publications specifically targeting those audiences.
The issue then becomes making that wealth of content immediately available on law firm sites. Previously, it had been an either-or proposition. In the future, it will not.
Using the WordPress API, firms can pull relevant blog content onto the website while still having it reside on an independent blog—whether or not the firm websites actually run on WordPress or not. Though, that will be an option.
Need blog posts on a lawyers’ bios? Can do. Need that robust library of content on the CFPB or US-EU Safe Harbor or the NLRB integrated into site search? That will be doable.
Alternatively, other services—the JD Suprass, Lexologys and Mondaqs of the world—could hypothetically directly call on sites with WordPress as the underlying CMS.
Now, whether or not firms—and the companies they work with—use WordPress as the underlying CMS for their website will remain a choice, which is nice, there will be an obvious draw. Here’s why.
2. Website development companies can lay a custom back-end over the top of WordPress
The reason proprietary CMSs exist is because they’re better suited for the task at end. Software like Sitecore and Firmseek’s Site Pilot are used for law firm websites because they’re just better for that. The administrative interface is more suitable for the complex sites they power.
In the future, as WordPress develops beyond being a simple CMS and into a full-featured application platform, the traditional WordPress interface becomes completely optional. If a company wants to build a custom administrative interface geared towards complex law firm websites over the top of WordPress, they can do so.
They don’t have to, but there is appeal. Obviously, the development community around WordPress is substantially more robust than around any proprietary engine—take WordPress’ nearly 42,000 plugins against Sitecore’s 450 modules as an interesting anecdote.
Now, not all plugins are good. Anyone at LexBlog will be the first to tell you that. But it demonstrates just how many people are working on the platform.
But again, having your firm’s website actually be powered by WordPress is non-essential to integration with other WordPress sites. That’s the point of this API, any site or software will be able to call on it all the same. No longer will firms have to choose better website software while sacrificing publishing or choosing better publishing software while sacrificing a level of integration with their websites.
But still, WordPress is coming. It’s coming for law firm websites just as it’s coming for all websites. Its applicability is growing and growing, but even for sites, software and applications that aren’t powered by WordPress—they will be influenced by what’s rapidly becoming much more than a robust CMS.