The Fall of Joomla

Written by | 06 June 2016 | Published in 2016 June
Four years ago at a Joomla Day New York I demoed the latest updates to a Joomla extension I had developed with a client. They had commissioned a Wordpress version of the same extension from a WP developer and shared with me the install stats for both (which connected to the client's service). The installs were overwhelming Wordpress. It blew me away and I began to watch statistics for the popularity of the platforms and discovered that WordPress was devouring Joomla's market share. When I built my first Joomla 1.5 site, more sites on the Internet were powered by Joomla than any other CMS. Today, WordPress powers five times as many websites as Joomla does.
Crown Crown By michael davis-burchat https://is.gd/dPl1J1 used under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Why did this shift happen? Is Joomla sunk and it's time to cash in your chips? Game over?

The Causes of The Fall

I believe the loss of market share is due to three reasons: target audience, positioning, and politics.

#1 The Audience

When I first started developing, I actually built both WordPress and Joomla sites.  I eventually stopped accepting WordPress projects because WordPress doesn't have the infrastructure for building that Joomla does.  Every time I had to custom code some weird function into a theme's loop a part of me died on the inside.

I was a developer though and WordPress wasn't targeted towards developers. It's a blogging platform that resonated with marketers at a time when blogging was considered the most important marketing activity you could do. And it had search engine friendly URL structures built-in, which Joomla did not, during a period where SEO was considered the most lucrative channel for businesses to take advantage of.

Unlike developers, marketers loved Wordpress and loathed Joomla.

Technically, developers build websites. In practice though, marketers build websites and developers just code them. Not only do marketers influence the technologies used for a project, they also are prolific about advocating for that technology. Developers quietly build the world while marketers stand on soapboxes and shout at it (and lest you marketers feel insulted, I'm more a marketer than developer these days and this article is my soapbox.)

WordPress has had a small army of marketers promoting it for years, which is why I've met people who believe they should be using WordPress and can't say why.  

(As a side note, these days the situation is reversed and Joomla's built in SEO features are superior to those of Wordpress.)

#2 Lack of Positioning

If you're not familiar with positioning, the cliff notes version is that positioning is the mental slot you occupy in your audience's mind. The key aspect of positioning is that there is only one winner for each mental slot. Examples of positioning are most popular, fastest, safest, cheapest, and etc., etc. The effect is that when a person thinks need + attribute a solution pops into their head. For example, what cola is "classic"? What cellular network has the best coverage? What's the eco-car?

Joomla doesn't have any real positioning. For years it's been positioned as a "middle" solution: not as easy as WordPress, but more technical, and not as hard as Drupal, but less technical.

I don't think you could think of a worse positioning than being a middle solution.  A middle solution communicates nothing to your audience except that you are not the best at anything.

Under this positioning, WordPress is easy and Drupal is powerful and Joomla is neither.

Keep in mind that we're not talking about the reality of the situation, whether WordPress is actually easier and Drupal is actually more powerful.  We're talking about what people think about a solution.

Positioning is critical because it drives decisions in a complex world. If someone's primary concern is security and Joomla positions itself as the safest CMS, it will be the one they choose.

#3 Politics

Unlike WordPress, Joomla is community driven. This has advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages that has impacted it is that some contributors have treated the project as their personal Game of Thrones and through Machiavellian tactics have driven out other contributors who disagreed with their vision for Joomla. I've been disheartened to see smart, talented, and generous people leave the Joomla community after being subjected to power games. Good people are the lifeblood of any organization and the community has suffered when these people left. Perhaps as bad, this sort of poisonous behavior has kept others from volunteering.

Down But Not Out

Joomla isn't as popular as it was years ago, but that's no reason to worry.

Google Non-WP CMS Content Trends 2016
Google Non-WP CMS Content Trends 2016

Consultant Existential Angst

I've talked to a few Joomla focused consultants who get very nervous when discussing the loss of market share to WordPress. It's like it's an existential crisis – if WordPress is more popular are you out of business? Is it time to suck it up and get use to hacking hook based workarounds and building with bloated theme frameworks?

The first thing to keep in mind is that clients don't care. They have specific goals and don't really care if you build the whole thing in HTML tables and CGI scripts as long as you meet those goals. It's your job as a consultant to communicate your confidence in being able to do so with your tools (Use good tools! Don't build in tables and CGI scripts.)

Additionally, the Joomla market is still very large. We've been focused on Joomla as a solution provider for eight years and we have consistently grown every year except for the one when I developed debilitating tendinitis. There's a lot of work out there; we turn down many more projects than we take. Plus, there are thousands of consultants that work in markets which are a fraction of the size of Joomla's (and market size alone is not a good indicator of where to place your bet. Yes, WordPress is five times larger, but what is the relative competition? If it's five times larger and there are ten times as many WordPress developers, you're not moving in the right direction.)

Losing Doesn't Make You a Loser

Not everyone is a consultant though. Here are three reasons why Joomla is a strong bet for the next 5 years:

  1. The thing about being number one is that it's easy to become complacent. It's arguable that this was the state of the project at Joomla 1.5, when it was overtaken by Wordpress, but definitely not today. Joomla was quick to hop on mobile and the core team has done a wonderful job of listening to the community and consistently advance the capabilities of the application.
  2. According to BuiltWith data, Joomla is growing and, not only that, these days it's stealing WordPress users. ("The same is not the case in the opposite direction though. Year upon year, WordPress is losing more users to Drupal and Joomla!" BuiltWith "The Battle of the CMS").
  3. Joomla was voted the best free CMS of 2015 (CMS Critic.) And for good reason: Joomla has come a long way. With every release, it gets more and more useful. Drag-and-drop images, modules in articles, content versioning, PHP 7 support, update notifications, and etc. etc. Additionally, Joomla has long had features and a community that make it a rock solid foundation for all kinds of projects.

The Rise of Joomla

What about the future? Where should Joomla go? I don't have a good answer, but here's some food for thought:

While Joomla is the second most popular CMS, it's not the second most popular solution. The second most popular solution is "other." According to BuiltWith, WordPress has 50% market share, "other" has 35%, and Joomla has 9%.

That means that one in three users are choosing an alternative that they perceive better than WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.  It's a a strong indicator that there is room to improve because a huge number of users' needs are being better met in niche alternatives.

Do You Know What Could Improve Joomla? 

I may have professed ignorance, but if you want to continue to see Joomla improve and know how to make it better, why not let the Joomla User Experience team know what you think by taking the following 3 minute survey about the latest release of Joomla:  http://bit.ly/1VOoz1H

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John Hooley

John Hooley

I'm the author of the popular online guides:

  • How to Fix a Hacked Joomla Website (http://www.bluebridgedev.com/joomla-hacked)
  • Speed Up Joomla (http://www.bluebridgedev.com/speed-up-joomla)
  • Joomla Best Practices Checklist (http://www.bluebridgedev.com/joomla-checklist)

I also write on business for the freelance web developer on my blog at Knight Errant (knighterrant.co)

I've contributed to the Joomla project as a bug squasher, JUG leader, JCM author, and extension developer.