19 Oct 2017

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WPTavern: AMP Project Turns 2, Automattic Partners with Google to Improve WordPress Plugin

Google's AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project is two years old today and the company published data demonstrating its growing adoption across the web. More than 4 billion AMP pages have been published by 25 million domains. AMP performance has also increased and Google reports that the median time for loading AMP pages from its search engine is less than half a second.

The AMP team also cited several examples of success for sites that have integrated AMP, along with an as yet unpublished Forrester Consulting Total Economic Impact™ study that linked AMP to a 10% increase in website traffic and a 2X increase in time spent on the page. The study, which was commissioned by Google, also showed that AMP pages on e-commerce sites have a 20% increase in sales conversions as compared to non-AMP pages.

Google credited AMP's 400+ code contributors and the 10,500 others who have engaged on GiHub, along with Automattic, one of the earliest publishing partners on the project:

We're also seeing other organizations take an increasingly proactive role in supporting AMP. Automattic, for example, has been working with us to improve the quality of the WordPress plug-in over the past several months. In addition to strong adoption across the community, WordPress.com VIP clients like The New York Post and PMC have seen great results with their implementations.

WordPress.com's VIP team also published specific instances where their clients have benefited from AMPing up their articles.

"Across Automattic (including WordPress.com and VIP) hundreds of millions of client page views per month are delivered through AMP today," WordPress.com VIP Strategic Partnerships director Tamara Sanderson said. "Over the last two years, many of our clients and partner agencies have customized and optimized the AMP experience for their particular needs, with impressive results."

AMP WordPress Plugin Updated after 10 Months

Automattic updated its AMP WordPress plugin two months ago, but the average WordPress site owner doesn't have the budget to customize and tweak it to achieve success. Users haven't fared well with the open source plugin, which went for approximately 10 months without any updates. Many have encountered difficulties ranging from activation errors to incompatibilities with other plugins, problems with analytics, and validation errors. Users also cannot get support on the WordPress.org forums and 0/39 support issues have been resolved in the past two months.

Although there are several alternative plugins in the directory for implementing AMP on WordPress sites, Automattic, as a partner with Google on the AMP initiative, seems to the best positioned to author the official plugin with the company's experience AMPing up pages at scale. Automattic is still committed to improving the plugin but users may need to hire a professional developer for AMP-related plugin support.

Version 0.5, released in August 2017, included just a handful of updates for having been 10 months in development. The release brought the plugin closer to the AMP spec, replaced fastimage with fasterimage for PHP 5.4+, and added support for new embed handlers, including Vimeo, SoundCloud, and Pinterest.

Automattic Aims to Work with Google to Push AMP to be more Open

Throughout the past year, AMP has come under fire from critics who believe that it is harmful to the open web. By default AMP forces users to load JavaScript from the AMP project site, loads the cached content from its own servers, and uses a subset of HTML that optimizes pages to benefit Google and Google search users.

Many critics take issue with the fact that Google is incentivizing AMP's use by prioritizing AMP pages in search results. It's easy to forget that Google Search, with its overwhelmingly dominant market share among search engines, is not a public service to the world. It's a company that seeks to make a profit. Can the AMP project be open enough to stay immune to Google's drive for profit?

WordPress.com was one of the first publishers to partner with Google on this initiative to speed up the mobile web. While attending WordCamp Europe 2017, I asked Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg how AMP can be good for the open web, despite how much control publishers are required to yield when it comes to their mobile content. Mullenweg said that he sees pluses and minuses in what AMP currently provides to users.

"The things I like about AMP is it removes a lot of cruft and it's ultra-fast," he said. "Now if I see an AMP link I'm more likely to click on that than other things. I know I'm not going to get some weird popup that redirects my browser to the app store or anything like that. I think that is good and necessary." He also said he disliked a few of the downsides that critics bring up but thinks that those can be worked out in time.

"WordPress was very early in adopting responsive pages," Mullenweg said. "Also some plugins, including Jetpack, that do a mobile version of a site, do create a better experience and are a big reason why people have adopted WordPress in the past.

"AMP is the next version of that. It is more open and standard than what we've done in the past and I could see it becoming a much more inclusive thing than it is. Given that that is one of Automattic's core principles as well, we're going to work with Google to try to push it that direction and try to bring a lot of the web along with it.

"The alternatives out there, like say Facebook's proprietary Instant Articles format, are not necessarily better, especially if they tie you into one form of monetization, like Facebook's ads. So I do believe that AMP has the potential to be much more open and in line with WordPress' ideal version of that, but it is imperfect as it stands today."

For now it seems Google considers AMP to be a success, as adoption has increased and the project is undoubtedly achieving its goal of improving performance for mobile pages. The company is working on delivering better, faster ads to users, as many publishers have experienced decreased revenues associated with ads loading much slower than the actual content.

The project is still young and Google has a fine line to walk in order to deliver value without overstepping its reach. It may not be long before AMP support becomes Google's the next official ranking signal. Site speed is already one of the search engine's considerations in delivering traffic, so AMPed pages already influence which sites are featured in search results, which in turn affects ad performance and site monetization.

For the average WordPress site owner, adding AMP support still requires overcoming a number of technical hurdles. With Automattic committed to supporting and improving the AMP experience for its VIP clients, it should not be long before the larger publishers and their agency partners are able to iron out more of the difficulties that have kept AMP integration from being seamless for all WordPress users.

19 Oct 2017 11:54pm GMT

WPTavern: WooCommerce Stores on Track to Surpass $10B in Sales This Year

The third annual WooConf, the official conference for WooCommerce, is underway today. It started off with a keynote by Todd Wilkens, Head of WooCommerce, providing an overview of the project's accomplishments over the past year and a preview of what's to come.

#wooconf - @woocommerce 😊👍 pic.twitter.com/8l07LgLd1y

- John Kent (@johnkentsf) October 19, 2017

When the crowd was asked to guess how much in sales WooCommerce stores would generate this year, guesses ranged from $10M to $1B. According to Wilkens, WooCommerce stores will collectively generate more than $10B in sales this year and says the figure could be as high as $15B. WooCommerce extension sales are expected to generate more than $30M.

Wilkens thanked and acknowledged the 616 contributors working on the platform. He then outlined three distinct user segments the company is catering too: store builders, store owners, and extension developers. These user segments are causing the company to reorganize internally and are providing the focus for features going forward.

WooCommerce is used by a lot of small-to-medium sized businesses but it's also used by businesses that generate $100M or more per year. Wilkens profiled H-E-B, a large grocery retailer in Texas that uses WooCommerce for its sister company, Central Market. WebDevStudios built the site on WordPress and used WooCommerce to handle the company's eCommerce needs.

Coming to A WooCommerce Near You

WooCommerce is making investments into its design and user experience with the insight of John Maeda, the company's Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion. The company is also investing in user research, testing, interviews, feedback, and doing what they can to learn about its users needs.

He acknowledged the hiccups users encountered when upgrading sites to WooCommerce 3.0 earlier this year and says the experience has placed a heavier emphasis to establish a reliable upgrade and maintenance path.

WooCommerce will combine its affiliate program with WordPress.com so that everything is managed under one roof. As WooCommerce has improved, it has also developed closer ties to Jetpack and WordPress.com in order to provide additional services.

Automattic has years of experience building and maintaining SaaS infrastructures. Instead of creating a separate infrastructure for WooCommerce, the team decided to leverage Automattic's infrastructure with Jetpack. We'll publish more about this relationship in a future article.

WooCommerce will revamp its mobile application and is opening its marketplace to extension authors. Extension authors can expect higher commissions, more control, and better access to their customers. Authors will also be able to provide support to their own customers on the site.

Earlier this year, WooCommerce dropped its 50% renewal discount forcing customers to pay full-price without explicitly notifying them. Near the end of keynote, Wilkens provided context for the move saying it was about sustainability. Although comments on the article indicated that many customers were upset with the change, Wilkens says it has proven to be successful and has led to a substantial improvement in customer support.

Those involved in the WooCommerce ecosystem can expect to see many more changes to both the website and platform in the coming months.

19 Oct 2017 10:30pm GMT

Dev Blog: WordPress 4.9 Beta 3

WordPress 4.9 Beta 3 is now available!

This software is still in development, so we don't recommend you run it on a production site. Consider setting up a test site just to play with the new version. To test WordPress 4.9, try the WordPress Beta Tester plugin (you'll want "bleeding edge nightlies"). Or you can download the beta here (zip).

For more information on what's new in 4.9, check out the Beta 1 blog post. Since the Beta 1 release, we've made 70 changes in Beta 2 and 92 changes in Beta 3. A few of these newest changes to take note of in particular:

Do you speak a language other than English? Help us translate WordPress into more than 100 languages!

If you think you've found a bug, you can post to the Alpha/Beta area in the support forums. We'd love to hear from you! If you're comfortable writing a reproducible bug report, file one on WordPress Trac, where you can also find a list of known bugs.

Many refinements
Exist within this release;
Can you find them all?

19 Oct 2017 5:18am GMT