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2018 in Review and How Gutenberg Will Change Page Building – Transparency Report #47

Transparency Report #47

Welcome to the 47th edition of the monthly transparency report (for December 2018). In this series, I go through what’s happening in the business and discuss our projects, plans, wins and struggles. Click here to see the previous reports.
With the new year well under way, it’s perhaps a good moment to look back at 2018 and evaluate the progress we made, the challenges we faced, all the good and bad things, and also discuss what we’re planning to accomplish in 2019.

Let’s get right to it:

💼 2018 in review

Sorry to have to be a buzzkill right off the bat, but looking back at the main goals I initially set for 2018, the year must be considered a failure. Actually, scratch that, “failure” is too strong of a word. Things are far from dire when I look at them now.

So my primary goal for 2018 was to create a safer financial position for the company and a better profit ratio. However, that goal was more like a hope rather than an actual calculation or forecasting based on real indicators. Perhaps that’s why we missed the mark slightly.

In short, I thought that with the upcoming recurring revenue from our old subscriptions, stable theme sales, and the new products we were working on (OrbitFox, EyePatch, and Optimole), we could hit the target easily.

I was right on one account only – recurring revenue. As for the others … well, theme sales kept dropping slowly, and new products didn’t bring as much revenue as I had hoped. I take the full blame for that last part. I was too excited about these new products and didn’t have a clear plan/research as to how I wanted to make them work. I also ignored the downtrends in terms of new customers for themes, so the sales weren’t as stable there either.

But here’s the kicker! Leaving the goals aside, I still consider 2018 a success!

We grew both as a team and as an organization, and I’m really proud of that!

First off, we introduced a new organizational structure with four main teams:

  • Media Team (aka Marketing)
  • Themes Team
  • Support Team
  • Research and Development Team

Before that, we had a more fluid structure where everyone could find a place for themselves based on what they wanted to do. While it’s still kind of like that, once you commit to a team, it’s easier to get a grasp of what’s expected of you and how to deliver your best work.

Also, the team managed to plan, develop and successfully launch Neve and Optimole on their own in the second part of the year. There wasn’t much input from me.

We also launched BizarroDevs“a weekly newsletter with all the weird and wonderful tech news.” The first issues were just testing ground, but now we can say that we’re out of beta with the newsletter and we’ve been getting some good feedback. Thanks to Chris Fitzgerald, our newsletter master!

Best & worst of 2018

The best strategic decision I made in 2018:

Continuing to invest in and work on our blogs!

In 2018, the Themeisle blog saw a 422% increase in organic traffic (vs 2017). More on that in a minute.

The worst was the poor research effort I put into our new initiatives and products. It’s a good thing I did a better job predicting revenue numbers from renewals on old subscriptions.

🍾 Our focus for 2019

We’re not wasting time and getting right on track in 2019! We’re going back to our primary mission and focusing on themes most of all!

In the first part of the year, we’ll be focusing on Neve and Hestia, we’ll bring page building into the new block editor (Gutenberg), and we’ll challenge some of the existing (not-so-user-friendly) concepts regarding themes as a whole – as we did with Zerif some time ago.

We’re also going to relaunch the main Themeisle website (not the blog). This is not only about a redesign but also rethinking our pricing model. The goal is to go back to basics and provide a simpler and more affordable pricing structure.

The second part of the year will be all about plugins and other related products.

We’ll continue developing our ideas related to the block editor. For instance, check out this demo video of the latest version of Otter Blocks. Notice how it introduces a more effective page building experience to the block editor. Apart from all the extra settings and dials, users can take advantage of templates for blocks and whole pages.

Think of Otter Blocks as a core piece right in the center of this movement. Meaning, themes and third-party plugins can also add their own block and page templates. Otter Blocks only provides a framework for those to work in a user-friendly and dev-friendly way. Everybody can release their own templates to work with Otter Blocks.

📈 Our results, charts, and numbers for 2018

Themeisle themes store

New sales on Themeisle (new subscriptions excluding “lifetime licenses”):

As you can see, a slight decrease.

However, overall, when we look at our total sales in 2018 (new subscriptions + renewals), then that’s an increase of 50% over 2017.

We saw roughly the same increase – 50% – on Revive.Social as well. Again, most of this were renewals.

Speaking of renewals, our current renewal rate is about 40%. It seems to be stable. I consider this a good result, especially in a market like WordPress themes where the product doesn’t necessarily break down if you don’t renew.

Fun fact; guess our highest grossing renewal day of the year.

I’ll give you a sec…

It’s Dec 6th – aka the day WordPress 5.0 got released. Thanks, Matt!

Interestingly, our support requests for paid customers (along with some key support metrics) stayed the same for the most part:

Poonam, one of our support geniuses, helped the most customers this year out of the whole team, having the highest satisfaction rating, too. Congrats! 👏

The blogs

CodeinWP saw a 21% increase in organic traffic:

The Themeisle blog saw a 422% increase in organic traffic:

At the same time, the main Themeisle store saw an 8% decrease:

JustFreeThemes saw a 94% increase in organic traffic:

I like to look at organic traffic because it’s kind of a universal metric for web things, and we can experiment with some assumptions:

  1. There is still room to grow, and while Google is eating up organic rankings (via their featured snippets and straight up answers to your queries), you can still stay innovative and grow, as long as you do things right.
  2. All three of our main blogs that grew this year had complete redesigns in 2018.

Additionally, I saw something really interesting in JustFreeThemes’ case. The main success metric we set there was the percentage of people who end up downloading a theme. While the redesign didn’t help much by itself, we launched an additional custom ranking algorithm in March. The algorithm was tasked with deciding which themes to showcase first when a user searches using a specific niche keyword.

Basically, the second we released it, we saw a big bump in theme downloads. Not only that, the organic traffic started increasing as well.

This is amazing because it isn’t really a visible change at all. How Google figured that out I don’t know. I can only assume they index our search pages as well, and those look like they provide quality insights for the search term.

👐 Our WordCamp plans have changed

For the last couple of years, we attended every WordCamp Europe as a team (Vienna, Paris, Belgrade), plus also sponsored and volunteered at the events.

While some of us will still go to WCEU this year, we’ve decided to switch our team focus onto WordCamp Pune (that’s in India).

This is one of those decisions that’s hard to justify with raw data or test in an A/B kind of way. I can’t measure the impact this may have on the company either, but it just seems like a good and refreshing move overall.

Most of the team have already attended WCEU at least twice, some three times, so they have a good idea of what to expect and how to get the most out of the event. Switching to WC Pune is an exciting change of pace. Getting to know other cultures, seeing new places, and also traveling together should be good for team-building.

Personally speaking, I am very excited for lots of reasons. We’ll finally get to meet part of the Themeisle team from India (whom we only had the chance to meet via Skype and Slack). I’ll also be visiting India for the first time, and I’ll get to meet lots of people whom I know from various online places (other entrepreneurs and community members). Not to mention, I’m excited to be traveling with the whole Themeisle crew!

Locally, we’ll keep supporting our WordCamp Bucharest. Last year’s event was a successful one, and our teammates, Rodica Andronache and Claudiu Dascalescu were the lead organizers. They did a great job there, so I’m told. 😄

🤔 Thoughts for 2019

My personal goals aren’t much different than what they were for 2018. I need more focus and clarity, which I plan to gain through introspection and planning + more reading.

Speaking of reading; I started re-reading some classic fairy tales, this one in particular I find very valuable:

This can be related to business a lot. It nicely illustrates how far you can get just by copying what others seem to be doing to be successful. I fell victim to this type of thinking as well – with the half-research that I did before launching our new products and assuming that the other players in the niche must be doing great. Oh well.

Okay, that’s all I have for you this month. Thanks for reading and for supporting us! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.

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