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#69 – Joost De Valk on What’s Happening After Yoast

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, what the founder of Yoast is working on now.

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So on the podcast today, we have Joost de Valk.

If you’ve been in the WordPress space for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve come across the Yoast SEO plugin. This was the brain child of the guests today, Joost. Same pronunciation, different spelling.

We talk about how Joost found WordPress and quickly started working on his SEO plugin. How it rapidly grew and became his career.

We discussed the WordPress landscape during this time, and whether it’s more difficult now to have the type of success that his plugin received, given that there are more players vying for our attention.

The conversation then moves into why the plugin was recently sold to Newfold Digital. What were the guardrails that were put in place to ensure that the plugin continued and the employees felt safe?

We then get into a conversation about Joost’s new role. He’s been tasked with reaching out to WordPress community members in order to see what projects or initiatives need more thought and support.

This leads us into the topic of the current WordPress UI, and how Joost is hoping for a refresh at some point soon. For years, his plugin team wanted to create their own UI to take advantage of new technologies, but Joost always pushed back, preferring instead to adopt the style of the WordPress UI. Now that’s changed, and the open sourcing of the UI kit they’ve made is intended as a starting point for a discussion about the need for a more consistent admin experience for all WordPress users.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Joost de Valk.

I am joined on the podcast today by Joost de Valk. Hello Joost.

[00:03:32] Joost de Valk: Hey, thank you for having me.

[00:03:34] Nathan Wrigley: You are very, very welcome. It’s an absolute pleasure to have somebody of your stature in the WordPress community. You’ve been with WordPress for a really long time. Certainly whilst I’ve been using WordPress, I joined the party a little bit later than a lot of people. But your company and your name was already a really big deal.

If anybody hasn’t heard of you, I’d appreciate it if just for a few minutes, you could just give us a little bit of your background story. Where you are, what companies you’ve worked for, how on earth did you get into WordPress and so on.

[00:04:05] Joost de Valk: Okay, so that’s a lot to cover, but let me try. So, I am Joost. I’m Dutch. I live in the Netherlands with my lovely wife Marieke, who I think you’ve also had on your show, and our four kids.

I started Yoast coming from a background of working in several different IT companies. I started university, basically failed at university because I wasn’t a very good student. Then started working in IT, in a web hosting company. And later on moved into an SEO company where I learned SEO consulting.

When I started doing that, I had already been coding a bit. I’ve actually always been coding since I was 12. I built my first website when I was 12, which was in 1994, so you can do the math. I’d been working on that and I, I learned SEO at this company. Started blogging, and then also started building plugins for the blog platform that I chose, which happened to be WordPress. Building plugins to basically fix my own SEO needs. This was in 2005, 2006. So that’s relatively early days.

I started contributing to WordPress Core at basically the same time. I’d been doing other open source software development. I was a part of the WebKit project, which is the core of Safari, and Chrome. Actually committer in that project before I joined the WordPress world.

And I had two sites. I had one where I blogged about SEO, and one where I blogged about CSS. And my specialty at that time was CSS 3, which was at that point being created, and I was creating CSS 3 previews. So I was doing SEO for that, building my own plugins, just for myself. And I started releasing them and more people started using them. I started speaking at SEO conferences, and people started asking about these plugins.

And one thing led to another. And some point in 2010 I decided to start working on my own. At that point thinking I would never hire anybody, but I would just be an SEO consultant, which is why I called the company after myself. Which in hindsight was a stupid idea, because whilst it is a very beautiful brand name, it is super annoying to hear your own name the whole day, because you can’t really not hear that.

So, did that in 2010. Basically started SEO consulting. I was consulting for pretty large brands at that time, Facebook, eBay, the Guardian, companies like that. And, well I was still doing that plugin. Decided to bundle the several small plugins that I’d built into one larger WordPress SEO plugin, which later on became the Yoast SEO plugin.

And then, at some point during 2011, I hit a million users with what was called WordPress SEO at the time. And Marieke said to me, you can’t keep doing this. You either have to start making money from this, or stop doing it, because this is nonsense. And she was, as always, right.

And then started working on that. And she joined quite quickly. Had a couple of other colleagues who I’d hired to do part of the other work that I was doing at that point already. And we started building, and that went quite well for a very long time. So we sold in 2021, and at that point we had almost 150 employees, and a very well running business. So we’d been growing between 30 and 50% year over year for almost a decade. And yeah, it’s been a very interesting journey. And throughout that time I’ve been doing WordPress, because I love WordPress as a system, and I love the open source community.

[00:08:05] Nathan Wrigley: I have a quick comment in here and I love how you described it, your successes. We did quite well. To get a million users in the space of, well, it sounds like under a year.

[00:08:17] Joost de Valk: Well, no, it was, it was slightly more because it was, I had small plugins that people were already using, and then I bundled them into one. So I was basically combining all these user bases. But yeah, no, it, it did go very quickly. So a fairly limited amount of companies I’ve seen that do it quickly, although I have to say if you look at Elementor, similar and better actually.

[00:08:39] Nathan Wrigley: When you look back at that time, do you consider that you entered WordPress at what might be described as halcyon days or something? Was there just something about it at that time, which was ripe for the picking? Because the growth from zero to a million, I mean very, very few plugins managed to jump that hurdle. And the fact that you did it, let’s say, relatively quickly, really quickly in fact, is pretty amazing. But I just wondered if the, if it was more wild west back then? If it was more possible because there was less competition, there was less rivals in the space. Do you have any insight into why it was so successful?

[00:09:19] Joost de Valk: So part of it is that the people that were building WordPress sites at that time were, almost all of them developers, or at least website maintainers with a fairly good technical grasp. And they switched plugins fairly easily and often. I think that was a bit easier than it is now. Although that group is still there, but it’s just a smaller portion of the entire user base of WordPress now.

So yeah, it was a bit different. It was a bit more pioneering I think, in a way. The thing is, we build these ginormous websites on WordPress now, right? So these enormously important websites as well to people. And you’re not going to play around with plugins on sites like that. So it’s on personal blogs that you can do that. And just a lot more people did have a personal blog at that time. It was probably the best days for the actual blogoshpere in comparison to what later happened with Twitter, et cetera.

[00:10:19] Nathan Wrigley: We probably could spend the entire podcast talking about Yoast over the years, but we’re not going to do that, because we’ve decided to take a different route. But I, do want to ask, in terms of your journey since the day that you committed to having Yoast a plugin, right through to maybe today, maybe a year or two ago.

Were you always in love with WordPress, the community and so on? I get the feeling that there might have been a few wrinkles along the way where the whole ecosystem was something that you wanted a little bit of a break from. I could be getting that wrong. If so, ignore the question.

[00:10:53] Joost de Valk: I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted a break from WordPress itself. I think the community is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it’s very brittle. People come and go, and that’s fine, right? But we, I feel, have failed in the last few years especially to, well to show our excitement for it to each other.

I think part of that is Covid, because there weren’t as many WordCamps and other things while we did that. Part of that is also, we’re all growing up and all these companies are becoming bigger and, well the demands on those companies are getting bigger. But it’s also like we’re getting more professional, but with that maybe also a bit more dull

[00:11:37] Nathan Wrigley: So you’re still committed to WordPress. Is that the case? Are you going to be with WordPress do you imagine 3 or 4, 5, 10 years from now? You’ll still be coming on podcasts like this and talking about WordPress, albeit in a different role?

[00:11:51] Joost de Valk: I absolutely hope so, yeah. If I wasn’t thinking that, I wouldn’t have taken on this new role that I took on at Newfold.

[00:11:58] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, let’s talk about that. But before we get onto that, I would imagine there’s a subset of users who know that Yoast as a plugin exists, but they may not know about the ownership and the structure and how it’s all run and what have you. Just run us through that little piece. A little while ago it was announced that you had sold to Newfold Digital. What was the reasoning behind that? So that could be maybe there were personal reasons behind that. Maybe it was just something that you wanted to get away from and give yourself a bit of head space, try something new. What was going on in the run up to that, and how did it all go?

[00:12:32] Joost de Valk: So, well running a company’s hard. And as a company becomes bigger, it becomes harder. And during Covid, Marieke and I decided it’s time. It’s time to, to sell it and to look at, like, hey, what else do we want to do? And we were talking about that to our other partners. I think we all felt the same at that point.

And so we went into a process. We actually engaged a banker who helped us sell the company. And we ended up with Newfold Digital, which is not really a household name, but it’s the parent company to companies like Bluehost, Hostgator,, and multiple dozens of other brands.

They put in a good offer, but they also had a very good story about why they wanted to buy Yoast, and what they would do with it. And that really was very interesting to us. And then, they ended up after acquiring us, quite quickly after that, they also acquired Yith. A WooCommerce plugin shop, also from Europe. It’s been good. It’s a very nice group of people.

[00:13:41] Nathan Wrigley: With the transition there, when you went out and as you said, you got some third party in, who obviously had your best interest, but also presumably could be somewhat dispassionate as well. Did you have any sort of guardrails? Because you described that you’d grown from, well, you solo up to 150 employees, and just before we hit record, you were mentioning that in some cases, some of your employees have been there for as much as a decade. You know, there’s a real long heritage of people working there. So presumably a lot of these people, you’re very close to them. Friends you might say.

[00:14:15] Joost de Valk: Absolutely, yes.

[00:14:17] Nathan Wrigley: I presume part of that process was protecting them, knowing that when you stepped away and released the reins, that whoever took over the reins was going to behave in a way that you would have behaved. Did you get into that? Did you struggle with that? Was there any, any pieces that you needed to in place?

[00:14:36] Joost de Valk: It’s definitely a part of why you’re thinking very long and hard about who you’re selling your company to. To some extent, we don’t need to do all the defense because there’s Dutch law that will actually prevent them from just firing people. If I lived in an at will firing world, I would probably think about this even more specifically.

But, honestly it was never a question, they wanted the people. And they wanted everyone to come board and to stay on. And actually in the first year after we sold to Newfold, nobody left. Or in the first six months, I should probably say, I don’t know whether it’s entirely true for the first year. Nobody left for a long time.

No, I think actually treating your employees well is super important. To be fair, that’s always been one of the things that Marieke has run at our company. So for a long time I was the CEO, then she took over from me. So she was the CEO for the last three years before we sold. Well, she did a tremendous job at making well, creating that culture and making it even better.

We do indeed have quite a few people that work here for, well, five years or longer. And a couple of them, two people now who are at a decade and one is closing in, yeah.

[00:15:51] Nathan Wrigley: You mentioned, I can’t remember whether it was in the conversation we’ve just had or whether I read it in some show notes. But Newfeld Digital, the company that you ultimately sold for. This for now at least, this is the direction of travel for you. What’s the role that you’ve taken on there and what are the sort of key points that you are trying to achieve? You also mentioned that it’s not a household name. I suspect there’s some will to change that might be part of your role.

[00:16:15] Joost de Valk: Not necessarily, I mean, Newford is a corporate brand mostly aimed at other things than, it’s not like we need everyone to know Newford. But I do think it’s, well the combination of Bluehost and Yith and Yoast, and quite a few other things under our umbrella make us quite a big player in the WordPress world. We are, I think, the biggest or the second biggest WordPress host out there. Maybe GoDaddy’s bigger, I honestly don’t know.

So my role specifically for the foreseeable future, is to look at hey, what’s happening in the WordPress world? How can Newfold help WordPress, and what can we do in the WordPress world that would benefit both Newfold and the WordPress world?

And how can we use our knowledge of WordPress internally a bit better as well. It’s funny how this works at large hosts and these are, Newfold is not unique in that I’ve found. I’ve been talking to other people in the hosting space a lot in the last few months. A lot of these hosting companies, only in the last few years have started realizing that they’re actually WordPress companies.

There’s a bit of a catch up to do there. Well, it’s one of the things that I want to focus on is like, how can we see that these large hosts who make a lot of money on WordPress and who together create quite a big economy, that they contribute back to WordPress as well? And what can we do about that?

[00:17:40] Nathan Wrigley: So if I’m right, your role is head of WordPress strategy for Newfold Digital? That is a part of it. It’s just trying to figure out where WordPress fits in the overall structure, the products that you’ve got, the direction that you’re going to take, the events that you’re going to show up to, and all of that?

[00:17:57] Joost de Valk: Yeah, absolutely. And it is honestly, it’s sort of a perfect role because I have no one reporting to me, and yet I get to talk about these things, which I love.

[00:18:08] Nathan Wrigley: What have been some of the things that you have been mulling over that at Newfold you think you might like to get your hands dirty on?

[00:18:15] Joost de Valk: Well, I think it actually ties into one of the other things you wanted to talk about, which is the WordPress Admin UI. So we did a new settings UI for Yoast, and as I was looking at it and we were building that. I was talking to my colleagues at Newfold responsible for the Bluehost interface and for Yith, and we were like, hey, can’t we just use this across the company?

So it’s stuff like that where we, we help each other with our knowledge of WordPress. And we also let people who are good at one specific thing inside WordPress do that. But it’s also like, okay, we have a couple of different teams of WordPress Core contributors within Newfold. How can we effectively use those?

So yeah, there’s a lot of different angles to it. There’s how do we make more money from WordPress? What direction does WordPress need to go, and how can we help that? How do we make WordPress better usable for our customers so that we actually maintain our customers better? There’s a lot of different things to do.

[00:19:17] Nathan Wrigley: You’ve been really keen publishing statistics over the years about WordPress adoption and WordPress usage and all of those kind of things. So it really does seem like the perfect role for you. You’re very interested in the bigger picture of WordPress and how widely it’s adopted and whether the numbers are going up or going down and publishing data about all that. Yeah, it’s fascinating.

[00:19:35] Joost de Valk: It is. WordPress is just a perfect project for a large number of the websites out there. And honestly, I think that we, that we don’t always do ourselves a good service as WordPress on marketing what we can do. And we’ve also, I think, underinvested a little in some parts of WordPress, in terms of performance and in terms of onboarding, that we should probably invest a bit more in.

[00:20:02] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. Just as a segue, the whole performance thing, not the onboarding piece, but the performance bit in particular. I feel that’s, that’s really been kickstarted over the last 12 months. There seems to be a lot of work going into performance and a lot of chatter about it.

Whether everything should be bundled into one performance plugin or whether it should be split out and become different canonical plugins, if you like. So I think you’re right. I think it’s quite interesting that some of the things that you’ve just mentioned do seem to be getting some attention, and performance is just one that springs to mind.

[00:20:36] Joost de Valk: Things like performance on an individual site level, they’re important, but if you are the host that is hosting literally millions of WordPress sites. It is just literally also cost to your bottom line.

[00:20:49] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective. But if you can shave, I don’t know, 5% of CPU cycles out of the whole hosting platform, that’s quite a large amount of money that you’ve saved.

[00:20:59] Joost de Valk: Yeah, and we did a lot more than that in recent releases. So it’s been in the double digits. And that’s absolutely a good thing for, well, not just for our bottom line, but for nature and for electricity usage. I mean, there’s tons of reasons to want to do better at that. And I think there’s still a lot more that we could do.

[00:21:21] Nathan Wrigley: I think it does seem genuinely to be a perfect role given, well, given that I don’t know you particularly well, but from all of the things that I’ve read over the years, it seems like this is kind of like a match made in heaven.

[00:21:32] Joost de Valk: Yeah, and it is actually a very nice team. So it’s, it is very nice to be able to work with these people, and look at like, hey, what can we do here? And yeah, I hope to be able to make an impact.

[00:21:42] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s talk about the UI, because over the years, if you’ve been using WordPress for all these years, you must have logged into WordPress, oh, I daren’t even count. But it’s probably multiple tens of thousands of times. And each time you’ve logged in, you’ve stared at the same UI. And certainly over the last decade, that UI has been exactly the same.

It basically has looked the same since I started WordPress, with tiny, teeny modifications to things like the color blue. There’s a slight variation in the color blue that’s being used now than previously. But broadly speaking, it’s exactly the same.

You guys, and we’re going to use Yoast as an example, but it really, it could be any company. You guys took it into your own hands to say, enough. We think that the UI, if we stick with WordPress standard UI, it doesn’t really fit what we’re doing. Technology’s moved on. We’ve got more things available to us. Certainly the way things look in WordPress is beginning to be a little bit tired.

Tell me about that journey. And are you hoping that your free UI kit, that you’ve open sourced is going to be taken on? Maybe it’s a cue for the team over at .org to have a look at this and adopt this across WordPress, dare I say?

[00:22:53] Joost de Valk: I honestly doubt that’ll happen. Yeah, no, I doubt that. Not because they are against using something that we’ve built, but because what we build is quite opinionated and uses stuff that they might not be willing to use, like Tailwind.

It definitely needs a change. It’s been a tired look for, well, almost a decade as well now. We’ve had experiments. We’ve not really moved on that. Gutenberg itself has changed in what it looks like a couple of times over its development, and now we’re basically stuck with three different types of designs, even within the WordPress admin.

[00:23:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, tell us what you mean by that because I’m not sure everybody will pick up the nuance of that.

[00:23:33] Joost de Valk: Well, if you look at the site health page, it uses different styling from say, add a post. And then go into a post and you edit it in Gutenberg, then that looks entirely different as well. And, I just think that’s weird. I think it’s weird that we have different types of buttons. I think it’s weird that we basically teach a user two or three different UIs. And if you use the customizer with it, then even more. So you’re basically teaching people new user experiences all the time, and that makes it hard to use.

And then because there is no real design system for WordPress anymore, that you can use to build your plugin’s admin pages, everyone starts building their own and all of them start looking differently. And that means that if you have five plugins, you have five different admin pages. And I just don’t think that that’s a good experience.

[00:24:35] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I guess if you are a user of WordPress, a frequent user of WordPress, and you’ve got let’s say, the one site that you are maintaining all five sites or whatever it may be. Because you’re in there all the time, that dissonance doesn’t really happen for you as much, does it? You know, you’re just familiar with it.

Okay. If I go in here, I’m going to expect that the menu’s going to change. The whole color palette and everything. The buttons will look different, but okay, that’s how it is. But if WordPress continues to grow, and it wants to get into the late forties and early 50%, which is, I guess, a target which is within reach. That isn’t really going to fly anymore, is it?

Because if you go to any SaaS app, let’s say for example, I don’t know, let’s say you go over to Google and you want to interact with Google Docs, it would be really weird if the UI for Docs was different from spreadsheets. And, I don’t know, let’s say that you are using Notion or Evernote or something like that. If when you went into some portion of it, it was just different.

You just fully expect everything to look and feel the same. And in our own experience of WordPress, we just forgive that, don’t we? We just, oh, okay, that plugin author has done this. But if you are looking to compete against the rising stars, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, all these other things, that really starts to matter.

It’s a bit like death by a thousand teeny, tiny little paper cuts. Those things stick in the head of the end user. That just seems a bit unprofessional. Not sure about this WordPress thing. Do you think I’ve hit the target there?

[00:26:08] Joost de Valk: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that is our problem. I think it actually ties into the other thing I mentioned, the onboarding. It’s actually pretty hard to start using WordPress. So you are thrown into a dashboard and then the first thing you’re greeted with is WordPress meetups. And as much as I love WordPress meetups, if you are just on that page for the first time, why are those in my screen?

And, well there’s a hundred things like that where I think that we, we could and probably should do better. And the first thing would be, in my opinion, a design system that we all agree on. And I think that is actually an achievable goal. I spoke a bit, before and after I published my post, to a couple of people from the design team, Joan and Mathias, and they also seemed to want something like that.

We seem to disagree a bit on how far, in how far that actually already exists. Because there is a somewhat of a component system within Gutenberg. I just think that as long as I search for WordPress design system and don’t get a post or page from, that actually explains the design system in simple to use terms for every plugin developer out there, it doesn’t exist.

That means that we have to build it. We have to market it. We have to think about how it’s going to be used and then write good docs for that. That’s quite a bit of work, but it’s not unconceivable that we do that. There’s a lot of people in the WordPress world who want to make that happen. We’re just not prioritizing it at the moment. And I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not doing that.

[00:27:45] Nathan Wrigley: I am going to link in the show notes to an article that you put out recently where you express a lot of these thoughts. And in it you make the point that it was a really difficult decision over at Yoast. Sorry to keep going back to Yoast.

[00:27:59] Joost de Valk: No, it’s not a problem. It was a very difficult decision. We’ve been literally been talking about this for five, six years, and my UX team at Yoast had been wanting to do a redesign for a long time, and I basically stopped them all the time because I was like, I want to stay in line with the WordPress admin.

And over time we started moving away from it more and more because we needed stuff that simply wasn’t there. And then at some point you have to admit like, okay, I’m wrong. This is not going to happen and we need to build our own. It was sort of like a bittersweet decision. And I’m happy to add that people are responding well to the library that we built and that, that we open sourced.

Because I want to spare others to work. Because it’s stupid. It’s stupid that as a plugin developer, I have to spend time thinking about what do my buttons look like? What do my toggles look like? They should just be the same for everyone.

[00:29:03] Nathan Wrigley: I can completely sympathize with that, in the sense that you’ve spent years basically saying, no, to your design team. We’re just going to stick with this. But eventually, I guess there’s too much water has gone under that bridge that really you’re stifling your own company’s enterprise.

[00:29:20] Joost de Valk: Literally, I mean, people moved to others plugins because they thought it looked better. Which I think is a stupid reason to switch SEO plugins. But who am I? But it was literally happening, and I, at some point you go like, okay, I really need to do better at this. And to be fair, the new settings you are that we ended up building, I think our UX team did an amazing job on, and makes the plugin a lot easier to use.

[00:29:49] Nathan Wrigley: I will link to the design library, which has been open sourced again in the show notes, but it’s a really amazing endeavor. If you are a plugin developer or, you know, you have aspirations to be, it’s definitely well worth checking out because looks like Yoast have really gone to town. It’s soup to nuts. Almost every component or element that you could possibly imagine putting inside of a WordPress UI, is there, you know. Progress bars, radio buttons. Every single thing is there with loads of instructions on how to implement it.

I guess if the endeavor was to begin that conversation, then already, I think it’s been a success. If the endeavor of this blog post and the, the new UI that you’ve bring into existence. If the endeavor there was to start a conversation about this, then yeah, I think you’ve done that.

[00:30:39] Joost de Valk: At this point we’ve invested so much time that I don’t see us switching to something else anytime soon. But that also sort of saddens. That’s why I wrote the post on my personal blog. I’m like, this is not necessarily the decision I would’ve wanted to make. But yeah, you are sort of forced into it. At that point it’s better if we build something and we open source it, and then maybe a lot of others can use it as well. And maybe we can actually get to an interface where we all sort of look alike.

[00:31:08] Nathan Wrigley: Have you been in the role at Newfold long enough to have interfaced with customers to know that this is a, a thing which is stifling WordPress growth. The fact that it does look out of date. The fact that it’s a jumble of different colors and patterns and design libraries being in used in different plugins. Does this turn people off in the real world?

[00:31:28] Joost de Valk: I’m a hundred percent sure. You test with these things, of course, and you see the data on how many people start. Register with a host. They get a hosting package. They get a WordPress site, and how many then get to a published site? Not everyone gets to a published site, and that I think will never happen, but well the more that do, the more that will basically remain customers. So for a host, that’s an important metric.

And people just get stuck. And then when you look at where they get stuck, they get stuck at picking a theme. And then when they have a theme, they get stuck at making it look good, especially making it look like the demo.

And then they get stuck at building pages. They get stuck at several phases. And there’s quite a few of those phases that you have to get through before you get to a website that you’re happy with. So we’re trying to make that simpler, and I think we’re actually doing very cool work on that at Bluehost and Newfold in general. But some of that should also happen in Core.

[00:32:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it’s interesting. If you are Squarespace or Wix or whoever it may be, I guess the person who’s in charge of the way that the platform looks, just makes the decision and it’s done and everybody then toes the line and does that thing. Okay, we’re going to make it look different. We’re going to modify it. 2023, we’re going to give our entire enterprise a new look and feel. Let’s get on with it.

Of course, in WordPress, given the nature of the way that the software is developed, that’s really hard. And getting people to have a consensus on this, like you said, you’d had several chats with a few people who may be able to push the needle a little bit there, and there’s not always complete agreement.

It will be difficult, but my personal feeling is that it needs to be quite high on the list of things happening. But given that Gutenberg, we’re about to enter phase three of Gutenberg. Given that Gutenberg is consuming so much time and resources of developers, I do wonder whether this interface will get much of a makeover in the next, I don’t know, next year or so.

[00:33:32] Joost de Valk: I wondered that too. I don’t have an answer because I don’t know, but it is a conversation that I’m going to have, be having with people. And I do actually think that it might, it might field counterintuitive, but I actually think that building that design system first might actually speed up the other work.

[00:33:51] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, well it certainly gives you a benchmark of what can be achieved. Yeah, it’d be interesting in your new role, whether or not you can corral some people into pushing that forward.

Yoast, we’re reaching the 40 minute mark. I think that’s about where I wanted to get to. If there’s anything that you think I missed, please let me know.

[00:34:10] Joost de Valk: No, there’s always more to talk about, it’s WordPress.

[00:34:13] Nathan Wrigley: If that’s the case and we’ve covered everything, I’ll just ask you to let us know where people can find you, given that you’re in a transitionary period. Where’s the best place for people to discover you from now on?

[00:34:25] Joost de Valk: That’s, j o o s So my first name, not the company name. And Twitter, j d e v a l k, J de Volk is probably the best place. And if people have questions or want to just chat, I’m on the WordPress Slack as well. So feel free to DM me there.

[00:34:44] Nathan Wrigley: Thank you very much, Joost for chatting to us on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

[00:34:48] Joost de Valk: Again, thank you for having me, it was a pleasure.

On the podcast today we have Joost De Valk.

If you’ve been in the WordPress space for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve come across the Yoast SEO plugin. This was the brainchild of the guest today, Joost, same pronunciation, different spelling.

We talk about how Joost found WordPress and quickly started working on his SEO plugin. How it rapidly grew and became his career.

We discuss the WordPress landscape during this time and whether it’s more difficult now to have the type of success that his plugin received, given that there are more players vying for our attention.

The conversation then moves into why the plugin was recently sold to Newfold Digital. What were the guardrails that were put in place to ensure that the plugin continued and the employees felt safe?

We then get into a conversation about Joost’s new role. He’s been tasked with reaching out to WordPress community members in order to see what projects or initiatives need more thought and support.

This leads us into the topic of the current WordPress UI, and how Joost is hoping for a refresh at some point soon. For years his plugin team wanted to create their own UI to take advantage of new technologies, but Joost always pushed back, preferring instead to adopt the style of the WordPress UI. Now that’s changed, and the open sourcing of the UI kit they’ve made is intended as a starting point for a discussion about the need for a more consistent admin experience for all WordPress users.

Useful links.

Yoast SEO plugin


Newfold Digital




Tailwind CSS

Joost’s post about the WordPress Admin UI

Joost’s Twitter