WordPress is a platform and CMS (content management system) that you can use to build and manage your website. It's actually used to power a large number of websites around the world. In fact, you probably visit quite a few WordPress websites on a daily basis without realising. It flaunts that it’s the “world’s most popular website builder” and powers 38% of websites. Those are some seriously impressive numbers!
Due to the fact that WordPress is as popular as it is; it’s usually one of the first things that people come across when they start exploring the world of web design and development. Whether if it be for themselves to get into building their own website or for them to get recommendations on what type of developer to hire.
I quite often get approached by people who are looking at getting a website built for their business and want a quick chat or a quote. Almost every time I start chatting to the potential client, I get told that they specifically want a “WordPress site”. Not just “I want a website”. It’s almost always “I want a WordPress site”. But, whenever I ask why it has to be built using “WordPress" particularly, I usually get a response of something along the lines of “I’ve heard that’s the thing to use”. There’s never really much reason for them to want the site built with it apart from the fact that they’re familiar with the word and just assumed that because it’s popular that it will be suitable for every use case. But is it?
Managing content & blogging
In the past, WordPress has mainly been used as a blogging platform and still to this day is focused around that (although not as much as it used to be). It is built around the idea of being able to create a blog and get your ideas and thoughts onto a website for the rest of the world to see without too much of a barrier-to-entry. And to be honest, it does this quite well!
So, if you’re intending on just having a couple of basic pages for your website and then adding a blog to it, WordPress can be suitable. However, it is worth noting though that there are plenty of other alternatives out there which can provide this same functionality (I’ll discuss this further down).
Cheap & rapid development
If you’re just starting out as a new company or want to prototype an idea for a new business, setting up a new WordPress site can be cheap and fast. You can quickly build a new site, choose a theme, add your text and images and then get it live. As a side note, I’m not suggesting that this is all that it takes to build a website. I’d strongly advise anyone thinking of getting a new website to invest in a web designer or developer and a copywriter.
In general, you’ll typically find hosting providers that provide cheap WordPress hosting around £5-10/month. So, if you really wanted to keep costs down, you could probably build the site yourself and get it released onto some hosting and you’d only need to pay the cost of the hosting and the domain name.
But, this doesn’t mean that your website would be ready. I’m sure that other website designers and web developers would agree with me that making a website is the straight forward part. The hard part is making sure it’s done efficiently so that it’s maintainable, optimized and follows best practices. If you were to build the website yourself without getting a developer to do it for you, you’d probably run into some performance problems and have a website that loads really slow without knowing how to solve it. In the long term, this will actually negatively affect your website because Google uses performance and loading times as a ranking factor. So, with a slower website that's not optimised, you'll move down the rankings rather than up.
One thing to note is that there are a lot of “WordPress developers” out there that fall into this trap. They manage to get a website built and released for you in a weekend and all for the price of £100. This is typically because the barrier-to-entry for creating the sites is so low and it’s a quick way for someone interested in tech to try and make some money on the side in their spare time. This will definitely show in the quality of the work though. The site will likely be riddled with bugs, cross-browser incompatibility issues, security vulnerabilities, etc. Now, this doesn’t mean that all WordPress developers are like this; because they’re not! In fact, there’s some really good developers out there which make great contributions to the WordPress community and build amazing websites. I’m just trying to make a point that you need to be aware that there are a lot of junior developers who try and sell WordPress sites that are incomplete and that will probably damage your brand’s reputation more than it will help you.
A lot of WordPress site’s functionality are provided through “plugins”. The easiest way to look at plugins is to think of them as little blocks of features that you can add to your site. As an example, one of the most popular plugins out there is Yoast SEO. This a plugin which provides a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) related fields to help you rank your blog posts on Google so people can find you.
Plugins are a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can add a plugin in a matter of minutes that adds a fancy new feature to your website. On the other hand, you can add a plugin that is made up of old, vulnerable, bloated code. When it comes to installing plugins, it’s important to know things like: who made it? What does it do? Is it still given updates and maintained? As an example, there were an estimated 700,000 WordPress sites that were affected by a vulnerability in the File Manager plugin.
Everytime you install a plugin into your website, you’re trusting that the developer(s) who created it know what they’re doing and haven’t added anything malicious or insecure. For example, you might install a plugin that gives you a really nice image gallery so that you can show off your latest products and services. But, how do you know the developer for the plugin hasn’t snuck in any malware that might infect your website or steal yours or your customers data? How do you know if there is a security flaw in the plugin that leaves your website left wide open for a hacker to attack.
In general, you’d probably be safe to assume that the top ranking WordPress plugins that are the most popular would have been scrutinised that much that nothing malicious would have been snuck into it. But, as you start installing plugins from lesser-known developers that have no reviews left, that’s up to you to decide if you want to risk adding it.
Although it might sometimes be quicker to add a plugin to your site, it might actually affect you in the long run. Some plugins have a lot of bloated code that isn’t really needed. Or maybe the plugin caters for a lot of use cases and you only need a small portion of the code to ever actually be run. For this reason, it can be quite easy to slow down your site and increase the page load time for your visitors. It is known that Google use performance and loading times as a ranking factor. So, by having a slower site, you might actually be moving your site down the rankings rather than up. One solution to this problem would be to not use the plugin and instead write the code yourself. This isn’t always suitable (especially if the code is going to take a long time to write) and in that case, the developer might be able to find a smaller, more optimised version of the plugin that they can add manually using code rather than the WordPress admin panel.
Keeping plugins up to date
WordPress itself and each of the plugins that you are using are usually going to receive updates fairly regularly; maybe on a weekly or monthly basis. These updates in general are usually extremely helpful and can add things such as security updates, new features or bug fixes. Ask yourself this, if you logged into your site to go and write a new blog post and you saw that there was a new update to a plugin that gave you security improvements, what would you do? My guess is that a lot of you would probably think “Nice! I’ll install this now and keep my site up to date”. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking that in all fairness; it’s a very responsible thing to think.
However, when installing plugins with WordPress you can sometimes get incompatibility issues. For example, you might install plugin A which uses a certain feature in plugin B. But then when you upgrade plugin B, plugin A might stop working because that will also need updating. This can be a very quick way to break your website!
I’ve seen this myself many times and I’m sure that most other web designers and developers have come across this themselves at some point as well. I’ve had people ring me up saying that they’ve updated a plugin on their site and now all of their pages are just displaying a white screen rather than just loading. Or, maybe that after they’ve updated something, there’s now massive blank spaces in their site where their image galleries were and they aren’t showing anymore.
In an ideal world, a developer who is maintaining your WordPress site for you would probably have a “development” version of the site. This would be a place where they would be able to make changes to your site without it actually affecting your live site. By using a process like this, it would make it much easier to experiment with the updates and check that they don’t break anything before any updates are made to the live sites. However, if you’ve built your website yourself or have full access to the admin panel to make updates when you want, you might not use this approach. A golden rule in web development is to never make changes to a live system or website; there could be unpredictable consequences. Let’s be honest, the last thing you want is for you to take down your business’ website for a few days until you can find someone who can help you fix it.
So, although this problem isn’t specific to WordPress and definitely affects other website systems, it’s something that does seem to cause a lot of pain for clients quite easily. For this reason, I’d try and refrain from being trigger-happy and updating any plugins each time there’s a new pop up.
As I mentioned before, WordPress was originally intended to be a blogging platform. It is also built to be largely backwards compatible. In the simple, non-technical terms, this just means that the WordPress is made so that it works with older hosting software. For this reason, it can be a bit more difficult to add bespoke features (that can’t be added via a plugin). I won’t bore you with the technical details but if you want to hear more about this side of things, I’d be happy for you to drop me a message and we can have a chat about it.
I’m not a WordPress developer myself and I don’t claim to be one; I work mainly with Laravel. But in the past, I’ve had to work on WordPress sites, whether they be ones that I’ve made myself or ones that another designer/developer has made. A couple of the sites that I worked on had custom code within them to add new features to the site rather than using a plugin. I personally found it more time-consuming and difficult to write and update this code because I didn’t feel like it was as intuitive or structured as well as something like October CMS (a CMS similar to WordPress but that’s built with Laravel). It definitely slowed down the progress of the site’s development because I had to spend extra time on the code. Of course, this is then reflected on costings and prices, so adding bespoke features will inevitably increase the cost of the site.
For these reasons, I do think if you want anything other than a basic website with a blog, WordPress might be not be the way forward; especially if you’re planning on scaling the website up and adding bespoke features.
As I just mentioned there are other alternatives out there that can provide the same (or very similar) content management features that WordPress offers. I do have some recommendations but these are purely from my own personal experience and I’m sure that there are other designers and developers out there that could make other suggestions.
When I first start working with a client and we’re discussing what the site should do, I try and figure out if a CMS is actually needed. Almost all the time, I find that the client doesn’t really want to be able to update all of the content themselves. They’re usually looking for the simple bits of editing (such as adding a new review to their testimonials page). If this is the case, I tend to lean towards using something like Laravel Nova. It’s a package made for Laravel which provides an admin panel for updating bits of content on the site. It can be extremely powerful and although you there’s a licence fee of $99, you gain back that money through the time that you save in not having to write the admin panel code yourself.
As well as this, if I feel that CMS would be more suitable for the website, I recommend October CMS. This is a CMS that is similar to WordPress but is built with Laravel. I personally feel more comfortable working with October CMS and I find that I am more productive using that rather than WordPress (but obviously this is down to personal preference).
So, the one question you should ask yourself is: “Do I really want to be able to edit all of my website myself? Or would I prefer a web developer to do it for me?”.
Hopefully, I’ve given you enough food for thought here. If you search around on Google you’ll often see lists like “5 reasons you should not use WordPress” or “Top 10 reasons you should use WordPress”. But, I’ve tried giving you information that I think is relevant for you (as a non-techy) to try and make a more informed decision. The main thing to take away from reading this is that there’s no right or wrong answer.
As my own personal preference, I wouldn’t use it as I would feel much more comfortable building a site using October CMS or Laravel Nova. But this is only due to what I’m most familiar with.
You could refer back to these bullet points as a guide to let you know if you should use WordPress or use an alternative solution:
Use WordPress if:
- You only want a basic website to show off your business.
- You want a blog on your website that you want to be able to add content to.
- You want control over your website to change pieces of content.
Do NOT use WordPress if:
- You want a complex website with bespoke features.
- You want to scale the website’s functionality in the future.
- You don’t have a suitable way of testing any updates before you do them.
Just remember, we don’t expect you to know all the answers (we don’t even know all the answers ourselves). But most web designers and developers will usually be more than happy to answer any questions you might have about the topic. If you want to get in contact with me and discuss anything WordPress or web related, I’d be happy to chat!