I have watched a lot of technologies come and go since the birth of the World Wide Web (who calls it that anymore?) and what I am finding most interesting is that at with all the efforts to make it simple, it’s getting more confusing.
In the mid 1990’s anyone who could post a static one page website with their picture and bio was considered a genius by most of their friends. Today you can grab a free template spend a few hours customizing it with a WYSIWYG tool and you have a full blown website. Or do you?
WordPress is currently the most popular platform for building websites. Designers love it because they can cut out the developer. Developers like it because it’s quick. Customers like it because it’s cheap to produce.
The one thing that makes WordPress appealing is that it is a CMS or Content Management System which means anybody with credentials to the site can change copy and images with very little training.
For these reasons, its simplicity to develop and use at a very low entry price, the WordPress community and fan base is large. But few speak of the downside.
(Full Discloser, I have clients that WordPress is the best option for. I also have clients that I strongly advised NOT to go with WordPress.)
Things to consider before agreeing to a WordPress site:
1. Open Source– This is good and bad. The good is that it is not owned by anyone. It is a free product and a community is building it. The drawback is that any custom work you pay your developer for is now free to someone else to use. The more complicate and unique you want your site, the more reason to have a custom site.
2. Cost of Ownership– While a WordPress site is the least expensive site to build, it might be the most expensive to own. Some changes you think might be simple, are very costly. As an example, let’s say you want to add a box on the home page to promote an event or special product. Sounds simple. And in a custom site this might be a $300 job. In a WordPress site it could be a $1,200 job. Another overlooked cost is maintaining the site for security and fixes to hacks.
3. Security– This could be the biggest reason to not go WordPress. There are many security flaws which lead to many attacks. The attacks don’t come from a person singing you out, it comes from bots –programs the crawl the web- looking for holes in your site to create havoc.
4. Permissions– You have little control over what a backend user can access. If you grant access to an employee to update a page, they can make changes to things you might not want them to. Many times the changes are accidental and go underscored. If a disgruntled employee has access, you could be in a lot more trouble than if you had a true CMS.
5. Stability– There are a lot of inconsistencies with the API. Sometimes the plugins stop working or the appearance of a section of the site changes. These fixes are sometimes hard to corner as they don’t always reproduce.
6. Traffic Spikes– Out of the box, WordPress is not optimized to handle large traffic. It can be, but most websites owners don’t want to spend $200 to $500 a month in hosting fees.
7. Search Engine Visibility– This is argued but in my personal experience I have seen a drop in web traffic after switching to WordPress. We tested two sites in where the only change was the platform and in both cases the traffic dropped. We think it is due to the lack of clean code or lack of uniqueness form other sites.
The main questions you need to ask yourself before deciding on what platform you want your site on are:
1. How often will I be making changes to my site?
2. How much traffic do I expect?
3. What would be the impact if my site went down?
If your answers are “Often, little and none”, you are a a candidate for WordPress. Otherwise, you should consider a custom platform.