As an individual who has been in the web industry for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. The biggest and most productive change has been the introduction of mobile friendly websites. However, one innovation that I’m both in awe and annoyed by at the same time is the dawn of Wordpress.
I’m not talking about the basic blogging platform here. I’m talking about its use as the most commonly used content management system and the platform for so many websites these days.
I have built sites in Wordpress as well but only for the small websites and for people on very limited budgets. Basically I see Wordpress as the bottom of the range product. I suppose they are the second hand Ford Focus as opposed to a brand new Mercedes Benz.
Wordpress is a free, open source product. Anyone can download it by visiting the Wordpress website or by simply Googling “download wordpress”. However, to use it still requires a certain level of knowledge and skill. To host it will also cost money - in most cases no cheaper than bespoke hosting. Sure there are free hosting providers out there but they will be on a shared server which will be both slow and unreliable, and there will probably be little to no support.
So let’s assume you go down the Wordpress route, what are the pros and cons? Well the truth is there are probably an equal number. Also, the benefits for the client are more often than not disadvantages for the developer and vice versa. Below is my personal summary.
You can be up and running very quickly. As mentioned already, Wordpress is a free open source bit of kit. It can be installed and configured in about 10 minutes. A template can be installed almost instantly. This means, theoretically, you can have a fully functional and quite nice looking website up and running in a day. If you have the time and knowledge to do this all yourself, your only costs will be in the time it takes you to do it, plus however much you end up paying for the domain name and hosting. If you get it done by a professional, this “pro” is actually a con in disguise - in more ways than one. In my opinion, no one who builds websites exclusively in Wordpress can call themselves a developer because they are not developing anything. They are simply installing some pre-built software, possibly installing some free plugins to add more functionality and then charging it on at hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds. Likewise, no one who builds sites in Wordpress can call themselves a designer because they aren’t designing it; they are paying a few tens of pounds (at most) for a pre-built template and installing it. Sure, there might be a few tweaks to stylesheets, and some companies with more advanced knowledge can fiddle with the Wordpress core somewhat but they are still simply fiddling with someone else’s work. As a business owner and developer, I find that both offensive and morally wrong. I couldn’t justify charging a client thousands of pounds for something that only cost me thirty quid. Also, having delved into advanced Wordpress configuration in the past, I found it was all backwards: Things that should take a lot of time (like designing the site and building a content management system) take a few minutes, whereas things that should take a few minutes (like changing the colour of a heading) can take hours because you’re dealing with someone else’s inept code which references the same style a dozen times in multiple stylesheets.
It’s proven and well established. Having been around a long time and used on millions of websites, you know it will work. It won’t explode or crash or fail to do what you expect. It’s been tried, tested, tweaked, improved, tested some more and it’s pretty robust. It’s also fairly easy to use, although I personally don’t find it all that intuitive.
It’s flexible. One of the main reasons Wordpress became so popular was because it was open source. This means anyone can download it and tweak it to their needs (up to a point). It uses PHP which is also an open source scripting language. This means other developers can code plugins that can be easily installed at low cost (often free). Because it’s open source, free and so common, there are no shortage of companies out there who will host your site. If you fall out with your developer or just find someone cheaper, it can be rolled up, moved and easily installed in a new environment. This is a disadvantage of having a bespoke site. If it is completely tailored to you, or uses software specifically written for the server it’s on, you won’t be able to migrate the site in its entirety - at least not easily. Of course this is a potential advantage for the developer. Personally I don’t want customers leaving and I work very hard to maintain long standing relationships with them so they don’t feel the need to leave. It works well.
It looks nice and is mobile friendly. To be fair, some of the themes that are available do look amazing. Even I struggle to come up with designs that look as nice and I’ll admit to having used them as inspiration from time to time. All themes in the library will be fully responsive so they will work on all devices, although there are often tweaks that need to be made because the creator of the theme doesn’t always get things quite right.
Your website will look like everyone else’s. Let’s face it, all websites look the same now. I’ll be honest, even my own personal and business websites follow the same format as most. They have a navigation across the top, a large banner image and a few featured boxes on the home page. This is what people like. This is what people expect. To be fair it looks nice, especially when decent imagery is used (and there is so much free stock imagery out there). However, I’m convinced at some stage a big, influential company is going to say “hang on a minute, I don’t want my site to look like everyone else’s. I want mine to stand out. I want to be unique again.” And I hope it happens soon. Why would you want to look like everyone else? It shows a lack of originality.
Plugins and speed. Wordpress is constantly being updated and there are newer versions to the core and the numerous plugins being released all the time. While this is a good thing for the most part, it is a pain in the backside to keep constantly having to update them. Things don’t always run smoothly and sometimes running an update will break the site. This is a nuisance at the best of times but even more so when you aren’t the author of the plugin and have no idea how to fix it. Also, with many plugins, there is a lot of redundant code in them which can slow the site down. Because of the need to make custom modifications to the code, you have to create “child themes” which involves duplicating pages and writing your code in there. This is done so that, when an update is available, it doesn’t overwrite your custom changes. It’s a bit of a faff and, again, means a lot of code duplication and Wordpress having to check which version of the page should be used which affects speed.
Vulnerability: Although it is very secure for the most part, the very nature of open source software does leave it open to hacking. The third party plugins also pose a risk. There are tens of thousands of third party plugins out there and, while most of them are safe, there is always a risk when installing them.
It’s limited. While Wordpress is very flexible and offers a lot of custom manipulation, you are still limited in what you can do. Custom sections can be added using a plugin and the design can be altered but it’s not always straightforward. I did some freelance work for a company who built everything in Wordpress and the number of times I heard them on the phone to clients saying “no you can’t do that” and “no that can’t be done” and “no, the template we’ve used won’t allow us to do that” was unbelievable. There’s no way I could get away with saying that to my clients. “Hey I know you are paying me money to build something for your needs but your logo can’t be centered because I don’t know how to do it.” I’d go out of business very quickly. At least when you have a site designed around your specific needs and it has been both designed and programmed by the company who will be maintaining it for you, they will have complete control and will be able to make any change you want (within reason). That’s how we work.
To do it properly, it’s no cheaper. There is this myth that having a site built in Wordpress will be cheaper. This isn’t necessarily the case. As mentioned earlier, if you have the time and skill to do it all yourself then it might be. However, few businesses do. That is why they pay companies like mine to do it for them. Most companies will still charge hundreds and often thousands for a site, depending on its complexity (i.e. if it has an online shop, email marketing or other bespoke features). Then there is the monthly or annual hosting charges which can vary from a few pounds per month to a few hundred. Again, this largely depends on the site. Remember, with web hosting, you tend to get what you pay for.
So my personal view is there is nothing wrong with having a Wordpress site for a new or small business or for a personal site. However, for a bigger company, I’d be more inclined to go for something more bespoke. It will make you stand out a bit more and won’t necessarily cost you any more money.