There are loads of different website technologies out there, so why do I use – and recommend – WordPress?
(Please note that this article is talking about WordPress CMS – also known as self-hosted WordPress, or wordpress.org – not the free blogging platform powered by the same technology, at wordpress.com)
WordPress is easy to use
I’ve used a number of content management systems (CMS) over the years. Some were easy to use, but limited in what they could do. Others were more flexible, but seemed to built for developers rather than for the people who needed to use and edit them.
And then I tried WordPress.
I think WordPress manages to strike a good balance between offering the technical flexibility which developers want, while still keeping a nice simple interface for the editors.
After all, if you just want to update a page, you shouldn’t need a developer for that!
With WordPress, the main business of editing pages, or writing blog posts, is really straightforward. The editing interface has friendly labels and simple Word Processor-style buttons. That’s a huge bonus for my clients, who don’t want to spend hours learning an unfamiliar system.
Frankly, if my septuagenarian father can manage to run a WordPress website, I think pretty much anyone can do it!
For those clients who want something a bit more ambitious, the WordPress team are currently developing a new, more flexible, editing system (nicknamed ‘Gutenberg’, in honour of the man who devised the printing press). This should allow editors to do even more creative things without needing a developer’s help.
WordPress is open source
‘Open source’ means that the code isn’t owned by anyone. It’s available for anyone to download and use, or to change for their needs. Free.
Yes, you read that right: it’s free.
Better yet, because anyone can read and use the code, they can also add things which WordPress doesn’t do out of the box.
And they have!
WordPress users have created thousands of ‘plugins’ which you can use to extend and improve WordPress. A lot of these plugins are also free, thanks to the generosity of the people who’ve developed them. At the time of writing, there are over 50,000 free plugins available in the WordPress repository. There are also hundreds, probably thousands, of premium plugins.
WordPress is versatile
Though initially built as a blogging platform, WordPress is now capable of much, much more – and can easily be tailored to do exactly what you need.
WordPress provides the framework, and those plugins that I just mentioned allow you to build on this to create whatever kind of website you want. Rather than using a massive system which tries to do everything, you can add just the things you need, and nothing else.
Want a membership site with profile pages and discussion boards? Or an e-commerce site? Perhaps a job board? Or maybe an online booking system? Want to be able to change your page format using a drag-and-drop builder? If you can identify the right combination of plugins, you can accomplish almost anything.
Even if you can’t find a plugin that does exactly what you need, a developer can customise it or even build a specialist solution just for you.
Similarly, there are thousands of design themes, both free and commercial, which you can use for your WordPress website. Many of these are designed especially for a particular purpose, e.g. for e-commerce, or for blogging – or even for a specific niche, e.g. photographers, estate agents or charities.
This means that if time is short or your budget is tight, you can use an existing theme to get a WordPress website up and running quickly.
Alternatively, you can take your time to create a design and layout that works perfectly for your business.
Your website is yours
You may think that your website will naturally belong to you, but sometimes that’s not entirely true.
If you’ve built a website using a web builder like Wix or your hosting company’s web builder, you may find that only the content of the website belongs to you, not the code.
This means that if you want to move it to a different hosting company, you’ll need to export your content and re-import it (or, if you’re really unlucky, you’ll have to copy and paste it) into a new website, effectively rebuilding it from scratch.
With WordPress – as with other open source Content Management Systems (CMS) like Joomla! and Drupal – the code is yours too. If you want to move a WordPress website to a different hosting company, you can just bundle it up and move it, in its entirety. It’s all yours.
WordPress is widely used
WordPress is the most popular CMS on the internet, used by 59% of all CMS-driven websites, and about 28% of all websites (stats from W3 Techs, Aug 2017). Examples include business, news and celebrity websites, including Time, Metro, TechCrunch, BBC America, The Obama Foundation, Usain Bolt, Justin Bieber, Kylie Minogue and a host of other websites.
Because it’s so widely used, there’s loads of online support available. There are thousands of WordPress-related YouTube videos showing you how to use it, customise it, and improve it. In addition, there are hundreds of social networks and forums (including WordPress’s own support forum) where people discuss WordPress issues, filled with other WordPress users who can offer tips if you get stuck.
Its popularity also means that there are lots of developers with expertise in WordPress. If you need someone to fix your WordPress website, you shouldn’t have to look too far!
With so many websites using WordPress, and a technology that’s been around for over 15 years , you can be pretty confident that it’s not a flash in the pan. WordPress is actively growing and developing, so it’s unlikely to become obsolete soon.
What are the downsides?
Of course, WordPress isn’t perfect. No CMS is.
Here are a few considerations if you’re planning a WordPress website:
You need to be security conscious
However, the three most important ways to keep your WordPress website safe are very simple:
- keep all WordPress code (including plugins) up to date;
- always use strong passwords; and
- take regular backups.
Some web hosts will keep WordPress up to date and/or take backups for you. If not, you will need to keep WordPress core code and all plugins up to date yourself (or pay someone else to do so); this is a simple process via the Dashboard. You’ll also need to take your own backups but, again, this is simple to do – just install one of the many available backup plugins and set it up to take regular backups.
Many developers = inconsistent quality
Another consideration is that WordPress themes and plugins are built by a wide range of providers, from individuals to large companies. This means that not all themes and plugins are of the same quality. It’s very important to choose themes and plugins carefully, and only to download them from reputable sources.
Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it costs nothing!
This isn’t a “downside” as such, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Some people think that a WordPress website is completely free to build and run, but this isn’t the case.
Of course, it’s true that you can set up a WordPress website with no costs other that your domain and hosting (and your time!). That’s fine for a low-traffic blog. However, if you’re building a business website, it doesn’t pay to do things on the cheap.
It may be straightforward to build a site that looks nice with WordPress, but will it drive sales, increase contacts, or whatever it is you need it to do? I’d recommend professional advice on your site structure, function and design, to make sure that your website provides what your business needs.
If you’re running an e-commerce website, or get lots of traffic, then it’s crucial to get good quality hosting. Cheap shared hosting (the sort that costs a few pounds/dollars a month) is unlikely to be able to cope with the demand and you risk problems with your website.
A slow website, or one which crashes or glitches, can cost you much more in lost sales than the extra you’d pay for better hosting.
Depending on the features you want, you may need to pay for premium plugins. Often the costs for these are low, but costs can tot up quickly if you’re adding lots of these. Be aware that many plugins require annual subscriptions too.
Similarly, while you can find many great free themes, it’s often worth paying for a premium theme or a custom-built theme to make sure it gives you the exact look and features that you want.
Finally, you should also factor in the costs of maintenance: keeping the website up to date (if using unmanaged hosting), monitoring analytics, keeping an eye on security and so on.
So is WordPress right for me?
WordPress isn’t right for every situation. If all you need is a very basic static site, which won’t need editing often, then WordPress might be overkill (though you could look at WordPress.com where all the maintenance side of things is taken care of for you).
At the other end of the spectrum, if you need an enterprise-level solution, with, say, integration with your business’s custom systems, then trying to do that using open source components from a range of sources could lead to complications, or make your website confusing to edit.