The Pros and Cons of Using WordPress. Is it the best CMS Solution?
Filed in Advice for Clients
From Blogging tool, to multi-faceted CMS Platform
WordPress has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings as a blogging tool, transforming itself into a full blown content management system. I’ve been using WordPress for years, though it’s certainly not where I began my journey. I had attempted to use Joomla, Drupal and a huge variety of alternatives long before I settled on WordPress.
It would be wrong of me to say simply that WordPress is the best, as all of the popular Content Management Systems out there have some great features to bring to the table, that being said, I doubt very much that I’ll be changing any time soon. It’s a popular debate amongst web designers, each having strong opinions about the CMS systems they’ve mastered, and understandably so. Learning to use a new CMS is no small task. I have spent years learning the way WordPress works, I have invested time and resource into the best features and plugins to use as a base, and at this stage, I’m pretty quick at turning a site around with WordPress. This means better value for my clients as I’m billing less hours, and a more robust solution with less bugs, as I know and trust the system, and am aware of the major pitfalls. I also find it easy to find skilled WordPress developers, this means if my client needs some really bespoke functionality for their website, WordPress has a dedicated base of developers who can create virtually any plugin at an affordable cost – again this is hugely beneficial to my clients. What this also means, is that should they ever choose to move forward with a different designer/ developer – it’s safe to assume the new designer will be able to pick up where I left of with relative ease.
Again I want to clarify, I’m not saying WordPress is the best, I’m saying that for me and my clients it’s the best solution all around.
If you’re using another CMS, should you switch to WordPress?
This really raises a number of questions; Will you get a return on investment? There’s many factors to be considered, such as how all your existing content is going to be ported across? Are their alternative WordPress plugins out there which will compensate for any bespoke functionality your current site has, not available out of the box with WordPress? How much time and resource have you spent learning your current CMS solution? Do you have time to learn something new? Will a new CMS actually save you time?
What does WordPress do that other CMS’s don’t? What are the Pro’s and Cons of using WordPress?
Pro – A super friendly back end
Well first up, WordPress does have, in my opinion, the most user friendly back end. It’s simply laid out and easy to navigate. There are also a range of plugins out there which can help you limit the amount of stuff shown to your clients in the back end, if there’s no need for them to see all 35 plugins then hide them, why over complicate matters?! Make use of those different account levels.
Con – WordPress is set up like a blogging system
As aforementioned, WordPress started out as a blogging tool and it has stayed very true to it’s roots. When you’re using the back end it very much feels like you’re being pushed to blog. Posts feature more prominently than pages. Whilst WordPress does absolutely have the functionality to create a structured page based sitemap, this is not prominent, instead you’re lead more towards creating categories and adding posts into categories.
Pro – Easy to navigate to specific areas to make changes
When logged in as an administrator, you can navigate your website from the front end, and click the edit button in the top grey bar and be taken directly to the edit page section, where you can update and save your changes to that page – this makes it exceptionally easy for users less familiar with WordPress to easily navigate and update their content.
Con – Trigger happy plugin downloads can be a nightmare!
WordPress can be exceptionally easy to break for anyone who’s a little trigger happy. Not so much of a problem for a professional, but for a client who’s just found the plugin repository, it can be a serious concern. Installing the wrong plugin can cause the dreaded white screen of death, or even create a hole in the site’s security, making it vulnerable to hackers. Excessive use of plugins can also cause conflicts and performance issues, furthermore, using hundreds of plugins can also cause issues when updating to the latest version of WordPress. Often plugins are not updated with the same frequency as WordPress, if at all, which means down the line it’s likely you’ll either need to ditch the plugin, or stop updating WordPress – neither of which is ideal.
Pro – Custom post types and taxonomies
More recently, the WordPress team have embraced the idea of allowing web designers and developers to create their own custom post types and taxonomies. So instead of just having Pages and Posts, you might also have a section called Books or Movies. This really opens the doors to the idea of a faceted navigational structure and gives designers and developers the free range to create as many different page layouts for the different types of content a client is likely to be publishing to their site. This also means eCommerce functionality is a breeze, allowing for specific shop based category taxonomies, so your blog posts don’t get mixed up with your store products.
Con – Legacy content handling
Creating a new theme and porting content from an old one can be very time consuming. I’m not sure this is a con of WordPress specifically, moreover it’s a problem that every designer/developer will face. WordPress makes it so simple to add content to a website, that frequently a client with a site that has hundreds upon hundreds of archives of posts, all of which have varying structure and code snippets – this can cause difficulty to anyone looking to create a wildly different design or structure to that used with an existing site. One way around this is to tackle the most visited content first, review your Analytics package and develop a set of priorities. Alternatively, you might want to strip old content out, or change code structure – switching from HTML4 to HTML5 for example. There’s a great plugin entitled “WordPress Search and Replace” that will search through all of your posts and allow you to change specific HTML to something else, or H2s to H3s for example.
Pro – The almighty Functions.php file!
Adding new post types, registering new widgets, sidebars, or menus is an absolute breeze. Adding almost any additional simple functionality can be done simply by adding a few lines of code into the WordPress functions.php file. Not only that, but there is such a rich community of developers clambering to support each other for free, that is rare you’ll ever find yourself without an avenue to explore to reach a solution to your problem.
Con – Plugin safety!
You’re never 100% sure that the plugin you’re using is 100% safe. There’s often a lot of uncertainty around who made the plugin and what security holes it might cause to your site. Whilst you can never totally alleviate these problems, you can get a sense for how trust worthy the plugin is on the WordPress.org developer forums. Check the plugin rating, see how many times it’s been downloaded and how many people have rated it. Check the support forums to see if many issues have been raised regarding the plugin. Finally, check the frequency of updates to the plugin the author makes – anything over a year old should probably be considered unsupported and no longer stable with current WordPress installations. Don’t just install from the back end of WordPress, do your research properly! For performance, It’s advisable to keep to 20 plugins or less.
Pro – SEO
WordPress is an exceptional platform for SEO. Google Loves WordPress. It’s undeniable. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress isn’t going to put you on page 1 for your key terms, but it provides the best possible foundations to build upon. In addition to this, there are some remarkable SEO plugins out there, which can give you a truly global view of your website’s content, and the ability to edit on mass your key meta information. Combine this with a well coded semantically correct theme, and proper Key Word Research and you’re well on your way.
For me, it’s all about being careful. Ensuring changes are being made in a test environment before they’re pushed live. Make changes 1 step at a time, so it’s easy to roll a change back if it breaks something. Educate your clients, make sure they understand the dangers, and what they should and shouldn’t be doing in the WordPress back end. Take regular back ups too!
As best you can, try to future proof things as much as possible. Make sure you’re using well supported plugins and don’t rely on plugins which add stuff to your content. Plugins with shortcodes for example – if you stop using that plugin because it’s no longer supported in a new version of WordPress you’re liable to loose a lot of key functionality and have shortcodes displayed as raw text.
In my opinion the benefits far outway the negatives, but then of course, given the time I have invested into WordPress as my go to CMS solution, I have to say that. I’m sure every Joomla, Drupal, Expression Engine lover out their will disagree and pick holes in WordPress – but it’s really a simple matter of being careful. The CMS you’re using has an impact but shouldn’t be the driving force behind your design and development. Do your research properly and you’ll be fine.
I am good at managing my schedule, so I can usually get projects booked in without much lead time. Let’s get our heads together and get your project done.