If you ask any web developer who learned their skills in the last 5 years, you are quite likely to get an answer of ‘yes’.
WordPress is undeniably an extremely popular way to build websites, but that does NOT of course automatically make it the best way to build websites.
What Is WordPress?
WordPress is software you can use to create a website of various types. It can create basic business websites, it can create blogs, it can create ecommerce websites. In fact, you can create pretty much any kind of website with WordPress because it has an enormous array of add-ons (called ‘plugins’) that adapt, enhance and extend the basic features of WordPress to do pretty much anything you can think of.
It’s different to the more old fashioned way of building websites. In the earlier days of the internet websites were built ‘offline’ using dedicated design software. The HTML files that were output by this software were then uploaded to the web server to become the pages that your web browser viewed. WordPress on the other hand lives permanently on your web server. You log in to WordPress software using your web browser to create new content, edit your pages or add new features.
What WordPress Is NOT
The first thing to recognise about WordPress is that it is not a managed service. That means somebody has to be in charge of keeping things up to date, by which I mean the WordPress application itself, the theme (the core design of the site) and the plugins. At first glance this is as simple as pushing a bunch of ‘upate’ buttons on a regular basis. Until something goes wrong.
Not A Single Source Platform
One of the main weaknesses of WordPress is how open the platform is. Anybody can create a theme or a plugin, no matter how good at programming they are. These can be commercial products bought from an indepedent website, free to use and downloaded from the large directory hosted on the main WordPress site or even custom built for your site in particular. The WordPress directory holds thousands of plugins and themes, yet WordPress themselves make only a handful of those.
The WordPress directory has some standards, so plugins sourced here tend to be much more reliable, but even here they simply don’t have the resources to check that things are well designed and won’t break your website or open security holes and allow your website to be hacked. There have even been cases of malicious code released through this route though this is rare.
All of this code should play well together, but many sites use dozens of plugins to get all the features they want, so there is no guarantee that anything works with anything else. Bug fixes and new features happen all the time so new releases of all of this code is constant meaning there is a never ending cycle of updating and checking everything still works. You do therefore need someone to keep your website up to date – that means outsourcing the management or making it a formal role within your IT team.
Not A Simple Tool
The second weakness of WordPress is that it looks like a simple tool, particularly to the unfamiliar manager. It’s all just menus and clicking, just like a word processor, so what could go wrong?
WordPress can build simple websites, but the reality is that most websites quickly outgrow the basic simplicity of a few static web pages. Before you know it you have multiple users with different roles, dozens of plugins to provide all sorts of different features and functionality. Now it’s a powerful toolbox with all the potential to build a sturdy skyscraper… or a ramshackle hovel that would be lucky to survive the slightest gust of wind. It’s how those tools are wielded that decide which you end up with.
WordPress itself is pretty heavyweight in terms of code and efficiency. It requires some good quality hosting to run well, and that’s before you start adding on extras. On typical cheap shared hosting accounts (even the ones that advertise their ‘WordPress hosting’) it will run slowly, be frustrating to work with and just fail from time to time. That’s also before you throw any reasonable level of website visitors at it.
There is a significant level of technical skill required to get the basics of WordPress functioning efficiently, and to then also get the front end of the website (that real visitors see) loading quickly. It can, and does, scale to millions of visitors or large ecommerce stores but only when set up well and given proper dedicated web servers to run on.
So Is WordPress The Best Way?
WordPress is just one option. It’s a very commonly used option which makes it well supported in terms of the technical community and training. It certainly isn’t the only option, and it’s definitely not the best option for every case. It greatly depends on what you need to build and at what scale, and just like any IT platform decision you need to make sure you have the right technical team in place to support it.