This is Block 81's archive of past articles. Once in a while we may add more, but it's rare.
Block 81 is a design studio producing beautifully crafted websites and brands for independent businesses and startups.
April 18, 2018
There is this prevailing idea in certain entrepreneurial sectors (primarily that of marketers and online business owners) that WordPress is the best (only?) choice for business websites. I’m convinced that the reason it’s such a prevalent idea is due in large part because WordPress is free and its “plug and play” inner workings make it relatively easy to use.
As someone who got started in web development using WordPress, I can’t fully bash on it like other people might. However, in my nearly 20 years of being in this industry, I’ve also come to know other website platforms that outshine WordPress in many ways. This article isn’t about those platforms though.
This article is about how WordPress falls short in several ways that should give entrepreneurs pause.
(Besides, serious entrepreneurs shouldn’t be concerning themselves with the actual technology of their site so long as it is working to bring them sales. But that’s a discussion for another day.)
WordPress powers millions of websites. At nearly roughly a third of the market share, depending on which stat you read, it’s no doubt a popular platform. But because of this, it’s a big target too. It makes it susceptible to attacks, hacks, and data breaches. In fact, there was a security flaw in WordPress 4.7.1 that resulted in an attack of a lot of websites where they lost content. Imagine if one of those was your sole means of making a living. Ouch.
This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to properly secure a WordPress website. It absolutely is (and it requires some expertise). But you can’t gloss over the fact that it doesn’t exactly have a spotless track record when it comes to major security vulnerabilities.
WordPress seems easy, I will give you that. But it also seems that the overwhelming majority who are saying that WordPress is super easy are 1) referring to getting a site started with WordPress and 2) generally are people whose needs are pretty basic.
For beginners WordPress is, in fact, an easy way to get started with a blog or basic website. (But so are other systems, including Squarespace.)
That said, as a website project grows and the needs of a business start to involve more moving parts, a lot of users begin to notice that working with WordPress can be pretty difficult without certain skills.
Sure, implementing a new theme or adding a plugin is as easy as a few clicks, but once you need something more it becomes clear that you need to know PHP to modify things, even to customize themes beyond simple color changes. If you don’t know PHP, you could learn it, but it’s a difficult and deep programming language. You’d be better off hiring a PHP developer.
Speaking of themes, not all are created equal. That goes for plugins too, if not more so. There are some fantastic developers and agencies that do fabulous job of creating themes and plugins. Unfortunately they’re the minority.
The vast majority of themes and plugins for WordPress have inferior or second-rate code. The end result of that is, at best, a plugin that flat out doesn’t work, or, at worst, one that breaks functionality resulting in website downtime with little to zero support
And that’s just functionality.
Security is becoming an ever-critical part of the web as we know it. But, most developers just aren’t security experts, nor am I suggesting they should be. The real problem is that there are more unintentional security problems that are a direct result from poorly coded themes and plugins. That puts your business (and its reputation) at risk.
It’s a well-known fact that Google rewards sites that are optimized for speed. That is, the faster your site loads, the better chance it has at ranking well in Google searches (provided other ranking factors are in order of course).
What does this have to do with WordPress plugins? Well, plugins, when over-used can cause your site to slow down. Plain and simple.
A few plugins won’t do much, if anything, in terms of speed. But start adding plugin after plugin after plugin and the slower your site will get. Compound that with plugins conflicting with each other and that can cause havoc on your WordPress website.
Ultimately, plugins do give a way to easily extend WordPress with particular functions or integrations. Most die-hard WordPress developers will tell you that the plugin ecosystem is a major strength and advantage over other CMS platforms. While there’s merit to that, it’s also true that the ease and efficiency that plugins provide come with the potential for degraded performance, security vulnerabilities, and version constraints.
WordPress uses a theming engine. And there are a lot of themes available – for free and at premium prices and at varying ends of the aesthetic spectrum.
The advantage of WordPress themes is generally a low price and not having to hire a designer. Proper branding be damned.
While that’s arguably a decent advantage, the thing that people forget is that themes are created with a “one size fits all” mentality. Pre-made themes will rarely suit your branding properly and the way you want to present your content may not match up with the theme.
So what do you do?
Customize. The problem? In most cases, customizing themes requires skill and experience in HTML, CSS, and PHP. That’s no problem if you’re a web designer or developer. So in the end, you bought a theme to avoid hiring a designer or developer but had to do it anyway. You may have saved some money, but is your brand worth that compromise?
If there’s one thing that is touted over and over again by WordPress users and anyone who has heard of WordPress is that it’s the most SEO-friendly platform out there. The truth is, proper SEO is independent of the website platform your site runs.
Let me say that again:
Proper SEO is **independent** of the website platform your site runs
In other words, good SEO is not achieved by running specific software on your website. Good SEO means using your brain and actual work: doing the proper research, creating valuable content, and tweaking things on your site on a regular basis.
To give an example, we had a client come to us with a WordPress site that didn’t even rank for their brand name(s). If WordPress were some magical SEO unicorn, that would’ve been impossible. Long story short, the website was poorly optimized, regardless of the fact that it was running on WordPress.
Outside of WordPress, millions of sites not running on WordPress rank top 3, top 5, top 10 for their target keywords.
My point is, the software does not make the SEO.
So is WordPress SEO-friendly? Only in the sense that there are a couple of good third-party plugins that will help create the tags and sitemaps you need for good foundational, technical SEO. Beyond that, it’s literally no better than any other system.
If you weren’t already aware, WordPress began as a simple blogging platform. And it was damn good at it. It still is.
Over time, however, it’s changed to handle much more: basic site management (for static pages), e-commerce, sales management, landing page generator, and probably a lot more I’m not even aware of.
You could argue that this demonstrates WordPress’ flexibility. I wouldn’t disagree necessarily, but I would say so are several other CMS platforms.
One could also argue that the vast number of available plugins is proof of trying to force WordPress into something it isn’t but that they need.
In WordPress’ case in particular though, it’s often pushed and pulled and morphed into more than it’s meant to be. And when a system is manipulated that far – to do everything – it’s difficult for it to do it all well. Jack of all trades, master of none, if you will. Or better yet, not really using the right tool for the job… depending on the job of course.
The bottom line is that WordPress is not that terrible. It’s decent. But it’s far from great, especially once you get beyond basic or "easy" needs.
As noted at the start of this article, the main attraction to WordPress is it’s price tag and the “plug and play” nature of its plugins and themes. The problem is that things are never that simple. With that much power comes great responsibility that often requires the help of a competent web developer, the very thing so many business owners try to avoid when starting a site with WordPress.
As with any website that goes beyond simple uses, the long-term costs and risks associated with any software need to be reviewed and weighed before making any sort of commitment. WordPress is absolutely no exception.