WordPress is a free piece of web software originally designed for making blogs, and now full websites. It is used on over 50 million websites which equates to around 5% of the top 10,000 sites.
As WordPress is relatively easy to set up and install it is frequently used by people wishing to set their personal website up themselves without using web developers, and for that it serves its purpose well.
But a business needs a responsive, reliable and secure website – after-all your website is the first point of call for most potential customers. Your website reflects your business in the same way that you wouldn’t use home printed business cards, a generic template site is unlikely to give the right impression.
As web developers in Wiltshire Webbed Feet UK generally make bespoke websites, however we can and do work with WordPress, and similar content management systems, when requested by our clients.
The purpose of this article is not to try and deter people from using WordPress, as it certainly has its place on the web, but to educate the clients so that they can make an informed decision about the correct path to take when choosing a web developer.
As there are millions of websites using WordPress they are an obvious target for computer hackers. If a hacker can find a vulnerability in one system it is likely that this exists on many of the others. Furthermore, as robots (computers that trawl the Internet for a variety of reasons) can determine whether a site is made by WordPress or not; once a vulnerability has been found it can be automatically exploited on every similar website found. Once a website has been hacked it can be exceptionally difficult to fix.
Every website on the Internet is vulnerable to hackers to some degree; however, having a custom website would mean that a hacker would need to target your website specifically. The difference with a WordPress based website is that the hacker can target millions of websites at once, without knowing or caring who they belong to.
Whilst it’s true that Wordpress regularly release updates to fix all the security holes, the trouble is with an average of more than one patch a month it can be time consuming to keep your web site secure. The updates will need to be done by someone technical, which means clients inevitably end up paying for this extra work in the long run.
The other major downside to updates is that there is always a risk they will break your site, especially if you used a customised theme. Add to that continually evolving nature of the admin area to add to the confusion.
Plugins are in essence a fantastic idea. Each plugin is an extension to WordPress written by a third-party developer. They each add functionality to WordPress that is not in the original system. Unfortunately as there are so many plugins, written by so many people, many have their own security vulnerabilities and issues. Many plugins are written by hobbyists to do something for their own site, they release the code for free and then forget about it.
For example, it’s possible that two plugins will both work brilliantly independently, yet when both installed can conflict and cause issues.
Coupled with the updates plugins can also break. A plugin can be working perfectly, and then after a client updates their core system, the plugin can often break, and will remain broken until the plugin’s developer is able to update it. As plugins can often be the basis of essential features of a client’s website, and as we’ve already established that the core system needs to be updated regularly you’ll be faced with a dilemma, choosing between a working site or a secure one.
This leads nicely to support; as WordPress is open source it is free and developed by the ‘community’. This is a good idea and allows such software as WordPress and many UNIX based systems to remain free. However it does cause an issue with support.
As there is no official development team, and as the client has never paid anyone for the software, there is no phone number to call and no guaranteed way of getting a response. Therefore if a client’s website breaks, perhaps after an update, any errors can be hard to diagnose. The usual process is to use Google to search various support forums, and if no one else has had the same issue, post a ticket to a forum, and hope that someone can help you fix your issue. Even then a client, or web developer, is only likely to receive a pointer in the right direction, and will need to do a fair bit of work themselves. This can be difficult for a professional web developer, and can prove almost impossible for many web designers who only know how to install and use WordPress.
The thousands of plugins available can do a variety of different tasks, but the time will come when the plugins will not do either what a client wants, or in the way that they want it done. When this happens you’ve reached the end of WordPress’ capabilities.
The choices are either to compromise by choosing a similar plugin, or create a new plugin from scratch. The first is not ideal, and the second can be difficult and isn’t always cost effective.
Alternatively, with a custom built website, the web developer is proficient with his or her own code, and it is usually much easier, and therefore more cost efficient to develop bespoke features. With a WordPress site clients often reach the end of the functionality earlier than expected, and have to start from scratch.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
There are lots of SEO plugins for WordPress, and by picking and choosing the correct ones you can achieve a certain level of optimisation. However, you never have the fine control that you get with a custom website, and therefore full search engine optimisation is not possible.
The speed of a website affects the SEO as well as the general user experience. As WordPress caters for many different styles of websites and has lots of features that are often unused, the code is very ‘bloated’. This means you’re server is processing a lot more code than it needs to which means each page is slower and you will reach the limits of your server much quicker.
One of the advantages of a bespoke website is that it can do exactly what is required with no unnecessary overheads, and therefore run very efficiently.
Errors in websites need not be critical; have you ever seen a website that looks different in Internet Explorer to Firefox, or looks obscured on a mobile phone? Well this is common across many websites, in particular ones created using software such as WordPress.
The advantage with custom built websites over WordPress is that, as they are simple and built step-by-step, is that if required they can be made compatible with all versions or all browsers, work on all mobile phones and validate to current standards. Although this is possible with WordPress it is typically much harder to achieve. If a website is truly compatible, it will open itself up to a much wider audience.
All websites are hosted on third party servers, or web hosts. From time to time, for various reasons, it is required to move a website from one web host to another. Although a little work is always required, the complexity of WordPress sites means that this is can be harder than as for custom websites. Where a custom website could be moved in minutes, and equivalent WordPress website could take far longer.
WordPress has a set of default designs, also known as themes. This is an advantage as clients can choose from a library of themes that get installed easily.
The down side is that a lot of the WordPress themes seem to look similar, so that means a client’s website is often unlikely to look original, added. If a theme isn’t exactly what a client wants it will need to be customised anyway.
The advantage with a custom built website is that it can be designed exactly how the client wants. The designer does not need to fit the client’s requirements into pre-built boxes, but can start literally with a blank canvas to produce a truly original design
Wordpress is a powerful piece of software that allows people with minimal knowledge of web design set up a web site fairly quickly. And for personal use it is unsurpassed. However, for business use you have to question whether it is a good choice to use software that is regularly hacked, offers slow performance and requires continual technical attention.
Remember that you are at the whim of other developers, not just for Wordpress itself but for each theme and plugin, who have no relationship with you, and certainly no obligation to you. You rely on them to write secure and professional code, when most of them write it as a hobby.
That’s before you consider that you will be forced to make compromises with the design and operation of the site. Your business is unique and your website should reflect that.
Unless the budget is exceptionally tight, it is often better to get a website developed properly at the start. A website is often the first (and potentially the last) thing people will see about your business. It’s therefore important, and more efficient in the long run to get it right first time!