WordPress: The Internet’s Swiss Army Knife?

WordPress. Chances are if you have a website or have ever engaged a developer to build one, you've heard of it. But what exactly is it? Many say it's the greatest multi-functional tool ever developed for building websites. Others say avoid it at any cost. Well, we're digging into WordPress so you’ll know exactly what the platform does, how it operates, when to embrace it, and when to run the other way.

As a web design and development agency, we receive a lot of questions about WordPress. The most common question from clients is whether we’d recommend building their website on a WordPress platform. At least 99 times out of 100, the answer is no.

If you’re following our logic here, that means there is a 99% chance your website deserves more than WordPress.

But We're Not Haters, Really.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: we are not WordPress haters. All reputable web software has its appropriate use in the digital environment. If WordPress was bad or useless, it wouldn't be one of the largest web publishing applications in the world. But as with any web technology, it has pros and cons. And, as we’ll explain, its share of limitations. In our experience with the websites we build — typically higher functioning sites for small- to medium-sized businesses — there are usually better solutions available.

The reason for this is because WordPress websites quickly become a hodgepodge of plugins and customizations that are patched together to achieve website functionality that usually comes standard in other, dedicated website platforms. Each patch is a vulnerability — not only in your website’s stability and performance, but also in security. To understand this better, let’s look at what WordPress is and how it works.

So What Exactly Is WordPress?

WordPress defines itself as “publishing software with a focus on ease of use, speed and a great user experience. WordPress is blessed with an active community, which is the heart of open source software." - About WordPress (https://codex.wordpress.org/Category:About_WordPress)

WordPress was originally designed to create blogs. Over the years, developers have evolved it into a website builder because of how easy it was to manipulate.

So the simple answer here is that WordPress is a publishing platform that can help you start a blog or a very simple website with limited functionality. And it can do those things quite easily and effectively. (See? We do have some love for WordPress.) But the WordPress platform itself is very limited. The minute you want your site to do something more than simply click through and display static words and images, you’re going to need some plugins.

Plugins and Widgets.

WordPress is supported by an open source community. This means that all the files and code can be modified and shared by anyone online — since these files are publically accessible.

So when WordPress can't do something (let’s say, turn all the words blue when the user clicks on a button), a developer writes a custom set of code and injects it into WordPress. Doing so makes WordPress accomplish something that it couldn't do inherently. Then that code becomes available to the rest of the world for the next time someone wants a user to be able to turn the words blue with a click of a button. These sets of code are known as plugins or widgets, and there are literally tens of thousands of them available throughout the WordPress community.

So let’s say you want an image carousel on your WordPress site, you’ll need a plugin. Want to show a calendar of upcoming events? That means injecting in a widget. How about a contact form? Yep, you guessed it. That'll cost you a form plugin. And the keyword here is "cost." While WordPress itself is open and free, remember that many plugins are not.

One of the biggest downfalls with WordPress plugins and widgets is that anyone can create them. From experienced developers to, well, kids and wannabes. There are no qualifications required and no oversight or quality control. There are plenty of very high-quality plugins available that were developed by talented professionals. (See? More love!) But there is also, at times, a lot of garbage to sort through. That’s why WordPress’s largest benefit — its open source community — can also be seen as a major detraction.

Okay, But Isn't a Big Open-Source Community Awesome?

The WordPress community is indeed impressive. And it sure has a lot of things going for it and some very talented people contributing to it.

But there are many inherent things to be aware of:

  • If a plugin fails, and the original creator can't be found, the plugin may be impossible to fix.
  • Users could find a lack of consistency within your site. One feature might work one way, while another similar feature might work completely differently.
  • Plugins can quickly become outdated and incompatible with newer WordPress versions, internet browser requirements, and user expectations.
  • Anyone can create plugins. There's no qualification or oversight.
  • Plugins can actually make websites crash owing to redundant server requests, loading unnecessary files and improper enqueueing of site styling and functionality.
  • Outdated plugins can be vulnerabilities and backdoors for hacking.

It is important to note here that not all plugins are bad, and using quality plugins in the web development process is just fine when done appropriately.

Selecting the Right Tool.

So what website development comes down to is selecting the right tool for the job. WordPress — with all of its available plugins — is a lot like a giant Swiss Army Knife. It has the convenience of a lot of tools that can do a lot of things — right in one place. But a Swiss Army Knife is typically used when you’re in a pinch. If you’ve ever tried opening a can of tuna with that little pull-out claw on your trusty pocket knife, you know what we’re talking about. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be our first tool of choice.

(It is important to note here that we love Swiss Army Knives.)

So What's the Bottom Line?

If you're looking to start a blog or a very simple, static website with limited functionality, take a look at WordPress. It may be an excellent and low-cost solution for your needs.

If you're looking for a more robust website with various features and functionality — or one that can grow and build out over time — you might want to steer clear of open-source solutions in favor of a dedicated website platform that was built from the ground up to handle more complex functionality.

Based on our experience, there is a 99% chance your website will require more than WordPress.

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