I'll admit, back in early 2013, this very website’s URL would’ve taken you to a Wordpress site. Why? Because I had no clue what I was doing. Then it was built by Adobe Muse (shudder), and finally pure HTML/CSS.
Blogging got big back in 2002-ish, yet another made-up word of the Internet era. It exemplified the best part of the internet: it gave people a voice. Also, the worst part of the internet: it gave people a voice. Now everyone is a “writer” because they write. Everyone has an e-zine, everyone is “syndicated” (read: social-media-shared). First it was Blogger/Blogspot, and then a new player entered the market for blog platforming: Wordpress. Super easy DIY blog posts, integrated comments, pagination, and open-source code that allowed for the creation of hundreds of thousands of themes and plugins. We’ll get to that.
Wordpress is the best if you want to start a blog or an internal back-end dashboard.
What is Wordpress actually the worst for? Literally everything else.
The problem is when we start to mutilate a blogging platform to be a website framework. Yes, it techincally works, but just because you can put a slice of bread into a VCR (Google, kids) doesn’t mean you’re going to get toast or a movie. So when you find a local business cranking out $500 websites twice a week, here’s what’s actually happening: you’re paying them to bend a paperclip into an earring. If you want to add an online store? That's a plugin, made my a manufacturer, that you install to your WP dashboard and set up, then implement it where you want. Photo gallery? Same process. SEO checker? Yep. Same goes for light boxes, customer login sections, email signup-forms, any other forms, music players, video players. pricing grids, any more-than-basic menus, calendar embedding, you name it. If it’s not plain text content, it’s a plugin.
What the viewer sees as sections on a page, are actually “posts”, because Wordpress was made for, you know, blogs. Not websites. There are some themes out there that are actually deliberately ultra-stripped-down and made for Wordpress designers to use as a foundation, to take WP down to it’s bare bones and build from there because the platform, untouched, isn’t meant for that. In fact, there are some very well-known, extremely popular plugins such as Cornerstone that actually completely bypass WP’s native page layout process, because it’s terrible for anything but blogging, natively speaking. So they allow you to drag-and-drop text areas, photos, buttons, and the like, where you want to build each page to look like a regular website.
The whole process is sort of like moving into a new trailer park space, and immediately knocking it down to the foundation, then building a standard house on the same lot. It’s not what it was intended for, and you pay for it in the long run.
1) The Plugin Problem
See, because basically everything outside of blogging is going to need a special plugin to do it, it creates a lot of moving parts. On a typical WP site, you’ll see between 6 and 20 plugins to make it function as a non-WP site. That’s comes out least 6 vendors, 6 different user interfaces, 6 update timelines, 6 support desks, 6 potential browser or theme conflicts, etc. Oh, and pretty much every time you log in, it’s update time. For most if not all of them. Hope your theme and every other plugin installed likes to play nice with the new guy. A client of mine is still on a legacy WP site from a couple years back. She has a plugin from a 3rd party vendor that handles her scheduling and class enrollments (things like this are reasonable plugins, even in HTML this would need to be outside input). But, the Cornerstone plugin that is used to manage page layout doesn’t play so well with this schedule widget plugin. So whenever I make an update to her site, it blocks me from making text edits as long as that plugin is active. I first have to shut off all instances of the widget, then go edit the text with that month’s newsletter, then go and re-enable all the widgets. Every. Single. Time. The HTML-coded version of this? Paste in the text updates, and upload to the server. Done. Nothing on the page conflicts with anything else.
2) The Theme Problem
Look, if you want your site to look like it was made with a WP theme, you’re in luck. Because they all do. Want to know if you’re looking at a Wordpress site? Go to the address bar, and type “/wp-admin” (minus the quotes) to the end of the homepage URL. If you get taken to a WP login screen, it’s Wordpress. The themes are pretty generic, and necessary. You have to use one, and we’re back to our plugin problem. You’re at the mercy of that theme’s capabilities and stability. Every year, Wordpress officially releases a base theme (called Twenty-Twelve, Twenty-Fourteen, etc) and people not-in-the-know just leave it. Which brings me to my third point.
3) The User Problem
Unless you (or your client) is tech-savvy, forget it. The usability gauge we as nerds generally use is very different from the layperson. Navigating a new user interface is fine for us, but most people logging into Wordpress for the first time have a quiet panic attack. A huge selling point of Wordpress to potential clients is that they can manage it themselves. Designers who make that pitch forget one thing: the client is the client for a reason. They don’t work with this stuff. Their business is their expertise, not ours. They’re not web or graphic designers and hired us for a reason. So what happens? The designer ends up doing more of the work over time because the client is busy running their business, and now we may as well have just made a raw-HTML site since we’re now managing it. This has happened several times in my own modest client pool alone.
There are really 2 reasons why a designer recommends Wordpress as a full main website. Either they need the cookie-cutter timelines (most non-WP websites take 1 to 6 months, but these can be done in a matter of days), in order to maintain their cashflow to make up for the lower price point. Or, it’s because of their own inexperience in not knowing how to just code the thing. USA Today runs on Wordpress, but it’s really a massive blog. Same with high-traffic sites like Fast Company, Buzzfeed, and The Onion. But they’re essentially blogs, and have the benefit of full-time in-house web support staff. Your local bike shop that needs a super exciting web presence does not fit that criteria.
If you’re looking for a website, contact Firehouse Creative. You get your website, from code, not someone else’s theme and plugins with your logo dropped in. You never have to dig into your site... just let the professionals take care of it for you.
Because Wordpress is actually the worst.