Musings on WordPress

posted on 2018-07-06 by Nathan

WordPress is a fantastic platform.

I’m sure a lot of you who have met me will think that’s an odd thing for me to say. Usually I’m complaining about WordPress websites that are broken, dodgy plugins or people who throw together sites haphazardly using themes and causing a mess.

But it’s the truth - as a platform, there’s little at fault.

It’s the misconceptions about WordPress that are the problem, and people repackaging an off-the-shelf product as something bespoke.

The problem WordPress solves

WordPress attempts to solve an age-old problem from any industry or field.

What happens if you get hit by a bus, or go out of business?

I’ve had clients ask me this in the past, and generally it’s a non-issue. I explain to them that because I’m not relying on any proprietary software, tools or technologies to build the websites - any competent developer should be able to pick up the pieces and continue where I left off.

Obviously there’s a transition time, and they’d have to read though my (well commented) code to piece it all together, but as the web is built on open standards and languages, it’s generally not too hard to figure out how something works.

On the flipside, people have used WordPress as a selling tool, believing that it solves this problem.

If my site is built on WordPress, then anybody who knows WordPress can work on it

This couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s been quite a few times where I’ve recovered a WordPress website and had to deal with proprietary plugins that weren’t documented or clear. Not to mention when licences for paid plugins aren’t transferred or provided, and so clients end up paying twice.

Any website requires a period of acclimatisation by a developer, to figure out how it’s put together and works.

Think of it this way, if you had heart surgery performed by a heart surgeon, would you ask a kidney specialist to try perform it next time? It’s all about finding the right developer.

The problems WordPress creates

WordPress also comes with some of it’s own problems.

Firstly, its quite a heavy platform. Generally WordPress sites require sufficiently powerful servers to run, and can fall over on shared hosting that isn’t tweaked to support this. (Ever wondered why your automatic backups don’t happen? That’s why.)

For what it provides out-of-the-box, it’s a rather large platform just to get essentially a text box.

WordPress’ main power comes in the plugin and themable architecture it has, but this is also one of it’s most crippling features.

For end-users, these themes and plugins are fantastic. They can help you get a good looking website, with a working contact form and even learn how to do some basic SEO yourself. It becomes a problem when ‘developers’ are using these same tools as a crutch.

Whilst there’s something to be said for a client’s affordability when it comes to themes, I’ve seen leading companies being told they have a bespoke website, when a quick look at WP Theme Detector has revealed that actually, they’ve got a standard theme that hasn’t even been modified.

Similarly, I’ve heard people complain that their listing plugin doesn’t display things the way they’d like, but their last company told them it “isn’t possible”.

Something not being possible is the challenge every developer aspires to step up to - after all developers solve problems.

These issues can easily be fixed by working with actual developers, rather than agencies that either outsource the work to the lowest bidder, or try to dust off an off-the-shelf product.

WordPress & SEO

I was speaking to a prospective client a couple of months back, who had been convinced by previous agencies that “Google prefers WordPress”. My response to this was “If Google prefers WordPress, why aren’t they using it?”.

Many digital agencies have taken to sharing misinformation, in the hopes that customers will hook onto this and adopt it as gospel truth - and unfortunately a lot of this information is false.

With WordPress specifically, a great deal of care needs to be taken to ensure that a site is SEO friendly. Themes and plugins produced by third-parties can introduce code into the site that might not be SEO friendly.

Another disturbing issue I’ve noticed, is agencies relying on consumer-focused SEO plugins to perform their work, rather than offering the level of expertise and knowledge their customers expect.

These are the kind of businesses that have been giving SEO a bad name, and leading to customers not seeing results and so abandoning their SEO or online marketing efforts, believing that it doesn’t work.

WordPress is a fantastic platform, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s problems.

Make sure you work with an expert, whether you want a WordPress website or not.