If you have ever researched how to build a website, you have likely seen WordPress as one of the top solutions. While there are other ways to make a website and it is not the right solution for everyone, we at Emphasis.LA prefer to use WordPress for most of our website projects.
In an effort to make sure our customers are well informed on what goes into creating an effective website, we want to answer a few frequently asked questions regarding the framework we use.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is open-source content management system (CMS) software built on the PHP coding language. It was created in 2003 and now powers roughly 40% of the top 10,000,000 websites worldwide and growing.
Open-Source means that the code behind the software has a communal license and once downloaded, can be used, and modified any way you wish. In the case of WordPress, Automattic owns the brand “WordPress”, and they own the main repository where the master code files reside, but they do not control what you do with that code once it is downloaded. Automattic is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the direction WordPress is heading in, but they cannot, for example, say that they do not agree with you politically and tell you to stop using its code.
To make a website with WordPress, you must upload the files to a web hosting company. Fortunately, most popular website hosting companies have a one-click install button for WordPress which means you can have a working skeleton of a website up in a matter of minutes.
Advantages of WordPress
The main advantage to using WordPress versus other platforms is that it is highly customizable. There are thousands of plugins available that can help you accomplish almost anything you want. In the cases where there are no pre-built solutions, a developer can custom-create one and integrate it easily.
People Know How to Use It
Since WordPress is the number one platform for so many websites around the world, it can make it easier for a small business to hire someone internally that can maintain the website and content.
Control Your Content
With WordPress (WordPress.org not WordPress.com), you have more control of your content. With CMS solutions that are proprietary (not open source), you must agree to terms of service that often restrict the type of content you can place on your website. They may even include terms that gives them ownership of your website content. What if, for example, you were making political statements on your website? If they disagreed with you, they can say that you violated their terms and take down your content at any time.
With WordPress (.org) you own your content so, except for the law, no one can tell you what you can or cannot put on your website. You do have to comply with the terms of your hosting company since they can take down your website from their servers. But if you are backing up your website properly, then you can look for another host that is more favorable to you and place your already built website on their servers quickly. If you wanted to remove your website from Shopify for example, you cannot just download your content and place it on Wix. You would have to recreate your site from scratch.
Disadvantages of WordPress
Ease of use
While we believe WordPress can work for almost any venture, it is not the right solution for everyone. Some people do not find it very intuitive. They may prefer other proprietary solutions such as Shopify, Wix, or SquareSpace that do not require a lot of technical skills. WordPress in our opinion, is not that difficult, but for some it just takes a little getting used to. With a little help from Google, anyone can become a moderate WordPress pro.
Website maintenance is an advantage that other Proprietary CMSs have over WordPress and other open-source CMS solutions. Plugins, themes, and WordPress core need to be updated regularly. Although updates are usually a painless push of a button, occasionally an update can break a website. If even a small amount of downtime can disrupt your business or profits, then you may need to create a technical process to safely update a website. This may mean you need to hire someone to maintain your website. With a Proprietary CMS, updates are handled by the CMS internally.
What is a theme?
A theme is a set of files with code that determines the overall style of the website and it may also control some of the functionality. The theme can be changed at any time by the website administrator. When you install WordPress, it comes with a choice of default themes already installed. As of the writing of this post the default theme is TwentyTwentyOne. WordPress has a large repository of themes to choose from that have met certain criteria to be listed on the repository. There are also other websites or repositories online where you can purchase themes. All WordPress themes are built independently of WordPress Core, usually by third party individuals or companies.
You can choose a theme based on many factors. The most common reasons a theme is chosen is by the way it looks and by the industry it caters to. For example, if you wanted to build a website for a restaurant, you can look in a search engine such as Google for “WordPress theme for restaurants” and you will get several choices of themes that focus on restaurants.
What are plugins?
After choosing a theme and adjusting the theme settings you will most likely need to add some functionality to the website. Plugins are a set of code in a file or folder that are added (or plugged in) to the website that can help you achieve a specific functionality. Common plugins add forms to the website, help you to optimize for search engines, increase security, and many other possibilities. While a plugin like JetPack adds a lot of functionality to your website, most plugins only perform one specific functionality. The more code you add, the more likely you will cause performance or compatibility issues. You should create your website with as few plugins as possible that will achieve the website’s objective.
What are page-builders?
Page builders are a type of plugin that add a visual editing process to the website with the ability to drag and drop items into place. Page builders are easy to use and come with a lot of built-in functionality. They can save you a lot of time in building a website without having to know how to code. The main disadvantage to page builders is that they can affect your website’s performance. If you have good hosting and otherwise optimize your website, you may be able to negate the disadvantage.
At Emphasis.LA, we usually build websites without a page builder but there are times when we prefer the simplicity and speed of using a page builder.
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
The product provided through WordPress.org is open-source software that is installed on a web hosting companies’ server. You can even download a copy of the software and run it on your personal computer along with other software to create a website only visible on your computer. This is commonly done by us and other web developers while building a WordPress website for testing purposes. If you ever want to change hosting companies, you can easily download your website and take it anywhere.
WordPress.com is essentially a hosting company that uses the WordPress.org software to sell a website CMS service that directly competes with Shopify, Wix, Squarespace etc. Like those other options, the websites are not as customizable, but they require less maintenance since WordPress.com handles the maintenance. WordPress.com is also owned by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.org.
How do you get support for WordPress problems?
Being open source means that there is no central source of support when you inevitably run into a problem with the website. Anyone who has worked with WordPress for a while has most likely become adept at using Google to find answers. Almost every issue I have faced with WordPress has already been dealt with by other developers and WordPress enthusiasts. Your questions on any WordPress issue may have already been asked on Reddit, WordPress Stack Exchange, WordPress Forums, and other Forums. Very often you will find someone has written a blog post about your question. Several websites such as WP Beginner focus on writing about the most common issues. YouTube is filled with tutorials. Udemy has several budget friendly courses. Facebook has several groups you can join to ask questions.
Are there alternatives to WordPress?
If you are looking to build a website, there are numerous options besides WordPress. Most solutions will fall into these 3 categories:
- Custom coded websites
- Proprietary CMS
- Open-Source CMS
Custom coded websites
You can get someone to build you something from scratch that meets all your requirements. Custom coded websites have the added benefit of being lightweight and fast. A person or agency that is good may demand a high price tag and you may be tied to them for the life of the website. Making updates to the website may be too complicated for most people so updates may have to be done by the developer. Best suited for larger businesses who want to really stand out and can afford to have a team constantly optimizing.
Content Management Systems
A content management system (CMS) is software installed on a server that simplifies the process of creating a website and aims to solve the issue of updating content on a website. A CMS user is given a dashboard where they can choose a theme for the website, add a logo, add pages and posts, change colors, and make many other changes without having to write a single line of code. Most will allow to add your own code if you really want to.
Proprietary Content Management Systems
A proprietary CMS is a privately owned CMS. You have either no access or limited access to the code behind the software and so you are limited to the number of customizations you can make. The code for the CMS is maintained by the owners so you do not have to worry about constant updates.
Some popular proprietary CMS are Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. These are good solutions for people with low budgets who want to build something fast.
Open-Source Content Management Systems (OS CMS)
The two most popular open-source alternatives to WordPress are Drupal and Joomla. For the most part, most of the people using these alternatives are web developers who have a personal preference for them. Without having used these other CMSs, it is hard to say what a specific advantage would be that would make a person use them instead of WordPress. Drupal was the CMS of choice for the WhiteHouse.gov website from 2009 to 2016.
OS CMS do not provide technical support. Users must rely on documentation and support forums to find solutions to problems. Since more people use WordPress, there are naturally more people creating content about WordPress. This gives WordPress a major advantage over other open-source content management systems.
Is WordPress Secure?
Yes, WordPress is secure software. It is safe enough that since 2017 WordPress has been used to build the website for the White House – two different websites – one for each of the administrations (Trump and Biden). For hackers, there would probably be no better prize than the White House website. That is a huge vote of confidence for WordPress.
So why is WordPress the most hacked CMS platform if it is secure? Simply speaking, it is because it is the most widely used. But that does not tell you much. These are the most common ways WordPress websites get hacked:
- Weak or insecure passwords
- Lack of updates – plugins, themes, WordPress, and PHP all need to be updated periodically.
- Robots – hackers are constantly running scripts on websites looking for vulnerabilities or guessing passwords.
To avoid hacks, we recommend a strategy of constant monitoring and hardening of the website. Use secure passwords, keep everything updated, use a good host, and use security software to control the robots. If you add two factor authorization, you can prevent hackers from logging in to your website even if your password has been compromised.
Summary: We Love WordPress
WordPress is the tool that we, at Emphasis.LA, use to create effective websites for small businesses and nonprofits. It allows us to offer cost-effective, customizable websites that can allow small businesses to compete with mid to large size firms without looking cookie-cutter.