WordPress is the most popular website system in the world, and for good reason. It’s also the platform we use at MakespaceWeb, our website development division, where we launch as many as nine sites on WordPress in any given month.
However, as wonderful as WordPress is, if you’re working with a development agency that only has WordPress in their toolbox, it’s going to be the recommendation 100% of the time -- as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
It’s important to remember that WordPress is just a tool, so it’s disingenuous to claim that it’s the only tool you should consider. In fact, for organizations and startups with a more unique vision and need, WordPress can actually be a trap.
The Down-Low on WordPress
Technically speaking, WordPress is a free content management system (CMS) that runs atop the PHP programming language and MySQL, an open-source relational database. It’s the dominant CMS in the world because it’s free, easy to use, easy to develop and very powerful right out of the box. By the numbers:
- WordPress powers 75+ million websites
- Commands a 60% CMS market share
- Powers 30% of the top 10 million websites
- Click here and see for yourself
Birthed By Bloggers
WordPress began life in 2003 as a blogging tool and has since grown in every direction imaginable, including an estimated 50,000 plugins. These plugins allow you to extend the functionality of the standard platform, though I’m using “you” rather liberally here because it’s rarely as easy as it sounds. Truth be told, a majority of them are garbage and even potentially dangerous to use because they’re poorly supported, not built to standards and full of security holes.
Today, Wordpress handles multiple blogs and custom content types, features a capable media library and a user system with easy-to-manage permissions and privileges. Even the e-commerce needs for the majority of online stores could be handled with the popular WooCommerce plugin. The built-in publishing and moderation tools are excellent, so for those looking to launch an online news outlet or magazine, it’s a no-brainer.
Stay on the Beaten Path
If you’re going to stick to the built-in functionality with well-supported and consistently-updated plugins -- and not bend them to a bunch of unique requirements -- then you’re probably good to go. But remember, too many competing extensions within a single Wordpress website can make the entire solution “brittle.”
Keep in mind that these plugins are all built by different groups or individuals, all with their own vision and feature roadmap. In theory, they should all play together seamlessly. In the real world, adding more services and extensions to your site just means that there are that many more things that can, and frequently will, go wrong.
We’ve seen far too many examples where groups have come to us with heavily customized WordPress sites that consistently break on core and plugin updates/upgrades, requiring extensive ongoing work to maintain the custom code in working order. In short, if you get too far off the beaten path you may find that your website becomes un-supportable by the sheer volume of code updates that have to be done regularly by hand.
Good WordPress Candidate
A gorgeous website that sells healthy, ready-to-eat meals. Minimum orders are enforced with volume discount tiers available. The delivery zone is limited and occasionally tricky due to the requirement that meals must reach their destination in 24 hours or less, regardless of any other considerations.
Bad WordPress Candidate
The same site, but with additional functionality:
- Two distinct commissaries are now producing the meals, creating two unique overnight delivery zones that encompass 70% of the continental U.S.
- Meals are purchased on a subscription basis with a limited window for modifications and a different window for pausing shipments
- Multiple subscriptions are available, each with their own delivery or physical pickup options
- A sophisticated back-office solution produces unique kitchen prep lists daily so that each commissary knows how much chicken, rice, etc. to produce in bulk
- Pick-and-pack lists are produced for each orderA dynamic label solution allows for just-in-time meal labeling
Can the second solution be built on WordPress? Of course it can. Should it be built in WordPress? Nope. Maintaining a tremendous amount of custom business logic wrapped around a number of standardized plugins is just a recipe for trouble. If we need to belabor the point (this is the internet so it’s kind of a requirement), could Facebook be built on top of WordPress? Amazon? Spotify? Maybe, but no one in their right mind would argue for that. The bottom line -- if you have a lot of complex data and/or business logic, you may need to consider a different solution.
An Alternative View
When it makes sense, we'll be the first to suggest an existing solution. But sometimes a (mostly) blank canvas is the right place to start. We’re talking about custom code, (mostly) handcrafted from the ground up, and built to suit your exact needs. The caveats are due to the fact that in the open-source software world, you don’t want to ignore the efficiencies and head start you’ll get from well-supported community componentry.
Like WordPress, custom OOHoholgy websites run on top of PHP and typically, but not always, the MySQL database. Instead of WordPress (a “content management system”), we’re going to use Laravel (a low level “framework”) for back-end functionality and possibly React (a front end framework) for interactive “web app” interfaces.
The difference with a custom build is that you’re starting at a much lower level, customizing and tailoring not only the public functionality but also the database structure and administrative controls as you go. This foundational approach keeps technology from getting in the way of your needs and desires. The end result is like a well-tailored shirt versus off-the-rack. Your customers will see the difference because it’s hard to mistake a custom solution for a turnkey platform that has been “bent” to suit your needs.
Side Effects May Vary
A happy side effect of this custom-tailored approach is that your Intranet (dashboard, control panel, etc.) is extremely streamlined and intuitive. There are absolutely no unnecessary features, functions or other controls than what you need to manage your content and service. Because of this, it’s also very “resilient”, in that it’s hard to break the system.
Your administrative team will feel the difference here, our clients are often amazed at how easy it is to "drive" an OOHology system. In fact, we win a lot of business with organizations who previously used an off-the-shelf solution and found that they were repeatedly frustrated and/or even scared to manage their own content.
A Matter of Scale
This foundational approach to custom development allows us to create very sophisticated and complex solutions that are built for the long haul. In effect, we build custom content and management tools for our clients so you don't have to make do with an existing one.
When your needs begin to reach outside the norm, we can quote and develop exactly what you have in mind without having to bend a generic solution to your will. It's a more flexible, no-compromise approach to development and closely mimics the style of pure development shops that cater solely to back-office solutions and custom workflows.
From a pure performance standpoint, we can easily tune your sites and applications to handle an ever-increasing traffic load, more sophisticated features, back-office integrations, etc. without having the massive amount of code baggage that a one-size-fits-all/turnkey solution must provide by its very nature.
The Downsides to Custom Coding
- TYPICAL FEATURES - Custom solutions are, by their very nature, not the typical content management systems you may be used to. You can’t count on ANY functionality existing unless it is scoped and planned for during development. This can sometimes be a shock for a user who expects the same flexibility of a WordPress dashboard inside of a custom built solution. You can have a powerful, purpose-built solution that does exactly what you need it to do, or you can have a turnkey solution that doesn’t do exactly what you need it to, but has tons of flexibility otherwise. But you can’t have it both ways. Well, you COULD, but you wouldn’t be able to afford it…which leads to our next point.
- COST - Developers are expensive and in custom solutions, unlike turnkey solutions, development is typically measured in MONTHS instead of days or weeks. Even if you realistically have the need for a custom solution, having the budget for one is a different matter.
EXAMPLE: A gorgeous and uniquely designed website for an architecture firm might cost as little as $20K or as much as $80K using WordPress. A custom, purpose-built E-commerce solution might start at $80K and could easily cost $200K+. These are entirely different animals with entirely different budget requirements
In addition to the E-commerce system for ready-to-eat meals mentioned above, OOHology has built wildly sophisticated learning management systems, employee portals, digital signage and gamification solutions and even a carbon credit trading platform.
Whether you need a website powered by WordPress or have aspirations of building the next Match.com, we have the capabilities in-house (never off-shore) and we’d love to talk with you about your next venture.
If you can dream it, we can build it!
Easy is a Relative Term
If a crime has been perpetrated on the world by WordPress, it’s that its relative ease of use and availability of “themes” (basically canned packages of design and functionality) has devalued the real work and skills necessary to create a unique and reliable web presence. It’s just never as simple as the sound bites would have you believe. The truth of the matter is that you’re still going to need savvy design and sophisticated technical skills to pull off a slick and unique site with WordPress.