What about WordPress? The platform's ins, outs, and why you need to get it right.
Bigcommerce and Shopify are big for online retailers, Wix and Weebly are easy platforms that work for many sites…but what about the program that powers over 74 million websites? The platform that's responsible for about twenty percent of all websites? What about WordPress? Now about a dozen years old, WordPress is a unique platform in that it's community-based—there are thousands pitching in to make the program work. Unlike other website builders, WordPress is also a platform for following other websites powered by the same option—users build their own posts and pages, but also often follow other posts and pages. While the content management system is the most common among bloggers, many other types of websites are powered by WordPress as well. WordPress is a very popular option for managing a website, but, like any other option, it has its ins and outs—and a special mix of factors website owners will need to get it just right.
WordPress.com: The SaaS option
While most people have heard of WordPress, the fact that there are actually two different versions is not as well known. WordPress.com is a Software as a Service (SaaS), which means it's run on the internet, not as a program downloaded to a computer's hard drive. WordPress.org, on the other hand, is downloaded to the user's computer then setup on a server of your choice. With no downloads required, WordPress.com is easier to use and simpler to get started with. Hosting, security, and backups are all included, so it's less time consuming for the user. Custom domains can be added, and while some customization can be done with an upgrade, WordPress.org is the better option for unique websites. The SaaS option also has things like social media and statistics built-in. When users get stuck, they can turn to forums as well as personal support.
WordPress.org: The self-hosted option
WordPress.org, on the other hand, is downloaded to the users' computer. It's self-hosted—so website owners need to find their own hosting company, as well as doing their own maintenance like site upgrades and security precautions. Online forums are available to troubleshoot issues as well.With all those factors, why use the self-hosted version? WordPress.org doesn't suffer from the limitations of the SaaS platform. It's much more complex to use, but experienced web builders will have more options for customization, as well as being able to use PHP and CSS. Downloaded themes have more possibilities for customization (though a paid upgrade for the SaaS version expands customization as well).
While WordPress.org needs plugins for some of the features built right into the SaaS version, plugins aren't available to expand the capabilities of WordPress.com. The SaaS version will also display ads if visitors aren't logged into WordPress themselves, and only allows site owners to sell ads once they've reached a certain amount of traffic. WordPress.org is the better option out of the two because it allows for more customization and monetization. The SaaS version can build a basic site, but the self-hosted version offers more for serious websites. But, WordPress.org is only for those who are web savvy, otherwise, it can be a frustrating experience—and one without many support options at that.
WordPress.org: What you need to get it right
WordPress has a few downsides—but those 70+ million website owners are on to something, because there are quite a few advantages as well, especially when used as a content management system. But WordPress.org isn't for everyone or every website for that matter. There's a mix of resources required to build a WordPress.org website and build it right. A successful WordPress website will have a sufficient budget, correctly configured plugins, a secure and stable hosting environment and a considered design.
WordPress: How much does it really cost?
The free download can be very misleading because successfully running a self-hosted WordPress website is certainly not free. Hosting typically costs between $5-$10 per month, though it can be quite a bit more for websites with a lot of traffic. WordPress sites should also be backed up often, so all isn't lost on a technical glitch or system failure. Users will need a place to store that backup, often in a cloud option, which of course isn't free either. The self-hosted version is also much more complex to understand—so for most website owners, the cost to hire a web developer should be factored in as well.
A successful WordPress website will have a sufficient budget, correctly configured plugins, a secure and stable hosting environment and a considered design.
WordPress: What about plugins?
One of the benefits to using the self-hosted WordPress is that the plugin options mean pretty many endless possibilities. While unnecessary plugins can make a site more vulnerable (more on that in a bit), website owners can make WordPress work for their specific needs with a combination of different plugins. There's a handful of plugins that benefit every type of site, like SEO tools such as Yoast SEO; advanced forms such as Contact Form 7 and options to improve site speed like W3 Total Cache. Website owners can also make their site a bit better suited for their specific needs through plugins. Plugins allow for social media sharing, email marketing, contact forums and fields, and much more.
WordPress: Getting the right speed
A slow website isn't just annoying for visitors, it comes into play for search engines, and can cause users to simply hit the back button. WordPress is known for having some speed issues, but they aren't issues that can't be taken care of. The host plays a part in page speed—using a shared host will leave sites running slow. Instead, WordPress users should search for a host that is optimized for WordPress. Small websites can do fine with an inexpensive shared host, but websites with a large number of pages and a large number of visitors may improve their revenue by using a more expensive, yet faster host.
Hosting isn't the only answer to trouble with WordPress speed, though. A bad theme can cause the website to load slow, so work with a simple theme from a reputable developer. Too many plugins can cause a site to run slow—so eliminate the ones that really aren't being used. Some plugins can increase speed though, including plugins that manage the cache and optimize images. A plug-in can also load images only as they are viewed instead of all at once (Lazy Load), which also improves page speed.
WordPress: Getting the design right
Like for any website, the design is a big factor. WordPress.org allows more customization than its SaaS sibling. Both utilize themes, but the self-hosted version allows for more customization of the themes. When customizing a theme, it's a good idea to use what's referred to as a child theme. Simply put, it's a copy of the theme that the user makes changes to, so the original “parent” theme is still there in the event of a parent theme code update. Editing the styles.css file allows for adjusting colors, fonts and many of the website's design elements. Plugins also allow for customization without code work, but users should keep in mind themes plugins tend to slow down a WordPress website.
WordPress: Is it secure?
Any website platform that is popular with users is also likely to be popular with hackers, and, unfortunately, that's also the case with WordPress. The software is continually being updated to fix holes in security, but the self-hosted version needs to download an update, which can be just another thing on the to-do list for busy business owners. Without the update though, sites become more vulnerable to hackers, as well as spammers. Plugins and downloaded themes also need to be kept up-to-date in order to avoid hacks. A large majority of hacks are due to security flaws in the hosting, not through WordPress itself. Again, it's best to use a host that is optimized for WordPress specifically. Adding additional code to the wp-config.php file also makes sites less vulnerable to an attack. Plugins that enhance security are available as well—again, just remember to choose carefully as too many plugins can mean a sluggish website.
WordPress: How does it compare to other website builders?
WordPress came on the scene right as blogging was first becoming popular. But now, there are many more options to choose from, like Bigcommerce, Wix, Shopify and Weebly just to name a few. Those website builders are also SaaS—which means you login to a website, instead of using a program on your computer. So, how do WordPress.com and WordPress.org compare to the other options? WordPress is optimized for managing a large amount of content—it's often viewed as more of a blogging platform than a website builder, though a lot of static page websites are still powered by WordPress. Because it's designed specifically for content management, it's excellent for blogging and other websites with a lot of content.
Most other website builders are not optimized for content management—they're designed for online stores or web pages, but not blogs with thousands of pages. Many of them offer a blogging platform, but it's not their central focus. Platforms designed to appeal to a variety of different website owners like Wix and Weebly allows for blog-focused websites. WordPress is optimized for blogs, but can also do pages, where many other website builders are optimized for pages but can do blogs. That focus, again, is ideal for websites that will be managing a large amount of content. There are WordPress plugins that website owners can use to sell items such as WooCommerce, but it is complicated to setup and doesn't have the breadth of tools that Shopify or Bigcommerce has.
What WordPress.com offers that's unique is the community—readers follow and find new websites through the WordPress system. Tags and featured posts help bloggers get their posts discovered by other WordPress users. It's a feature that's more pointed towards blogs, but a unique aspect nonetheless. SaaS website builders tend to be easier to use and faster to learn. It's not uncommon for someone without any web savvy to use a platform like Weebly or Wix. While there is a small learning curve, particularly for sites with more features like Shopify, they can be used without any understanding of code. WordPress.com users don't necessarily need to understand code either, though there is a bit to finding your way around the different features and options. WordPress.org, on the other hand, is frustrating for those who are not web savvy.
WordPress is one of the most popular options for creating a website—particularly sites with a large amount of content, though small business sites aren't out of the question either. Where WordPress.com offers a simple, SaaS option, WordPress.org offers more advanced features but has a much steeper learning curve. Overall WordPress can be a great option—when it's done with the right resources.