When you hire a contractor to construct a building or a home, you expect them to use their skills and experience to do a good job. You expect them to build a foundation that won’t crumble, a roof that won't leak, pipes that won’t explode, and walls that won’t dissolve when you paint them. You expect them to use their skills and experience to create something you can live with. They shouldn’t use their knowledge to cut corners, to get away with shoddy construction, or to lie and cheat. WordPress developers are bad contractors.
So why is WordPress so popular?
It’s cheap and it’s easy. Many web hosting companies have one-click installs of WordPress, so you can get a new website up and running with little effort. With thousands of templates available, WordPress makes it easy to have a complete website ready in a few hours. WordPress is also super powerful. There are thousands of sophisticated plugins that turn WordPress into a full web application in a few clicks. It’s ridiculously cost effective for web designers because they can deploy a complete site (for which they charge thousands of dollars) in a day with minimal expense.
But, WordPress is a total nightmare to live with.
WordPress is supposed to be a CMS (content management system). A CMS stores text, video, and image information in a database and should allow someone with minimal web design knowledge to edit and add new content.
Unfortunately, WordPress fails miserably at the most fundamental feature of a CMS: enabling non-web designers to manage content. In my experience, even technically skilled individuals often give up and call developers to make simple edits to content.
So it's technical. That’s not such a crime right?
It’s not just technical, it’s baffling. The relatively new Gutenberg editor is ridiculously unintuitive. While I appreciate that the WordPress team was trying to create a clean interface that prioritized managing content over HTML structure, you have to conclude that Gutenberg is a failure. There are almost no controls and no feedback. The menus are obtuse. Everything is a mystery making it infuriating to use. You have to trial and error every feature, turning it into a guessing game instead of a simple text editor. With enough practice you can get the hang of it. Even if you spend the time to get proficient with the editor, basic tasks aren't completed much faster than when you were a beginner. So there’s very little reward for investing your time. This monstrous learning curve and kludgy user interface are a big part of the reason why there are successful third-party plugins (like wpbakery) that replace WordPress’s native editor. But being confusingly obtuse is the least of WordPress’s sins.
WordPress gets hacked…a lot.
WordPress is popular. That makes it a major target for hackers. Hackers are constantly examining every possible way into a WordPress website because the payoff is so big. If they find a weakness, then they can exploit it and compromise hundreds of thousands of sites with the press of a button. So the WordPress community has to stay constantly vigilant and issue patches as soon as these vulnerabilities are discovered.
WordPress is a buggy house of cards.
Because it’s open source (built for free by people volunteering their time), there are bound to be security problems. And because there are legions of bad actors looking to exploit the millions of installations, WordPress has frequent updates to patch the newly discovered holes. But it’s not just WordPress that has vulnerabilities. The dozens of plugins that make your website function have to be monitored for security flaws and be updated as well. The same is true for the millions of themes created by independent designers. The software that WordPress runs on: Linux, PHP, Apache, and MySQL all have their own updates, too. Sometimes themes are bundled with plugins. Some themes modify the source code of WordPress to accomplish part of their design. As these individual pieces get updated, incompatibilities are guaranteed to occur eventually.
With all of these various bits of code being patched or upgraded, some part of your WordPress site will require an update almost every day. If you don’t run these updates, there is a good chance your site will be hacked. If you run the updates, you risk introducing minor (or major) incompatibilities that will cause your website to fail…possibly spectacularly.
Owning a website built on WordPress is a constant game of Russian roulette. Run the updates and break your site. Don't run the updates and be hacked. Fun choice. Personally, I prefer websites that don’t give me daily panic attacks.
Who stands to benefit?
Who do you call to help run the updates or fix a problem caused by an update? Most likely your web designer. Many web designers/developers offer “maintenance plans” for the WordPress websites that they create. How convenient is that! They charge you to maintain the problem they sold to you!
Too big to fail.
WordPress is established. The overwhelming majority of web designers use WordPress. It will continue to be the dominant CMS for that reason. The inertia of WordPress will secure its future for decades to come. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your business. Is WordPress always a bad idea? Of course not. The most popular CMS in the world can’t be a bad idea all of the time. There are uses for WordPress. It is very powerful and very quick to deploy. If you need a site for a short-term project, then WordPress will get you there.
- Maybe you have a WordPress guru in-house and maintaining the site is second nature?
- Maybe your website budget and marketing budget are so big that hiring a web development firm to manage it is no big deal?
- Maybe you need a critical service provided by a plugin and there’s no viable alternative?
- Maybe you are comfortable with WordPress and have a good relationship with a WordPress website developer?
If you want to overhaul your website with a fresh new version every year, you’ll probably avoid major incompatibilities and you'll always have a website that’s in fashion.
It’s just hard for me to imagine a small business that can justify the time and money it takes to keep a WordPress site running securely. I have to conclude that most WordPress developers are conning at least some of their clients some of the time. They are selling the idea of the CMS: a beautiful website that clients can maintain themselves. And while editing content and adding blog posts doesn't take that much expertise, the nature of WordPress requires regular maintenance...or the money to have the maintenance done for you. Your web designer/developer should be upfront about this.
What to do?
You may well have a good reason for using WordPress. The right combination of plugins and themes can make a powerful application that would otherwise take six-figures to develop from scratch.
But, if you're a small business and don’t have a need for highly specialized features, you’re probably better off with a different solution that doesn’t have the same maintenance requirements. Right now, Version2 is a big fan of Squarespace. It’s super easy to use and maintenance free. It’s part of the reason why we’ve created our WordPress rescue service. If you have a hacked WordPress site, or are tired of the constant maintenance problems caused by WordPress, give us a call and we can come up with a way to get your website to a better place.