Wordpress: a magical curse you’ll both love and hate at some point

Wordpress: a magical curse you’ll both love and hate at some point

Wordpress is a wonderful tool that seems to be taking over the web. But as with most things, it’s not always as perfect as it seems. Wordpress may be free, and templates are abundant and either free or inexpensive - but this translates into immediate trade-offs.

First, a short background

We’ve been developing websites since 1994. We’ve hand-coded, custom built our own content management systems, and used or implemented most of the popular CMS solutions available today (i.e., Wordpress, Drupal, Concrete5, Joomla, ExpressionEngine, Magento, etc.). So we have a fair amount of experience with many solutions - and none of them are perfect.

Today, the allure of Wordpress seems the most seductive - which is probably why it’s used on over 30% of the websites running today. It’s free, easy, and powerful too. But as I mentioned, nothing is as perfect as it appears.

Once you choose Wordpress and a Template you’ve already compromised

The appeal of Wordpress is you can download it, install a template, and have your website up and running in minutes. And while this is true, the challenge then becomes spending the time to learn your template. Most templates are customizable but their abilities differ, as does their method of customization. Wordpress is working to standardize this to some degree, but it will never reach 100% parity. So with each template you download, you have to spend time learning it’s ins and outs and working to customize it to suit your desires.

The challenge of fitting your content into your chosen template

The biggest issue folks usually encounter is that, while the template looked terrific when previewed, it usually doesn’t come with all the presentation graphics. So you have to somehow create new graphics and images that work with your template’s design. And of course you’ll have to manipulate your content to work within and fit your template. Both issues can be a challenge if you’re not creative or don’t want to edit your copy to fit the template’s layout. Which invariably leaves many looking for more flexibility.

Enter the template building engines

From version 3 on, many smart developers have started to build customization engines into Wordpress. This allows a greater level of customization and virtually eliminates the need to learn code and html/css to create a custom Wordpress site. But again, there’s a trade-off. Again you’ll need to invest substantial time into learning the customization engine and you’ll have to work within that engine framework’s abilities.

Moreover, once you pick a customization engine, be prepared to stick with it forever. Once you start using the layout features within these customization engines, they inject tons of special code into your content fields. This is a necessary evil - this code enables the customized layouts - but the tradeoff is that if you ever want to switch to a different template or layout engine, you have to deal with this leftover code. It can be tricky to deal with to say the least.

You’ll almost always encounter a limit or problem

Even with the best template and the latest customization engine, if your site goes beyond the simplistic, more often than not you’ll encounter some issue or problem. Which is when you’ll likely have to seek out the help of a web designer or programmer.

Sure you can also turn to the incredible assortment of plug-ins available. With so many sites running Wordpress, chances are someone else has encountered your issue, and there’s probably a plug-in to fix it. But too many plug-ins can lead to issues as well.

Plug-ins and conflicts

Conflicts with plug-ins are much more rare today than in the past. But things still do break, and tracking down the issue can be daunting and will likely require the support of a web professional. Not to mention, loading tons and tons of plug-ins generally slows down your site - so the goal is to use a few as possible.

All this often leads to custom development

Yes, you can learn to create a child theme, custom post types, learn about the hooks and filters of your chosen template, and/or write your own functions or even create your own plug-ins. But all that tends to veer away from the initial seductiveness of choosing Wordpress - its simplicity. Which ironically means using Wordpress often leads to hiring a web designer or programmer to overcome the shortcomings you encounter - or to avoid compromising.

Be smart when you choose Wordpress

Wordpress is a terrific option for creating your website. It’s versatile, powerful, and extensible. But it will still likely require an investment and effort to create your perfect website. And always be sure you keep up-to-date on all Wordpress and plug-in security updates - because the other big downside of Wordpress’ popularity is monocultures invite attacks and exploits. So plan wisely, update frequently, and make sure you have a relationship with a web designer/developer to help you create the perfect site.

Dec 31, 2014

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