When it comes to work I like to think of myself as a pragmatic person. I’ve been building websites for a while now—since 2000. In that time, I’ve been exposed to the various facets of web design. I’ve studied it as a student, I’ve worked in the public sector, for a software company and for a digital marketing agency. I use Macs, have a love for Linux and yes, I do own a machine that runs Windows. I have a phone that runs Android and a tablet that runs iOS. I’ve programmed in Java, C++ and .NET.
I’m saying this to show that when it comes to my web design work, I don’t fully gravitate towards any particular platform or technology and I will rarely fully dismiss any option. What you read below (and infer from the blog title) may sound like a diatribe against WordPress but let me assure you it’s not.
I like open source software. And I sort of like WordPress. I think it has its (small) niche in the field of open source web platforms. What I take issue with—and what is the driving force behind this blog post—is the attitude and opinion of those that insist that WordPress is something that is isn’t. Furthermore, I believe WordPress (through no fault of its own) has created a breed of diabolical websites and web designers.
WordPress is ubiquitous; it’s everywhere. I read a book by a health food advocate recently and he made the point that the British are such heavy drinkers, alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not using. Even though it’s bad for you, you’re ostracised for not partaking. I’m sick of explaining to people why I won’t do their site in WordPress, so here it is in written form to save me explaining the same thing over and over again. In the world of web design, I sometimes feel that you have to justify to other “developers” (I’ll explain why that’s in quotes later) not using WordPress. It’s the first port-of-call for designers, SEOs and amateur web developers alike.
If WordPress was an all-singing, all-dancing piece of perfection then fair enough. But it isn’t. In fact, many of the reasons people choose to use WordPress are, in my opinion, reasons to not use it. Let me refute some of the main ones.
“It’s updated all the time”
I can’t argue with that; they are always issuing updates. Lots of them. It gets tiresome having to do it so often and I find it slightly worrying that software should need so many bug fixes. I’ve never had a site hacked—except for a WordPress one. To make matters worse, the WordPress team are hopeless at testing; I would be amazed if they even do any testing at all on Internet Explorer.
“It’s used on a lot of the web’s most popular sites”
So? Just because something is popular doesn’t make it good (ever heard the expression “the majority is always wrong”?). There’s a strange reductio ad absurdum-esque argument here saying that because popular platforms are good, less popular ones aren’t. Being popular proves very little. There’s only one company that uses Google’s search algorithm. Does that mean it’s no good?
“It’s the best CMS out there”
That’s a completely meaningless statement. Best for what? If you’re going to choose a platform , you choose the right one for the right job. Saying it’s the best CMS is like saying “that’s the best car”. There’s no context. A Porsche may be better for racing down the Autobahn but a Defender is better for crossing the Sahara.
Let’s not forget that it can be argued WordPress is not even a CMS. After all, it’s got no workflow and needs a plugin (more on this later) to do the most basic things you’d expect from a CMS. For example, if you want a non-news/blog section to your site you can use custom posts but not without using a plugin or writing some of your own code.
“It’s good for SEO”
Again, without context this has no meaning. Besides, I’m not even sure what “good for SEO” even means. Does it write unique content for you? If you mean the fact is can generate pretty URLs, so what? I’d be more surprised if it didn’t. I’ve used about ten open source CMSs/platforms and without a plugin, WordPress ranks (pun intended) the lowest. It doesn’t even support the meta description by default and it doesn’t force you to use a H1 tag.
“There are loads of plugins available”
If you use WordPress you’ll soon learn it doesn’t do a great deal without a plugin. If not for the need for functionality you’ll soon want one when the spam comments reach into the thousands. What’s wrong with plugins? Nothing, per se. But anyone can write a plugin, there’s no screening process to vet the quality. A lot of the plugins are written by people who can’t actually program. And what happens when your site breaks and you contact the “developer”? Probably nothing. Too many plugins create a tangled mess of dependencies and given WordPress’s frequent upgrade fetish it’s only a matter of time before something breaks. Again, if it were a real CMS, you wouldn’t need plugins for things like a breadcrumb trail or to order menu items (yes, seriously, there are plugins for those things).
“It used to be just for blogging but you can make it do just about anything else”
Maybe, but only with plugins. Blogging and simple publishing are all WordPress does well. If you’re after eCommerce, for example, there are much, much better options out there. Just because a system can do something, doesn’t mean it should do.
“It allows almost anyone to make their own site“
I’ve saved the best for last. In the world of business I’m sorry but if you’re a designer, SEO or amateur you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near web development. This is the reason why I think WordPress is as popular as it is. Opening something up to the masses is not always a good idea. WordPress doesn’t mean anyone should make a website in the same way buying a scalpel doesn’t make you a surgeon. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!
There are a few other points:
WordPress is slow.
The cringeworthy strap line for WordPress is “Code is poetry”. That makes a proper developer either laugh or cry. The code base is like digital spaghetti. It uses every bad practice in the book: globals, no OO, no MVC…
WordPress is slow.
If you want to move domains, WordPress won’t help you. It insists on absolute URIs throughout. It also serialises data which causes widgets to crash. There are ways round it but the serialisation tool wasn’t even made by WordPress. I knew of a photographer who built his site in WordPress and because he couldn’t figure this out he had to build his site after midnight on the live domain when no one would be looking at it—and then revert back to his current production site in the morning.
Did I mention it’s slow?
In conclusion, I don’t hate WordPress, I just wish it wasn’t revered as a proper CMS or used for anything other than blogging.
If you do need a website and someone suggests using WordPress from the outset, they are no doubt a CMS shill. Buyer beware!