In the course of educating prospective clients on what makes a successful website (see my blog post HERE), I’m often asked (and sometimes ordered) to use WordPress for the website’s content management system (CMS). I hear, “everybody’s heard of WordPress” (see wordpress.org for more info) and, despite not really knowing anything about it, some people seem to think it’s the best thing since oxygen (better even than sliced bread). But I’m here to tell you about a GREAT alternative to WordPress.
But first, a bit of background. WordPress began its life as a blogging engine – so that online authors could publish an article and have readers submit comments on the article (by the way, does anyone remember that the word “blog” is a contraction of the words “web” and “log”, which was the original intent of blogging – for people to post a log of their thoughts on the web? But I digress.). WordPress’s blogging roots are still very evident since “posts” form the heart of what WordPress does to this very day. But the ability to add “pages” and manage page content were added to WordPress later, as such the editing of web pages in WordPress feels like an afterthought. Changing page navigation, finding pages to edit and other simple website content functions can be an exercise in frustration with WordPress.
WordPress primarily uses templates for the design of the website, and while templates make it easy to add and change the site’s appearance, you end up with a site design, that, well, looks like a whole lot of other WordPress websites. Granted, there are designers that know how to customize a WordPress template, but the time it takes to do this is comparable, from a time and cost perspective, to designing a custom website without the restrictions and limitations of WordPress’s template architecture. So there’s no cost advantage to using WordPress if you need a sophisticated, custom design. Infront has created designs for both custom sites installed on SiteWorks (our in-house, Ruby on Rails based CMS) and for WordPress sites, and I’m here to tell you definitively, that our designers can get WAY more creative with a custom design on SiteWorks than they can on WordPress.
OK, so you’re OK with a template design, and you don’t really care too much about a custom design (although you should, since “credibility” is one of the key factors to a good website). What about managing the site’s content and features? How does WordPress do with basic website management and functionality? WordPress was designed from the ground up to use a “plug-in” architecture. Plug-ins are third party software components that you can install into WordPress that adds enhanced functionality. For example, you can get plug-ins to add calendars, edit menus, shopping carts, web forms, slide shows and a host of other advanced web functions. While great in theory, this plug-in architecture is actually one of WordPress’s greatest weaknesses. Since plug-ins can be written by anyone, you end up with a hodge-podge of “plugged-in” features that all look, work and are managed differently. When you login to the WordPress control panel and try to manage the various plug-ins you find yourself pulling your hair out with one hand while doing obscure Google searches with the other hand to find the solution to a plug-in conflict.
And, because there are so many plug-ins, the simple task of finding a good one with the features you want can take a long, long time. I recently did a search for WordPress calendar plug-ins – there are 318 of them! I got tired of evaluating calendar plug-ins after about the 10th one that I installed, tested and discarded. It may take days to install, test, discard and install a host of plug-ins before you find one that is satisfactory. And by that time, you may settle for one just because you’re sick of looking. And, most of these plug-ins are built by geeks who may write great code, but who don’t know the first thing about usability and a great user experience, so trying to figure out how to use your selected plug-in can tax even the most patient person.
Another issue with plug-ins is related to the fact they they are written by 3rd party developers, some of whom are good, some of who are terrible. Plug-ins can cause security holes in WordPress, and if the developer of that plug-in is unavailable, out of business, drunk, or just doesn’t care anymore, you may be stuck with a piece of code that you rely on that has security risk, or that you can’t upgrade or get support for.
Speaking of upgrades, that’s another problem with WordPress. WordPress is upgraded on a regular basis – every few weeks or so. While the base WordPress upgrades are generally done well since the WordPress codebase is well managed and updated, upgrades frequently are incompatible with 3rd party plug-ins and templates, so upgrading your WordPress website is frequently a crap shoot. I can’t tell you how many times a WordPress upgrade broke something that takes a LONG time to troubleshoot and fix.
WordPress is free, and relatively easy to setup. But again, an apparent advantage is really a disadvantage Because it’s free and easy to install, it’s the weapon of choice for many fly-by-night, or simply incompetent web developers to build websites with. It’s not hard to find a cheap website host, select a template and install a WordPress website – the problem is supporting it when there’s a problem or when an upgrade is needed. At it’s core, WordPress is built with complex software code and databases, and a significant majority of designers deploying WordPress sites don’t have the skills needed to support this kind of code. This leads into another problem with WordPress – since it’s open source software, it’s not supported commercially by any one organization. You have to hope and pray you find a competent developer who can support your WordPress website if and when you have problems with it.
So then, the question becomes, what’s a good alternative to WordPress? We believe that SiteWorks is a significantly superior alternative to WordPress. SiteWorks is a website content management system we developed because we really don’t like any of the free alternatives, and because the paid alternatives are SO expensive. We built SiteWorks from the ground up as a website content management system, not as a blogging engine that morphed into a website management system. SiteWorks is built using an open source web development technology called Ruby on Rails (or Rails for short). Rails was first released in 2005 and was soon adopted by many of the cutting edge websites and web applications, most notably Twitter, Groupon, Basecamp, Shopify and other high profile websites. Rails uses a much more organized and structured approach to web development that makes it faster and easier to create web applications than PHP (the language of WordPress – released way back in 1995). Because of SiteWorks’ modern architecture, we can install a custom design onto it in less time, and at a comparable cost to a custom designed WordPress website. And – we don’t charge for SiteWorks! We charge for the time it takes to setup and install SiteWorks and to create a custom design around it, but you never pay to use SiteWorks. Our low monthly hosting fees give you 24 x 7 access to the SiteWorks CMS for your website at no additional cost – AND WE SUPPORT IT with training, dedicated support personnel and free upgrades.
Technical implications aside, what the real value of SiteWorks is to someone looking for a website is that it’s much easier and intuitive to use. It too uses plug-ins to make the addition of complex features easy to install and configure, but the distinction is that all the plug-ins were built by the same team of developers who built the base SiteWorks platform. And because we built the SiteWorks platform we can much more easily add in custom functionality that seamlessly integrates with the CMS and into the website’s design to produce a much better user experience.
Lastly, SiteWorks was not only designed as a website content management system, it was also designed to be extremely search engine friendly. Search engines still drive a significant amount of website traffic, and it’s getting more competitive every day, so having a website that “out-of-the-chute” is much more SEO friendly than WordPress will attract more traffic and save you money because you don’t have to pay an SEO consultant to take care of the on-site SEO factors. Automatic sitemaps, built in 301 redirects, editable meta tags, friendly URLs, auto-generation of page descriptions and tight integration with Google Analytics, are a few of the SEO features that makes SiteWorks websites much more search engine compatible than WordPress.
So, there you have it. SiteWorks rules! But, don’t just take my word for it – check out our SiteWorks CMS website, or contact me to schedule a demo of SiteWorks and how it will make your website more credible, usable and findable.