happy little biz

Help, I need a website! Part 3: WordPress?

So for the next post in this series, I'm going to cover a bit about WordPress. Since WordPress is a very popular platform for building and maintaining a website, it tends to make up a fair chunk of the requests developers get from clients looking to create a new site.

An important point to make clear: In this post I'm referring to WordPress the software, which you download and host on a web server. I'm not talking about WordPress.com, the service for people to create blogs/websites that are hosted by WordPress (the company).

WordPress Logo

What is WordPress?

WordPress is pretty cool software you can use to build a website. It includes a nice content management system (CMS), which allows non-techy people to update website content without needing to learn to code. If you can use email and word processors, you can learn to use WordPress.

Back in 2003 when WordPress first started, it was used solely as a blogging platform — that is, it was used for people to create blogs and blog posts, and that was it. But soon people started to use it for so much more. These days, WordPress isn't considered 'just' blogging software, but rather a complete CMS for building a website. It's probably the most popular system for that purpose.

Ok, that's neat. But why is it so popular?

Really, WordPress is so popular because it's easy (and free!) to use and it has a large community of developers working on it.

I was an early adopter of the WordPress system (I started using it in 2004) and back then, while I had a fair bit of technical knowledge, I was by no means a professional developer. I found it very easy to install and get working for my own blog. These days, it's even easier to get installed; many web hosts include an automated system for this, meaning you can just click a few buttons and it will do all the work for you.

But what about styling the site? Back when I started, there were quite a few free themes (styles) available, but often people would need to do a lot of 'tweaking' to make them suit their needs. But WordPress is open source, which means that anyone with coding chops can go ahead and make changes to it, creating themes and plugins and generally modifying the code to suit their needs. It being open source is also what makes it free to use, no matter what you are using it for.

These days there are thousands of free themes for WordPress, so it's easy to customize your website (to a certain extent, more on that later) without needing to learn a lick of code. And, even if you have a professional design you something custom-made, you can still update the site content (the text and pictures) very easily on your own.

So that sounds great! But when should I hire a pro instead of doing my website myself?

If you have the time and interest to build your website yourself, go for it... but be aware that it isn't as simple as installing a few things, typing in some text and adding some pictures. There is a lot more to building a website.

You won't have to learn how to write code if you don't want to, but you will have to learn how the software works, the difference between a theme, plugin and widget, where to look for good, free themes and how to customize them, and which plugins you want (and sometimes need) to have running to best optimize your site. You'll also want to learn all about SEO and how to get that all set up.

There are lots of tutorials available online to learn how to use WordPress. There are also professional developers who teach folks this either in a classroom setting or one-on-one.*

But if you don't have any interest in doing that, or simply don't have the time, that's a great reason to hire a professional to build your website for you. After the site is built, you can either have them do full maintenance of the site for you, or you can take on some (or all, if you wish) of the maintenance yourself.

Another huge consideration for businesses (no matter how small!) is personalization of your website. As I said earlier, WordPress is great because you can do a lot of customization without having to learn how to code. However, this has its limitations. You'll be able to customize things like typeface, colors, placement of text and pictures, and which widgets you are using. But you'll still be limited to the structure of the theme you're using, and you won't be able to fully customize it to your business' colors and other branding. This ends up meaning your site can look somewhat generic, and not properly reflect what makes you and your business unique. If you hire a professional, they will take all of these factors into consideration and build you something customized to your business needs.

If you plan to sell products online, you may want a full e-commerce site. This is another good reason to hire a professional, so they can get it set up properly for you.

And finally, while I commend anyone who wants to build their own business website, remember that hiring a professional is not just for their knowledge of writing code but also of all the other things that make a business website successful. The pros know their way around SEO, how to build a site to best work with your business goals, and how to help you reach more potential clients/customers. So keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to take on the project all on your own.

Are there times when I shouldn't use WordPress?

If your site is well optimized and maintained, WordPress can be a great solution, but it isn't the right fit for everyone. Here are some things to consider.

  • It can run slowly, especially if you don't have it optimized for speed and efficient loading of content;
  • It can be more than you need if you just have a really small, simple website that you plan to have a professional maintain;
  • If you're not planning to have a blog at all, you may not need it;
  • It requires you to keep it updated at all times: like any software, if you don't apply security patches when they become available, your site can become vulnerable to malicious attacks or become so slow it is not usable.

Questions? Leave a comment or get in touch any time!

*WordPress lessons are actually a service I provide, so if you're in Toronto and want to learn one-on-one, contact me anytime: candice@nyxie.ca or @nyxie on twitter.