Okay, it’s confession time, and rather than bury the lead I am just going to come out and spill it: I used to avoid using WordPress.
I didn’t hate WordPress, but I was a bit of a web design snob. I used to get excited by the intricacies of crushing a challenging layout with a little bit of HTML and CSS. I imagined the way that I peacocked around my accomplishments is a lot like I might have behaved the first time I took the training wheels off my bike. I was the proudest 7 year old in elementary (I wish I was joking, but don’t you dare laugh at me). Just like that old bike from my youth, as proud as I was, I eventually out grew it and bought a new bike.
What changed: Two things happened as I began to grow in my chosen skill
Discovering Bootstrap and CSS preprocessors changed my attitude and demonstrated that a shortcut doesn’t have to sacrifice much. Understanding these tools has made me better at what I do. By supercharging my understanding of how everything relates to each other, I work faster and cleaner than I ever did before.
The second thing I learned was that as much as I knew about building websites, I was never going to be able to build the dynamic sites that Web 3.0 is going to demand. Content is flying onto the net as fast as we can dream things up, and that means that websites not only have to adapt to the screens that users are devouring web content through, but that the site has to be able to catalog, sort, and retrieve information at the speed of thought. That means you need back-end code to store and catalog a website’s content, generate pages to send to the web browser, and most importantly, the content must be up to date and change according to the needs of the user. In other words, simply being able to display a beautiful page wasn’t enough.
I was never going to be able to do meet those needs on my own. The job was just too big. I needed to build and manage a database, I needed a framework to interact with the database and interface with my content, and then I needed the moving parts that would assemble the page when demanded. That’s a lot of work for a single person. I started down this path to become a web design superhero, but this new realization stung because the sheer depth of Web 3.0 requires a team of individuals with unique strengths and talents.
This is when I realized that Content Management System, or a CMS, was the only way that I was going to be able to pick up the ball and run with it. A CMS is a platform designed to do most of the heavy lifting for the modern demands of a truly dynamic website. All the major tasks were there- the interface, the storage, the means of working with your database, and the files needed to assemble the site on demand. It was the solution to the question of how a small design shop could create large corporate websites with a small staff of designers. The only thing to figure out was which platform was the right one. I set out to become a master of the big-three: Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. One day I’ll write a detailed post about my journey, and exactly how I decided to specialize in WordPress. What I’m going tell you now, is exactly why I chose WordPress.
Why did I choose WordPress?
Before I started looking into the different CMS choices available, I decided to setup a basic set of metrics to determine which CMS was the best fit for my needs. It had to be easy to use, it had to be stable, adaptive to my need, it had to be scalable to growth, and something that people were interested in using. As with anything there are pros and cons, so it wasn’t enough that a CMS met my needs, but that the pros had to outweigh the cons and that they had to be manageable.
WordPress is easy to work with.
WordPress operates under an open source license which means that the basic platform is free of charge, and that developers are welcome to work with and improve the source code. As a result, the page loop that WordPress uses to serve content to the web browser is well documented and with just a little learning you can adapt the platform to meet any need you might have. If you don’t have the time or inclination to develop your own solutions then you can purchase plugins that handle just about any job you can conceive of. Although, as a word of warning, I feel it important to stress that while plugins can make your life easier, they can also put your site at risk or have unintended consequences. I always try to avoid plugins for tasks that I could handle myself, and when I do need a plugin to solve my problem I always find reputable third-party developers to purchase from. Easy doesn’t have to have a negative trade off, but it does require a little work to reap big rewards sometimes.
WordPress is stable.
I’ve said this in front of other designers and some will agree, while others may not. The two biggest issues I had always heard, and which scared me away from the platform for the longest time, was that WordPress gets targeted by hackers….like….a lot. It’s true. Also, because a lot of WordPress’s reputation for ease of use comes from third-party plugins there are a lot of stability concerns, because open environments tend to breed an atmosphere of conflict. Plugins do occasionally conflict, or poorly constructed plugins can leave your site vulnerable to hackers. However, those problems are easily mitigated by proper, non-default, configurations and carefully vetting third-party plugin developers. In other words, carelessness will destabilize any operating environment.
All of that being said, the WordPress community is extremely active and helpful. The organization that oversees WordPress is about as transparent as a group can get and they thrive on developer input. Platform updates are rolled out almost monthly and when vulnerabilities are found the savvy WordPress webmaster will usually have their finger on the pulse. So in the grand scheme of the platform, WordPress is as stable as you need it to be if you are willing to take a few extra steps in initial configuration and do a little homework on which developers you trust to design your plugins.
WordPress is adaptive to my need.
The beauty of learning the WordPress loop is that almost anything I need to do can be worked into the loop with just a little a little consideration about object modeling. This object “a” needs to appear at location “b” and it might need to do “c”, “d”, or “e”, depending on the objects state. If you can do it without WordPress, then you can definitely do it with WordPress. Some actions are really complex, and that’s where WordPress really shines. Remember those third-party plugin developers I warned you about? Some of them will become your best friends. Just make sure you are choosing your friends wisely; developers with solid reputations, a love for the platform and superior back-end programming skills can only make your life better. I have yet to find an application that WordPress has not been able to handle. I know that they exist, but I haven’t found one yet.
WordPress is scalable to growth.
You usually start a site with a small audience, but when you roll up your sleeves and establish your brand people will flock to your site to see what you’re all about. These users can create a heavy workload for your host and your site. The good news is that with the right hosting infrastructure and with a solid configuration of the platform your site can move tens of thousands of simultaneous users. News sites like Wired and Variety are built on WordPress and accommodate thousands of regular readers daily. Not a big enough crowd? How about Beyoncé or “The Rolling Stones”? Is that still not big enough for you? How about the White House? Yup, that site uses WordPress too! WordPress is built to accommodate.
People are interested in WordPress.
And finally, people have heard of WordPress. It has huge market share, with something like 30% of the sites built on Content Management Systems using WordPress. I’ve spoken with a lot of clients about the possibility of using Drupal and Joomla, and its blank stares, but with WordPress there is brand recognition even when the client doesn’t fully grasp what it’s capable of. It just makes sense to use a tool that people actively search for developers for- often I’ve had designers work with clients and get them setup on WordPress and then for whatever reason they broke off business relations. You might be surprised how much business is out there for people on the prowl for a good WordPress developer. That name recognition has been extremely helpful in growing as a business.
Years later, and I’m a CMS code wrangler; A WordPress Cowboy.
So, that’s how it all happened. I started out a code snob who didn’t want people to think that I was a hack for relying on WordPress. As my knowledge grew, my understanding of the platform increased, and I learned how I could leverage what I knew to push WordPress as hard as it could be pushed. I keep learning, and will continue to share what I learn here. Hopefully, if you’re not already, I’ll help make you want to be a WordPress Cowboy as well!
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