Periodically, a friend will show me a website or a company with a hot new content management system/software, or ask if I’ve ever considered using a certain language instead of WordPress. Usually there’s an unspoken “I don’t think WordPress can do the cool things this language/system/etc. can do, so you should think about ditching it and learn something new” hiding in there. I’ll look and see a shiny thing, and agree that it’s neat, but I keep coming back to WordPress, with whom I’ve had a relationship since Dexter Gordon (who knew?).
This got me thinking, what would I tell a client who was on the fence about using WordPress and suggested that I look at using some other system for their project? As I’ve thought it through, here are some of the reasons I’d give (not an exhaustive list, plus a disclaimer that these are my opinions only):
WordPress is cheap.
Anyone can download WordPress, install it on their hosting account, and start using it without paying a penny. That’s pretty cool.
WordPress is costly.
Technically, I don’t mean expensive, although it can be. It’s possible to hire someone to create an incredibly tricked out site, in which case, you’re paying for their expertise. But because of how WordPress is built and distributed, anyone can write code which makes certain things possible or better. Many people distribute their code for free; some choose to make a business out of it, and some really great work has come from both approaches.
Often, even free plugins are worth money because they solve a problem. If I find a great free plugin on the WordPress repo and it saves me time and heartache, I’ll go back and look for a donate button, because that person is worth supporting. Once, when I was moving a development site to a client’s live site, the premium (paid) plugin I was using failed to update the database links. All of them. Which meant I had a broken site. At 5 in the morning. I searched the repo, found a database find/replace plugin, and had everything up and running by 5:25. You’d better believe I sent that guy some money.
WordPress is standardized.
From the very beginning, WordPress’ founders were concerned with standards as well as ease of use: “WordPress’ first improvements focused on HTML semantics and web standards.” (from WordPress: Freedom, Community, and the Business of Open Source, Chapter Three: “On Forking WordPress, Forks in General, Early WordPress and the Community” by Siobhan McKeown). Part of that means that you can feel comfortable knowing that it’s going to work, that search engines can see WordPress sites, and that generally, a WordPress site won’t throw any reputation killing errors. Developers and their skill levels vary, of course, so uninformed code or customizations can cause issues, but the foundational code is good.
WordPress is portable.
One side of this is that if you come to me with an existing WordPress site and need my help cleaning it up or redesigning it, I can log in and work with it fairly quickly, because I know where everything is already. Even if your previous designer did a lot of customization for you, there’s an underlying coherency with which I can work.
Additionally, if you decide that you don’t like your hosting company, or they shut down unexpectedly, you can pack up your WordPress site and take it with you. One of these fancy new system sites states, “All websites built on [our] CMS are hosted and managed by [us].” I read that as: “You cannot leave us. You cannot change our code. You cannot find a new host.” I’m personally uncomfortable with that.
It’s not just the smaller systems that do this. In the forking chapter, there’s a paragraph about when another blogging software changed its license: “At any time, [the company] could increase prices, change its licensing, and change the rules for its users. The license protected the developers. WordPress, on the other hand, had a license that protected its users…”
WordPress is flexible.
What’s the average lifespan of a website’s design? For some people, it’s weeks; for some, it’s years. I do something new with my site about 2-3 times a year(today, actually), and usually it’s pretty easy. With WordPress, your site’s content is stored in a database. Your design is stored in your theme files. What does that mean? If you want to change the design or layout of your site, you can, and you don’t have to go back and redo all of your content. A new design can take days (or hours in a pinch). I’ve got a site redesign that’s taking a client off of a proprietary system and onto WordPress–every bit of content has to be moved over by hand. You can imagine that’s taking a while.
WordPress is international.
I’m a one woman company. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got a lot to learn. Because WordPress is free, open source, and widely used, my little company actually has a team of thousands, based in places like: Texas, United Kingdom, India, Illinois, California, Florida, Kansas, Alaska. I haven’t met most of these people in person; some of them don’t know I exist, but we’re an online community who shares resources and knowledge. If I want to accomplish a new trick or solve a thorny problem, 99% of the time someone else has done it before me, and I can find my answer on a forum, discussion board, or even ask them directly. If you’ve got a question I can’t answer, I can probably find someone who can.
WordPress is people.
As I look back through everything I’ve written, I see this: WordPress’ greatest asset is the people who use it. People create plugins for WordPress because they’re trying to address an issue or solve a problem, but most of them are doing it for free. They code because they love to code; they design because they love to design; they tinker because they love to tinker. WordPress users volunteer countless hours answering questions on forums; testing code and testing it again; submitting suggestions, ideas, and fixes; creating free plugins for anyone to use; writing great tutorials; and helping each other out wherever they are. Generally, I’ve found that people who work with WordPress do so for love, not money, even if they’re making a living from it.
WordPress is free.
As in freedom. From WordPress’ philosophy page:
WordPress is licensed under the General Public License (GPLv2 or later) which provides four core freedoms, consider this as the WordPress “bill of rights”:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
- The freedom to redistribute.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.
I’m going to continue using WordPress, and recommending it to my clients. I’m going to continue learning it, coding with it, and getting better, both at WordPress and at code. I’m going to try to spend more time on forums, answering the questions that I can.
I think it’d be pretty amazing for someone to one day look at a site I built and say, “I’m going to tell a friend they should move to WordPress so they can have a site like this.” For today, I’m content to keep building solid, good looking, dependable websites for the people who hire me.