When is WordPress the right CMS for your business?

7 min. read

Considering WordPress for your website’s CMS? Not sure how to determine whether WordPress is right for you?

You’re not alone – many of our clients come to us at the start of their new website journey looking for a solution that bypasses the complexities of writing code directly. That’s where a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress comes into play. These highly usable platforms streamline the creation, organization, and modification of web content without needing to touch HTML, JavaScript, or CSS.

It’s true that WordPress is a robust and reliable option, but it’s far from the only tool available. There are dozens of CMS options, all catering to different website goals and business types. In this podcast, our team discusses how clients can go about evaluating the strengths and limitations of various web-build platforms as they relate to their brand’s vision and their team’s capabilities. For further analysis of how WordPress fits into the CMS universe, check out our latest article on the topic as well.

In this episode of the Heartbeat Podcast, Conor, Andrew, and Peter dive into one of the biggest questions at the start of any new website: is WordPress really the right content management system (CMS) for your business? We get into the technical, the practical, and the more philosophical on why WordPress can actually be a solid options when it’s used correctly, and how to avoid some of the biggest WP challenges many website owners run into.

Transcript below:

Conor Snell: Hey, everyone. You’re listening to the Heartbeat Podcast with Digital Impulse. I’ll go around with intros. I’m Conor Snell, Director of Content Strategy.

Andrew Kolidas: Andrew Kolidas, CEO.

Peter Modest: And Peter Modest, CTO.

CS: Awesome. Thanks, guys. How we doing?

AK: Doing well, man. Can’t complain.

PM: Doing great, Tuesday afternoon.

CS: Love it. Awesome, cool. Well, we have a great topic today. Something we talk with our clients a lot about is WordPress. When is WordPress the right choice for your business as a CMS? A lot of options out there. A lot of clients we work with who come into a project with an existing CMS, or they’re on WordPress and they have ideas. So, just wanted to get to the bottom of when is it the right choice. And what kind of questions should you ask about your business to decide that WordPress is the way to go?

AK: Yeah, do you know what is really interesting that I want to start with is that everybody has a preconceived notion of what WordPress is and if it’s good or bad. So we work with tons of marketing directors, and other positions as well, who come in and have very strong thoughts about WordPress. They either say, “Hey, I’m looking to do a site. I don’t care about a lot of things, but it needs to be WordPress.” Or we get somebody, same role, different type of company, that comes in and says, “Trust you guys, you’re going to do great design. But anything but WordPress.” And I think with WordPress in particular, it’s all about who did your implementation. WordPress, I always say it’s like a snowflake. No two implementations are the same. So it’s just one thing to net out. WordPress is a platform. It’s a great open-source CMS. It’s really all about your implementation strategy. It could be fantastic for your business, or it could be terrible for your business, using some pre-configured out-of-the-box builder. So just something to keep in mind there.

PM: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, the thing that we love about WordPress is the ability to really customize the content editor’s experience. We’re not locked into WordPress as the only CMS we work with. But more times with WordPress handoffs, our clients are just blown away by the flexibility, ease of use, and all the little details that we put into customizing their experience. So, yeah, we love that. And then, on the front end, we’re able to keep everything super lightweight and follow all the industry standard best practices for optimization, and things like that.

CS: Yeah, totally expected. It has to be easy to manage on the back end, and adding content and all that stuff has to be simple. How does a business juggle that need versus the simplicity of a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop website editor? Why is that maybe not the right decision? Or when is that maybe the right call for a business trying to upgrade its back end?

AK: The tricky thing is you want to give the tools to the people who are using them that are going to make the best use of them. So one thing with people in marketing departments or people who manage sites, is they all have different skill sets. So some that don’t really understand web or aren’t familiar with CMS technologies, they like those drag and drop, those builders, those out-of-the-box themes because they’re just really, sometimes, easy to manage. Now, where people get caught up is the customization. Sometimes, with some of these builders that are very visual, you want to do something extremely simple. It looks simple and it’s going to make the website better. And you cannot do it without an agency like ours jumping in and doing some hardcore ninja work on the code to either find a workaround or change some of the theme itself, which could be a risk in a variety of different ways.

If you have a CMO or marketing staff personnel that is pretty familiar with working within a CMS, they’re going to have completely different needs. For them, it’s going to be more about flexibility. “Hey, I want to imagine a new page and build it without even calling a developer or calling somebody on your team.” And then we could give them a style of CMS that’s built for them. So it’s really about who’s going to be managing this, both short and long-term, and where are you going to want to take the site in the future.

CS: Gotcha. Yeah. Peter, you mentioned some of the flexibility of the backend builder for WordPress. Can you speak a little bit to some of the differences in a WordPress build for just ease of use for the team versus other CMS options?

PM: Yeah, for sure. First off, you have control of the… You’re actually hosting all the files. With some of the other, especially headless CMSs, you’re buying into a platform that’s hosted by the company that you’re licensing it from. So there’s less control over what that experience really looks like. You’re stuck with what’s out of the box. In a lot of cases, those can be very good. But we have, in WordPress, the options for creating different user roles that might have different types of dashboards with quick links that, if somebody is coming into the CMS to add blog posts three times a week, we can just design and put buttons for that user to do that action, even more easily than having to go into the menu and select to do it. So we really have infinite flexibility. Also, incorporating things like marketing tools. We just want to facilitate an experience that connects all the pieces. And what we love about WordPress is the options are limitless there.

CS: That makes a lot of sense. I could see a team with a lot of individual users and players who need to be in there, in the back end, that obviously user controls is huge. The other thing we talk about a lot too is security. And I know WordPress has maybe a mixed reputation on security, but I think we’ve narrowed it down to maybe a specific reason on that. Peter, what’s your take on WordPress security? And what are the things to look out for there?

PM: It’s a big question, and I think what we’ve seen is that the issues with WordPress security often come from both an infrastructural standpoint, like hosting. There’s people who aren’t keeping their PHP version up to date or have other security holes within… If they’re hosting WordPress and a bunch of other tools if any of those tools are vulnerable and they’re all on a single box, that there can be… People will find their way into a WordPress build, through any means possible.

Also, the use and overuse of plugins probably are what we see more often than anything. Plugins can be added to the plugin directory by pretty much anyone, and the quality of them is drastically variable. And if somebody’s not keeping their plugins up to date, if there is a security hole that’s not patched by the plugin creator, these are all means for someone to get into your WordPress build and do malicious things. We have a really strict policy on what plugins will work with. And, in general, don’t work with plugins that create content that’s output on the front end. And that’s not so much a security thing, but a performance and a philosophical thing that we don’t want code that’s not necessary or purpose-built for a specific task. And we’d rather integrate that code ourselves, and understand the implications of that code, rather than rely on a tool that might be trying to do 10 different things when we only need one of them.

AK: Yeah. A component of that thought. People have different views of WordPress. We were speaking to somebody recently, a Newton organization, jumping into WordPress. And their first question is, “Oh, how do I get all my favorite plugins in?” I think that a lot of people look at WordPress as, “Oh, it cuts down the need for custom development because of this huge library of plugins that I’ll just download them and get started.” That’s what’s going to create the security risk right there, 100% of the time. WordPress does save you a lot of time and money. No licensing fees for the platform itself. If you need WordPress development done, there are so many programmers around the whole world who could help. For some specialty CMSs, it’s hard to find the right talent to help you keep it updated. But it is not to just click some buttons and then your website does a million things.

Now, if you’re doing a personal project, sure, why not, let it rip? If you’re managing a website for a public company, not a good idea to do that. So that’s something that we try to educate our clients on so they really understand how WordPress should be implemented. It’s not a silver bullet that solves all your problems. But it’s an extremely flexible platform that’s really made for people to really have the keys to the castle, as far as having a great website and being able to manage it fully. Whenever somebody needs content images and forms, 99.99% of the time, I think, personally, it’s the right fit. But, listen, there are great CMS technologies out there. We try to stay agnostic when it comes to our CMS recommendations because there are a lot of great CMSs out there. But WordPress because of its usage, because of its flexibility, always rises to the top of many sites that we’re spec-ing out.

CS: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think it comes down a lot to understanding your needs, and specifically what solution is going to best solve those needs. So just high level, if you’re a company selecting a new CMS, what are some of the most important questions you have to ask, just to understand the way that you then orient your search?

PM: That’s a great question. I would say, first off, who is going to be working on the site? Who’s going to be editing the content, maintaining the content? And how often does this need to happen? Just the understanding of the needs of the… We always try to empathize and really get into the processes of a client to see, from here, knowing what we know, what will the best solution be? And, often, WordPress is the answer at the end of that question. But, also, are there any real limitations or project requirements that stand out for the direction of the development? And by that I mean, are we building a web application or a portal that is requiring users to log in to do various actions that are really based around who they are? Not necessarily internal people within the client’s team, we’re talking their customers, their users. In that case, WordPress can still be a great option. But in those instances, we often push towards more of a headless implementation, where we can update parts of a website to start to fill in those elements of the interface without having to reload the whole page.

If they’re really transactional things, if there’s a lot of content that needs to be kept up to date, those are some of the identifiers that we try to call out to steer the tech that we use. But WordPress often is at the… We still love working within the WordPress system for users and user roles, which I mentioned before. You can create your various levels of customer user roles, and work through the WordPress APIs or GraphQL. There are various ways to interact with the data to be able to implement WordPress in a headless way as well.

AK: Yeah. And, sometimes, there are some companies out there, a huge enterprise company that owns a ton of different divisions and companies, and they need more of an enterprise solution, like an AEM. Sometimes, that does make sense, especially if you have the budget. And a platform like AEM could become very expensive for a company. But, sometimes, it’s in the budget, and you want to also integrate other pieces of the tech stack for CRO, and other or different analytics packages. So when we’re looking at CMS selection, what other technologies do you have to integrate with? Maybe there’s e-commerce or you have to integrate with an ERP. So it’s all about getting those requirements up front, understanding what they’re trying to accomplish.

And I think the biggest point is this. Don’t just try to say, “This is my favorite CMS.” I’m going to try to jam it in. You have to really understand what’s going to be best for the client. And, sometimes, we look at a situation and I think… Peter, you do a good job of this. And say, “You know what? They don’t need WordPress, but they also don’t need a CMS that we specialize in. So we probably shouldn’t take this client, or let’s refer them to another partner.” And, sometimes, that’s a great answer. It’s all about providing value at the end of the day. If we can’t provide that value, and WordPress isn’t that solution, I think some companies run into issues where it’s a cash grab, “WordPress, WordPress, that’s what we do, use it.”

And that’s what also gives WordPress a bad reputation is because people used it at the wrong time for the wrong project. And then, permanently, whoever is part of that project says, “WordPress isn’t good.” So that’s why I was excited to speak today, Conor because I think there are a lot of misconceptions, probably on both sides, of when to use it and when not to use it.

CS: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I think, for anyone, choosing the right CMS is a process that takes some intensive thinking and maybe a partner who knows what they’re doing. So if you’re a business out there and you’re working on choosing the right CMS for your website, we can definitely help. That’s what we do all the time. So feel free to get in touch. But great combo, I think let’s keep talking about WordPress in the future. But, Peter, and Andrew, really appreciate you guys jumping on today.

AK: Yeah, thanks, Conor, as always. And look forward to the next convo.

PM: Thanks so much.

CS: Awesome. Thanks for listening to the Heartbeat Podcast. I’m Conor Snell. Make sure to like and subscribe. Thanks, guys.

AK: Thanks, everybody. Speak soon.

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