It is estimated that 43% of all websites are built with Wordpress, the most popular CMS out there.
However, quantity doesn’t equal quality, so let’s do a deep dive on what a CMS, such as Wordpress can do for you, and where are its limits.
The main argument for Wordpress is that it allows you to build a website without the need for a programmer. Instead you can use templates and a visual page builder (e.g. the official Gutenberg editor or plugins such as Elementor or Divi builder).
While it’s easy to just stick with a template and fill in your content, it’s not exactly trivial to realize a custom design. Most often it requires you to break out of the standard click workflow and hire a programmer who builds a custom Wordpress theme for you.
But let’s assume you are happy with what the standard themes offer you and are okay that your website ‘smells like Wordpress’. Still you have to face the fact that you’ll spend a lot of hours learning how to use Wordpress and the page builder of your choosing. It’s likely you will overlook something and your drag+drop design will cause your website visitors to get stuck. Very common are usability issues (e.g. the site doesn’t respond properly to different screen sizes).
With Wordpress you have the ability to update the site’s content yourself. You can grant access to content editors, which will populate your site with fresh content, such as new articles.
Still you and your editors first have to learn how this works. Since Wordpress tries to cover the needs of thousands of people, it is often cumbersome to use. You need to find the settings that are relevant to you, and overlook all the other confusing settings that are not relevant for your website. Just be prepared for some frustration, especially once you want to have more control over how a particular page looks. Often users of Wordpress get stuck, and then need to hire a consultant to help them make the necessary changes.
The promise is that you can extend the functionality of your website and turn it into an online shop for instance (e.g. by using WooCommerce). Or you can use a form builder plugin to craft contact forms. There are no limits. While that’s true,also be aware of the dangers that come with excessive use of plugins.
Plugins often are complex pieces of software because they are not made just for you, but for thousands of other users with a similar problem. Often widgets rely on external services, e.g. a shop or payment provider. It’s only a matter of time till those will break, as service providers are making changes to their software or simply go out of business. For every plugin you use, expect substantial amount of maintenance time to keep it updated and functional.
Visual page builders need to store the structure and the content in a database. This means that you could end up with thousands of database entries for a single web page. Each time a visitor requests your site, those need to be sucked out of the database. As a result your site becomes really slow. When a site on the internet takes several seconds to load, you can be certain it’s because it is powered by a CMS doing some heavy lifting in the background.
Pages built with a page builder often result in bloated markup, images that are not correctly optimized for the web and additional scripts that need to be loaded to make the layout work. This increases the download size of each page and the visitor has to wait until all the data has arrived. A slow page will also negatively impact your Google ranking, so this is not merely a user experience flaw.
Using Wordpress you may also be exposed to security threads because popular Wordpress plugins are a common target for hackers and spammers. Regular plugin updates are critical to keep your site secure. Most hacking happens because of outdated plugins and themes.
If you are on a low budget, and are curious to learn technology and figure things out yourself Wordpress might be a valid option. Just take my advice to not be tempted to install a lot of Wordpress plugins. You will regret it.
If your website is business-critical and you want to trust a designer to craft a unique user experience, in my experience you are better off with a custom tailored solution. It will contain only the bits you need and nothing else. Custom sites often have a 10x smaller footprint than generic solutions such as Content Management Systems or No-Code platforms. Given a solid execution by experienced designers and web developers you’ll not only get a snappy and visually unique user experience but also the lowest maintenance costs.
With custom websites not only the public parts of the websites are designed, but also the interfaces to create, remove and edit pages. We developed a solution to allow in-place editing of your website. But that’s just one approach. What’s important is to figure out the most effective way to manage the site and tailor the interfaces accordingly.