Written by Joe Jorgenson, President
First, let’s draw a distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The first option (.com) is a hosted service most appropriate for blogs, short-term websites and as a learning tool for people interested in managing a website. Your website will be a relatively small, inflexible system that allows you to have a presence on the internet without much effort or expense. Though WordPress.com is a great tool for many, it’s not optimal for businesses. Especially those in competitive industries. For this article, WordPress.org will be the focus.
WordPress is a sophisticated content management system based in PHP, which carries a wealth of features, flexibility and yes, some risk. It’s by far the best free website platform available and has served over 10 million websites this year alone.
Designing a website is one of the most difficult aspects of a from-scratch development approach. When Robintek started building websites, they were little more than a brochure hanging in a public place. Today the simplest of websites are sophisticated machines compared to 20 years ago. When designing the sites theme you must consider calls to action, mobile responsiveness, conversion goals and who the audience will be. This is one challenge that WordPress offers a solution for, canned themes. A theme is a design for a website that includes variable options like different colors, different layouts for subpages and even some industry specific functionality.
Novice web developers will find a theme they like, alter it slightly for each client and then resell it over and over. This is an efficient approach, but it’s not the most effective by any means.
Remember, websites are machines that need to start with the end in mind.
What is the objective you’re trying to reach with this site?
Highly skilled developers will still use a feature-rich theme as their foundation, but they start the design with a blank piece of paper. We tailor the design to the audience, the branding of the company and always with their goals in mind. From there the design is cut up and implemented as a child theme of the original. This allows the original theme to run updates when needed (often for security reasons) without risking the design or functionality of the website.
Pro: For novice developers and willing amateurs the canned themes sold on sites like ThemeForest.net can help you look great.
Con: You might look like a dozen, a hundred or a thousand other companies with only the logo and address changed.
Tip: Hire a pro to help with implementing your design, even if you’re going to do everything else!
According to WordPress.org there are 50,063 plugins available right now. A plugin is a pre-packaged piece of functionality that you can quickly and easily install on your WordPress website. But, should you?
Absolutely! But only after you learn a few quick things:
On WordPress.org, under plugins, you can search for tools based on functionality or industry. Here are the things you need to know when choosing a plugin:
- Version – Has it been tested with your current version of WordPress?
If it hasn’t, don’t even consider it. Plugins that fall out of date are prime targets for the malicious attention that we’ll be talking about later.
- Reputation – How many active installs are there? How many positive and negative reviews are there?
These aren’t as cut and dry as the version. The best plugins will have a lot of active installs and more positive than negative reviews. Take the time to read the reviews, the support logs and the development logs, which are available for every plugin in the library.
- Functionality – Screenshots are available for most plugins before you install them. Do they look clean and professional? Does it address your specific needs?
Don’t take the risk if it doesn’t do what you want it to!
Don’t forget about industry specific themes! My favorite example is real estate. Years ago, we built a few custom Realtor websites that included listings, images, contact paths, etc. It was a pretty big deal and very costly at the time. Now, that same functionality is baked into several inexpensive themes created specifically for Realtors.
Pros: Easy, cheap functionality installed and configured quickly.
Cons: Not all plugins are created equally. Plugins that aren’t maintained after you install them might need to be replaced sooner than you have would liked.
Tip: Be careful, have a backup plan and be sure to install your updates!
This is the area that would usually fall under the Cons list of nearly every article reviewing WordPress as a platform. It’s not because of the platform itself, that’s incredible. It has to do with the popularity of the platform, the fact that the core is free to anyone (including the bad guys) and that most people who manage their own WP sites don’t keep them up to date.
WordPress releases updates every few weeks to a month. Most of these updates are new features, small bug fixes and so on, improving the system as a whole. Once every month or two an update comes out that is security focused. These are usually a reaction to a successful widespread attack that compromised thousands of websites.
How do the bad guys get in?
I love heist movies, the old bank heist flicks where a group will plan and execute a daring robbery. One thing many of those movies had in common was the bad guys would practice breaking the safe door by purchasing a duplicate of the lock or door.
The bad guys out there looking to take over your website, follow the same example. They download the latest version for free, install the updates and then beat it up until they figure out a way in. They then create an automated program that looks for websites with this specific vulnerability and exploit them. They’ll knock you offline, send spam from your outbox, or infect your users to do the same thing.
WordPress is notified, they figure it out, they patch the system and in a perfect world the bad guys are sent back to the drawing board. Unfortunately, many people don’t run the updates and sit vulnerable until the bad guys discover their site and do their worst.
Maintaining your site requires an attentive approach. Most hosting companies will not maintain your site or even notify you when it needs attention. Not until it’s impacting other sites in that network, will they speak up and shut your site down while you’re stuck figuring out what to do.
Robintek provides a Security and Maintenance package to all WordPress clients who host with us. This includes redundant backups both onsite and from a snap backup service that can facilitate a restore in minutes. Higher walls, deeper moats and a good backup plan for your backup plan.
Pros: There are lots of tools and services available that make this problem manageable.
Cons: It’s such a big issue that there are lots of tools and services available to help mitigate it. Not paying attention on this front can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost revenue, efficiency and possibly worst of all it can get you delisted from Google.
Tips: You can learn to be a marketer, even a website designer and manager but find a good company with hosting expertise that will help to manage the tougher bits!