Can you really build a business website on WordPress?

WordPress is hugely popular, yet I still hear people asking if they can really build their business website using it.

The last figures I saw showed that 35% of websites use WordPress, so it seems a bit odd to question whether it’s suitable for business websites.

All the more so when you take a look at the Showcase pages on WordPress’ site. There you’ll find that WordPress has been used by The White House, Microsoft, Vogue magazine, Sony Music, Disney, CBS and many more businesses.

Surely that should draw a line under the question, however, I do understand why this question gets asked.

For all its popularity, WordPress also has its haters. In fairness I can understand their sentiments, though I don’t agree with them.

Why hate WordPress?

Arguably the biggest problem with WordPress is also its strongest feature. It is massively extendable and customizable.

You can use WordPress as a basis to do just about anything.

There are literally tens of thousands of plugins, many of them free, that you can add to a site to give new functionality.

This comes with two specific potential problems.

Plugin conflicts

Firstly not all plugins are created to the same standards. That shouldn’t be a surprise as there are thousands and thousands of different authors creating plugins.

As a result, plugin conflicts are a relatively common issue. Common in so far as they’re probably the main cause of WordPress problems and headaches.

These occur when the code in one plugin interferes with the code in another plugin causing features of a site to break. In the worst cases a compete site can break, though recent versions of WordPress will usually prevent such plugins from being activated.

Operator error

The phrase “operator error” is one that was used by the tech support staff of a newspaper publisher I worked for years ago.

It simply meant the problem was caused by the person using the computer not the computer. This is also a common problem in WordPress land.

Site owners don’t approach their site with a clear plan, but just keep adapting it and adding plugins every time they have a new idea.

Often they’ll add two or three plugins that do much the same thing, because each one adds a feature missing from the others.

That’s a great recipe for plugin conflicts, but even when the plugins work fine together, it makes the WordPress admin section more difficult to work with. When any changes need to be made to these features, it becomes very confusing where to go to make those changes.

Over a period of time, the admin menu becomes overloaded with different options and menu items and it becomes a pain to find anything.

Assuming there aren’t any plugin conflicts, you can resolve this headache with a few plugins that let you customize your admin menus. I like to think my own plugin, Underwhelm, is one of the easiest to use for this purpose and it’s free if you want to give it a try.

Plan your WordPress site

I touched on a lack of planning being a problem with WordPress sites just now and if you approach your site with a plan, you just won’t encounter some of the common errors.

Short term planning

In the short term, that means getting the basics of your site in place before you do anything else. So don’t think about your theme or what whizzy plugins you’re going to add till you’ve handled these things.

Work your way through the Settings screens and ensure all the basic settings are configured correctly.

Install the essential plugins every site should have. For me, those are:

  • Wordfence to add an extra layer of security
  • Really Simple SSL – you should have selected a host that includes a free SSL certificate and this plugin will help with configuration
  • UpdraftPlus to take backups of your site on a regular basis
  • WP Fastest Cache is hands down the easiest caching plugin to set up
  • EWWW Image Optimizer will compress images when uploaded to help your page load times
  • WP-Optimize will be useful on larger sites as it helps clean the database which can help with the speed of your site. It also has basic caching functionality and in the future may be able to replace WP Fastest Cache

Once you’ve installed those, you’ve helped give your site a solid basis. Now rather than diving into installing plugins, think about exactly what functionality you need and research the different plugins first. Taking a deliberate approach like this will reduce the possibility of you installing plugins that will cause problems.

Long term planning

WordPress is released under an open source license. It’s completely free for anyone to download and use.

Not having to pay for WordPress is a fantastic feature when you’re starting out.

However, there are two meanings to the word free in terms of open source software.

Most people who think about WordPress focus on free meaning it doesn’t cost anything. If you look at the license that comes with WordPress, there’s no mention of software having to be offered for no charge. In fact it actually states that anyone who gains possession of the software is free to sell it.

The true meaning of the word free in relation WordPress is that anyone with a WordPress site is free to adapt the code in any way they like to make the site they want.

Fortunately plugins mean that you can do this without having to write any code.

When you plan your WordPress site for the long term, you need to understand the costs that will be associated with the platform as your site becomes busier and you start generating greater revenues.

Just because WordPress is free, it doesn’t mean it will be the cheapest way to run your site in the long term.

The real cost of WordPress

When you start out, managing your own WordPress site and using low cost shared hosting is a perfectly reasonable approach.

As your site grows in popularity and your revenues start to grow, you really should be making changes to how you operate.

Firstly, you low cost hosting should probably be replaced with a better standard of hosting. This may mean a managed service like Kinsta or WP Engine, though the costs can rise exponentially as you get more visitors.

The alternative is to use a Virtual Private Server (VPS), though you’ll probably need to hire someone to manage your VPS. This is usually more technically demanding than shared hosting or the managed services.

That said, you should probably have a developer on a monthly retainer anyway and in most cases they should be able to manage your VPS for you too.

Rather than finding your own developer, you could look at a service like AccessWP or Sprout-Flowers to keep your site running smoothly.

While the cost of all in one solutions like Kajabi and Rainmaker Platform can look expensive when you’re starting out, with monthly fees starting at more than $100, you should be prepared to spend similar amounts or more each month to keep your WordPress site properly maintained.

If you don’t, unless you’re a technical wizard, you’re inviting problems that could impact your business negatively in a big way.

So why stay with WordPress?

Considering that WordPress can be as expensive or more to run than many hosted solutions, why continue using it.

We come back to the point that because of it license, it’s free.

If you use a hosted solution for your site, if you find you want a specific feature that the platform doesn’t offer, all you can do is ask them to add it.

Some platforms may respond positively, but most often you’ll be thanked for your suggestion and if others also request the feature, it will be considered.

If you’re using WordPress, all you need to do is find a developer and pay them to create a plugin that will add the feature to your site.

That needn’t even be too expensive. Some features may be very quick and easy to create meaning you could have a solution on your site within a few days.

You just cannot get that flexibility when you’re using a hosted platform.

So remember, the reason so many of us use WordPress is because it’s free, not because it’s free.

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