Using WordPress For Small Business Web Sites
Should I choose WordPress for my small business web site?
WordPress is arguably the most popular Content Management System (CMS) platform for small businesses and organizations on the Internet today. The software itself is free, although you still have to pay someone to host your site (unless you have the resources to do that yourself). What are the advantages and disadvantages of using WordPress?
Well, as I said… the software is free. Plus, WordPress is highly customizable through the use of Plugins, of which there are thousands to choose from. Plugins add all sorts of useful features and if you go with WordPress you’re definitely going to need some. Most of them are also free.
The appearance of a basic WordPress site is, well, basic… which is to say rather boring. But you can fix that with a custom theme. Again, there are literally thousands to choose from. Many are free, but the better ones come at a nominal cost. We like the themes from MySiteMyWay. A typical theme will cost you around $30-$50. Some can be used on multiple web sites without paying an additional fee (if you have more than one site), but others require a separate license for each site. This may not be an issue for you if you only have one site or if you prefer to use a different theme on each site. An important factor to consider in buying a theme is not only how nice it looks, but also how good the documentation and support are. We have found both of those to be excellent from MySiteMyWay. No matter how savvy you are about WordPress, there are bound to be a few issues that will crop up from time to time that you’ll probably need help with.
Now, let’s get to the disadvantages.
As with any dynamic web site, page loading time will be slower than with a static html/css site. Maybe not a lot slower, but definitely slower. And page speed is always an important consideration in terms of keeping your visitors happy. So the first question you should be asking yourself is whether or not you need a dynamic site? If not, you might want to consider a static site built with html and css. You’ll need to use a Web design tool like Adobe Dreamweaver (the industry standard) or one of the many other less expensive design tools like Coffee Cup unless you want to write all the code from scratch (not recommended)! There are workarounds to improve page speed with a WordPress site which we’ll discuss later.
Another issue with WordPress, and with dynamic sites generally is their vulnerability to hackers. With a static site, there’s very little hackers can do other than create a Denial of Service (DOS) attack, unless they can break into your web administration account. With a WordPress site, there are always security vulnerabilities that you have to be aware of. Since WordPress is free and open source, every hacker on the planet has a copy sitting on their desktop that they can analyze to look for vulnerabilities. In addition to basic vulnerabilities in the core WordPress files, which in most cases are exacerbated by poor choices made by the installer (such as weak passwords), each plugin that you install brings with it more opportunities for hackers to exploit. Since plugins are mainly designed by individuals who donate their time and expertise, quality ranges from outstanding to poor in terms of functionality and security.
We have found that it is imperative to have a security solution running on WordPress sites. If your site is hacked, it can be very difficult to repair, plus the search engines will blacklist you. And it can take weeks and weeks to get back into the search index when that happens. We have tried a number of security solutions and so far, the best one we have found is WordFence. The basic version is free, but you can upgrade to paid service to get additional features. The built-in firewall features are really first class and you can use them to significantly beef up site security. To install WordFence, you have to visit their web site and sign up for an account to get your API key. Then you need to install and configure the plugin in your WordPress site. If you decide to upgrade, they give you a different key that will enable the advanced features.
In combination with WordFence, you can also use a cloud-based service like CloudFlare. The cloud service will cache and serve your files, making your site load much more quickly. Plus, they will block known hackers, which gives you an additional layer of security protection. To set up Cloud Flare, you will need to obtain a free API key and configure your DNS records to point to CloudFlare. For best results, you should also install the CloudFlare plugin in your WordPress site.
We’ve covered page speed and security issues. What other issues are you likely to have with WordPress? Mainly, the inconvenience of having to constantly maintain and update the plugins and themes that you use. It’s a good thing that the developers of these programs regularly update their code to maintain compatibility with new versions of WordPress as they are released (yes, you have to update WordPress from time to time as well). Plugin and theme updates also address security issues, although not always as quickly as one could wish. Most updates are done from the dashboard in WordPress and most of the time they go smoothly. However, you’re still going to have to log into your site to do them each time. If you have multiple sites (and we do), every time a plugin or theme gets updated you’re going to have to log into each site and update it. This can easily turn into a time-consuming annoyance when you have many sites, especially when plugin developers release two or three updates in a single day, which sometimes happens.
Incompatibilities between WordPress and your plugins or between plugins and your theme can be difficult to resolve. Sometimes, you just have to resort to trial and error techniques to determine where the problem is. It is common to have 10 or 12 plugins installed on a even a basic site, so troubleshooting can easily turn into a time consuming and frustrating process. In some cases the problem may lie elsewhere, such as with the memory limits imposed by your web hosting service or the version of PHP running on your web server. We had an obscure problem with one of our sites that took days to trace. It turned out to be due to the use of a common symbol in a field that we thought was a regular text field.
In summary, WordPress is a very versatile and highly configurable content management system, but you can easily get yourself into a situation that will be difficult to recover from unless you really know what you’re doing. Consequently, we don’t recommend that small business owners use self-managed WordPress sites unless they’re quite knowledgeable and have the time to resolve issues when they occur.