WordPress is a powerful and highly customizable content management system. It now powers about 30% of all websites and that number is growing. I’ve worked with many different systems over the last 20 years; WordPress has become my platform of choice for all of my websites over the last 8 years, and in the 3 years since I moved my own online store to WordPress I’ve been so impressed that I’ve started using it to manage my inventory too.
Hosted WordPress vs. WordPress.com
After being asked recently about “free” WordPress.com sites I’ve realized that some people don’t know the difference between WordPress.com and what I do which is “self-hosted WordPress” so here’s the breakdown for you:
- WordPress.com offers low price options for getting a WordPress website but they have ads and include only the most basic functionality
- Only the highest priced plan they offer allows third party plugins. This has a huge effect on how customizable your site will be in terms of the look and features.
- Also only the highest priced plan includes SEO tools and Google Analytics which would otherwise be free on a hosted site.
- Only the highest price plan will allow you to remove their branding from the footer. It’s classy to mention your awesome web designer/host in the footer after your copyright but if you don’t want that there should NOT be a cost associated with removing it!
- The good news is that exporting your content is pretty straightforward so if you already have a site on WordPress.com and need a more professional, customizable site, you can easily switch to a hosted site.
How & Why I use WordPress
I install WordPress software on my own server and virtual private server so I have complete control of the code, features, themes and the hosting service. Of all the software I’ve used to manage websites I like WordPress the best because the code and file structure are clean, I’ve never had a security issue with the platform itself and it’s open source, so there are tens of thousands of developers building for it and no shortage of features with the right group of plugins/extensions. eCommerce sites need a slew of extensions, so it’s important to work with someone who knows which ones are best. There might be anywhere from 2-200 developers building extensions for any feature you can imagine, an experienced developer will search for the extension name plus ‘security vulnerabilities’ or ‘issues’ to uncover any known issues before installing extensions on your WordPress site. Even popular extensions can break your site if the code doesn’t play nicely with your theme or another extension you’re using or if everything is not updated to the most recent version. This is true with all software and one of the biggest reasons to hire a professional from the start.
Update: If your main reason for using WordPress is to blog, there is a free plugin called JetPack. It connects a free WordPress.com account, to a hosted WordPress site, so you can take advantage of all the resources at WordPress.com (like following and connecting with other blogs) while having complete control of your code/features/design. My DIY plan allows you to do this for a low monthly fee that includes a lot of useful stuff!
WordPress vs. Shopify/Wixx/Squarespace
Platforms like Shopify/Wixx/Squarespace offer all-in-one solutions that allow you to build a website and/or online store yourself but there are a few downsides you should know about:
- Low prices to get started often lead to higher prices after a trial period (sometimes double and in USD with Wixx/Squarespace – beware of 1/2 price or better – that only lasts at most a year and you want your business to be growing by then, not tied into expensive hosting!)
- Paid extensions that need to be kept up to date and are hard or impossible to customize
- Generic templates that are hard to customize (they might have 100+ templates but they might also have 1,000,000 users)
- Attribution to the platform or extensions is usually built in which just doesn’t look professional.
- Difficult if not impossible to export your content, not cool, not at all.
WordPress Website Builders?
If you’re on a very tight budget or prefer a DIY solution there are website builders that work with WordPress. The popularity of site builders and all-in-one platforms lately has given me a lot of fuel for comparing these generic methods of setting up a website and the issues mentioned here are important things to consider. Once you choose a solution for a website and do all the work of learning the system and creating the website you are kind of stuck and I’ve seen too many good people get stuck and end up paying unexpected fees for things that could have been worked out for much less.
Update: Although I use WordPress for my own store it’s worth noting that Shopify is the main contender in eCommerce today (Magento used to be the most common software for eCommerce and if you’re using Magento and need a redesign I can do that too!) And I’ve recently become a Shopify partner in order to provide premium themes and support to the boutique community. I personally use WordPress, and think it’s a better deal overall and easy enough to learn. But I can also see how Shopify could be slightly easier for a beginner to learn to use. If you want to know more or have any questions please Contact me.
What about GoDaddy?
One last website builder that I need to mention is GoDaddy. It’s hard to know where to start talking about that company. There are tons of articles about why you shouldn’t work with them that discuss everything from technical issues to ethical issues. I honestly can’t even. The CEO shot an elephant. There I said it, and that’s just the worst of a long list of bad. I need to admit that they are one of the first companies I registered a domain with because the prices are low to get started. After having domains with them for many years all my old domains were renewing at double the market value.
Now this last one is especially sad for me, not just because I love elephants…
But because yesterday a client of 10 years cancelled his domain hosting with me because they sucked him in with low prices and DIY solutions. The truth is I was basically giving websites away 10 years ago and even last spring I offered this client a WordPress site at way below what I normally charge. Instead of taking my offer, he had me install WordPress since he was owed a favour by someone who had apparently worked with WordPress before, and the site was “under construction” all year as a result. Meanwhile he started another business and setup his own website with Godaddy because of a tight budget. So of course he wanted his “under construction” domain moved to the same platform he had become familiar with. He was also one of my few non-local clients. I get it. I didn’t try to keep him. Sometimes you just know when it’s better to let someone go. It made me sad but inspired me to finish this article so I guess it’s working out for the best.
Thank you so much for reading this far, please leave me a comment if you liked this article. Have you used any of the platforms mentioned here? What was your experience like?