Your business website needs to check off a few key boxes:
- it needs to look professional,
- it needs to be easy to update, and
- it needs to generate leads and sales.
Sure, there’s more to it than that—you can talk about security, responsive design, and affordability, etc.—but mostly you want a website that works well and helps grow your business.
As a marketer or business owner, these are the reasons you might choose WordPress as a website and CMS (content management system) platform. But how about the people who are working on your site? Looking under the hood? Getting intimate with the code? What do they think about the world’s most popular web building platform?
In this article we’re talking to two of flyte’s developers who build, update, and maintain countless WordPress websites for flyte, the Agents of Change, Fast Forward Maine, and nearly all of our clients.
These quotes were taken from interviews, transcribed, and edited for space, clarity, and because I’m a control freak.
Who are these WordPress developers?
Andy Woźnica, Lead Developer. He’s been at flyte since 2007.
Jeff Cobbett, WordPress Developer. He’s been at flyte since 2018.
Andy: It’s relatively straightforward to create WordPress sites and maintain them. WordPress is built on a programming language called PHP, which is very accessible. It's not like trying to build a website using ASPX or some other programming languages which are less accessible.
WordPress is very quick to set up. It will run on a Linux server, which is a very popular server architecture. Once you have it up and running it is very easy to modify and customize. I love it's flexiblity.
Jeff: The reason I like WordPress is that it's very user-friendly. You can build websites in such a way that once you hand them off to your client they can maintain and update the site without feeling so overwhelmed.
We develop our sites in a way that the client has the ability to update the website without breaking it. They know where to the content is going to show up on the front by updating specific sections within WordPress.
WordPress is an open source CMS, meaning the platform is open to all developers to add to it over time, pending an approval. The documentation and the ability to find solutions quickly is very easy and accessible. It’s one of the primary reasons we use it.
What if you want to do something in WordPress you’ve never tried?
Andy: WordPress has a very large developer community and a large user base.
If you're trying to do something different, something new, you can search on Google and the chances are good that you will be able to figure out how to achieve it (assuming you have the knowledge to do the programming or the scripting in the back end.) You may even find that it has already been done and is documented.
WordPress has a Knowledge Base called The WordPress Codex, an online manual of everything WordPress. Because it’s open source code there's nothing proprietary in there. You can view and learn about the different hooks, filters and actions that power WordPress and make for an interactive website.
Beyond The Codex, there’s also a resource developers use called Stack Overflow. If you have a question, that's usually where you end up looking and getting answers on how to do things especially if you are customizing functionality.
For people who aren't necessarily programmers or developers, WordPress has a huge array of plugins that add functionality to your website. Because WordPress is such a mature CMS people have been developing plugins for it for many years.
Does WordPress give you the ability to customize your website?
Andy: Of course. You can start with a very basic template and build from the ground up.
We use our own starter theme and then we build custom modules into it using Advanced Custom Fields and style it with CSS.
Some people use website builders such as like Elementor or Divi, but we don’t recommend them. These builders are flashy with tons of tools, but for 80% of the sites out there it’s overkill. It's better to custom design something.
[The problem with one-size-fits-all WordPress themes and website builders is that to be all things to all people, they include tons of code that slows down your site. – Rich adding his .02.]
Can WordPress plugins slow down your site?
Andy: There are poorly coded plugins and resource intensive plugins that can slow down your website’s load times.
However, many plugins are well coded and don’t require a lot of resources and those have minimal impact on load time. Some plugins don’t have any impact at all.
How do you know when you should use plugins and when to avoid them?
Jeff: Ask yourself, “can you do it without adding a plugin?” If you can’t build it without the plugin, then I would consider using one. Anything added to WordPress that is not actually WordPress is a plugin. You'll find that with a lot of [off-the-shelf] themes they’re bloated with plugins because it's really easy to add functionality with them.
Most [off-the-shelf] themes don’t know what your needs are, so they are just going to give you everything. That’s not ideal because you may not need everything and in turn it may slow down your website, hurting the user experience and potentially hurting your SEO [search engine optimization.]
Andy: At flyte we vet all of the plugins we use. There are various concerns in terms of site performance and security when it comes to adding plugins.
Also, plugins aren’t always necessary. Sometimes people throw plugins at WordPress just because they can't do something as a developer.
We can usually find ways to add any desired functionality directly into the code without installing a plugin. Plugins are a double-edged sword. They’re handy if you need to accomplish something, but they also tend to be very specific in terms of what they do.
It can be hard to customize plugins. Mostly because plugin developers are constantly updating them, so you can't really modify or ‘hack' a plugin written by someone else. This is because the next time it’s updated by the developer any changes that you've made are wiped out. So, when it comes to customizing WordPress and adding functionality, we tend to do that ourselves. This way the code is our code, and if it needs updating, we can update without worrying that we’re going to overwrite some functionality.
It really comes down to need. If somebody wants to add events to their site I'm not going to code an event calendar when there's a perfectly robust, proven plugin available. However, if somebody's looking to accomplish something very specific, very particular that doesn’t have a proven plugin, then we would consider coding our own plugin or coding the functionality into the theme we’re using.
Similarly, I wouldn't try and code a custom e-commerce solution when we have something like WooCommerce available, which is the gold standard for e-commerce on WordPress. It’s mature, has a good developer base and plenty of plugins that allow you to accomplish almost anything you’d want in an online store.
What do you think of website builder plugins like Divi, Bakery, or Beaver? Do you recommend using these to build a website?
Andy: Personally, I would not use them. They do have their uses in the right context. I find them resource-intensive and confusing for clients. Quite often they require annual subscriptions, driving up the cost for a client.
We spend a lot of time with our clients actually creating bespoke websites for them. We have the luxury of having a design framework to stick to, so we don't necessarily need to give them the ability to create an entire page layouts on the fly. We can give them an editor experience that is far more tailored to their specific website. So, there is less unused code.
Jeff: If given the choice, no. Divi, for example, requires script files and libraries and it’s too much. It’s better to design something simple and clean that has all the client’s needs in mind.
What is your favorite plugin?
Jeff: I think it would be Advanced Custom Fields. You can add custom functionality to the back end of the website, which is the WordPress login area, and then manipulate the template files to use that new data to style your site on the front end.
Andy: Advanced Custom Fields. It allows you to create input fields for anything and then store that data in the database and pull it out again in any way shape or form you can imagine.
This allows the client to focus just on posting good content without being too confusing or too overwhelming. It's also less resource-intensive on the website because it's not throwing in pages and pages and lines of code that nobody's ever going to use.
This is why a lot of page builders fail, because they try to give you the tools to do everything and overwrite the design of the site. If you already have your site designed and if you spent several thousand dollars designing it to look at specific way, then you don't need a page builder. You really just need to lock down the content within the framework of your design.
Is WordPress good for SEO?
Jeff: If search traffic is important for your business, Yoast is the best plugin for SEO. WordPress has some basic SEO, and you can make changes the content as needed.
Andy: I would say WordPress is generally pretty good for SEO but we do tend to supplement it with an SEO plugin that makes it easier for the client to add things specifically to improve their SEO.
If they want to adjust the page titles or if they're going to add keywords or other types of meta–information for the search engines there are a couple of plugins we would use. We use Yoast because we know it and our marketing team feels it’s the most effective plugin out there.
[WordPress is a good platform if SEO is important to you in that it doesn’t let the code get in the way of Google indexing the site. In addition, unlike other CMSs, it gives you access and control to critical elements that impact SEO such as title tags and meta-descriptions.
Using a plugin like Yoast you can further optimize your content for appropriate searches, but WordPress doesn’t make a site optimized. That comes down to doing your keyword research, putting your best keywords where they’ll do the most good, and a number of other factors. – Rich]
Can I run an e-commerce store on WordPress?
Andy: Yes, absolutely. The gold standard for e-commerce on WordPress is WooCommerce.
It was originally developed by an independent developer, but because it was so important to WordPress’s growth, it was taken over by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.
Jeff: WooCommerce comes with a library of tools to sell products. You can link it up to any merchant account for credit card processing. It’s also good for retaining customer info, customer buying patterns, and there is no limit to the number of SKUs [products] you can sell from your store.
How does hosting work with WordPress?
Andy: You need a Linux server running Apache and MySQL database. You need PHP support which is the language that powers WordPress.
Jeff: You just have to make sure that the software on the host–which is typically a Linux host–is set up with your latest PHP software so that can run your website. But making sure that what you put on that host is as clean and efficient as possible so that you don't have a server crash or 500 internal server error or critical error.
What’s your favorite feature of WordPress?
Jeff: As a developer, one of my favorite features is I can quickly manipulate the backend code if I need to change something. I can make changes on the fly.
When I'm in there as an admin my favorite feature is the editor. In a lot of cases if I have to make a quick update to the style code or a template I don’t have to FTP in and I can just use the internal editor.
But as a user it’s got to be the page editor. It’s just clean and simple. It’s a lot better once we enhance the editing area with some custom fields as well.
Andy: I love the way it uses the MySQL database and the way that you can input data into the database and pull it back out again. You can take information stored in the database and do whatever you want with it. The possibilities are endless.
What’s a little-known fact or secret about WordPress you can share?
Jeff: At the top of the screen when you're in WordPress, there are screen options. They tuck it up in the top right corner and nobody ever sees it, but if you click it, it gives you a ton of view options for that page.
Adding in menus in the left menu column is a really nice little secret. The ability to add options over here on the left menu. You can do it in the functions file by inserting a little bit of code. It gives you an area, which is how we get the home page and the testimonials…these are all added in on the theme files.
Andy: The secrets are all in the code. Once you start looking under the hood and you appreciate what WordPress can do those secrets are revealed. From a layman's perspective it may look as if WordPress is just performing some pretty basic functions, but really its a very adaptable tool that can do so many things.
What comes next?
If you’re looking for a website that is powerful, flexible, easy to update, and will grow with your business, WordPress stands out in a crowded field.
But even within WordPress, there are good installations and poor ones. Effective sites and ones that hold a company back. Fast loading sites and ones that cause visitors to click the back button out of frustration. Starting with a slim theme like Bones, using only the plugins you need, and keeping everything up-to-date is critical to the success of your business.
If you’re not happy with your current CMS, or you’re not satisfied with the way your WordPress website is currently working, we’d love to fix or build you the website your business needs to succeed. Don’t wait any longer… get started today.