Enough, you say? Many proponents of WordPress would vehemently argue that there’s nothing the open source CMS can’t do. Technically, this is true. Let me start by saying I love WordPress and wish we could use it more for our projects at Wakefly. When we choose not to, it’s for good reason. “Can we just use WordPress?” is a fairly common question from prospects who have contacted Wakefly for a website build or redesign. So I wanted to share the main topics that lead a discussion of their requirements and the fitness of WordPress for the job.

WordPress is a great product. I use it for many of my own projects and enjoy its ease of use, ubiquitous hosting support and amazing marketplace of high quality templates and plugins. When I need to build a new website, I start with WordPress and only go elsewhere when the project falls outside of WordPress’ core strengths. I’ve already mentioned some of them, but here’s a list:

  • No coding required to stand up a decent looking website
  • Many MANY high quality and inexpensive hosting options
  • Most common website functionality is available as plugins
  • Excellent documentation when customization is required
  • Barrier of entry for custom development is low

You can see how a lot of sites fit into those requirements, so it’s no surprise that a frequently cited survey estimates WordPress powering more than 30% of sites on the web . Now let’s discuss some areas that do not. If your site fits into the list above and does not match any of the following scenarios, you should strongly consider WordPress as the platform for your site.

Complexity and Heavy Customization

When a customer’s project is generally large and sprawling or has a large number of specific requirements that are not met with available plugins, I tend to shy away from WordPress. There are several reasons for this.

First, complex sites typically have a lot of functionality that is fulfilled by available plugins, and this means that the result is a site with A LOT of plugins. Unlike commercial content management systems, WordPress is very lean. Do a clean install and you’ll see that what you get out of the box does very little. If you’re used to commercial or enterprise systems, you’ll be surprised how fast you can end up with a huge list of plugins just to get what you might consider a baseline of functionality.

When the number of plugins on a site becomes very high, bad things start to happen. Keep in mind that plugins are provided by the community, meaning each one has a different developer (most unpaid for their efforts) with their own release timeline, quality control process and willingness to continually update their plugin(s) as WordPress rapidly evolves. This means that over time, plugins get out of sync both with each other and with WordPress itself. With a small number of plugins, this isn’t a big problem. But the larger your plugin collection, the more time and effort is required to install and test updated plugins and find replacements for plugins that are not getting updated and become obsolete. In addition to maintenance, a large collection of plugins will impact site performance.

Second, while any custom functionality you dream up can be built with your own custom plugins, doing so loses the main benefit of WordPress. You end up with a whole bunch of plugins that you are now responsible for maintaining and retesting as WordPress rapidly evolves. Commercial content management systems evolve in a slower and more measured pace to suit their business customers, and upgrading can be done at your own pace. WordPress, on the other hand, needs to be upgraded regularly for security reasons. Everyone has the code and any vulnerability is immediately exploited en masse. For this reason, my recommendation is to use a platform that moves a little slower and isn’t the number one global hacking target when we’re going to need to write a mountain of custom code for a customer site.

Third, other content management systems we recommend may have some or all of the custom functionality available out of the box and/or well defined architectures for extension and customization. This can reduce development effort and the amount of custom code that must be maintained ongoing.

Fourth, my personal preference is to use formal object oriented and compiled languages (C#, Java, etc.) for large development projects, and the use of these is another hallmark of the .Net based systems we work with.

Multiple Languages

This is a common requirement we hear from customers. Multi-language means serving translated website content in many languages, which is not part of WordPress core but is provided by various plugins. This requirement cries for deep support in the platform, and tacking it onto a CMS that doesn’t support it in the form of a plugin is not a good idea. Yes, it can work, but I would not recommend it in most circumstances.

Highly Structured Content

If your website, or large parts of it, can be mapped out like a relational database, WordPress is probably not a good fit. WordPress is great at content, but it’s not a good relational database. A blog is a good example of a content site, and so is a site full of marketing content. Highly structured means content that has many different content types with different fields and relationships between them. A good example would be Discogs. That site is essentially a huge web-based database of music. You could build it in WordPress, but it wouldn’t go well.

These are the main talking points in discussions with clients over whether WordPress is the right fit for their project. As I’ve said, we love WordPress, so we want to make sure our WordPress projects are successful and that requires using it on projects where it can really shine.