Creating a website with WordPress: The good and the bad

Here’s a quick rundown of the good, the bad, and our experience using WordPress to create websites.

We love a lot of things about WordPress. It has so many time-saving features that it makes a lot of the heavy lifting of web development much lighter. Still, it does have its foibles and isn’t a universal, one-size-fits-all solution. Having created many sites using WordPress as a content management system, we’ve learned that there are some good reasons to use WordPress to create your website, and some good reasons you might want to use another solution.
wordpress strengths and weaknesses

Cost: Free

Good: You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on some proprietary solution that nobody has ever heard of. If you’re really on a shoestring, you can even have your site hosted for free on (For another $100/year, you can have more customization options and not have ads served on your site.)

Bad: You can’t argue with Free!

Design: Plenty of templates

Good: Even if you don’t hire a designer to customize your site, there are enough templates so your site won’t look like everyone else’s site. WordPress templates provide a great way to kick start your design, and many templates have built-in functions that can help you solve complex web programming tasks. The past few years have seen a huge increase in the number of responsive templates, so be sure the template you choose is mobile-friendly.

Bad: Templates are not designed to further your particular brand, so while you may find one that is similar to your current look, it won’t match exactly. You might want to start with a simple template and then customize (or hire a web developer to customize) the template to match your branding. If you want to customize pages even more, you may have to spend a decent amount of time updating style sheets and PHP. One caveat: If you choose a template with too many functions that you’re not using, you could end up with a disastrously slow website.

Functionality: Thousands of plugins

Good: If you don’t have the in-house expertise, you can often find a WordPress plugin to extend and expand the functionality of your site. Plugins can handle anything from adding a slideshow or a form to creating a sophisticated online store. Today, there are almost 40,000 plugins from which to choose.

Bad: WordPress is not built for high-performance, and adding plugins can slow things down even more. They can make it easy to add functionality, but each plugin comes at a performance price. Plugins can sometimes stop working when you upgrade WordPress or your theme, since many of them are developed by individuals and fixes aren’t always done frequently. That means that after a WordPress or theme upgrade, you can spend a lot of time changing the site to fit the way a plugin works or trying to change a plugin to fit the way the site works.

Search: Built-in search and SEO

Good: WordPress has a built-in search function and facilitates search engine optimization (SEO). The search function is easily added to all pages of your site. WordPress allows you to tag all content, create custom keyword-rich URLs, and allow trackbacks and pingbacks, all of which help your site be found in online searches.

Bad: WordPress search is limited — results are sorted by date, not relevance, and there are no advanced searching options. For a more robust search function, you can install Google Site Search on your website. WordPress doesn’t automatically do some of the more technical SEO tasks, so you still may have to add a few plugins to truly optimize your site for search.

Site updates: DIY FTW!

Good: For years, clients asked us to make them websites they could easily update themselves. For years, the answer was, “Sorry, there really isn’t an easy way.” No more. WordPress is very easy to use. Once your site is designed and developed, it’s extremely easy to add new pages, posts, copy, images, and more. A quick training session makes it easy for novices to learn how to add or edit basic content on the site.

Bad: WordPress is pretty finicky on how it interprets content you add. If you paste content from Word, you’ll introduce lots of garbage code. If you work in the text/source mode, you’ll end up getting annoyed with the way WordPress “cleans up” your code. And, if you accidentally mess something up, you sometimes have to clean up the HTML by hand.

Platform: Based on PHP and MySQL

Good: Allows experienced developers to completely customize sites. You can make changes to the code if and when you have to. It’s not proprietary, so it’s effectively open-source.

Bad: Not as easy to customize for non-developers or those who know only HTML. WordPress has its own PHP syntax and functions that create a bit of a learning curve, even for experienced PHP coders. Also, you can’t just preview a post in your browser without having a WordPress testing server set up.

Software: Frequent upgrades

Good: WordPress is an open-source project and there are plenty of developers, so security flaws in WordPress get patched quickly,  new features appear regularly, and themes and plugins get regular updates.

Bad: Updates are great, but sometimes when WordPress, your theme, or your plugins get updated, it breaks something else. Instead of updating the minute something new is released, we recommend making a backup, updating in a staging environment, and testing everything thoroughly before updating your live site. An upgrade can easily turn into a “downgrade” if things don’t work well together.

Community: Large user base

Good: WordPress has a 60% market share of content management systems today. (That’s 75 million websites built on WordPress!) WordPress also has 40 international translations, and it’s adding more all the time. The large, helpful community of users can help you fix challenges that arise. If you’ve had the problem, chances are, someone else has too. WordPress is widely used by people tackling the same issues you face, so there is a huge community of support.

Bad: There’s not really any downside we can see to having a big community of users working on the industry-standard platform.

Built for blogging: Great for updates

Good: If you want to create content, make timely updates, and continuously engage with your visitors, WordPress is hard to beat. WordPress makes it easy to add pages and posts, display the latest content up top, and update pages easily and quickly. If you want to keep fresh content on your site all the time, WordPress makes it easy.

Bad: All the functionality that makes it easy to constantly change content can be overkill for a site that requires infrequent updates. All the theme functionality, plugins, and database queries can lead to slower load and response times, so for a site whose content rarely changes, a straight HTML site might be better for your needs.

Maintenance: Content Management System (CMS)

Good: WordPress can be used as a simple CMS, and it is relatively standards-compliant. Adding new pages and posts doesn’t require much training and there are many plugins you can use to add additional CMS functionality to your site. You can assign users with different “roles” to limit their access, and WordPress prevents more than one user from editing the same content at the same time.

Bad: With some work, you can give WordPress some robust CMS functions, but WordPress is not really a full-featured CMS. For example, WordPress won’t keep you from introducing bad code, it doesn’t do workflow management, nor does it track user roles.

twentyfifteen: More like nineteenninetyeight, amirite?

Good: The latest official WordPress theme, called “twentyfifteen,” is pretty streamlined, is responsive, and works great with the latest versions of WordPress. It is free to install and use.

Bad: The theme looks like it was created a decade ago. (Left-side navigation? Really?) And, it has responsive breakpoints that don’t seem to correspond to common mobile devices. We’ve come up with some pretty slick workarounds to implement modern-looking designs in twentyfifteen, but they do require some more advanced CSS/PHP work.

Overall, creating a website with WordPress is straightforward, especially if you can kick start your development using an existing template. However, if you want to customize the look and functionality of the template, you’ll have to possess robust web development skills, or hire a developer.

It’s important to keep in mind what WordPress does well, and what it does only with great effort, so you can have realistic expectations from the beginning. As long as you want your site to leverage WordPress’s strengths, such as posting frequent updates, WordPress is a good way to go. But if you’re looking for a straight CMS, highly customized page layouts, or you’ll only use very few of the content creation features of WordPress, you’d probably be better off going with a straight HTML website.

Note: This article, originally published Jan. 14, 2010, has been updated to reflect the ever-changing world of WordPress.

Want to learn more about the growth of WordPress? Read How WordPress Changed the Internet