WordPress for the Custom Website Designer
I started my web design career as a full custom web designer. I had programming experience from my days in the telecom hardware design space and I was used to creating something from nothing. But with the likes of Wix, Weebly and other “free” web design offerings, potential clients started questioning the cost of a full custom website. As a result, I began developing with WordPress as it offered a quicker, cheaper path to a quality website while maintaining an excellent SEO profile for search rankings.
My experiences have been mixed, but mostly positive. My clients are happy with the websites they get and the pricing is reasonable. I’m listing a few of the interesting issues I’ve come across while digging deeper into WordPress.
There are literally thousands of WordPress themes available, both free and premium ($50-$60). Like anything, they vary in quality and flexibility. But what I found most interesting is that while most look good or great on a demo site, molding that theme into your own can be very challenging. What the themes allow you to change and how you change it vary widely. As a web designer, I can work through most of theses issues if I have to but for the non-programmer, some of these themes are not user-friendly to say the least. Case in point, the Avada theme, one of the most popular commercial themes available. This theme does indeed provide a lot of goodies, but they are all in the form of shortcodes. If you don’t know what a shortcode is, you are making my point. As I tried to put a client site together using this theme, I realized there was no way my client (with limited tech) would be able to edit any content. The shortcodes that were in place of traditional text were just too cryptic. This to me defeats the purpose of a CMS in the first place, so I moved with something else.
My point isn’t to bash Avada, they are working on a more user friendly version and I wish them well. But it when it comes to shopping for a theme, you can’t go on looks alone – and getting a peek under the hood is often impossible. So for the non-designer looking to DIY his website, themes can often be a Holy Grail.
With most all of the WordPress websites I’ve done to date, some custom function has been needed. Often times these custom functions can be done with one of thousands of free or commercial plugins which is a real plus for WordPress development. But if the function is not available, custom programming is needed.
What is interesting with WordPress is that there are many ways to achieve the same goal. You can develop a plugin, a shortcode, a custom template page, a child theme or a combination of all the above. Depending on the circumstance, one way may be better that the next, but there is a lot of flexibility there. WordPress and many of the bigger plugins, have many “hooks” for customizing functions while not affecting the core code. This is important as WordPress, themes and plugins get updated often for security reasons so you need a way to customize something without fear of it being overwritten with an update.
Overall, the flexibility for customizations can be daunting at first, but it’s a good thing in the end.
Performance has always been a my biggest concern with WordPress and it still is. An application as big and flexible as WordPress simply takes a lot of code and this in turn takes longer to load pages. A good WordPress developer can fine tune by using only plugins that are needed and turning often functions that aren’t but in the end, it’s slower. It seems to be a trade-off most people are willing to accept.
One of the brightest spots for WordPress has to be the built in SEO goodies. Adding the free “WordPress SEO by Yoast” plugin to the mix makes the site about as search friendly as possible. My experience has been that WordPress sites simply do better in the rankings and for most website owners, this may be the most important factor.
So the journey continues with WordPress. I’ve never been a framework guy, but the market dictates a more efficient process. We trade off performance and uniqueness for shorter and cheaper developments because in the end, that’s what clients are asking for.