We need to talk about WordPress

Author: Ash Mann

What is WordPress?

“WordPress is a free and open-source content management system (CMS) built on PHP and MySQL.”

We love WordPress, we use it in the majority of our work with arts and cultural organisations (with a few specific exceptions – where we’ve built in Ruby on Rails). However there still seem to be a few perceived issues and misconceptions out there about WordPress which we are going to try and tackle head-on in this post.

1: “it’s just for blogging”

It’s completely understandable that people think this, WordPress was originally conceived and developed as a blogging platform. However it is now a powerful CMS in its own right, some estimates reckon it is used as the CMS for over a quarter (26.5%) of the top sites on the web. The way in which we utilise WordPress means that it is just as capable as any other CMS we’ve come across, that plus its background as a widely used publishing (blogging) tool means that it provides an incredibly good combination of power and usability. We often have clients coming from a Drupal or custom-CMS situation and WordPress’s sheer user-friendliness is usually one of the first things they comment on. WordPress powers the sites for clients of ours including; performing arts venues, galleries, museums and more each with their own particular requirements and configurations in terms of the other systems that WordPress needs to integrate with. We have delivered sophisticated integrations with CRM systems, ticketing platforms, collections management systems, ecommerce platforms and more. We rarely, if ever, run into a situation that WordPress can’t handle.

2: “you have to use lots of plugins to get it to work properly”

There seems to be the perception that WordPress is a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ solution that requires a lot of additional plugins to be added. The way in which we develop for WordPress means that we use as few plugins as we can, there is one that we use on most projects (Advance Custom Fields) which means we can give clients control over almost every element on a page (our Technical Director, Stu has just written a couple of improvements for this plugin – but that can be covered in a separate post). In terms of the other features that people often lean on plugins for we have built a ‘base theme’ that has a lot of this essential additional functionality ‘baked in’ as standard. The way that we use WordPress means that it operates beautifully with very few plugins being deployed.

3: “it results in bad code”

WordPress is written in PHP. The bad thing about PHP is it’s relatively straight-forward to pick up and can be quite forgiving of bad coding practices, as a result you see a lot of incredibly badly-coded implementations of WordPress (especially with horribly written plugins and themes). We employ OOP (object-orientated programming) techniques alongside TDD (test-driven development) and our developers code-review each other’s work before anything goes live which means that our code is lean and (we think) high-quality.

4: “it’s not secure”

The traditional approach to software security would be ‘security through obscurity’ i.e. the assumption that if your codebase is proprietary and has vulnerabilities then that’s fine because no-one (you hope) will find out about the vulnerabilities. The problem with this approach is it relies on you to keep across any possible issues and patch them before someone naughty notices. The great thing about WordPress is that it is open-source and very widely used. Therefore if any issues are spotted (as they inevitably will be from time-to-time) they are quickly communicated and fixed by the (enormous and very active) WordPress community

Reasons why we think WordPress is great:

  • It plays nicely with others: we frequently have to integrate WordPress with numerous other systems from ecommerce and ticketing platforms through to collections management, CRMs and more
  • Extensible and powerful: because we use WordPress as a platform we find we are able to develop on top of it to meet any client needs that may come our way. We never find ourselves saying ‘WordPress doesn’t do that’ (or at least we haven’t to-date), which is a nice situation to be in.
  • Familiar and extremely usable: WordPress’s background as a blogging platform means that it originated as a product that was aimed at fairly non-technical users, as a result the UX for admins is extremely straight-forward and pleasant (if you don’t believe us we’ll happily put you in touch with some of our clients!) and the learning curve for new users isn’t overwhelming or particularly steep.
  • The community: we cannot stress just how massive, and engaged the WordPress community is- in terms of both users and developers, it is brilliant.

We have used WordPress on projects including our work with Birmingham Hippodrome, English National Opera, Nottingham Theatre Royal & Concert Hall, Saffron Hall, Modern Art Oxford and Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of Voice.

We’re going to be writing a series of posts that delve into more detail about how we implement WordPress but if you want to know how WordPress could make your life a lot easier, then get in touch.