Everybody knows I love WordPress to the point that I blather on about it like it were my child. Among the things I really love are that it makes my job easier and that its free, open source goodness democratizes online publishing. Just about anyone can create their own website using WordPress and it’s a beautiful thing. Except for those times when its not.
For those of you who are not web professionals, WordPress.com (this version lets you host a website for free but with limited theme and plugin options), HubSpot, Wix and the like are nice because they cater to your needs. They’re easy enough to use and they’re cheap, if a bit limited.
But to get the full-on WordPress experience, you need to go with the self-hosted version (meaning you host it on your own server or buy hosting from a third-party provider) that is available on WordPress.org. Many hosting providers also provide this flavor of WordPress as a one-click install (well, sometimes more than one click) available through your host’s control panel.
The self-hosted version of WordPress opens you up to the entirety of themes and plugins (of which there are well over 40,000 just on the official Plugin Repository) available. That doesn’t even count all the commercially available themes and plugins for sale in various marketplaces.
It’s Not Always Pretty
Having a nearly endless array of choices can be both a blessing and a curse. Not only is it hard to choose between all of the themes and plugins, there can also be a wide gap in quality of those items as well. If not properly maintained by their author, themes and plugins can lead to compatibility issues and broken websites as time goes on.
One thing I learned early on when creating WordPress sites is that it’s better to use only the plugins you need. Ideally, use ones that are reputable and are updated on a frequent basis (you can check a plugin’s changelog to get that info).
I have been called in to fix sites that have an incredible amount of plugins running. Most often they are out-of-date versions. Sometimes, a good number of the active plugins aren’t even being used. The site’s owner simply wanted to test something out and left it at that.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to run a lot of plugins. Just know that each one is one more opportunity for a conflict or other problem to arise. Being cautious about which plugins you use (and determining the ones you absolutely need) will lead to a leaner, more manageable site.
In general, I’m not a fan of third-party themes (free or commercial). Not that they’re all bad. Often times though, it seems hard to determine a well-made theme from a poor one before you commit to it.
Here are a few guidelines when it comes to themes:
- Look for themes that DON’T promise all sorts of extra functionality built in like page builders, slideshows and other things best left to plugins. Why? These types of themes often use proprietary items like shortcodes that only work with that theme. When it’s time to redesign your site down the road, you’re pretty much stuck using that same theme. At least if you’re using a page builder plugin, for example, you’ll be able to switch to a new theme in the future if desired and things should still work.
- Check the theme’s support policy to ensure that the author will be available to answer questions when they arise.
- Do some research on the theme you’re interested in to see how it’s being used “in the wild”. Will it be a good fit with your desired style and content?
You may also want to check out a post I’ve written over at Envato Market regarding things to look for when choosing a WordPress theme.
The Bottom Line
While WordPress has a plethora of themes and plugins to help you create your own site, there is a responsibility that comes along with that. Unlike some of the more fenced-in solutions mentioned above, building and maintaining a WordPress powered website requires more commitment and careful decision making.
If you still want to use the world’s most popular content management system (CMS) and are perhaps a little shy about commitment, I’d recommend opening up a free blog on WordPress.com to see what it’s all about. If you find that you like using the software and are ready for more power, then go all-in with the self hosted version.