Jan 13, 2019

Blogging platform spotlight: WordPress

Wordpress is ubiquitous, it's everywhere and it is being used by a lot of different people and companies. And so could you!

mtimofiiv
Mike Timofiiv

WordPress Scorecard

Overall score: 9/10 WordPress is the perfect platform to launch a blog on, especially when you're a non-technical user. With managed Wordpress hosting (such as from WordPress.com), the technical aspect of running the blog can be entirely hands-off.
Target user: Everyone Simple to use for anyone, has enough complexity for those seeking more features of cusomisation, all the way to advanced developer level.
Cost: $0-25/month* In a managed hosting scenario, pricing differentiation comes down to customisation and storage capacity. In a self-hosted scenario (more technical), the cost is essentially to run the server, which could be as low as $5 a month.
Popularity: 75+ million websites De facto standard on the web for small (and even some large) websites. The LARGEST content management system in the world, judged by audience.
Ease of use: 7/10 For basic, fundamental things, Wordpress is very easy. When it comes to customising, the difficulty ramps up sharply. Editing themes or plugins depend on the grace of the author of those pieces of 3rd party software, so many lack any kind of flexibility.
Customisation options: 7/10 WordPress itself is fairly easy to customise, and many quality themes and plugins exist with a broad range of customisation options. The drawback is that a non-technical user will find their options limited to what is made available by theme or plugin authors, unless they choose to hire a developer to help.
Integration options: 10/10 Many services are point-and-click. Many other ones only require a basic authorisation step (done once on setup). The sheer amount of selection warrants a high score!

NOTE: This is part of an ongoing “Platform Spotlight” series on the world of running a blog. With it, you can help understand what your choices are to get started!

All about WordPress

WordPress is the undisputed king of blogging content management systems at the moment. It does this by having the user experience to attract a broad audience, being battle tested in real websites, and a massive and robust community ecosystem working on both improving WordPress itself but also contributing plugins and themes for it.

If you are unsure what you need, chances are Wordpress has you covered.

One thing I’d like to point out up front to avoid confusion is the difference between WordPress and WordPress.com.

WordPress is a content management system application focusing on blogs. It is free, its source code is open-sourced (you can view or download it any time).

WordPress.com is a hosting service offered by the company who maintains the application. It is a service offered for money (with a freemium tier). You do not have to use WordPress.com to host your WordPress blog.

Who is WordPress’ target user?

WordPress really has a nice interface for beginners, and more complex features and customisations are possible for people wanting something a bit more to tinker with. The bottom line is pretty much anyone can use it, especially by taking advantage of managed hosting.

How much will it cost me?

Before figuring out your cost, you will need to pick a path: self hosting or managed hosting.

If you’re technically inclined, you can start out self hosting. If not (or just don’t want the fuss of it), managed hosting might be for you (I’m not going to cover self hosting here since that’s more for advanced users).

WordPress.com’s pricing starts out with a free tier, so if you have a small-time blog (or an idea you want to test for one), WordPress.com’s free tier is perfect (and obviously costing you nothing). What you pay for is customisation – things like more powerful theming options. So if that’s important to you, consider going on the $5/month plan.

Also factor in if you want your own a domain name (ie. a dot com for your site), there’s an added cost for that. Domain costs vary depending on what the top-level domain is (TLD – the “.com” or “.org” part of the domain name), but you could get a dot com for about $15 a year.

So, with a dot com domain name ($15 yearly) and a $5/month ($60 yearly) subscription at WordPress.com, you’re looking at a cost of just $75 a year to operate your blog!

There are a few considerations here:

  • Sheer amount of 3rd party content – WordPress has the largest collection of themes and plugins out there for any comparable platform. You’re just not going to find anything that extensive out there for any of the alternatives.
  • Support – if you’re ever stuck and don’t know how to fix/change something, a massive following of people is out there on the internet that can help. You can ask a question on a question-and-answer site popular with developers like StackExchange, use the WordPress.com forums, or contact your host in the case of managed hosting.
  • Security – this is a drawback of being everywhere, and it’s simple math that with that many websites using WordPress, malicious hackers or data thieves are going to be that much more active trying to exploit vulnurabilities. This is another reason to do managed hosting, as the teams at those companies are actively engaged in security so that you don’t have to be. If you’re self-hosting, prepare to do that on your own. Or, you might fall prey to things like the Blackhole Exploit Kit.

On the whole, popularity is a plus for Wordpress, as the only real drawback can be mitigated.

How easy is it to use?

Users who have never used any kind of blogging or content management platform should have a pretty simple time using it. Experienced users will find no trouble.

The toughest thing is, as with a lot of things with Wordpress (and some of the other platforms as well) is that the 3rd party tools built by various developers that integrate in are often a little less streamlined. Plugins and themes are not always high quality and are not guaranteed to work or to work properly.

Now let’s talk customisability

There are literally thousands of themes out there for WordPress. Tens of thousands probably. Maybe even hundreds of thousansds – it’s yuuuuuuge 😉.

Building your own themes though is a bit of a process. While it seems easy to use and premium themes JustWork™, creating a theme for yourself is not really beginner’s work. You’ll likely need a PHP developer (PHP is the programming language WordPress is written in) with some experience with WordPress’ internals to write it for you.

So if you can’t use an off-the-shelf design, you’re going to fork out some money to a developer to do it for you.

Customising an existing theme is possible as well, but should be done carefully, and with some working knowledge of what you’re doing. Modifying theme files will mean that it potentially might revert its changes if you update the theme to the newest version. That being said, if you stick to editing the CSS (styling information), you could do some quick and dirty edits.

Can I integrate it into other services?

Chances are, there’s a plugin for it! Many, many services like Google Maps, Cloudflare, Shopify (not to mention social media ones) offer a plethora of different plugins.

Others, like Blogsend.io or Google Analytics integrate via a small code snippet you can insert by copying and pasting it into your template or theme editor.

To conclude…

If you are a regular person who does not know PHP programming, the managed hosting option of a host like WordPress.com offers you a quick and very cheap way to launch a great looking blog. The amount of customisations in the form of plugins and themes out there for WordPress makes it immensely robust and powerful.

Ultimately, the point of a blogging platform is to get out of your (and your readers’) way so you can publish your content.

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