While I’ve built a fair number of “brochure” websites of 10-20 pages over the years, I primarily do website development of bigger or more complicated websites. I’ve helped optimize websites having over a million pages; a typical site for me to work with has hundreds of pages, often many thousands of pages of content. However, I am also happy to work on smaller sites to keep my hand in!
I’m writing this post because I find myself explaining to people on the phone, over and over, WHY I don’t use WordPress to build smaller websites. If I am ineffective at talking someone out of it, I usually refer such people who insist on using WordPress over to my daughter’s design firm, Matlock Web Consulting. She’s a whiz at making WordPress sites and optimizing them as far as they can be SEO’d. She really knows her stuff.
Most people who HAVE WordPress sites, who know about SEO, think their websites are SEO’d to the max already because they have installed one of the SEO plugins. I personally like and use Joost Devalk’s Yoast SEO. What it does, it does exactly right.
But it only goes about 80% of the way toward full SEO, and that’s when it is actually USED! You have to USE the plugin, which means you have to understand what is needed in the various fields provided by the plugin. And you have to actually type text into those fields. Typically, that’s not actually DONE in practice on the WordPress websites I routinely review. So “SEO” isn’t really being done on such sites, even though a WordPress SEO plugin is in place! SEO is something you have to CREATE with every post in WordPress.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like WordPress; my own blog you’re looking at now was built using WordPress. It’s just not possible to optimize (SEO) a WordPress site for Google, as you would a website that isn’t built using it. WordPress comes with certain constraints that make it so someone can only hit about 80% of the SEO points that a top-notch SEO firm would normally put into a website’s on-page optimization.
Don’t believe me? Here are five SEO points that you will likely have trouble with, building a WordPress website:
- Mobile friendliness: This is definitely a concern for SEO; Google has publicly stated so. There are some plugins that can make a WordPress site mobile-friendly, but they can be pretty clunky. Make sure if you go with WordPress, you go with a “theme” that is actually mobile-friendly and passes Google’s test for that here:
Google’s Mobile Friendliness Test — note: my WordPress Blog passes this test.
- Slowness: Most WordPress sites (if they ever get big) will run very slowly compared to a site built without WordPress. The more WordPress plugins you have installed, and the more you customize your site, the slower it will run. Speed of a website is a confirmed SEO point — Google says they will favor faster websites. One of my clients built her site in WordPress despite my advice to the contrary; it’s a big site with a huge database and many plugins. These cause it to be slow, despite being on its own dedicated server, and despite using every tool at our disposal to speed up the server and delivery of the pages (tricks like caching the pages, using Varnish, using CloudFlare, etc.). Even with all that, pages still take six to eight seconds to load — which is ‘way too slow.
- HTML5 “Elements”: These are fairly new HTML5 tags (MAIN, ARTICLE, HEADER, FOOTER, ASIDE, NAV) which help Google to “see” the portions of the page you want them to focus on, and recognize them as either important, or not. These HTML 5 elements are not typically built into WordPress or its “themes”. They are, however, an important part of modern SEO of a website.
- Micro Formats: These are used as another SEO technique that helps Google figure out what pages are about. The technique for using these is covered here: http://schema.org. Micro Formats are a big part of modern SEO and are very poorly (if at all) implemented in WordPress and most WP themes. I have seen that WordPress is recently making steps in the direction of making limited use of Open Graph — another kind of Micro Formats. The best practice would be to use schema.org’s Micro Formats. They convey more information to Google about the nature of what is on the web page.
- Siloing See: How to Silo a Website if you don’t know about the old but still-effective SEO technique of Siloing (aka “page-rank sculpting”). If your plan is to have a small site of less than, say, 50 pages, your site probably isn’t going to be big enough to build silos and you could safely skip this point.
Another point I’ll bring up — although it’s not SEO related — is that many business owners I speak with come to me already wanting a website that they can add pages/pictures/content to, themselves. They’ve been sold (not by me!) the “Content Management” feature of WordPress or think that it may be important to them, or have been told it is important. The line I often hear is that the site needs to have “fresh content” added routinely.
That doesn’t mean the whole site needs to be built using WordPress! One can have a “news” section built using WordPress in which one puts fresh content daily, if needed and wanted, as part of an overall website built using HTML5 and CSS3 (not using WordPress). In other words, a WordPress blog can be an add-on to the site, instead of BEING the website. That’s a great way to have this component of “fresh content” as part of your website.
That said, in my experience, it is the rare client that will actually USE the “content management” features of WordPress. Most business owners don’t actually want to go through the learning curve required to be able to add content through WordPress, or to learn how to fill in the fields of the SEO plugin correctly. Instead, they want to hire someone to do this for them. Typically their Marketing Director or Social Media Director is given this responsibility. If the website owners are very lucky they will find someone who actually knows what he or she is doing in WordPress — and will actually do it!
But I’ve had many clients who have hired such people only to find (horrors!) that the person hasn’t got a clue, or simply can’t produce the volume needed, or has “other fish to fry.” It rarely works out. When it does, things are golden!
Keep in mind that it is also often extremely difficult to get an organization to create effective promotional materials, relevant videos, relevant website content, relevant social media posts, or relevant blog posts. You can waste money by the suitcase-full on marketing and promotion that just doesn’t connect with anyone or make the phone ring, because effective surveys weren’t done first. (Contact me if you want proof.)
Whenever I build a website (without WordPress) I make it a point to offer fairly inexpensive additions and alterations to the website, afterward. Because time does fly by, and websites often need changes over time. It is usually ‘way cheaper to have the people who built the site make the changes you want, for you. Unless, of course, they’ve gone out of business or moved into doing something else, or won’t talk to you any more. I can only speak to how WE do it, which is: send us an email with what you want changed, and we’ll do it at our reasonable hourly rate, quickly and efficiently. We’ve been at this for nearly 20 years and aren’t going to disappear on you.
Having someone you trust, who can handle adding new content for you handles the whole “content management” point. It’s NOT necessary for most websites, to have a content management feature.
- There are valid SEO reasons for not using WordPress to build your website.
- The more you know about SEO, the more having your website in WordPress ought to worry you.
- If you have a WordPress site, learn to use the Yoast SEO plugin, and actually DO USE IT.
Thanks for the shout-out!
All of these factors are important. WordPress can be altered to do most of this, with the right plugins and themes, but I’ve never come across a WordPress site – out of thousands I’ve touched – that actually had all their SEO ducks in a row already or found a client that arrived to me having already realized how much work is involved in optimizing WordPress. It is definitely not as out of the box optimized as people commonly believe. Often, the SEO process involves backing way up, and rebuilding the site’s theme – no small task. A contributing factor is that WordPress appeals to people because it can give you a serviceable site for no software cost, and content can be managed in-house easily, but comprehensive optimization truly cannot be handled that way, and is not very appealing to those who are still in the cheap/free mindset.