I am a marketer, not a web programmer with deep coding knowledge. That’s why I was so excited when I discovered the WordPress platform ten years ago. The simple interface allowed me to update and adjust my website as my business grew.
WordPress also became a core element in our business because it was relatively easy to build functional websites for clients. We could train even web novices to update and manage their websites. This ease of use is central to our values of giving business owners control of their marketing. A decade later, we have a pretty solid understanding of how WordPress websites should work. As a result, we often get calls from business owners looking for support or adjustments for their existing WordPress websites. We are almost always happy to work on these requests. The exception?
We have met many business owners with WordPress websites who have a bad WordPress experience because their website developer shoehorned WordPress into a box, cramping and breaking things along the way until it truly wasn’t WordPress anymore.
Wait? What? How can WordPress not be WordPress?
This often occurs when the site is built by a skilled web developer who has had little or no experience in WordPress. Instead of relying on the built-in tools which make this platform so user-friendly, these confident developers overwrite sections with custom HTML code and page template programming that fits their own idea of what a website should be, but does not fit well with established practices by the WordPress community of users and developers.
The resulting websites may look good from the front, but some or all of the core options become disabled permanently and typically no extra functionality can be added without drastic changes and expenses. Typically on these types of websites, you can still use the interface to make basic text edits, but changes to page structure, the creation of new pages, or new sections on a page must be made from the CSS or PHP editing screens. Some web developers tend to assume that they have you on a string and that you’ll come back for these specialized services.
This is not a problem if you intend to pay the web developer on an ongoing basis to make updates and changes for you. Indeed, in some cases, that can be a healthy relationship. If, however, you have chosen WordPress for the personal control, flexibility, and speed of creating great digital content on your own, then reaching out to an outsourced developer for every little thing just does not work. You are not getting what you paid for.
So why does this happen?
It isn’t an evil plot! In some cases, the developers genuinely believe that changing the CSS and PHP has given the client the best possible website. In other cases they are simply working with the tools they are comfortable with. It brings to mind the old expression “if you have a hammer the entire world looks like a nail.” They have a certain skill set that includes many things and they are often going to apply those skills even when working on projects where they aren’t the best fit.
Many times, the custom code produced by these skilled developers is extremely elegant and well written, but it’s integrated with WordPress like an expensive watch face glued to the front screen of a smartphone. A final product like that doesn’t help the small business owner who wanted a website they could maintain on their own.
So what should you do?
If you are looking for a WordPress website, make sure you work with someone who is really familiar with the platform and committed to giving you a product you can wholly own and maintain independently if you chose to. Be very clear with the design team that every page should be completely editable using the regular WordPress Edit Page screens with minimal or no use of custom PHP page templates unless they come with user-friendly controls. Don’t be locked out of common page editing options. If you see an element on the finished page, you should be able to edit everything about on the Edit Page screen.
If your web developer insists on extra custom code that you can’t edit without them, be sure to ask why. If you are looking for features beyond the needs of content marketing and communication, then step back and rethink your project. You may need something different. Which is ok! WordPress is not for every business. You may need an ongoing, formal relationship with a web developer to support a specialized web application. If you do, it is better to find out at the beginning of a web design project.
But if you don’t have those special application features and you want to be able to manage the site yourself, demand the designer stick to the WordPress code. If not, two or three years from now when you want a small update you may be faced with the cost of a complete redesign.