Should you build a site using WordPress

No CMS is perfect. But here’s what WordPress offers that separates it from Shopify and Squarespace.
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Mock illustration of a character starting a website on their computer

WordPress? Shopify? Squarespace? Maybe something called Drupal? It’s important to understand the differences between the platforms trying to get you to start a website. Doing so will:

  • Save you money
  • Maximize your time
  • Ensure you have the functionality you need

I’ve created and helped run probably a dozen WordPress websites by now, in addition to a number of Shopify and Squarespace sites. This article will break down everything you need to know about what exactly WordPress is, what’s the difference between it and its competitors, and how to get up and running with a site that is fast and easy-to-use.

Here’s when you should choose WordPress when starting a site … in 5 minutes.

What to think about first

A visual illustration as to how a CMS works and what it does when you are creating a website.

WordPress is often referred to as a CMS, which is short for a content management system. It is not to be confused with a CRM. A CMS is a fancy way of describing the “back-end” portion of your site, where you write posts and upload images and videos. The “front-end” of your site is where the work you do will appear to users.

Building a website involves three main processes at the onset:

  1. Choosing and buying a domain name (through Godaddy, Google Domains, Bluehost, etc.).
  2. Buying a hosting plan to host the site (all CMS will offer you the option to host through them, but I recommend using a separate hosting provider).
  3. Deciding which provider you want to use for your CMS (WordPress, Shopify, Squarespace, etc.).

Should you choose WordPress?

So why choose WordPress over one of the others? If you:

  • Have a particular template in mind and/or just want more control over the look of a site
  • Aren’t solely focused on eCommerce (if you are than Shopify is for you)
  • Want a faster hosting plan
  • Are interested in running more dynamic display or programmatic ad campaigns

Shopify and Squarespace are very easy to get up and running but are more rigid regarding the features you can add. Squarespace will upsell you for certain marketing features and the ability to add code, while Shopify is primarily engineered for eCommerce and can subsequently be more expensive.

Is WordPress free?

Yes, WordPress is free. WordPress generates revenue by taking a cut off the various plug-ins and hosting plans that continue to support the development of it as a CMS.

Understanding domains and hosting (see spot run)

As mentioned, WordPress is a CMS, meaning you use it to manage the content that appears on the domain of your website. In order for that content to appear, it needs to be hosted or stored on a server, which is the cost you pay per month for your hosting plan.

So to recap:

  • You buy a domain to create an address for the website.
  • You pay a monthly or annual fee to store the files that appear on your domain through your hosting plan.
  • You use WordPress to manage the files, controlling how they appear to the user interacting with the website. These files include everything from written articles to photos, videos, and WordPress plug-ins.

WordPress hosting

In short, the main questions you need to ask when choosing a WordPress hosting plan are:

  • How much traffic do you expect?
  • How many files do you plan on uploading?
  • Is this the only WordPress site you want to host?

More expensive hosting plans allow you to use your plan to host multiple
WordPress sites. So you might pay $100 / month, but you can spread that across 3 sites. These plans also give you more dedicated storage, which in turn can make your website quicker to load.

Most users with a single website should be fine paying for a basic hosting plan that isn’t blazing fast. This will give you at least 10,000 to 20,000 visitors a month and one website. for about $5 to $10 a month.

Creating a faster site

The ability to choose your hosting provider is not insignificant with WordPress, as it allows you to pay a premium for your own server (speeding up how quickly your files can load).

Another way you can speed up your site is by not slowing it down. I speak more about this below regarding adding too many plug-ins.

Another way you can speed up your site is by not slowing it down. Plug-ins are great, but choosing them wisely is key to running an optimized WordPress site.

There are dedicated plug-ins to speed up your site by caching your content. Waiting for images and other media to load can be a primary factor slowing down your site. Cache plug-ins like WPRocket can wait to load the images on your site, opposed to trying to load them all at once (in essence), making your site more efficient.

Themes and templates

Shopify and Squarespace come with plenty of themes you can buy but at a much higher cost. WordPress comes pre-installed with dozens of free themes and has a line of premium themes a third of the cost of what Shopify and Squarespace offer. Having more theme options, in addition to a faster hosting plan and 3rd party plug-ins, is a primary reason to choose WordPress.

As exciting as it can be to go shopping for the best WordPress theme to fit your site, choosing the wrong one can be easily as frustrating.

Here are a couple of things I like to keep in mind when shopping for themes:

  • Do you have enough content to support the WordPress theme being displayed?
    Many templates and themes can look fantastic—like you’re about to start your own USA Today. But many of these sites rely on you cranking out 30-40 pieces of content for 5 to 6 different categories. That’s a lot of content for the casual publisher.
  • Social plug-ins and features
    Most themes play up their social media integrations, showing cool ways to display accounts with a ton of followers. But if you’re just starting out, will these social media plug-ins look okay with 20-30 followers, as opposed to 200,000 to 300,000?
  • How professional are the photos?
    Templates that use images from Getty or other popular photo sites can make a theme demo look great. But in reality, these photos cost thousands of dollars (literally). Is the theme really that good or are they just using expensive imagery?

Using plug-ins

The WordPress plug-in directory is what really allows WordPress to stand apart. They offer a seamless way to add additions to your site that otherwise would require complicated coding. Shopify has plenty of add-ons, but they’re much more expensive.

As fun as plug-ins can be, they have some drawbacks. Many plug-ins will pull in scripts from third party sites. This can cause your site to need to “call” information not hosted on your server/site, thus adding seconds to your page loading times.

Another issue with plug-ins can be security. You are importing code into your site’s backend when you install a plug-in, which can allow for malware to take over. Here are some bet practices when it comes to wordpress plug-in security:

  • Read the reviews on every plug-in and DON’T download anything that hasn’t been updated generally within the past year.
  • Consider deleting any plug-in that is not in use or essential to the functionality of your site
  • Always update your plug-ins as soon as practicable (many plug-in updates provide new safeguards to subvert malware)

Final Minute

A good practice when building a website is to create your content first. Then, lay out your content using a free theme to get an idea as to what a premium theme might be able to elevate (a unique header, a cool layout for video posts, an elegant sidebar, etc.).

WordPress themes and hosting flexibility make starting a site using WordPress alluring. If you want the most flexibility to growing your site’s functionality and aren’t afraid to learn a bit more about web-hosting and perhaps a little coding, it’s difficult to go wrong choosing WordPress.

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