A Wordpress site is NOT what you are after!
Guest Post from Ewan Mc - Webmaster at GAAP Digital
I’ve read a couple of SEO and web development articles recently (links below), either praising or pointing out the flaws of Wordpress as a platform for creating websites. I’ll be honest, Wordpress has never done it for me on a number of levels. Part of the reason is probably my instinctively negative reaction to anything that is too popular. However, after over 10 years of building websites, and formulating On-Site SEO strategies that work for these sites, I thought I might as well explain myself.
Firstly, I don’t want to denigrate Wordpress here. It works for a lot of people (it really is a lot – estimates are that 26% of all sites are powered by Wordpress*), and it can’t be doing too much wrong if so many people are using it. Right?
I’m going to reference this article a bit 'The SEO benefits of using WordPress to publish your content' - as it highlights a few of the problems that I find with the Wordpress approach.
Point 5 in the article sums up my feelings on Wordpress nicely - The main purpose of categories and tags are to help web visitors navigate your blogs quickly and easily - Wordpress is, ultimately, a Blogging Platform. It may have expanded and developed itself to appear as if it is more of a sitebuilder, but at its core the structure is based on blog posts. Nothing disheartens me more when I visit a new website (as opposed to a blog) and see “related posts” at the side, or a field for comments at the foot of the homepage. I’m sure that these things could be removed, but invariably a lazy developer has not bothered, or not told the site owner that (in my opinion) these should not really be there.
Another issue I have is that, as someone who builds websites for a living, Wordpress seems aimed at people that don’t know how to build websites. Which isn’t a bad thing – but not something I need or want. I have spent a fair bit of time learning HTML, CSS, PHP, JS, and a few other handy acronyms. Wordpress dismisses all of this, taking the concept of encapsulation to the extreme. The main thrust of the aforementioned article is illustrating how easy it is to generate title tags, description tags and sitemaps. These are all simple tasks that I can accomplish with a little bit of HTML knowledge. Creating them dynamically is a bit harder, but there are other solutions out there other than Wordpress.
I would take issue with point 6 too, which promises “Simple and Clean code”. I’m no expert coder, but I am fairly competent in HTML and CSS, and the code I see upon clicking “View Source” invariably looks bloated and unnecessary. Security is another problem – as the most popular web platform around, anyone can download the source code and learn how to hack it. This is nothing against open source software, but when something open source reaches the size of Wordpress, perhaps another path has to be taken?
My main, overriding issue with Wordpress is the User Experience (UX) - bearing in mind I am almost always considering how the client is going to make use of and learn the 'Content Management System' post website delivery. Whenever I’ve been asked to “just make a wee change” on a Wordpress site, (after my heart sinks a bit) I log in and see a myriad of options, plug-ins, modules and themes.
I suppose I should offer an alternative, given I’ve spent the last few hundred words 'bashing' Wordpress (which wasn’t my intention, really). Over the last number of years, I have tried many Content Management Systems (including Wordpress), and initially I really struggled to find one that suited me and GAAP's ability to deliver that 'bespoke' well thought out Site Design. Eventually I stumbled across Couch CMS, an open source CMS that did exactly what I wanted it to do. My main criterion was that I wanted a CMS which allowed me to build sites from scratch, hand coding the HTML and CSS. Couch functions by being retrofitted to an existing HTML site, which dovetails nicely with my building a site from scratch. This allows me to only give “content management” options and access to the parts of the site which really need it. I have found that this approach really pleases the end user, as their admin panel is easy and obvious to use. This results in a bespoke content management system, which I find preferable to the “Belts and Braces” approach used by Wordpress.
Rather than having plugins, Couch allows me to add any functionality I want to the site, and then use Couch tags to make slideshows, blog posts, video galleries, or anything else that the user requires control over. This means that I have a working knowledge of how anything that I put in a site actually works, which means I have a better chance of fixing it if a challenge arises.
From an SEO perspective, as far as I can see, Couch (and most other CMS'), are not at a disadvantage compared to Wordpress. Meta tags, PrettyURLS (creating SEO friendly URLS – removing the “?p=33” from the end of URLS) and sitemap generation can all be made editable, or generated by the CMS. The only minor omission, from an SEO point of view, is the lack of an easy way to generate “related links” – there is a Wordpress plugin which will trawl your site and generate internal links within the text - but I don’t consider this to be a major fault. In fact, having to actually read the text, and look for (or insert) internal links manually will result in the text being more considered and relevant, which is all the better from an SEO perspective.
It did take me a bit of time to get to grips with Couch, and especially its SEO and Digital Marketing potential. This was more of a result of taking a bit more time to devise a proper SEO strategy for the sites I build than any problem with Couch itself. One last reason why I use Couch – as a small, open source CMS, it has a very active and friendly community. The forums on the Couch site are a goldmine of tips and tricks and solutions to problems, and if you can’t find an answer to your questions there is usually an answer posted within hours.
Anyway, that’s probably more than enough. I use Couch CMS mainly because it suits the way I work, and along the way I have found that it offers practical solutions to most SEO required practises.
Ewan has been working with GAAP Digital since 2008 and has been helping many of our clients achieve incredible digital solutions