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Small Business Web Help | Certified AdWords Partner

White's Papers #5

WordPress For The Small Business Owner

By Dominic White. Posted June 24, 2017

An Old Fashioned Word PressWhat every strapped-for-time entrepreneur on a budget should know about the largest web building platform in the world. Photo by Marco Djallo

Note: This White’s Paper refers to the self-hosted, open source blogging platform found at wordpress.org. Not the online blogging service found at wordpress.com.

Introduction:

WordPress is the largest, most widely used blogging platform and content management system in the world. Chances are you are considering building your business site in WordPress, or currently have a WordPress site up and running.

This paper is mostly for business owners considering WordPress for their business site but does contain useful information for people currently using WordPress. I’ll be breaking this article into five parts:

1: Why People Choose WordPress and What Usually Happens Once They Do
2: Performance Considerations
3: Cost Analysis
4: Common Issues
5: Recommendations

People looking to build or update their site should find useful information throughout the Paper. If you already have a WordPress site, Section 4 (Common Issues) will contain the most important information for you.

Let’s get started then, shall we?

1: Why People Choose WordPress and What Usually Happens Once They Do

The most common reason my clients choose WordPress sites is because they want the ability to make updates and edit their sites themselves. Secondarily they want the ability to do a blog for a variety of reasons. (I have a few opinions about blogging, which I will be sharing in an upcoming White’s Paper.)

What happens with nearly all my clients is they simply get too busy with work and family to perform even the most routine maintenance to their WordPress sites, let alone have time to make any edits or create a blog.

So in essence they’ve spent extra money on a very powerful blogging platform with tools they don’t have time to take advantage of.

This often winds up costing them extra money and results in a site that is much slower than it would have been if it had been built as a server-side site. (WordPress is a database-driven site, which means the web browser has to leave the server the site is hosted on and go to an external database to retrieve the content. A server-side site contains all the information the browser needs to load in one place, thus vastly improving loading time.)

2: Performance Considerations

White’s Papers readers will know I’m obsessed with the Google Page Speed Insights tool and that I love building super fast websites for clients with small budgets that need to run their sites on economy shared hosting packages. WordPress sites, especially ones made with pre-made themes, which is almost all of them, hardly ever pass the Google Page Speed test, even when running on more powerful servers.

WordPress Plugin Error
The screen shot on the left is from the Disney site (built in WordPress) run through Google's Page Speed Insights tool. They arguably can afford the best custom theme designers and the fastest servers, but it still doesn't beat the server-side website from a small Maine aquaculture business in terms of pages load speed even though it's running on an economy server.

Page speed is a metric google’s search engine accounts for. If there are multiple pages with equal search metrics, ranking preference will be given to the faster page. This is also important for mobile users who may be on slower connections looking for your, or your competitor’s, site. If your site takes too long to load, they will go to another.

In many cases when a client has chosen a WordPress site and then opts not to use any of it’s tools, they are sacrificing speed, which decreases their visitor’s user experience and has potential to harm their search engine ranking for no reason.

They are also spending more money than they need to.

3: Cost Analysis

3a: Maintenance Costs

Typically a client asks for a site to be built in WordPress. Once they inevitably ask me to take over the maintenance and updates they are suddenly paying maintenance costs they hadn’t anticipated. Often WordPress can require several plugin updates a month, especially in months where WordPress itself releases a new version. I have a very generous maintenance plan where I only charge my very reasonable rate for 5 routine maintenance updates a month and don’t charge for anything over that, and still the maintenance costs can cost hundreds of dollars a year.

You may ask, “Why not just update the site once every couple months or so?”

Here’s why:

WordPress Plugin Error
Sometimes not updating a plugin can cause immediate harm.

And here’s also why:

WordPress Plugin Error
WordPress, being so popular with web designers, is also a popular target for hackers. Keeping all plugins up to date can prevent most hacking attacks.

3b: Paying Your Designer Can Actually Save You Money

Even if a small business owner is diligent about maintaining their site, when it comes to making changes to the site, there is still a learning curve, especially if the site owner doesn’t log in to make changes very often. Changing copy itself is very easy in WordPress, but what if you wanted to add a page, change the layout of an existing page or even just add a photo? What could take your designer 15 minutes might take you 2 or more hours. Having a web designer you can count on with reasonable rates can save you money, and frustration in the long run. Any competent web designer should be able to make changes quickly with HTML and CSS code without needing WordPress, however even if you have WordPress, it still may be worth your time to have a designer you trust do the heavy lifting.

4: Common Issues

4a: Hacking

As already discussed, hacking is an issue with WordPress sites. However it can be prevented fairly easily by keeping your plugins up-to-date and installing security software to alert you to potential threats. (Personally I prefer Wordfence, but there are several great ones out there.)

If you own a WordPress site you should be checking your own site frequently to make sure it has not been hacked. You should also google search your own site occasionally to make sure you haven’t been the victim of a redirection hack which doesn’t affect your site directly, but will redirect your links to other sites when they appear as search results. See White’s Paper #3 for more about this kind of hack.

If you are hacked, or become the victim of ransomware, do not panic. Contact your web designer and web host immediately. The fix may be easier than you think.

4b: Unreliable Contact Forms

This isn’t necessarily a WordPress-specific issue, but more of an issue with all forms using a .php mail script and even more of an issue if you are using a free email service that comes with some domain hosting packages. One frequent cause of contact form mail not going through on a WordPress site is the server your recipient email is hosted on may also be a server used by a fairly large spammer. In that case many ISP’s will blacklist the whole server.

Also, many ISP’s will not allow certain free email addresses to be sent through a web contact form. Email addresses like .aol, .hotmail, and .yahoo are typically blocked.

There are plugins to help make sure the emails get through to you, such as WP Mail Bank. There is also a message storage plugin called Flamingo which will keep a record of all contact form submissions that are sent thruogh your site, even if they don’t reach your inbox.

You should test your contact form monthly to make sure you client’s emails are still getting through to you and log into your site frequently to check Flamingo for any missed messages.

4:c Automatic Updates Are Not Always Automatic

WordPress 3.7 added the ability for WordPress itself and its plugins to be updated automatically. Many hosting providers now provide special “WordPress Hosting” packages with an Automatic Update feature. However this isn’t a “set it and forget it feature.” As of the date of this article, automatic updating only applies to minor updates focusing on maintenance and security issues. These automatic updates can also fail due to coding errors within the new plugins themselves or a weak internet connection.

Installing a plugin like Wordfence which alerts you when plugins, themes and WordPress need updating, and lets you know when automatic updates have been made can let you know when you should at least visit your site to make sure everything is in working order.

5: Recommendations

If your business provides a service, and you are busy running that business, seeing to your customers, and trying to find time in your schedule to spend time with your family, then I suggest a server-side site over a WordPress site, or over any DIY site for that matter.

Custom coded server-side sites will be faster, cheaper and require no maintenance costs. If you are considering a blog, a WordPress site can always be added later to your site in it’s own directory. This has the added benefit that if the WordPress component of your site is hacked or has an unexpected error, it won’t affect your primary business site. Also, your homepage and main marketing pages will still load faster while only your blog will run a bit slower.

If you are considering a blog, please check back with White’s Papers Web Help in July when I'll be sharing my thoughts on how to approach blogging as a small business in White’s Paper #6.

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about this article, or about your own website, feel free to Contact Me.

Next White’s Paper

White's Paper #6 will answer that burning question, "why do I need a blog?" Spoiler alert: You probably don't... but you need something.

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