WordPress is currently powering 30 percent of websites. It’s an impressive statistic, yet it's one that's often cast aside by larger companies — and for good reason. It’s well known that those numbers are made up by minuscule blogs and websites set up by, well, just about anybody.
But here’s the thing: while the statistic above can easily be dismissed by enterprises in the market for a CMS, when you look at the world’s top echelon of websites, WordPress remains a key player. According to BuiltWith, out of the top 10,000 websites on the web, WordPress powers approximately 26 percent of them — and more interestingly, WordPress powers 14 of the world’s top 100 websites.
Of those, big name brands such as CNN, Forbes and UPS trust WordPress as the backbone of their digital presence. But is that trust misplaced? Or does WordPress have the chops to support some of the biggest digital players in the market?
The Case for WordPress as an Enterprise-Grade CMS
First off, let’s evaluate the reasons why such big names have adopted WordPress as their web CMS.
WordPress’s Plugin Directory has more than 50,000 plugins. These plugins can allow enterprises to add a whole host of features and capabilities to their WordPress site. Andrew Stanten, president of Emmaus, PA.-based Altitude Marketing said, “plugins help you ensure good SEO, security, social media sharing options, and so much more.”
He said the wide range of available WordPress plugins give companies the ability to customize and expand the functionality of websites with relative ease when compared to other enterprise CMS solutions.
2. Integration Capabilities
Staten explained how WordPress, much like a more traditional enterprise-grade CMS, can integrate with “several business-critical platforms” like CRM systems and marketing automation platforms. “By streamlining the website and other business-operative tools, the enterprise and its sales [teams are] able to get information into the sales cycle more quickly and more accurately than having disparate systems,” he said.
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3. Headless Capabilities
While WordPress does not come as a headless CMS solution out-of-the-box, the emergence of the WordPress REST API means it can act as one.
Having headless content management capabilities is critical for enterprises who wish to remain relevant in the IoT era, as channels expand with the introduction of smart voice assistants, smart wearables and more.
Matt Brooks, CEO of Watkinsville, GA.-based SEOteric explains how WordPress can be used as both a coupled and headless solution. “The Wordpress REST API can be used to populate content onto just about anywhere with API capabilities. Depending on the application, WordPress can be used as a headed CMS solution with custom views that can be created for different content types. It can also be used as a headless CMS solution where data is funnelled via API to other applications.”
Nevena Tomovic, business development manager at Derbyshire, England-based Human Made, explained how the company utilizes WordPress’s headless capabilities to develop scalable, enterprise sites. “The core of what we do is based on WordPress, so we use open source technologies to build out digital experiences that scale. That basically means we create custom workflows for large media houses like TechCrunch so they can publish and manage content in real time,” she said.
In the case of TechCrunch, Human Made helped it adopt WordPress REST API to decentralize its publishing experience. The result was TechCrunch kept the simplicity of the WordPress backend, but could also leverage the REST API to create a user-friendly frontend on any device or touchpoint.
4. Ease of Use
A big factor behind WordPress's popularity can be attributed to its ease of use in almost all dimensions of the backend interface. Sure, things can get complex, but as Stanten noted, WordPress generally appeals to marketers and non-technical users as they can easily, “update the website themselves after its launch.”
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The Case Against WordPress as an Enterprise-Grade CMS
WordPress in the enterprise space isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, glaring limitations and obstacles prevent WordPress from being a truly perfect fit for enterprise companies — particularly those outside of the publishing industry.
Even with headless capabilities that help enterprises scale their content distribution channels, Matthew Baier, COO at San Francisco-based Contentstack, identified WordPress’s scalability issues as a drawback of the CMS: “The trouble begins when your website starts to scale, [this is where you add] more content [and] more capabilities into the equation. Once you start relying on said website for an important part of your business, the requirements you have for a CMS can dramatically shift and, what once seemed like a cheap and easy approach to building your site, can quickly spiral into a highly complex and expensive environment to maintain down the road,” said Baier.
Baier continued by saying that, even with a simple WordPress website with just a handful of plugins, you very quickly discover that, “something goes bump in the night. Pretty much every night.”
“In other words, you wake up each morning to a new set of issues that need to be fixed in your CMS. Third party tools and open source are great for innovation, but troubleshooting such a bespoke software stack — let alone getting enterprise-grade support, can be a real challenge,” Baier said.
Christian Gainsbrugh, founder of Seattle-based LearningCart, also mentioned WordPress’s plugin-based architecture can quickly turn into a disadvantage for enterprise-scale sites and applications. “Since Wordpress can do so many things, the temptation is to leverage it for all of those capabilities. This can work well on a smaller scale, but at enterprise level the data structure that makes Wordpress so flexible, becomes horribly inefficient to query,” he said.
“This mainly becomes an issue when you start trying to use WordPress for things like powering an ecommerce store, or using plugins to capture data like complex feedback forms. In those instances, you begin to have to rely heavily on the metadata tables to track custom fields, so to look up one record you might essentially be doing over 50 queries,” Gainsbrugh explained.
Shawn Moore, Global CTO at Orlando, Fla.-based Solodev, said the open source nature of themes, widgets and plugins can leave WordPress extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks. “Many of these plugins aren’t well-supported by their developers (and in many cases, originate from untrusted sources), and may contain exploitable code or 'backdoors' that are susceptible to malicious code, malware injections, spyware and more.”
Baier chimed in on this front, stating that, “security is another area where WordPress falls short for enterprises. Websites powered by WordPress, by virtue of the CMS’s wide usage, come with an automatic target on their back. Yes, you can secure a WordPress environment, but it requires discipline and vigilance and even the smallest lapse in applying updates can result in immediate and dire consequences."
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3. ADA Compliance Issues
Moore continued his argument against WordPress by stating that many plugins and widgets on WordPress put enterprises at risk of non-ADA compliance.
“Massive brands like Target, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Charles Schwab, and Safeway have all spent millions settling lawsuits after their websites were found to be in violation of WCAG 2.0’s qualifications. WordPress’ [plugins and widgets] aren’t held to ADA standards, but the liability falls on the enterprise website using the widget or plugin — not on the developers themselves,” Moore said.
4. Lack of Enterprise Support
Enterprises require round the clock support to ensure their digital presence is live, secure and performing well. Moore highlighted WordPress’s lack of enterprise-level support: “Despite having a vast community of development experts, there is no accountability or warranty for its performance, and no way to contact a dedicated support person during a crisis. With inconsistent documentation, enterprise businesses force their tech teams to troubleshoot on their own or find a costly third-party option,” he said.
Is WordPress Fit For the Enterprise Market?
Can WordPress support the digital needs of an enterprise company? The simple answer is yes. It can integrate with third-party tools easily, it’s easy to use, and it can even manage content headlessly.
But the real question here is should you use WordPress to power your enterprise-scale web presence? That's up in the air. The one thing that is clear is WordPress becomes a handful as it scales. This reality is one even small website owners can attest to.
Updates happen, plugins break, developers stop maintaining their themes, hackers target your site, and you can easily end up with a patch-work digital presence that seems more like a house of cards than an enterprise-grade CMS. The solution for the enterprises who insist on using WordPress seems to be partnering with a WordPress-centric agency that can keep an extremely close eye on their WordPress-powered ecosystem — as anything less than that would probably see that house of cards come tumbling down.