Should You Use a WordPress CMS for Your Enterprise-Level Website?
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Let’s take a trip in time together. We’ll go back to May 2003, when after much fanfare and hundreds of commits to its Apache Subversion repository, the WordPress CMS was born. Within months, it became the blogging software de rigueur. After a few years and several major updates, it emerged from a shining chrysalis of plugins, reborn as a digital butterfly of ecommerce.
These days, WordPress powers well over a third of all websites. Between 2017 and 2020, its market share grew a full 8%. Perhaps we’d better swap the insect metaphor for heftier rhetoric: WordPress is the biggest blue whale in the Internet Ocean.
In 2020, WordPress had a 63.5% market share for content management systems on sites with a known CMS.
So we know that WordPress is a very big deal. But does it live up to the hype, or are there better alternatives for companies looking for a CMS? Let’s explore these questions together.
WordPress began as a blogging platform with a simple interface designed to make it easier for people to publish their thoughts online. In the ensuing years, it grew into a much more complex piece of open source software. Developers designed plugins and themes to make WordPress sites more interesting and useful.
Gradually, WordPress moved beyond the world of blogging. Entrepreneurs with very little HTML knowledge began to use the software to create ecommerce sites, and big corporations like CNET came aboard with funding in tow. Companies started using SEO tools to improve their WordPress sites’ search engine rankings.
Modern WordPress is a robust, capable website builder and content manager. You don’t need coding experience to use it, and you can choose from thousands of themes to make your site look unique. You can also use a WordPress-based site to sell products online when you install plugins like WooCommerce.
So, is WordPress actually a standalone CMS? Actually, yes — it is. The basic definition of a content management system is fairly simple. For software to be classified as a CMS, it has to incorporate a behind-the-scenes content management application, or CMA, via which a user can make changes to their website. It also has to have a front-facing content delivery application — a CDA — which copies the data entered by the user and sends it to a central server to update the user’s site.
WordPress software ticks both of these boxes. You use its CMA to write content for your site, create blog posts, and add product information. Then, its CDA takes the data you enter and turns it into a well-presented web page, blog post, or product listing on your website. You can do it all by yourself — no need for a web designer or a webmaster.
If you run an enterprise-level business and your business sells products to people on planet Earth, you probably need a popular content management system. If you own or rent a defined commercial space or an office, and you employ more than a hundred people, you have better things to do than learn HTML or CSS.
As a medium-size or large business, your company probably has a sizable product or service inventory. You probably plan to sell your wares on a global scale, so you’ll need websites for different regions, languages, and product lines. You don’t want to spend vast sums on a custom-made content management system, but you can afford to invest in a good quality CMS.
Your main customer base is local and you offer a limited range of services and don’t stock a huge number of products. You don’t expect to develop an international consumer base for some time, so a single one-language site is fine. You want a flexible CMS with excellent customer support because you’re very busy.
All businesses are unique, and your business is no exception. With that said, there are ten features that nearly all medium-sized and large businesses label as “must haves” for an enterprise-level CMS.
Headless may sound macabre, but it’s actually very useful. In a headless content management system, the data comes first and the presentation comes second. Basically, you put your content — your web page text, blog posts, product information, etc. — into a database and it then flows into a range of applications via a RESTful API (application programming interface). Ta-da: your content looks perfect on tablets, computers, cell phones, and a range of apps.
WordPress does offer a RESTful API that can retrieve and apply data from an external database. However, you lose access to themes and plugins, so it isn’t an ideal platform if you really want to give your customers a multichannel digital experience.
An enterprise-level CMS needs to offer its clients a range of simple and powerful admin tools in a single software package. Site administrators have to be able to track scheduled content, manage notifications, add assets, and tweak plugins without hopping from one program to another. The best CMS interfaces are intuitive and easy to use.
WordPress is reasonably easy to use, but it doesn’t offer reliable large-scale database integration, and it doesn’t provide its users with a dedicated support team. You can access multisite features, but you’ll need to know how to edit your theme’s PHP file to get started. If they don’t like what you’ve done to your PHP file, some of your plugins may stop working.
Winners keep score. It’s an old saying, and it applies perfectly to online marketing, where tracking user engagement is a vital part of content strategy. Your company’s online store success depends on knowing who your potential customers are, where they come from, what type of computer or gadget they use to access your site, and which parts of your site they like to visit most. If you want to gain real insight into your site traffic, consider choosing a CMS with popular analytics tools (like Google Analytics) built in.
WordPress doesn’t have any onboard analytics tools, so WordPress users have to make do with plugins, or they have to add code snippets to use Google Analytics off-platform. Some popular WordPress plugins, including MonsterInsights and ExactMetrics, track key performance indicators automatically. Other WordPress analytics plugins are glitchy and unreliable.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a vital part of online marketing. SEO-friendly content acts like bait for indexing bots sent out by search engines like Google. The best CMS platforms stay on top of search engine algorithm changes and incorporate easy-to-use tools to help clients and bloggers publish optimized articles, blog posts, and product descriptions.
Here’s where WordPress shines. Sites made with WordPress consistently rank well in search engine results. Plugins like Yoast SEO analyze content in real time, provide readability scores, and remind authors to include links, focus keywords, meta descriptions, and other SEO essentials.
Workflow controls are one of the most useful parts of a good CMS. In a nutshell, they provide your marketing team with a structured platform for content creation. Here’s an example: writers create content for your site; editors check articles and product descriptions before passing them to the company’s legal team for a final once-over. Each person on a team has a profile with appropriate permissions to streamline workflow.
Planning and managing workflow using the basic WordPress interface is a notorious pain. If you have dozens of authors working simultaneously, it can be hard to keep track of content. Plugins like User Role Editor patch some of the problems, but they’re not always a reliable solution.
If you plan to expand your consumer base over time, you need a flexible website solution that’ll grow along with your company. A single website might be fine for now, but in the future you may decide to launch another site dedicated to a specific product line. Maybe you want to launch an app or send content to a kiosk or a virtual reality viewer. To fulfill any of these scenarios, your CMS must be able to handle more than one platform.
You can tweak your WordPress site so that it looks good on a cell phone and a tablet as well as a computer screen, but seamless app creation is not an option, and neither is VR — at least not via the regular WordPress dashboard. Plugins can help you overcome some WordPress limitations, but WordPress itself certainly isn’t a multi-platform CMS.
Content templates help you create an efficient workflow. They analyze what you write and create meta descriptions and recommend categories and tags automatically; some also resize product images to fit your page specs or suggest widgets based on tags. Basically, content templates perform all the fiddly little tasks that collectively take up your time, leaving you free to focus on the content itself.
WordPress doesn’t incorporate any reliable premade content templates, so you’ll need to create templates from scratch or add plugins to streamline your workflow. The templates you make will then appear in a drop-down list in the attributes panel on your WordPress page or post editor. If that sounds tricky and you’re serious about online marketing, you might be better off with a CMS dedicated to business process automation.
Serious security breaches are devastating for organizations of all sizes. The costs associated with solving consumer data hacks regularly wipe out profits — and they can put companies out of business completely. Enterprise-level CMS platforms must put security first, and they must also have the capacity to patch vulnerabilities quickly when they arise. Anything less simply isn’t good enough.
Popular platforms become targets for trouble, and WordPress is no exception. WordPress stumbles on security because it relies on third-party plugins so much. Plugins with security flaws provide back doors for hackers and data-mining bots. If you decide to go with a WordPress site for your medium-sized or large company, you’ll also need to budget for a security team.
Your employees all have different job titles and different permissions in the office or on the warehouse floor, and you need that same tiered permission structure on your CMS dashboard. System administrators need to be able to create profiles for user types: senior managers need wide-ranging access and editing permissions, for example, while stockroom assistants may be restricted to simpler tasks and specific areas.
You can use WordPress to specify default roles for users: administrator, author, editor, etc.. You can’t create tailor-made profiles, though. Once again, you may be able to find a plugin to help, but out-of-the-box custom tiered permission isn’t part of the WordPress package.
A high-level support package is essential for any enterprise-level company in search of a CMS. Things can and do go wrong, and the consequences of a broken site get worse in line with company size. You need access to a dedicated tech team 24/7, so that if your site goes down on Black Friday, you can fix the problem quickly and get back to business.
If your WordPress site crashes, you have two main options: try to find the solution in WordPress’s support articles database, or post a question on its public support forums. You can’t pick up the phone and speak to anyone from WordPress unless you sign up for WordPress VIP. The price for that? More than $5,000 a month — and that’s just for starters.
WordPress has undeniable street cred. More than 17 years after the launch of its first version, it’s still the most popular CMS on the planet. With that in mind, you might be tempted to end your search for a suitable CMS right here and just opt for the reliable old dog on the block. A hasty decision now could cause regret later on, however, because there are some notable limitations to using WordPress as an enterprise-level CMS.
Many companies begin with WordPress enterprise CMS sites and end up moving to alternative content management systems. Essentially, they become victims of their own success: their shops do so well that they rapidly exceed the capacity of their WordPress platforms. As WordPress-powered sites get larger, they inevitably get slower, making them an unsuitable choice if you expect thousands of visitors and have a large product catalog.
Security has been a major issue with WordPress for years. If you don’t follow WordPress best practices, you leave yourself particularly vulnerable. WordPress code is open source, so hackers regularly find and exploit vulnerabilities. Insecure plugins are another problem — in fact, they account for 78% of all vulnerabilities on the platform.
Custom code combines seamlessly with a site’s HTML to improve its functionality, while plugins cling to the core of a website like parasites. Unfortunately, WordPress sites depend on plugins, and the more you have, the more cumbersome your site gets.
Spam is a major WordPress problem. You’ll find spam in your inboxes and spam in your comment sections — it’s everywhere. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop the spam tidal wave without investing a lot of time or installing yet another fragile plugin.
Security, hosting, upgrades, spam-busting tactics — WordPress is a complicated beast. To run a WordPress-based site successfully, you need to stay on top of all of its idiosyncrasies. The question is, do you have the time, the budget, or the willpower to manage WordPress technology, or would you be better off with a simpler system?
Designers working with WordPress are restricted to the framework of its open source code. They can design themes and plugins, but they can’t step outside the WordPress walled garden. Some of the things you envision for your website might not be possible in a WordPress ecosystem.
If you upload images using the basic WordPress dashboard, you’ll run into a host of restrictive issues. Your images might be too big, or they might be the wrong shape, or WordPress might compress them automatically. Error codes are common, and there is no onboard image editor. Plugins can help, but … well, here we are talking about plugins again.
Ecommerce has come a long way in the last 20 years. Companies that want to get online or change a CMS in 2020 have a lot of consumer choice, so check out the competition before you jump on board with WordPress.
BigCommerce is a powerful SaaS ecommerce platform. You pay a single subscription fee and gain access to content management, design, support, marketing features, a checkout, and more. BigCommerce also has a plugin for WordPress, making it a good hybrid option for companies that are already invested in WordPress sites.
HubSpot CMS is loved by both marketers and developers. As a SaaS CMS, CMS Hub removes the complexity found in traditional content management systems.
For example, they take care of updates and management for you, and include all the security features you need to run a peak performing website right out of the box.
Marketers are able to make changes to the website easily, without asking developers to update every little button color and headline. To make things even easier, the platform includes numerous themes and drag and drop page editing. However, developers are also able to maintain control and flexibility over the entire site. There are great technical features like custom objects, event tracking, and serverless functions that make this platform not only easy, but powerful too.
And because CMS Hub is part of the HubSpot platform, you’ll get tools like SEO, website analytics, and a full CRM that you can leverage to create personalized content for every visitor to your site.
Like WordPress, Drupal is based on open source software written on a PHP platform. Drupal is much more flexible than WordPress, though. You can customize your CMS from the ground up to suit your organization, and you can also tack on a completely unique front-end web presence. Large corporations with web design budgets big enough to handle custom design frequently choose Drupal over other CMS options.
Another PHP-based CMS, Joomla, is ideal for medium-sized businesses looking to get online. Unlike WordPress, Joomla is ideal for large websites and has a back end designed for multisite management. If you want to create your site outside the constraints of a pre-coded environment, you can completely ignore the front-facing part of Joomla. Ambitious businesses choose Joomla because they can scale up at any time without jeopardizing site performance.
For sheer deployment speed, WordPress beats Sitecore hands down. On the flip side, Sitecore is a far more functional CMS for enterprise-level companies, most of which are willing to spend a bit more time designing a better site. In addition, Sitecore has an excellent tiered permission setup, making it ideal for companies with a large multi-user staff.
WordPress is a blogging platform with additional plugin-based functionality, while Magento is an enterprise-level ecommerce platform. Ironically, you’ll need to install a plugin if you want to make a blog part of your Magento site. Themes are available on Magento, but they’re much less user friendly than WordPress themes, so Magento customers need to know about web design. Companies that mainly want to sell products online usually choose Magento over WordPress.
Like Magento, PrestaShop is an ecommerce CMS. PrestaShop installations are lighter than WordPress installations, making them more server-friendly; in turn, customers enjoy faster, more responsive sites. Companies using PrestaShop can design their own front-facing sites, or they can build on available PrestaShop themes.
Selecting the right CMS might seem like a daunting task, but it needn’t be. Everything flows from the Delphic maxim: know thyself. If you know your company and you know what you want to accomplish, you’ll make the right CMS choice.
Do you plan to sell your products domestically or overseas? Do you have an extensive product inventory, or are you a single-service company? Do you have a large number of personnel who need tiered permissions to access your CMS platform? Do you want to stream your database into an iPhone or Android ecommerce app? Do you want to expand your company? Choose a CMS with built-in tools to help you achieve your ambitions.
If you read about all the options available to you rather than jumping on board with the first CMS you see, you’ll feel confident in your final decision. Take a look at each provider’s track record and security updates. Read user reviews and articles about various CMS platforms, and try to find out if their customer bases include sizable companies.
Choose a few of your favorite CMS platforms and organize them into a shortlist. Compare and contrast features, ask IT professionals and advisors within your company for their opinions, examine your budget, and finally, bite the bullet and make a choice.
When he launched WordPress 0.7 in 2003, the now legendary Matt Mullenweg probably didn’t know how popular his platform would become. The better part of two decades later, an impressive number of companies use WordPress to present their wares to the wider world.
With that said, your own CMS choice should depend more on your unique needs than any platform’s popularity. If you evaluate your budget, your ambitions, and your technology management skills, and you seek advice from knowledgeable colleagues, you’ll find the right ideal content management system for your business.
Max Kiely is a Digital Marketing Specialist at BigCommerce, where he monitors digital marketing campaign performance, develops positioning and messaging strategies, and implements new demand-gen campaigns. Max received a B.A in Economics from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 and has passionately worked in ecommerce and marketing since. Outside of work, you can find Max out on the golf course or at the park with his dog.