SITE DEVELOPMENT TECHNOLOGIES

Wordpress: Our Platform Foundation

Why We Use WordPress…

There is a staggering array of technologies being used today for site development. For context, you can think of them as falling into three tiers…

  1.  Do-It-Yourself, Drag & Drop “brochure site” development services (very low cost to free; ultra-small companies).
  2. Open Source Content Management System software (powerful, extensible, flexible and ideal for the “mid-market”). This approach, in which WordPress dominates, is particularly well suited for organizations wanting to take internal control of the ongoing build-out of new content into their web presence.
  3. Proprietary, large-scale technologies used by ultra-large organizations with substantial IT budgets (“pretty soon we’re talking real money”). These branded systems are typically sold as a component of a larger line-of-business software package, like ERP systems.

Our choice of WordPress is perfectly suited for our own target market; the so-called “mid-market” organization. Within this open-source CMS category, there has been vigorous competition over recent years among the three major players:  Wordpress, Joomla, and Drupal. Web development firms tend to specialize in one of these platforms. We have worked with all three over the years, but we have seen WordPress emerge as the unchallenged market leader in this technology category, and for very good reasons.  Today, it is estimated that roughly one-fourth of worldwide web sites are built on WordPress, and that share is expanding rapidly. Some of the most recognized brands use the WordPress system for some or all of their company’s web site development, e.g.,

  • The New York Times
  • Martha Stewart
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Van Heusen
  • Best Buy Mobile
  • Variety
  • MSNBC
  • Smashing Magazine
  • Anderson Cooper 360

Clearly, WordPress has been fully vetted by enterprise-sized organizations, so it is here to stay. It offers what we believe to be today’s superior web development system, with ease of client use, a solid, professional code base, programmatic extensibility, and a huge supporting market ecosystem.

WORDPRESS PLUGINS AND CUSTOMIZATIONS

  • WordPress provides excellent access into HTML code, CSS, Javascript and PHP;  the fundamental building blocks. It offers excellent and constantly maintained professional foundational code, but also makes it very straightforward for developers to modify and create customizations to suit the client’s needs.
  • This approach allows the site owner to retain their specific branding customizations while the WordPress support team can continually maintain updated and secure foundation code behind the scenes.
  • WordPress also offers the best and most extensive selection of “plugins” to extend functionality.  Additionally, WordPress provides a well-crafted set of APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers’ use where existing plugins may not be the best option for a specific customization or piece of functionality.

PLUGIN FUNCTIONALITY

WordPress-PluginsOne of the key strengths of a Content Management System is a large, diverse group of available “plugins” that enable a huge range of functionality additions. There simply is no other CMS platform available today that can compete with WordPress’ huge aftermarket for professional, high-quality plugins. The breadth and quality of this ecosystem is truly impressive.

The fact that there are so many good options available in both free and commercial plugins can be a bit daunting to a beginning WordPress developer. So one of our strengths and responsibilities to our client is to be a curator among those options, and be an informed consultant for plugin choices. We have found in our own research into plugin options that there is a good sense of consensus among developers as to the “best of the best” options. We continually stay abreast of plugin development and find ourselves frequently researching plugins choices. But we have also invested most of our learning curve and developmental approach around the best-of-breed plugins.

There are many categories of plugins, but here are a few examples of those we commonly use…

Theme Development Frameworks

As discussed in Our Approach to Web Design, good WordPress theme development (the public-facing look and feel) is developed and customized on top of one of the best “theme frameworks”.  While we continuously keep tabs on this category, we currently build site themes primarily on one of these options; the Genesis Framework (Studiopress) or the Divi Theme (Elegant Themes).

GenesisDivi

 

Data Collection and Contact Forms:

gravityforms&FPThese two plugin options have nominal charges but we have found them to be extremely effective in enabling robust data collection and data management tasks within a client’s website. Not long ago, this level of external data interaction capability would have been the limited purview of large-scale enterprise type IT budgets and staff capabilities. This category of plugin has truly enabled a new realm of “enterprise-grade” functionality in the small to mid-market organization category.

 

Custom Content Types, Custom Taxonomies

One of WordPress’ greatest strengths as a flexible, powerful development platform is the ability to create “custom content types” to fit a company’s unique needs. These custom content types can consist of any number of customized variables and have unique layouts and styling to suit specialized needs. We use some of the best and most advanced tools for this job:
TVCACF

Ecommerce Solutions

There are numerous good plugins and external web services that can provide capabilities to sell products and services on your web site. In our experience, the WordPress plugin Woo Commerce from Woo Themes is the best available option for WordPress sites today.

woocommerce

It’s dominant popularity provides some validation for that. This plugin has a large enough following that it has spawned its own robust ecosystem of developers and support services. This provides a site owner the additional peace-of-mind that an ecommerce site built on Woo Commerce will have considerable support services available. Once it is installed and configured, users find it easy to add new products or services, change pricing, run promotions, and provide for secure payment gateways.

Managing Website User Roles and Capabilities

WordPress, out of the box, comes with several pre-configured “Roles”, which provide site owners the ability to define who can do what on their website. WordPress has six predefined roles:  Super Admin, Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber.  These “Roles”, in turn, have predefined “Capabilities” or tasks they are permitted to perform (e.g. writing new pages or blog posts, editing content, approving content for publishing, etc. ). And finally, the site owner can register individual people, or “Users”, and assign them to Roles. The structure provides a granular, hierarchical organization in which members of your team or external parties can do very specific tasks and not others.

When even more customized Role management is needed, we often use established and proven plugins such as “Members”, or “Advanced Access Control”. These types of plugins provide for the definition of entirely new, customized Roles, or editing of the capabilities of existing Roles.  Ultimately we are able to configure website users’ capabilities on your website to provide peace-of-mind over delegated capabilities, and to tailor that hierarchy to fit your particular organizational structure. If you need clarification on how this capability might work with your own site, please contact us and we’d be happy to discuss this site design stage as it may apply in your organization.

WEB HOSTING RECOMMENDATIONS

First, we do not directly offer web hosting services ourselves. We note that some web site developers offer personal site hosting services to their clients. We have generally found such local, small-shop hosting providers to be inferior to the top national brands in WordPress hosting. They typically can’t offer the scale and quality of server infrastructure nor the staffing expertise that the larger, established firms offer. We do have some pretty strong, experience-based opinions though, and we’d be happy to discuss those with you if you wish to contact us. Meanwhile, here are some general recommendations on how to think about hosting options…

There are two broad categories of WordPress web hosting service that have emerged…

  • Low-cost shared hosting environments, with monthly costs in the $5-$8 per month range (some even lower). We’ve found that with good quality caching and site backup tools employed, these hosting platforms can serve small businesses reasonably well. In the spirit of “you get what you pay for”, they come with a couple of disadvantages. First, the server infrastructure used typically doesn’t render pages on the viewer’s end as fast as higher-priced services. Secondly, it is incumbent on the site owner to periodically do site backups to ensure the site can be restored if there is a site crash for some reason. Generally this is not a problem so long as the site owner does the proper site backup and maintenance.
  • WordPress-specific Managed Hosting accounts. These hosting accounts are designed to be “WordPress optimized” and offer much more extensive host-managed services. These account types typically range in the $15-30 per month range. There are some good, established specialists in this type of account service. Also, some of the better known hosting companies who have been active in the “low-cost” category mentioned above are beginning to offer this managed hosting type of account as well. Some of them are offering  substantial initial signup discounts. These services provide faster page load times, nightly site backups and much more extensive hand-holding support for the client.
  • It is possible to begin a new site on one of the lower-cost options and transfer the site later, but we generally recommend beginning with one of the “managed hosting” accounts. They clearly provide a better customer experience, and we believe are well worth the additional monthly expense for the extra performance, security, and value for the money provided.

We spend considerable time evaluating the major WordPress “managed” hosting providers, and feel comfortable recommending 3 or 4 to most of our clients. Currently, we tend to suggest Siteground for most new accounts, as we have had very good customer feedback on them and have had good experience with them ourselves. Click on the banner below if you would like to take a closer look at the specifics of their offering.
Web Hosting

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