Blog: WordPress
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WordPress: Harder Than You Think

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

WordPress has a perception problem.

Let’s talk candidly about it.

My friend Mario recently talked about how expectations don’t meet reality.

Another good friend of mine, Morten, wrote about how WordPress is not as easy as it seems.

My friend Curtis, who helps WordPress business owners through coaching wrote about how people think WordPress is an easy way to get rich quick, which also isn’t true.

The truth is, WordPress is easy to get started with, but past a certain point, then it gets much more difficult rather quickly.

I’ve identified a few scenarios where people who aren’t familiar with web development or WordPress have misconceptions. Let’s talk about the realities.

Scenario #1: The Business Owner

Non-tech-savvy folks repeatedly hear that WordPress is easy to work with, and that they can have a website up and running in minutes. After all, WordPress itself is free, open-source code, and there are tons of inexpensive themes they can get started with. Piece of cake, right?

So they go home and try to build a website with the theme they’ve purchased. But getting it to look the way they pictured it in their mind is trickier then they imagined. So they spend months trying to configure their website on their own, only to launch with something that they aren’t happy with, or they give up entirely.

The whole situation is frustrating, because their expectation was that it was going to be easy.

Scenario #2: The Non-WordPress Developer

Developers who have never worked with WordPress hear that it is easy. They have visions of learning WordPress in an afternoon, and instantly transforming into WordPress experts. Some developers believe that by jumping on the WordPress bandwagon, they will become six figure consultants in a month or two.

Then reality sets in.

They have customize or tweak something that they don’t know how to do. The theme they are working with isn’t one they are familiar with. Perhaps the template hierarchy is confusing in a particular instance. More than one experienced developer has been frustrated because they weren’t familiar with WordPress.

Web development in general is challenging, but why is there a perception that WordPress will not be challenging?

There is an unrealistic expectation that easy means effortless.

When people say that WordPress is easy, they should really be saying that WordPress is easy to learn.

It’s only truly easy if you already know how.

Much Is Taken For Granted

Many non-WordPress developers underestimate WordPress. Compared to other CMSs like Joomla or Drupal, the learning curve is easier — but it still exists.

To work with WordPress, you have to know a bare minimum of HTML and CSS. But to do anything substantial, you have to know PHP, JavaScript and MySQL. You have to understand the WordPress template hierarchy. Additionally, you’ll notice there are hundreds of thousands of themes and tens of thousands of plugins on the site alone. Don’t forget there are thousands of themes and plugins available on Envato and dedicated theme shops. Did I mention that WordPress core is being updated and evolving every few months?

Even for dedicated WordPress developers, that’s a lot to keep up with. This is why it’s baffling that many people (developers and laypeople) expect to learn WordPress in an afternoon and have a website the next day. Spoiler Alert: It often ends in tears, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

WordPress Is Deceptively Easy To Get Started With

One of the greatest strengths of WordPress is also one of its pitfalls. It is easy to get started with WordPress, if you simply want to publish with an off-the-shelf theme and call it a day. But most people require more than that. Many developers use a combination of themes, plugins, and coding to solve problems. Some developers specialize in building custom coded solutions to complex problems.

WordPress has a whole spectrum of knowledge and user types. These range from people who simply activate a theme all the way up to building custom plugins and themes or working on WordPress core. There are several different roles in the WordPress ecosystem: site owners, implementers, plugin and theme developers, consultants, programmers, and core engineers. Some people build the tools, some people know how to use the tools, a smaller number of people know how to do both.

Setting Reasonable Expectations

WordPress is a large ecosystem, with many levels of fluency. Like martial arts, it’s easy to start, but takes time and effort to master.

Normal people hear that WordPress is easy. Non-WordPress developers tell people that WordPress is easy. So normal folks go to marketplace theme sites and see how amazing the demos are. But when they go to set up a site on their own, most normal people struggle.

I’ve read that regular folks that tried to build their website on their own were only successful 2% of the time. My own personal journeys would bear that number out. The mindset that WordPress is easy, therefore it’s not worth much is a fallacy. But this misconception costs business owners in missed opportunities because they have spent months, or even years trying to build a site either on their own or getting someone to do it for next to nothing.

The perception is “WordPress is easy”, so they waste a ton of precious time trying to do it themselves. The psychology is: if it’s easy, I can do it myself. If I can’t do it myself, there must be something wrong with me. Therefore, I should keep working at this until I figure it out.

The time that the non-developer wastes on trying to build their site could be more efficiently used doing what they do best.

Opportunity Cost

Delay is increasingly expensive.

The world does not stop moving when you do. Business is competitive. Your industry is competitive. Time is your greatest asset — you can never get more of it.

If you feel overwhelmed by WordPress, that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with you.

If you’re a business owner, reach out to a developer for help. If you’re a developer, reach out to a WordPress dev who understands the problem you’re trying to solve. If you need help finding a specialist, hit me up, and I can point you towards the right people.

Above all, never, ever be scared to ask for help with WordPress. We have all been novices before. No one is going to judge you because you needed help.

The Present

WordPress is getting more powerful. 23% of all the websites in the world are running it, and that number is rising. Ten years ago, it was a simple blogging platform. But WordPress has become a content management system powerful enough to run enterprise level websites. 6% of WordPress usage is currently as an application framework, and that number will continue to rise in the next few years.

WordPress is like anything else: the more you work with it, the easier it gets. But things are never easy the first time you try them.

Remember learning is a journey, not a destination.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

14 comments on “WordPress: Harder Than You Think

  1. Great article John. I am amazed how quickly WordPress has taken off and how much of a big chunk of our business is building custom WordPress sites. Now another category is emerging which we’re not too happy about….fixing websites that (disappearing) web designers create using a bought theme that they load up with questionable plug-ins. Are you seeing this as well?

  2. Hi Richard. Thanks for reading and inducing a discussion.

    I see the ascension of WordPress as a long journey more than a quick rise. Mostly due to constant improvement, outlasting other CMS competitors (EE, Moveable Type) and being easy to level up with.

    Fixing websites made by previous developers is a whole other conversation. It might be good to talk about that in-depth. There are a few sides to that problem: educating developers to best practices, educating business owners as to what best practices look like, and encouraging alternatives to how web design is generally bought and sold.

    A large part of the problem you are describing is both sides are encouraged to treat web design as a one-time transaction, often for little money. Ultimately, that system delivers little value to the business owners and developers alike.

  3. Great article. Scenario #2 is right on spot. I have seen this happen many times in the with non-WordPress developers.

    Unless you take the time to learn how WordPress works, you are going to struggle.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply, Ryan. What was it like for you transitioning from ASP.NET to WordPress when you made that switch? What things gave you the most frustration? What things were difficult to grasp and which were easy to understand?

    1. It was easy to come from ASP.NET… because I hated it.

      I usually look at the WordPress source for everything I need. It allows me to solves problems while learning how the core works at the same time. Once I figured out the how and why of actions and filters everything clicked.

      I find myself studying php more than just WordPress these days.

  5. One of the great strengths of WordPress is the documentation, in WP core and in the Codex. Hooks, actions and filters were something I had to wrap my head around, but made sense once I understood.

    PHP is something I need to spend more time diving into this year. Thanks for your insights. They really help.

  6. John, lots of great insights here. Thanks for posting this.
    The problem with WordPress isn’t doing what you want, it’s undoing what’s already there.
    I’d wager that >75% of the code in WordPress is never used. Production themes are loaded with unused template files. With all the stuff you can do in wp-admin, maybe three views matter to the site managers. When people see all this stuff, it gets overwhelming.
    It’s best to learn WP “additively”. Start with an index.php file, a style.css file and the loop, and really learn what’s going on there. Then move on; add another template file, some more code, but only enough where it’s not overwhelming, where you can completely digest and understand that next step.

  7. Ben,
    Can’t say I disagree. For most site owners, the themes they find in the wild are completely overwrought for their needs, difficult to learn, and built to sell more than they are to be a tool.

    If site owners are working with a developer or agency, training for the site at the end of the project is a great idea. What good is a site if the owner is still flummoxed by it?

    I think developers and site owners are two different markets, but most themes are built for only one of those.

  8. Well put, John. Couldn’t agree more.

    I find that a lot of business owners, startups, and even some developers are misled by promises of “easy” and “cheap” when it comes to WordPress.

    This problem seems to affect those who are newer to the platform, or those businesses who have never tried their hand at working with or integrating software into their business process.

    It’s hard, and everyone’s mileage really does vary, making it even harder.

    The vast amount of “tips & tricks” articles on the internet don’t help; neither do the ill-represented “premium” theme demos, from various marketplaces.

    What many don’t realise is that the above articles and fake theme demos are mostly just marketing gimmicks. The hook for the business fish, as it were.

    Every new owner, service, or tradesman now assume that they only need to install WordPress (on a cheap hosting account), buy a (cheap) Themeforest multipurpose theme, and they can “easily” and immediately begin turning over hundreds of thousands and converting millions.

    Anything but…

    I can’t count the number of businesses that I’ve seen make this mistake, fail miserably, and then blame WordPress or (even worse) the developer.

    I like the fact that this article raises the issue. It is an elephant in the room, and warrants proper discussion. Kudos.

  9. Thanks CJ, for the well-articulated response. It’s not just those new to the platform that undervalue what expert knowledge is worth. Many who have been in web development for a while also underestimate it.

    The premium marketplace themes are one part of the dilemma. It anchors the price for a quality website at about $60, as that is what a typical theme costs. But it’s always more than that, isn’t it? As the non-developer business owner struggles to make their site look like the demo and fails, they then blame the platform for being difficult.

    But the largest problem is the expectation that anything on WordPress is easy—that it’s all “plug and play”—(actually had a PHP developer say this to me, coincidentally, they were charging $400 for custom built sites from scratch…).

    The expectation is that this platform is so easy, that even a toddler could launch a site in an afternoon. This is the problem we need to combat before anything gets better in the small business segment of our market.

    1. Yes, John. I completely agree here.

      The inaccurate expectation needs to be addressed.

      It’s interesting that you call out even longtime web developers, as undervaluing WordPress work. This is so true. I’ve argued with some longstanding PHP and Magento developers, as well as small business owners, who have been misinformed about WordPress, in my opinion.

      Education is what we need. Education of developers, site builders, service providers, and most especially business owners. No one hires a plumber for a pittance. Why should it be different when it comes to hiring a WordPress tradesman?

      Great article.

  10. HI CJ: I only mention other devs, because I have seen wild variance of what devs think they are worth (even long-time devs).

    Many people have mentioned that the Drupal community charges many multiples more than WordPress devs, and the perception is that Drupal is better for enterprise sites, in part because of that. The price sends a message about what the service is worth. I think it confuses regular businesses and devs outside the WordPress ecosystem when prices are rock bottom in some instances, and more on par with other web development at other times.

  11. Having so much written content, do you ever run into any issues of plagiarism or copyright violation?

    My blog has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced, but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any techniques to help prevent content from being ripped off? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    1. Plagiarism is something that occurs more and more the more popular your site gets. In a weird way, this is a sign of success. Congratulations! People think you are good enough to copy.

      The truth is that personally, I don’t worry about plagiarism. Worrying about it too much keeps me from focusing on building a strong brand. The more content you create, the more you train your readers and customers that your blog (or YouTube channel, or podcast) is the go to place to find out about your particular subject. This type of thought leadership and authority can only be built up by creating original intellectual property — it can never be stolen or plagiarized.

      In other words, focus on being the leader, while other folks follow the leader, and bite your moves.

      Now, if you really want to focus on catching the unoriginal losers who copy stuff word for word — the people who are too lazy to form their own opinions and create their own material, there are ways to do this.

      One tool you can use is Copyscape. You can search for duplicates of your pages, or get plagiarism alerts.

      Once you’ve identified the purloined content, you can ask them to take down your content. If they don’t comply, you can fill out a DMCA Takedown. It’s best to give the site owner/editor a chance to make things right, but if they refuse to play ball, feel free to hit them with a DMCA.

      You might also want to change the copyright year in your footer to read © [year launched] — [current year]. The reason for this is you want establish the different publishing dates so there is no room for dispute who published the content first. Legally, anything you create originally, either by writing, photographing, or other means of creation, is instantly copyrighted. You create it first, you are the copyright owner.

      That said, don’t overly stress over content you find on random sites.

      In my own experiences, I have found some of my content on other sites. Usually on sites with almost zero traffic. I don’t waste energy on worrying about it, because people who steal content are doomed to fail.

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