An Expert Interview about WordPress vs Web Templates

One of the questions I most often get from our new customers or web developers is what’s the difference between working with WordPress vs working a web template. I try to keep the answer simple to start with, then fill in the blanks with some specific questions about what is most important to them in building or maintaining a website.

The Easy Answer

Actually the answer isn’t easy, the question is easy. Most people first want to know what is easier to work with, WordPress or web template. So which is easier? It depends on what you are doing. I usually answer the question about which is easier by stating a few parameters first. Sort of a programmers ‘if else’ statement if you don’t mind they geek speak.

If you’ll be making consistent updates to the content and adding new content to your site on a regular basis, then WordPress will most likely be easier for you as that is what it designed to do, work with content.

The Not So Easy Answer

Now here’s where my answer gets muddy. If you want to modify the look and feel of your website, or have complete control over the layout of your content then you may find a web template to be more to your likening. WordPress does allow for modifying the look and feel, but a web template allows you total access to the HTML and CSS giving you complete control over the look and feel.

What do I Use the Most

It depends on what I’m doing, but it varies. I use WordPress exclusively for my online tutorials, and articles as that’s what it does best. I don’t need to have control over the look and feel of my blog site as it’s completely content focused as is my tutorial website, just articles, pictures and videos. Because these two websites are content focused I don’t feel the need for tight control over the look and feel, at least nothing that WordPress can’t manage. But I do like the convenience of firing up my web browser, and quickly updating a tutorial or adding a new article without the need to create a new web page, or update then FTP an existing web page. That’s for me, I also work on our charity website and find that it’s easier to keep up to date, and manage as a web template. There are some VERY strict layout guidelines that I need to stick to with this website, and find that it’s just to finicky for the likes of WordPress. It would take me longer to create the custom CSS or code required in WordPress when I can make a quick update to the template. So it depends on what the goals are, if content is most important and you plan on updating the site often, I would consider WordPress to be a better option.

What About Working With Clients?

Something to consider, is if you want your client to have control over the updates of their website. What I’ve  experienced with working with my own circle of web developers is the client will want the developer to create the site, update and then eventually when it’s all running smoothly and completed turn the site over to the client to update. Usually to keep the cost of maintaining the site down. Some clients just want the site to be built and then hands off after that. Either way, if at some point you plan on handing the website over to the client to manage their own website then they need to have some skills in working with a web editor and Dreamweaver templates or Expression Web templates, or you’d be better of with WordPress and just make sure to teach them how to backup make backups of their website!!!

What About Plugins?

It’s hard to argue that WordPress isn’t overflowing with an abundance of plugins. Somewhere over the 44, 000 mark at the time of writing this article. There probably isn’t a plugin that hasn’t been thought of, or at least thought of and added to plugin directory. With 44, 000 plugins, you have options. Need to add a newsletter, yup, add security, check, add Buddypress, copy that.

When I’m speaking with clients or developers about WordPress compared to web templates, I will ask if there is any special functionality they are looking for in their website, such as a shopping cart, members page or newsletter sign up. Understanding the full scope of the project helps to determine what the best solution is, web template or WordPress. With WordPress you can definitely get all the functionality of a shopping cart or members login page through one of the available plugins, however and this is a BIG however, finding the ‘right’ plugin can be a daunting task. This is definitely a case of information overload. I’ve had more than a few clients ask me to find a plugin that will work for specific situations and I always let them know ahead of time that I can recommend certain plugins that I’ve worked with and have experience with such as WooCommerce, or WP Commerce ( for shopping carts ) but if it’s for something I have no experience with they may be paying extra for my time to find the right plugin for their needs.

Find the Best Plugins for WordPress

Because WordPress plugins are such a big part of the WordPress experience I thought I better address how to find the best plugins, or at least share with you the approach I take. As I mentioned previously WordPress has an abundance of plugins, often hundreds for the same category. This make finding the best plugin for your needs an often overwhelming task. The only way you’ll really know if the plugin does what you need it to do, is by installing it and testing it out. So first you need to find the plugin, then install it, test it and often at this point something’s gone wrong and you’ve just wasted half an hour.

When a client asks me to add a plugin for them, they usually don’t even know they are asking for a plugin or even what a plugin is, they just ask for a certain type of functionality bell/whistle to be added to their website ( a photo gallery is a good example ) and ask ( or expect ) that I know how to do this. What I do at this point is explain what WordPress plugins are. If their request falls within something I am already familiar with ( such as photo galleries ) I can recommend certain gallery plugins and provide examples so they can see what would work best for them. If they are asking for something I am not familiar with, then I need to inform the client that there will be a charge for the time it takes to research, and test.

In many cases the client has seen something they like on another website, and will just let me know where they found it. And if not, I’ll ask them if they’ve seen what they are asking for on any other websites, and if so provide a link because many times, what they see on other websites are actually WordPress sites running a plugin. That makes it very quick and easy for me to look at the source code in the page, see what scripts are being loaded in, and figure out what plugins are being loaded in. It’s a bit techy, but kind of fun sleuthing through someone’s web page.

Failing that, if I really need to do the grunt work myself I’ll start by googling something like ( The best wordpress photo galleries ) .. then come up with a million hits on ” The 15 Best Examples of…. ” still some research to do, but at least if someone else has done the majority of the leg work for me, I just need to grab a coffee and do a bit of reading. What usually takes the most time if trying to find ‘recommended’ plugins that have all the features the client is requesting.

You can also go directly to the source and ( search for your plugins, and check out the number of star ratings and  read the reviews. Like any reviews this is something to take with a grain of salt.

In a nutshell, if you work with a client and they want something cool added to their website in the form of a WordPress plugin, if you can ask for an example of where they’ve seen this they you may be able to save a good deal of time and headache trying to meet your clients expectations.

What About Plugins for Web Templates?

This is where the market is lacking, there aren’t that many aside for the plugins we offer, there just aren’t too many plugins for web templates. We are speaking of database plugins similar to what WordPress offers that is. Such as Shopping Cart, Members Area, or Newsletter plugins that you can add to your HTML website. You might be thinking at this point, um, aren’t you just pluging your own stuff? Yes, and no. I just did a google search on shopping cart plugins for web sites, and 7 out of 10 of the top results were referring to WordPress plugins. So the market is flooded with WordPress plugins but such a degree that it’s hard to find an HTML database equivalent. Just for fun I did a search on ( members area database plugin ) and all top 10 results were WordPress related. So let’s just skip to the part where I recommend our own plugins and forget about the competition as it’s taking too much time and effort to find them via google.

What about SEO?

Yes! Finally, to my favorite questions, well this and responsive design because I can prattle on all day about that. SEO, and which is better you may wonder. Based on my experience and opinion ONLY WordPress may have the advantage on this one. For two reasons. Plugins and Google. WordPress is the lovechild of Google and open source content management systems. I say this because I have seen some heavily bloated WordPress sites that rank exceptionally well in Google, but most importantly for folks who are not SEO experts and most of us aren’t, there are WordPress plugins that can help you optimize your web pages for SEO without over optimizing page for SEO. WordPress is a blog system at heart, and blogs are content focused. Google seems to be content focused. That combined with SEO plugins such as Yoast you’ll probably have a bit of an easier time getting your content ranked in google, providing you have good content!

Which Takes the Least Amount of Time to Build?

OK, here’s the simple answer, WordPress. Yes, there may be situations where it’s faster with a web template, but for the average user WordPress is going to take less time. You could have a WordPress site up and running in an hour if you had your content prepared, and a small 5 page site.

Which is the Cheapest?

Both can be free, so they are on even ground, but when it comes to value it depends more on how much time you have to invest ,and how much that time if worth to you.