WordPress themes and plugins: benefits and potential issues

Aug 25th, 2014 by Max Tokman

When we talk about WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and other popular frameworks, it is almost implied that framework is a toolkit that provides building blocks for web site construction.  To some extent, that’s true - frameworks do allow you to quickly create sites based on existing themes and modules. The approach for efficiently developing a framework-based web site is very straightforward:

- Research a free or commercial WordPress theme that meets your requirements for functionality, layouts and target browsers (desktop vs. responsive)

- Deploy selected theme in local or test environment

- Brand it with specific fonts, colors and imagery, including logo, without changing overall theme layout or functionality

- Populate branded site with content

- Transfer completed site to live server

Branding can go before or after populating content, but the overall result remains the same - a fully functional WordPress site based on pre-existing theme and modules.  This process is fast, clearly defined and has worked time and time again.  So, why are there so many folks having issues with building and operating WordPress web sites?

Two biggest headaches are customization and long-term maintenance, as WordPress themes and modules need regular updates to prevent compatibility and security issues.  WordPress module development and submission process is a lot less robust than in other frameworks, such as Drupal, where every module is thoroughly evaluated and tested by development community before being added to as a certified download.  In WordPress, a developer can essentially create a module, post it as available download and wait for bug reports to roll in - and then attempt to fix it.  Needless to say this is a very flawed approach, as modules are not always properly tested prior to deployment and web sites with buggy modules remain in operation until module updates are released and modules are manually updated via WordPress CMS for each web site. This can have serious implications for web site security and creates a scenario where not just modules but entire WordPress core need to be regularly updated to fix bugs and security issues.

As we mentioned in the very beginning, frameworks are great for using existing components to quickly build a web site.  More often than not, however, selected theme and modules do not correspond exactly to business needs and creative vision.  And so begins the process of customization, with little tweaks to PHP code applied here and there throughout the site.  The implications for these changes are immediate and drastic: once you start modifying modules and themes manually you essentially void manufacturer's warrantee that those themes and modules will update properly or can even update at all once a critical patch to themes, modules, and even WordPress core itself come out.  If the update process does work, it will most likely completely wipe out module customization on the PHP side, impacting site performance and functionality.  

The best approach, unless you are a seasoned PHP developer with loads of exposure to WordPress, is to research themes and modules that are exact fit for your project before engaging in any design work.  This essentially means going dynamic prototyping route to create a functional site that can be later stylized with fonts, colors and logos and populated with content.  Otherwise, a simple WordPress configuration job might turn into a completely custom PHP web site build that has none of the benefits of WordPress in ease of set up and use and all of its flaws in maintenance and security.

If you’re new to WordPress and want to get a better idea on its basic functionality as content management system, visit our Youtube channel


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