WordPress is the most popular blogging tool and publishing platform in the world. So much so, that it powers 40% of the websites on the web. And, even though it has many upsides, not everyone is aware of its drawbacks and limitations.
One day in the fall of 2003, I built my first website with WordPress. I instantly fell in love with it—and have been using it ever since. Though it’s hard to count the exact number, it’s probably somewhere in the high teens.
This includes brochure sites, landing pages, niche blogs, high-traffic news portals, and even a couple of course platforms. In doing so, I’ve seen WordPress inside-out, and gotten to know most of its ups and downs.
Today, I’m going to tell you about what I consider to be some of its biggest drawbacks.
1. Themes and Plugins Will Slow Down Your Website
The speed of your website is important for both conversion rate optimization (CRO) and search engine optimization (SEO).
Statistics show that, on average, the conversion rate on your landing pages drops by 4.42% with each second of load time between the first 5 seconds of a user visiting it (Portent).
Speed is an especially important factor if the majority of your website’s visitors are using phones and tablets. According to a 2019 study by Google and SOATSA Research, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123% as page load time goes from 1 to 10 seconds.
In recent years, site speed has been becoming an increasingly important ranking factor in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). The search giant has been rolling out more and more updates to their ranking algorithms that take site speed—and user experience as a whole—into consideration for where it places your pages in its search results.
The thing about WordPress is that most websites powered by it are pretty slow.
By itself, WordPress is a great blogging tool and publishing platform. A brand new WordPress website with the default theme and no additional plugin will typically score high in Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
As you add a theme to customize the look and feel of your website and install a few plugins to extend its functionality, its PageSpeed Insights score will start to drop. If you’re monetizing your website with ads, you’ll probably be looking at a low 0-49 score on mobile and a low 50-89 score on desktop.
The good news is that this doesn’t mean you can’t have a fast WordPress website.
With a premium hosting service, a content delivery network (CDN) subscription, and the right performance plugins installed, you can make your WordPress-powered website load very fast.
A couple of other things you can do to improve the performance of your WordPress website is to buy a theme that’s built with performance in mind and optimize your images before uploading them to the media library (or use an image optimization service like Smush Pro or Optimus).
Just keep in mind that getting your fully functional WordPress website to run fast will take time, money, and experimentation.
And it isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task, either. Google continually keeps raising the bar when it comes to site speed, so you’ll need to keep tweaking settings and shedding kilobytes off the media and third-party scripts on your site.
2. As Your Website Grows Bigger and Older, Keeping It Up to Date Will Get Costly
Here’s something that not everyone tells you when they talk or write about WordPress.
As your website grows bigger in pages, posts, categories, tags, taxonomies, and authors; and older in time, plugins, and themes, making improvements to it—and keeping it generally up to date—becomes difficult and expensive.
That’s not something necessarily unique to WordPress. I’d say this is true for any open-source, self-hosted content management system, including for WordPress counterparts like Ghost, Drupal, and Joomla.
If you’re looking for a more hands-off website, consider using Wix (for simple sites with a few pages), Squarespace (for complicated sites with different types of pages), or Shopify (for selling physical or digital products and dropshipping goods online).
Eventually, one or two of your plugins will become outdated because their owners have abandoned them.
That won’t be much of a problem in the beginning until those abandoned plugins become completely incompatible with the latest version of WordPress—and break something on your website. Or grow so old that their security flaws become an easy target for hackers.
Even if that doesn’t happen, one of your plugins will, for one reason or another, become incompatible with another one or your theme.
To resolve it, you’ll have to report the issue to its developer and hope that they include a fix in the next few updates. Or build a patch yourself. For those of you who don’t know how to code, this could mean hiring a developer to do that work for you.
I contacted the support team behind the plugin and reported the problem, but they told me that this wasn’t something they were planning to address soon. Instead of sleeping that night, I bought a subscription to this plugin’s competitor, spend a few hours configuring and customizing it, and kept updating shortcodes till dawn.
These things happen. The bigger and older your site grows, the better prepared you need to be for plugins breaking, themes glitching, and updates affecting your website in unforeseen ways that eat up your time and money.
I’ve never had to use them myself, but I know a few friends who do—and they’re generally satisfied with the services they’ve gotten.
3. WordPress’ Total Cost of Ownership Is Likely Higher Than You Think
As a piece of software, WordPress is released under the Free Software Foundation’s GNU Public License, making it free for personal and commercial use.
To power your website, WordPress requires hosting. Yes, you can get away with cheap hosting when you still don’t have that many visitors coming to your pages (I never buy premium hosting services for new sites; I consider it a waste of resources).
As organic and paid traffic grows—and more and more people start visiting your website—inexpensive shared hosting will become problematic.
Your website will start to get slow, causing visitors to drop out and making you lose money. No matter how convincing your host’s landing pages, you’ll get the occasional downtime (and will most probably be more than the advertised 0.01%). In rare cases, traffic spikes can bring down your website—and the entire shared server it’s hosted on.
All of this means that you’ll have to subscribe for a premium WordPress hosting service, which can cost you as little as $25-50/month on the lower end (my favorite is WPX) and as much as $150-$250/month on the higher end (WP Engine is, without doubt, one of your top choices).
Most premium themes and plugins available on the market today require yearly subscriptions if you want to get updates (and you DON’T want your UX- and function-critical WordPress extensions to become out of day).
Though the subscription cost varies from one theme or plugin developer to another, most memberships tend to cost between $100/year and $150/year. As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to need at least one but could end up subscribed for as many as four-five at a time.
Last but not least, someone needs to keep all of this up to date. And, as we established, that person isn’t always you. So add ad-hoc development costs or monthly retainers to your total cost of ownership (TCO), at a rate from $150-200/hour for ad-hoc requests to $75-150/hour on retainers.
All in all, owning, running, and keeping a WordPress website up to date costs anywhere from a few hundred dollars per year for new sites to a few thousand dollars per year for established sites (all the way to tens of thousands per year for complicated, custom-built websites).
4. It’s Not Integrated Out of the Box With Your Marketing Tools
When it comes to embedding content from other publishing platforms, WordPress is extremely well integrated.
Simply copy and paste the URL of a YouTube video you want to embed in your post, and the player will automatically show up. The same applies to Giphy, Imgur, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SlideShare, Vimeo, and many others.
That’s not quite the case for most advertising tools.
For example, apart from Ezoic and a few ad networks whose technical teams (so-called Ad Ops teams) embed their ads for you, you’ll probably need to use a third-party plugin to place ads in-between your posts and inside your content in a way that’s scalable and manageable.
Happily, Google started paying more attention to WordPress in recent years. A while ago, it released its official Google Site Kit plugin, which helps you integrate Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Search Console, and Google AdSense without having to edit a single line of code on your website’s theme.
Getting most of your marketing tools integrated into WordPress can turn out to be more difficult or more limiting than you’d think as well.
To embed Mailchimp subscription forms in your posts, you either need to have the Jetpack plugin installed, which adds a Mailchimp form block to your Gutenberg editor, or do the integration yourself.
Other email tools, like ConvertKit, offer their own plugin. The problem with plugins like this is that they often have limited features and they seldom give you the control you actually need to do data-driven marketing.
This concludes my list of some of the biggest disadvantages of using WordPress to power your website, which not everyone will tell you about.
In all honesty, I don’t think any of them is a dealbreaker. At the end of the day, you’re taking a generic and open-source tool that’s designed to power every website—and you need to extend and configure it to become suitable for your website.
Achieving this, keeping it up and running, and extending this throughout the course of time takes resources and experimentation. As long as you understand and are prepared for it, WordPress is going to turn into one of your all-time favorite tools.
As with anything else in business (and life as a whole), it’s important to know what you’re signing up for.