This post could be seen as a part 1 or part 2 in a series as my colleague Sam Freeman will also be writing a post about wordpress, but more about the background as to why we chose it as a team. This post focuses on the corporate CMS opportunity of wordpress and to dispel a few myths that it is simply a blogging platform.
As a team, we’d all agreed that WordPress was the sensible platform to go with. We had enough HTML / CSS skills in the team to create templates and themes as well as PHP / MySQL skills in order to tweak and create bespoke functionality. The big question now was whether it was good enough to use a corporate scale CMS, how it fitted in with our content strategy and had other people already successfully used it for large scale sites.
Let’s start by looking at some of the obvious strong points of WordPress…
WordPress is free… it’s as simple as that. Lots of off the shelf dedicated CMS solutions can cost thousands of pounds and require specialist support arrangements due to their complexity. WordPress is open source and has a massive support and development community so finding answers to problems can usually be found in the support community forums. There are also thousands of free plugins and widgets to download and install saving valuable development times and costs. Wordpress is admittedly not the only free Blog/CMS available but others seem to have more cost implications when it comes to required SLA’s and support. This post from 2010 on Comentum highlights some of the cost implications when comparing WordPress to its closest competitors, Drupal and Joomla.
Ease of setup
A standalone and self-hosted WordPress site can be created in a matter of minutes. No deep knowledge of PHP or MySQL is required and the installation process is a breeze. A small team with basic HTML, PHP and MySQL skills can pretty much make it do anything they want it to. CPanel also offers it as one the installable packages via a simple site creation form. ‘11th hour’ site creation is something that we face as team quite often so being able to setup a basic site in less than half a day is an absolute must.
Multisite (formerly known as WordPress MU)
In March 2010 when WordPress 3.0 was released, Multisite came bundled as one of the setup options. A WordPress multisite allows for multiple sites to be created off of one install as either a sub-domain or sub-directory. In a corporate CMS scenario this has many benefits:
- One database – A multisite runs off of just one database and as a new ‘site’ is added, new tables to contain that sites data are simply added as part of the setup process. Managing and backing up one database is always going to be easier and less time consuming than having to back up lots of different databases.
- Users – Having your content authors in one central place makes things a lot easier to manage. Custom permissions can be assigned from one central location and each user can be granted permissions to access just one or many of your separate sites.
- Plugins – Plugins can be installed and activated on a per-site basis or ‘Network Activated’ making them available to all sites on the multisite. If plugins are installed using the latter, this means that if the plugin is updated in one place, it will take effect through the entire multisite. Updating the same plugin across different installs could run the risk of inconsistencies and wasted valuable time and resources. There are over 20,000 free plugins available from WordPress.org covering a whole multitude of functionality. The plugin directory is quite often our first post of call when asked to add a bespoke feature on a site as there’s always a good chance that someone has already written a plugin to do it.
- Performance – Each WordPress installation takes a significant amount of resources on a server (that means CPU cycles and RAM, and a little disk space)… and you can pretty much multiply that requirement by the number of WordPress installations that are running. Setting up a multisite obviously reduces these overheads which has both financial and performance benefits.
Search Engine Optimisation is an absolute must if you want people to find your site and its content. The WordPress open source development community are always working towards clean frontend code so that search engines can easily spider the pages and their content. The customizable permalinks options also creates nice clean page URLs which can contain descriptive page titles.
All pages are updateable via a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor making page updates nice and easy. No prior knowledge of HTML is required for content authors and no special training is required. A quick half hour session is usually enough to get anyone up and running with basic content authoring.
Templates can be created quickly and easily if new layouts are required. Only minor knowledge of HTML and WordPress PHP are all that’s required and the template creation process has now been made even easier since our creation of the responsive parent/child themes using Twitter Bootstrap. There is no need for command line scripting, compiling or specialist skills to create these templates and they can even be edited from the admin backend interface.
Our next concern was how WordPress could fit in with our content strategy? As you can see from the diagram in Carl’s post, the presentation layer could literally be anything that catered for accepting content from the Open / Linked Data Layer. There are already plugins available to allow data feeds to be displayed within a WordPress environment and Gov.uk are currently working on a plugin to display content from their site which can be read about here
The proof is in the pudding so to speak and there are lots of examples of where WordPress has been used for large scale websites. Two of the biggest are WordPress.com itself and Edublogs. These are prime examples of how multisites can work effectively and create a site with thousands of other sites within them.
Lots of big name companies and organisations are currently listed on the WordPress showcase site.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of setting up large scale sites using WordPress and what challenges you faced.