I recently helped sponsor the 2016 WordCamp Conference in St. Louis, an event where people who use, work with, or develop the WordPress platform meet and learn from each other. If you run a business or if you have ever had any interest in blogging or setting up a web site, you have likely heard of WordPress. It is the most popular Content Management System, or CMS, in the world, powering over 25% of all web sites today. Why does any of this matter to you? Because the success of WordPress represents a major shift in the way most web sites are created today and this change requires web site owners to pay closer attention to their web sites – lest they fall victim to hacking, malware, frustrated users, or bad search engine rankings.
The WordPress platform will turn 13 years old in only a few days. When it was released back in 2003, it was just one of many open-source Content Management Systems entering the market. Even as recently as 5 years ago, over 75% of web sites did not use a CMS. Now close to 50% of all web sites use a CMS and WordPress is by far the most popular at 25%. The closest competitor to WordPress is at less than 3%.
Web Sites Are Easier To Use …
I believe the reason WordPress is the most popular choice of CMS is because their focus on ease-of-use generated a large initial following. This large and enthusiastic user base attracted a strong developer community which helped expand the functionality of the core WordPress system to cover nearly any web site need imaginable. The closest analogy I can offer is the iPhone and the Apple App Store. Just like thousands of apps opened up the power of the iPhone, the vast array of 3rd-party “plugins” available allow WordPress users a way to leverage their web sites in many powerful ways. This is all without the need to understand computer coding or hire programmers.
As a technology consultant for small businesses, it was this ease-of-use and expandability that initially attracted me to the WordPress platform as a way to help my clients build great web sites that they could make their own changes to. Several years and multitudes of happy clients later, I am happy to say that WordPress has definitely turned out to be one of the most empowering technology developments for business owners, organizations, or anyone who wants to publish content on the web. However, for as awesome as WordPress is, the change to a web site that is powered by a CMS does require some consideration beyond what most web site owners are used to.
… But Web Technology is More Complex
Thirteen years ago when the first version of WordPress was released, almost all web sites were simply text and graphic files sitting on web server. Web site owners didn’t need to worry about the technology running their sites because the web server was their hosting company’s responsibility. In order to provide the ease-of-use and powerful features that a platform like WordPress provides, a CMS is technically a software application running on a web server. While the web server itself is still the hosting company’s responsibility, the CMS is the responsibility of the web site owner. Like any software application that runs on a server, it is a good idea to maintain that software, including periodic updates, backups, and testing for vulnerabilities. The problem is that many business owners are not even aware that their sites may have been built on a CMS platform, let alone the fact that these platforms need to be maintained. Similar to a car left in disrepair, any software system that is not routinely monitored and maintained is vulnerable to suffering from a variety of problems.
The most striking example of a problem due to lack of maintenance is the now infamous “Panama Papers” incident, in which a Panamanian law firm was hacked and very sensitive information about a variety of world figures was leaked. As it turns out, the attack point the hackers used was a vulnerability in an outdated third-party WordPress plugin. The vulnerability itself had long been fixed by the plugin developer but the law firm did not bother to update this plugin. Lack of attention to a routine two-minute process cost this law firm and their clients dearly. While your business may not work with international heads-of-state, the problems that an unmaintained CMS can cause are still significant. If nothing else, if you care about potential customers finding your web site, properly maintaining your CMS is at the very foundation of good SEO.
Now that you know that your web site might be powered by a CMS, please ensure that your site is being properly maintained. While you should talk to the person or company that created your web site, be aware that not all web site designers have the technical skills required to properly maintain a software system like a CMS. If you have any questions about the operation of your web site, please do not wait until problems site – contact me today for a review of your web site.