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Yes, WordPress is a Good Foundation for Your Digital Marketing

Why WordPress?

Because it’s the best CMS available, especially if you’re an expertise-driven firm doing content marketing.

In this episode, Chris and Mark discuss why they believe WordPress is the best CMS available.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Chris Butler: Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters. I’m Chris Butler.

Mark O’Brien: I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: A few episodes ago, you said, “Let’s talk about WordPress”.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Chris Butler: We didn’t forget.

Mark O’Brien: No.

Chris Butler: We want to come back and talk about WordPress.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. It’s a broad topic, so we can narrow it pretty quickly here. In different sales conversations that [inaudible 00:00:51] with a number of prospects, there’s occasionally, not regularly, but occasionally been pushback on WordPress for two reasons.
One, the one complaint is that WordPress is not secure as a platform. The other is that WordPress is not reliable as a platform. Two slightly different things. It’s always so interesting to me to hear that and the answer I give to that is the answer I’ve been giving to questions like this for a very, very, very long time, which is that, as long as the underlying technology is basically stable, it doesn’t really have anything to do with it. It’s got to do with the developer you choose to build it.

Chris Butler: Right. What was it?

Mark O’Brien: You wrote a newsletter about this in like 2006.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Almost 10 years ago. Choose a developer, not a CMS.

Mark O’Brien: Yes, choose a developer, not a CMS.

Chris Butler: It’s still on the site.

Mark O’Brien: I just remember the picture you had. It was really cool. It was a guy, a shop window, right?

Chris Butler: Yeah, a shop window.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Butler: Nice little box with a price tag on it.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, with the red and gray and black tones.
Anyway, it’s funny how it does have a bad name. WordPress now has 30% of the install base of CMS globally. That’s pretty amazing. It’s great, in competent hands, it’s just fantastic. We’ve now built, no, I shouldn’t say “built” because we haven’t, we have been a part of many, many dozens of agency website builds, many, many dozens and they’ve all been on WordPress. To my knowledge, we have yet to hear a single report of any of them getting hacked or the site going down or anything like that. It’s been a incredibly consistent platform, but they’re working with good developers and there are many, many of those out there too. There are lots of great choices.
I think the people who have had bad experiences with WordPress are the ones who hired their cousin who was on summer break and they built the site in WordPress and then they left and went and did something else with their lives and they were stuck without a site, without someone to maintain their site and they put it up on Media Temple at the five dollar a month level so the hosting environment was no good. That kind of thing. Yeah, anything you do in that way is not going to work well.

Chris Butler: Yeah, I think there’s a perception that it’s not, that it’s flimsy.

Mark O’Brien: [crosstalk 00:03:06]

Chris Butler: It’s not enterprise level. I think that’s such a misnomer today because enterprise level is irrelevant when it comes to a CMS decision. What’s relevant to a CMS decision is the scope of the system the CMS is meant to control.
We had a conversation with a client the other day realizing that, okay, you’ve now spun up 30 sites. Your CMS solution needs to be different, not 30 copies of the same CMS, but a centrally-controlled CMS. Even with WordPress, you can do that kind of thing.
I think what people don’t understand about WordPress is what WordPress actually is, which is a very customizable kernel of code that began with a two-template situation, two-blog situation, 2006 and is now an ecosystem based around a shared coding language. Basically, that’s all it is. It’s open source. That means that what’s good for a developer is good for the whole team of people using it or the ecosystem of people using it. That’s why it’s also not that hackable.
It’s very hackable in the sense that there’s constant attempts. Every month, it’s almost probably every other week, we get an update that gets rolled out, but that’s what’s amazing about WordPress. It’s not that we get an alert that the site is down, it’s been hacked. We get an update to patch against things that we haven’t heard of or seen yet.

Mark O’Brien: Basically, for free.

Chris Butler: Yeah.
What led to the perception of flimsiness, the fact that it was small, efficient and very, very flexible, has made it extremely secure in the long run.

Mark O’Brien: Right. Yeah. It’s funny to see that develop and evolve.

Chris Butler: You also mentioned it.
30% of the known CMS-driven web. Last year, just a year ago, it was 27%. It has grown 3% just in the last year. We’re talking about a platform that’s been measured since 2006. 2006 to 2018, you see this growth, but 3% just in the last year. What’s that about?

Mark O’Brien: Incredible, and there’s more competition ever on their turf, with Craft and Squarespace and things like that.
Let’s see, another issue that is often times brought up with WordPress is something that just escaped me actually. We’ll have to edit this out. What was I going to say? It just completely left.
Oh. Another key point to consider with WordPress is the kind of site we’re talking about. We are talking about marketing websites. That’s all we do. That’s all we consult on. WordPress is 100% capable of powering whatever kind of marketing website you need.
Now, I think some of the pushback we get are from development firms who build very, very complex large web applications. Yeah, WordPress doesn’t make sense probably, [inaudible 00:05:57] people will argue with me on that point and I don’t really care what the answer is, but it may or may not be suitable there, but it’s definitely suitable for a marketing website, for the site the firm actually needs.

Chris Butler: Yeah, for an informationally-driven website that needs to represent people who sell their knowledge and expertise, it’s more than adequate. In fact, it’s the preferred one because we’ve looked under the hood at lots of different systems. I’ve looked very closely at WordPress, sorry Squarespace. I’m very familiar with that. Wix, not so much.

Mark O’Brien: [crosstalk 00:06:23]

Chris Butler: But, then the Craft CMS, I’m familiar with. There’s a bunch of other ones.
Some of them are great. If you just want to be able to have really, really fast turnaround on producing a page, then yeah, WordPress, there might be a little bit more of an upfront hurdle because it’s more robust. But, yeah, it’s more than adequate, but even when you look at eCommerce, it’s not as competitive in eCommerce because there are things like Shopify, which are their own system and WordPress doesn’t need to reproduce that, but WordPress also has WooCommerce, which is a great system.
There are many, many, many shops out there in the world that are on WordPress. You’d be surprised, but you’re right, I think the perception that it’s not adequate for the scope of work that the site needs is both a misperception of WordPress, but probably also a misperception of the scope of work that a website like this needs.

Mark O’Brien: Sure.
I think that people who voice that objection, they are falling prey to something that’s quite common, which is they’re thinking of their client’s reality and imposing that reality on their reality. They think their client’s needs, just because they’re always thinking about the client’s needs are their needs. They forget that, “Oh yeah, our business is completely different that a client’s business is.” They have that disconnect, which is very, very typical.

Chris Butler: Sure.
If you’re an advertising firm and you’re thinking on the campaign level for your client, you say, “If we adopt WordPress for our clients, we’re going to be locked into all these templates and if we want to do a campaign that’s completely different or have a landing page that’s different, we want to do something that’s flashy and glitzy and off the beaten path on their site, we’re going to be limited and not be able to do that. Probably not actually true, but I understand the perception.
WordPress, there’s no objection to creating unique templates and doing unique standalone landing pages for [crosstalk 00:08:01]

Mark O’Brien: That’s one of the biggest objections is this “template” word. For a lot of creative firms, right, they feel like they will be somehow encumbered. [inaudible 00:08:11].
Are there any actual visual restrictions at all [crosstalk 00:08:14] to WordPress?

Chris Butler: No. What the restriction is, and this is interesting because I just had a conversation with one of our clients, principle in agency, and they wanted, they’re really happy with what we’ve done with WordPress, but they’re like, “When we want to iterate on something like this, aren’t we going to be better off using Squarespace or something else so we can spin it up?”
I said, “It really depends on what you think it means to spin that up” because with WordPress, WordPress has no template restrictions. You can create as many templates as you want.

Mark O’Brien: Custom, from scratch.

Chris Butler: Yeah. There are theming engines that are quite sophisticated right now. For instance Divi, it’s this huge, it’s one of the biggest.

Mark O’Brien: How do you spell that.

Chris Butler: D-I-V-I.
Which, when we first encountered it, I didn’t love it very much because of the way that it writes, basically, it abstracts the entire building experience so if you don’t know how to write code, you can do it in the plugin. There’s a whole GUI for it.

Mark O’Brien: Just like Dreamweaver.

Chris Butler: Yeah, basically. Basically, it’s a better version of Dreamweaver and it creates code that plays nicely in that space. What it doesn’t do is create code that plays nicely with every plugin that you might ever put in place. If things start to break, it can get really messy.
If you do everything in Divi, you’re good, but Divi is more sophisticated now, but again, you could use that, but if you’re not using that for your whole site, it’s not going to get you what you’re looking for.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. Like you said, if you’re doing everything in Divi, you’re good, but the problem is you don’t know if you’ll always be able to do that into the future for the entire life of the site.
Our core recommendation is still: You need a developer, somebody who can write code, not just HTML, but [inaudible 00:09:42] PHP, understands CSS and JavaScript and HTML and PHP. You really need somebody like that you trust. If you have that person and it’s not just someone that’s there for the summer internship, someone you can rely on consistently, doesn’t need to be on staff at all, but it doesn’t need to be in your town. We work with lots of people we come across because when we partner with agencies, they’re all over North America and often times, they’ve got somebody locally they really like. We’re working with people over the continent on a very regular basis who do great work, but this is what they do. This is their job and they are actual programmers.
I think we still need programmers. It has to be a very knowledgeable, competent, reliable person that you can go to when you want to do something on your site. If you have that and they like WordPress, then there’s nothing you can’t do.

Chris Butler: Right, because I’ve never had a client or a prospect say to me, “I just want my marketing team to be autonomous from engineering completely.” No one ever says that, but that’s really what they mean when they say, “Am I going to be limited in this way?”, because what they want is they want somebody in marketing or in the design world who can’t write code to be able to create something new. The don’t want to have to adhere or feel like they’re limited to a template that was designed for another purpose. Makes perfect sense.
When you see these beautiful landing pages being spun up by the New York Times like that snowfall thing that blew everyone’s minds a bunch of years ago, that’s what you want. You say, “I want to do that for my client.”
You can still do that for your client.

Mark O’Brien: Absolutely.

Chris Butler: There are lots of tools. There’s a new tool called “Brandcast”, which is really interesting. It’s B-R-A-N-D-C-A-S-T, Brandcast.
I actually know a guy who came in here and demoed it for me a few weeks ago named Connor. They’re in San Francisco, but he moved out here and wanted to show me the tool. What’s cool about Brandcast is that it’s basically a CMS-less CMS for designers. If you want to create a landing page and don’t want to write the code, but you want to design it like you would in Photoshop, but you don’t want to do it in Photoshop and then hand those files to a developer to write it for you, you can do it all in Brandcast. It’s basically the promise that lots of other tools have tried to deliver on for many years.

Mark O’Brien: Many years.

Chris Butler: None of them have really caught on.
What’s nice about this one is that you can use this in parallel with anything else. You don’t have to put your whole site on Brandcast. You can use Brandcast for these other things and you can just create URLs. You can have a hosted solution or a non-hosted solution, but all they really care about is giving design teams autonomy for those purposes. You can build a whole site in Brandcast and they even, he showed me how to do this, but you don’t have to just use it for that [inaudible 00:12:03]
There are tools like this, but also, if you have a decent front end developer on staff or that you can outsource to …

Mark O’Brien: Rely on him.

Chris Butler: WordPress is great.

Mark O’Brien: So good.

Chris Butler: It’s so good.
The other thing that is great about it is that it’s not just malleable in that regard. The same plugins that you’re using for SEO would apply to that new thing you built. The same plugins you’re using to integrate that thing with your CRM and your marketing animation tool would … The problem is, once you go off platform for a unique campaign purpose, you go silo with data and that’s why I don’t like to, I don’t want to advocate for standalone tools for standalone purpose unless it’s, you absolutely have to.

Mark O’Brien: Right.
For the people we service, these creative services firms, they don’t, they’re not going to absolutely have to. There’s not going to be a reason. We haven’t seen a good one yet and we’ve done this many, many, many times.
One of the best proof points that I’ve got for WordPress is we spent many years developing our own CMS and we created some really cool things inside of that CMS, particularly on the business development intelligence side of things, attracting prospect activity and making decisions about what’s actually working or not working on that site based on the activity and very visually-engaging complex stuff.
When we made the decision to abandon our own CMS and go to WordPress, one of the biggest concerns was that, this IP we’ve created is a market advantage we have because this doesn’t exist elsewhere. How do we port that?
We were able to rebuild it and make it a lot better even, entirely in WordPress. Since, we’ve created a massive amount of business development technology inside the WordPress platform. Honestly, we do it now a lot faster then we were able to do it before because of the underlying infrastructure. I’ve been shocked at how efficient and reliable that’s been and what we’ve been able to recreate using the tools that already exist. These aren’t just plugging a couple plugins together. We actually do plugin develop from scratch, but pulling on the core technologies already in WordPress and is always growing, it’s incredible what you can do.

Chris Butler: Yeah. I think you might even be underselling it in the sense that it’s more sophisticated than it ever was on the newfangled CMS. The reason we did that initially was because you were encountering a lot of pushback from perception standpoint, the perception of a proprietary CMS. Again, back to the old article, choose a developer, not a CMS. We wrote that because we wanted people to stop worrying about proprietary. All the sudden, it’s like people want WordPress over and over again. Could we offer them WordPress? Why not? Let’s take a stab at it.
At this point now, it’s funny, we’re back to answering some of the same objections that we had with proprietary with WordPress. Our version of WordPress also is very different than what you’re going to get out of the box. Out of the box, WordPress essentially is still a two-template system. You have to do a bunch of other things to make it more than that. It’s not onerous.

Mark O’Brien: It’s possible [crosstalk 00:14:59].

Chris Butler: There are packages. You can buy a package or a theming package that does all that for you, but even the interaction layer that allows you to edit the content for our version is a little bit different. It’s a little bit more integrated and a little easier to use, I think, but yeah, it’s amazing. What we’ve been able to do with WordPress, we’ve done faster and better than we ever did with newfangled CMS.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. Fantastic. Fantastic.

Chris Butler: Yeah.
WordPress is not going anywhere. WordPress, I think the last time the public valuation, this is years ago, maybe three or four years ago, it was over a billion dollar public valuation. We’re talking about a company of 700 people, Automatic, the parent company.

Mark O’Brien: This relates to our last podcast about recurring revenue, about the idea of having a large amount of people pay you a small amount of money on a consistent basis. Once you do work up to 30% market share, it’s going to take a long time to work down from that. They are definitely a going concern, I’d say.

Chris Butler: I think the most interesting thing from, you talked about the type of site we’re talking about, marketing and take that and mash it up with the recurring revenue concept that we talked about in the last episode and something you just mentioned. Automatic, who owns WordPress, their last acquisition was a company called “Atavist”. You ever heard of it?

Mark O’Brien: No.

Chris Butler: Atavist was a small company that basically built a CMS for publishing purposes, but what made Atavist unique is that they had built an engine for subscription info walls, pay walls and subscription base. If I’m a writer and I was experimenting on Medium with charging people for my writing, Medium took that away from me abruptly out of nowhere a couple months ago. Atavist has their own system for that. It’s pretty elegant in the back end. Automatic bought that. The Atavist CMS is going away, but they’re integrating those tools into a WordPress plugin so that you can have really nice eCommerce information-based transactions. Subscriptions to webinars, subscriptions to content streams, all kinds of things that could be of interest to people who do content marketing are going to be built into a really nice tool where you don’t have to go and say, “How can I hack WooCommerce to, which is built for a product-based paradigm, how can I hack that to do subscription [crosstalk 00:17:09]”
We tried to do that a bunch of years ago.

Mark O’Brien: It was hard.

Chris Butler: It didn’t really work.
One of our clients tried to do that a bunch of years and didn’t really work for him either. This is a really interesting development that I think is going to pay off for those people who invested in WordPress when they did and people who continue to invest in WordPress, especially people who are listening to this who are down with content marketing and want to do events and want to do subscription-based things for themselves and their clients.

Mark O’Brien: That speaks to another thing that is so important to us, which is integration. For us, we feel very strongly that, you, as the individual who wants to market your firm in a more effective manner, you need to choose the best of breed tools for your website, for you marketing automation [inaudible 00:17:50] email system and for your CMS. The part of them being best of breed is that they are highly integratable. We strongly feel that WordPress is absolutely the right platform and that Salesforce is the right platform for the CRM. For now, [inaudible 00:18:06] platform when you look at pricing versus flexibility and that kind of thing and functionality for the automation system, but the nice thing about WordPress is that it so easily integrates with those other systems.

Chris Butler: Yeah. It should be said, we don’t make any money of WordPress per se.

Mark O’Brien: No.

Chris Butler: Or, Salesforce, perse. We’ve just adopted these tools.
It says a lot because we’re talking about a company like ours that was a web development company. We made money from building things that were like these things for many years and we’ve realized that the complexity of what our clients need is so far beyond what it was when we just built websites that there’s no way that we can be effective with them and try and build everything ourselves. There’s just no way.

Mark O’Brien: No point.

Chris Butler: This buy or build age-old problem, age-old as far as software is concerned, it makes sense to buy into a system like WordPress or a system like Salesforce.

Mark O’Brien: Salesforce.

Chris Butler: Where you know that that ecosystem is thriving and teeming with new opportunity and aware of solving the problems that you face within that context. They’re not trying to, in Salesforce, they’re not trying to solve web development problems in there and in WordPress, they’re not trying to solve CRM problems, really.

Mark O’Brien: Not at all.

Chris Butler: But, those things together, amazing combination. You just have to buy in.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.
Pricing, flexibility, stability, it’s really, really hard to beat with WordPress.

Chris Butler: Right.
Discoverability by the way, if you’re envisioning, you’ve found some homegrown CMS that you really like and you think is cool and your designer friend is using it, I am willing to bet you, even if I don’t know that one, when you start to look into it, the tools that will allow your content to be discovered, like SEO-based, are not there. It’s the lowest hanging fruit possible. That’s why I’m always perplexed when I experiment with a small CMS, like a grassroots CMS and that stuff isn’t there. It’s because the people who create those things don’t care about CEO.

Mark O’Brien: Sure. It’s not a priority. They might care some, but it’s not a top priority for them. They can only build so many things.

Chris Butler: Some might even specifically object to it.

Mark O’Brien: Sure. Yep.

Chris Butler: There’s some sort of underground notion, but it’s been amazing to me. Whenever I look at them, it’s half-baked. It’s not there. I realize that if you were to publish with this, you’re going away. You’re not going to be indexed the way you were before.

Mark O’Brien: Right. Yeah.
From our perspective, like I said, we don’t make any money at all off WordPress. We want our clients to have tools and systems that will give them all the flexibility they need today and for the future of the engagement and their marketing initiatives, which are many years to come. That’s why we get so concerned when they don’t go with WordPress and they go with something like Squarespace or Craft now, which is a really nice CMS, but it just doesn’t have the firepower. We know that if they choose WordPress, we’re never going to say “No” to them or their developer is never going to say “No” to them, but “that doesn’t integrate”, or “you can’t do this thing with that”, or “Google doesn’t really index it very well.” We know there are no “Nos”. That’s important.

Chris Butler: That’s huge. You mentioned choose a developer, not a CMS. If you choose the right CMS in this context and you’re choosing the right developer to work with, you also have more choices on the developer long term.

Mark O’Brien: Way more choices.

Chris Butler: If that developer can’t work with you anymore, if the relationship doesn’t work, for whatever reason you need a new one, there are way more developers out there who can pick up a WordPress site as-is and start growing and nurturing it. Craft CMS, not the case.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, not yet.

Chris Butler: Even Squarespace.

Mark O’Brien: Maybe in five years, I’ll change. Things could change.

Chris Butler: Maybe. Maybe so. Maybe so, but I think it’s worth looking at. If you’re curious about what’s possible and you didn’t realize that our site is WordPress, you can look at our site. It’s WordPress. Look at the templates. Inspect them.

Mark O’Brien: Sure.

Chris Butler: You can see.
If you’re ever curious if a site is WordPress, just add forward slash, “WP admin” to it and you can see.

Mark O’Brien: “WP-admin”, right.

Chris Butler: “WP-admin”. You can see if it’s WordPress or not, but you’ll be amazed. It’s 30%, so chance are if you’re looking at their site …

Mark O’Brien: A big percentage.

Chris Butler: It’s a pretty good chance because that other 70% is very carved up.

Mark O’Brien: Very fractured.

Chris Butler: It’s not like 30% WordPress, 70% one other thing.

Mark O’Brien: No, no.

Chris Butler: It’s like a very long tail of other stuff.

Mark O’Brien: [crosstalk 00:21:50]

Chris Butler: Chances are very good that it’s a WordPress site.

Mark O’Brien: Great. This was fun.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Alright. We’ll talk to you all next time.

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