How to get the most value out of your WordPress site

The WordPress content management system and the whole industry surrounding it provide excellent functionality for a very small cost. I’m going to provide a deeper understanding of great WordPress resources you can build your site around that are free or cost very little.

First, let's talk about the core WordPress itself. WordPress represents thousands of hours of development work, user feedback, and over a decade of improvements. It’s hard to put a price on a complex and evolving piece of software like WordPress, but building something like that from scratch would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

WordPress has so many themes (maybe too many)

The included (free) theme that comes with WordPress is clean and versatile, and you can likely find a free or very affordable theme designed for your type of site and desired aesthetic. Some themes are targeted at a specific industry, demographic, or type of site, while other themes are very generic and flexible. The most popular themes you will find are typically ones that can be used in many different ways and come bundled with dozens of well-designed page elements like sliders, callouts, block grids, tabs, accordions, columns, etc. Another upside to using a popular theme is that typically there will be decent customer service and timely updates to the theme.

Using a very popular and flexible generic theme has its downsides as well. The theme is not designed to your specific use case, so it may be bloated with functionality you don’t need and it is not optimized to your goals. Having a custom theme designed for you may be the better route, but that can cost you thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands of dollars). So a free or very affordable (under $100) theme may be a cost-effective starting point for your WordPress site.

WordPress has some awesome plugins

As of this writing there are over 50,000 free plugins for WordPress. That’s pretty awesome! So many of those plugins add great functionality to your site and can make your job as a site owner or developer much easier. Not all plugins in the WordPress plugin directory are up to date, well-supported, or coded with performance, extensibility, and security in mind, so “buyer beware”.

We can wholeheartedly recommend free plugins like Advanced Custom Fields, WooCommerce, Yoast SEO, WordFence, and The Events Calendar. Some premium plugins that add huge value to your site for a relatively tiny price are Gravity Forms, SearchWP, FacetWP, WP All Import. Each of these plugins represent what would take me hundreds or thousands of hours of work to build from scratch, and most of them are very extensible and flexible with addon plugins of their own.

It is very important to make sure you do some research when selecting plugins for your WordPress site. Here is a quick list of things to look at:

  • When was the plugin last updated?
  • Does the plugin have a good rating?
  • Are support questions being answered on the support forums?
  • Is the plugin compatible with my version of WordPress?
  • (Paid plugins) What is the plugin developers refund policy?

WordPress can do eCommerce

WordPress has some great ecommerce plugins available such as WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and WP eCommerce. WooCommerce is by far the most popular option, and it works awesome for a lot of use cases. The WooCommerce plugin itself is free, but you may need to buy some additional premium plugins for payment gateways, improved shipping options, dynamic tax rates, POS integration, or other special functionality. Easy Digital Downloads has some features really focused on selling virtual (non-physical) products, and you may find that it better suits your particular needs. The great thing about all of these plugins is that the developers have built them with extensibility in mind. This means that in many cases developers, such as myself, can add to the existing feature set with new enhancements or modify the existing functionality using hooks and template overrides.

Shopify is a very popular ecommerce platform outside of the WordPress ecosystem that can quite easily be integrated with a WordPress site. Check out their plugin if you want to learn more.

WordPress can do all kinds of other cool stuff

Whether you need a membership site, an online magazine, or a portfolio of your creative work, you will find excellent plugins and themes to get you started even on a limited budget. 10-15 years ago the budget to build sites like these would have been very prohibitive for small business and startups, but today a site can be pieced together with these high-value components and a little bit of elbow grease.

With all plugins and themes, there are limitations to their functionality and what can be added onto them without changing the theme or plugins own code and making future updates difficult. If an existing plugin can’t fulfill your needs it is likely a new plugin can be developed from scratch to your specifications, but the cost of that work will likely be in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

Alternatives to WordPress

For those who aren’t a fan of WordPress you should look into HubSpot for inbound marketing, squarespace for quick and easy marketing sites, medium as a blogging platform, or shopify for selling your products.

Seriously though, when you have something to communicate, sell, or share with the world there really shouldn’t be much stopping you from getting started. If you have questions about how a WordPress site can provide you with some amazing value please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.