One of the debates that is taking place seemingly everywhere in the content management space these days is the question of WordPress and its role in the enterprise environment.
Is the platform ready for enterprise usage? Is it secure enough? Can it scale?
The debate brings about emotional arguments from fans of the platform, as well as from those on the enterprise end of the spectrum. I want to address this debate myself, albeit in as independent of a way as possible.
Indeed, WordPress is the most prolific web content management system available. There is no denying the statistics: 59.9% of websites with identified content management systems are on WordPress. It is estimated that 31.1% of the overall Internet is running on the platform. So WordPress can’t really be ignored as a content management power player, but it can be questioned and debated in terms of its readiness and capabilities in an enterprise environment.
For the purposes of this discussion, I want to first define what an enterprise environment is. Just defining the term could be a debate of its own, but to keep it simple, let’s define “enterprise” as being a use case seen most typically in a corporate environment. That is, an environment with high security standards, multi-user use cases, organizational requirements such as workflows, and scalability to handle the usage required. Most typically, “enterprise” would be something we’d see in organizations that number in the thousands of employees with defined, stringent IT standards and requirements.
With that said, I want to dig into the pros and cons of WordPress in relation to that type of environment. First, let’s look at the positives.
Enterprise WordPress: The Good
I don’t want this to be another post that details what everyone already is aware of. You know that WordPress is open-source, so therefore free to utilize. It’s extensible, and the code can be modified. This is all great. But for the purposes of this post, I want to talk about the positives of the platform in an enterprise setting.
First, the platform is ubiquitous. This means that there isn’t a need for much training: almost every new-generation marketer has worked with the platform in the past at some point. This comes as a refreshing change to an enterprise that previously would spend tens of thousands of dollars to train personnel how their clunky commercially licensed CMS platform works. Training is a time suck and a money pit, after all—the chance to work around that with something people already know how to use is something that can’t be denied as an advantage.
Second, WordPress is a faster series of workflows for many marketers compared to other platforms. Commercially licensed CMS platforms are based on large codebases and have many features, and as such, making changes on the fly is difficult. WordPress allows for quick iteration of new ideas from a marketing perspective. Marketers can quickly change content, pages, layouts, and more from the dashboard.
In addition, almost every marketing software platform has easy and quick integrations into WordPress. You can integrate almost any CRM, marketing automation technology, or sales empowerment tools into WordPress with relative ease compared to commercial CMS platforms, which may not offer all of those integrations as libraries or add-ons.
A marketer’s ideal scenario is a platform that allows for quick and easy iterative improvements to their site, a way to quickly test new marketing initiatives. WordPress fits the bill nicely in this regard.
Third, implementation and production resources for WordPress are plentiful and affordable. The development of new features is something thousands of developers offer, driving overall development costs down—an advantage for any conscientious marketer and their budget.
Of course, when so many people specialize in one thing, finding true superstars is difficult. But it’s good to know you have choices and a market of agencies and developers to choose from.
Finally, since the platform is so popular, there is a large level of comfort associated with its usage—especially for marketers. It’s hard to make a sale for some of the lower-tier, open-source CMS platforms when WordPress is already taking so much of the market share away from them. This means that for marketers, it’s easier to sell management on the choice of WordPress.
Unfortunately for them, however, IT has their own list of concerns about WordPress, which we’ll now address…
Enterprise WordPress: The Ugly
I can’t write a post about WordPress without talking about the negatives of the platform, regardless of the use case or environment at hand. Like any other software solution, there are definitely causes for concern with this particular framework.
First, let me address the one everyone always speaks of: security. WordPress is the least secure CMS platform available today. It’s the nature of being first that makes it such a target. Because so many sites on the ‘net as a whole are powered by WordPress and so many are not updated or kept up to the most stringent security standards, WordPress has gained a reputation as being a popular target.
Let me be clear: You CAN secure WordPress to function in an enterprise environment. However, this means you must make an ongoing commitment to maintenance and upkeep. Many commercial CMS platforms can be set and forgotten about, as they are under the radar, so they don’t often fall into the hands of predators. WordPress is not the same—it must be secured, maintained, and regularly updated.
By the way, this is a good time to remind you that “free” isn’t really free—all of this maintenance and upkeep costs time and money. This is something you have to build into your plan when it comes to budgeting and planning.
Another major negative of WordPress is the architecture of the platform. It’s more or less unchanged from its origins as a blogging platform. WordPress is setup to be a WCMS—a WEB content management system, not a generalized CMS. This means that it is organized to manage web properties, not other devices or distribution methods.
Sure, you could hack the platform to do that, but why bother? From a software architecture perspective, WordPress is lacking in the latest features of headless or decoupled CMS platforms, meaning it is tightly integrated with its delivery mechanism, or theming engine. Again, this is great for web-only delivery, but in this age, many marketers want to reach audiences via other media as well.
Finally, it’s important to remember that WordPress off the shelf is relatively weak for enterprise settings. It’ll take tweaking, proper setup, configuration, and extra development to make it ready for the stringent requirements of your organization. The modifications necessary to make it enterprise-ready could negate any savings you may realize by choosing the platform in the first place. And worse, the more you hack and modify it, the less stable it becomes both as an ongoing system and from an updating/upgrading perspective.
Many IT groups within corporate environments see all of these negatives as too large of a hurdle to overcome. As such, they have forbidden its usage within their company. This is something that may or may not be true for your organization. And there is definitely good cause to say that the platform isn’t ready for enterprise usage from a technical perspective given the cons laid out above.
Deciding If It’s Right for Your Organization
So back to the main point of this post: Is WordPress ready for enterprise?
Well, as with most things, that is up to you and your company to decide based on your unique circumstances and requirements. Unfortunately, there is a lot of noise out there that you have to weed through to find actual, actionable advice.
I’m going to make a broad claim here, but it is something you need to consider: 99.9% of WordPress resources available on the Internet are below the level of your organization. What I mean by that is that most of the pro-WordPress materials online are written by smaller web creative agencies, lower-tier companies, and folks who do not share the challenges that your company does in its enterprise setting. Much of the existing information is not going to be helpful to you, but rather just further muddy the waters of your decision-making.
Beware the noise. As an example, WordPress fans often love to point to large companies using the software. But what they fail to tell you is that it’s usually not used for mission-critical applications.
For example, many folks say that the New York Times utilizes WordPress. This is true—they do run some microsites on the platform. However, they run their main website on their own proprietary, multi-million dollar CMS platform. The same for CNN: Many in the pro-WordPress community point out CNN as a user of the platform. Again, this is for non-mission-critical content sites such as blogs, and not for their main platform. In each example above, the corporations are using WordPress for its original intent: as a blogging engine.
So how do you dig through the clutter?
As an enterprise, there are many resources you can look into such as Gartner and Forrester reports. These organizations publish their findings specifically for your type of corporation. Study those findings and weigh the pros versus the cons. The outcome of your research may very well answer the question for your particular use case.
Obviously, I can’t write a blog post about WordPress and not have an opinion…!
Overall, while WordPress is a very capable platform, we are not quite ready to see it in use in mission-critical enterprise environments. There are simply too many obstacles to overcome. Even if you can get the sign-off from your internal technical teams and IT departments, you still have to address the myriad issues that WordPress brings to the table. For enterprise-grade customers—especially those who are regulated, require high security, or have other specific technology requirements—WordPress is (or should be) a non-starter.
For mid-sized companies and start-ups, on the other hand, WordPress is a viable content management system that allows them to choose from a deep pool of talent to administrate, avoid massive training headaches, and have quick access to a platform that allows for continuous improvement and marketing innovation in a speedy and efficient way.