Is Building a Non-Blog Website with WordPress a Hack?

Did I mention that I listen to a lot of podcasts? Of course I did. So last week I was listening to the latest episode of Happy Monday, a web design podcast hosted by Sarah Parmenter and Josh Long and featuring guest Colin Devroe. During the course of it, Sarah expressed her belief that using WordPress for anything other than a blog was “a hack.”

Let me try and quote her accurately:

WordPress is… um… become a bit of an animal I think. It’s one that I’ve seen grow from the really early stuff when everyone was using it for the blog and everyone had that same theme for everything. And then it feels like it’s become a bit of a hack over the years and I know that people do run amazing things on it, but to me I never feel comfortable using WordPress for anything other than a blog. Um, anything else feels like a hack so I tend to steer away from that for that reason.

Granted, Colin was plugging his own CMS product, Barley, and that’s awesome. WordPress is by no means the only CMS in the world, and plenty of smart people like Colin are developing new and amazing systems to address particular problems in building great websites.

But the dismissal of building anything other than a blog with WordPress as a “hack” (and that word was clearly used in a derisive fashion) really rankled me. I’ve been in this career a very long time, and while I’ve built a lot of websites on a lot of different platforms, I’ve truly grown to love WordPress especially for the flexibility it offers. In fact, a majority of my web development work over the past few years — and into the foreseeable future, in fact — has been or will be based on WordPress.

First, some facts: Currently, WordPress is the driving force behind over 20% of the world’s websites. Not just blogs, but fully actualized websites. WordPress has long since matured from its early blogging beginnings into a feature-rich, multipurpose platform capable of powering complex websites. The majority of WordPress sites I’ve built for clients — including those for educational consortiums, the U.S. federal government, real estate firms, industry associations, etc. — have not been blogs.

The fact that WordPress started its existence as a blogging platform and grown into something more is not a hack. It’s the result of thousands of hours put in by hard-working, dedicated and passionate people. Through core enhancements such as custom post types, WordPress is equally capable of driving a foodie blog as it is the official website of an entire country. Innovations such as AppPresser — which seeks to extend WordPress’ capabilities into the realm of app development — further demonstrates WordPress’ abilities to power so much more than blogs. Again, these are not “hacks.” These people taking an already great platform and extending it to do even greater things.

I’m not sure that Sarah’s comments could be classified as among “The Hate and Vitriol of WordPress” that Tom McFarlin wrote about recently. I get the sense that it’s more along the lines of Yogi Berra’s observation, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” WordPress’ popularity has grown to the point where it at once becomes an easy target for critics who consider it too insecure, too primitive, too complex, or what have you, while also repelling away those who don’t want to be considered “following the crowd.” (Darned hipsters.)

If Sarah would like to have a friendly debate on this topic, I’d be more than happy to come onto Happy Monday to do so!

In the interest of full disclosure, Josh Long was my editor for the posts I wrote on the Treehouse blog, where I wrote on WordPress as well as front end web development topics.

9 thoughts on “Is Building a Non-Blog Website with WordPress a Hack?

  1. If we put the tone of the comment to one side then Sarah is not actually that wide of the mark.

    At the heart of WordPress beats a blog. It’s default configuration is based around chronological posts, organized into categories with simple taxonomies. To do anything else, change the order of the post listings for example, requires reconfiguration (I agree with you that the word “hack” is unhelpfully emotive).

    But is that, in itself, a disadvantage, a reason to “steer clear” of WordPress?

    Of course not. In fact, WordPress’ strength is that it is almost infinitely configurable because it has evolved to be so despite remaining wedded to the blog model.

    Rather than argue against the notion that using WordPress for anything other than a “blog” is a “hack” – let’s celebrate it.

    1. Hi Chris, changing the order of post listings is simply a matter of changing the query arguments.

      I guess the heart of the gripe, If I understand you, is that you’d like to see some of these post-sort options built in to the default settings options, beyond how many posts, and whether to display post/page.

      I find the blog vs CMS debate a silly one. WordPress has its annoyances as a platform, but they’re specific idiosyncrasies that don’t really relate to the blog vs CMS discussion.

      1. That is such a good point. It’s not so much about blog vs cms. I think peoples uneasiness is more around the idiosyncrasies you suggest.

        Whilst they are probably easy to ignore for more straight forward sites (maybe a blog, maybe not) you have to get to grips with them a lot more for more complex sites. Thats when you start feeling a bit odd about the loop, the lack of structure, markup in functions, the fact you don’t really know where all the data is going (the posts table right?), functionality being tied to themes (or you have to make a plugin for everything) etc..

        Projects like TimberWP help alleviate some of these issues. Hopefully WP will evolve to not only be a great user experience but also to address some of these more nerdy concerns. Either way, the expediency of creating admin interfaces with ACF, templates with Timber / Twig and forms with GF is very hard to beat.

  2. I have to agree with you. This is definitely not a hack, pages which are static have been around since version 1.5 so to call a static website built with WordPress hack, Is simply an uneducated or inexperienced opinion or it seems like in this case, biased towards the other CMS.

    You can build a WordPress website with nothing related to a blog. Chronological posts, archives, comments, etc. And I venture to say that you can even do this without a single plugin.

    From my own personal experience, All the websites I build, 3 to 10 per week are mostly static websites. Some of them have a blog section, but most of the website itself is built asked if it was a static website.

  3. Thanks for the kind words. I agree with everything you’ve written. I think some people are finding WordPress tougher for simpler projects too because of how much WordPress is capable of doing. However, over the last several updates to WordPress I think its ease of use has been addressed very well.

    Thanks for listening to the podcast!

    1. Thanks Colin!

      The very day after writing that post, we had a client come to us asking for WordPress for something I totally think WordPress would be overkill for. It’s not the best solution to every problem, but I think it’s more capable than Sarah seemed to feel.

      Part of doing this job well is to find the right solution to fit the problem. WordPress is very often that solution, or it might be Barley or something else. But to dismiss WordPress as a CMS as being a “hack,” well, that’s just not accurate.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. I’ve always leaned toward Drupal myself, but have built many websites for projects requiring WordPress. For one to dismiss it as a ‘hack’ is rather baseless in this age and state of the Web. Take Wired magazine, their website is built on WordPress and is one of the Top 250 visited websites in the US (thanks, Alexa) and Top 1000 worldwide. To have a site of that scale pretty well debunks it’s “blog only” capabilities and usefulness.

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