WordPress powers most of the world’s websites. But today, there are much better options for social justice and climate action organizations. WordPress is bloated, unreliable, uses more energy than is needed to power a website, and was originally designed to fulfill a very narrow purpose: hosting a blog.
If you’re using a WordPress site right now, it’s worth assessing the benefits of investing in a more contemporary, right-fit set of digital tools.
Let’s look at WordPress, discuss its shortcomings, and investigate options that can help social impact leaders employ a more thoughtful digital strategy.
WordPress is a Blogging Platform, not a Content Management System (CMS)
We know, that’s a big claim. But stay with us for a minute. Yes, you can use WordPress to build out comprehensive websites (the Trump and Biden administrations both opted for WordPress in running whitehouse.gov). We’ve actually built out some fairly extensive WordPress powered sites in the past, which is largely what led us looking for better options in the first place. But once you try to build something that starts to extend beyond a basic blogging website, extensive modification is required.
There are some general patterns that websites in the social impact space follow. Whether it’s an Action Center or a Marketing Hub, you’re going to need several unique layouts and different types of pages to tell your impact story, give an overview of your site, engage users, and inspire action. Due to its underlying data structures, WordPress does not support this approach to web design at a foundational level. What serves social impact organizations best is a modern, flexible, and extendible CMS designed and configured to fit their bespoke needs.
Use the Right Tool for the Job
The WordPress schema (the data structure behind the site) was originally designed with essentially three sections in mind: the title, the content, and “post meta” (the author, the date it was published, and so on). The “content” section — essentially everything else on the page — was originally developed to very basic support paragraphs of text and images, when the web was a much simpler place.
Its schema makes WordPress fine for blogs. However, it’s a big lift when you set out to create scroll-stopping experiences that inspire visitors to take action. It means investing more time and resources into the creation of the interactions that attract and retain supporters and advocates and inspire them to take action on behalf of your organization and cause.
That hasn’t changed much since WordPress was originally released at the turn of the century. Support for static pages was built out after a couple of years, then custom post types, and more, but despite all of these innovations, the underlying data structure never changed. There’s still the same few fields: title, author, content, post date, category.
You can get around these constraints with plugins that add various page-building tools, but ultimately these plugins have “hacked” WordPress’s content-storage system to add this flexibility. Even WordPress’s new core Gutenberg content editor had to “hack” the data schema to accommodate drag and drop components common in most modern CMS’s. We’ll get into the challenges with Gutenberg more below, under Content Creator Challenges.
Bigger problems emerge when the developer of one of these plugins stops updating it. When this happens (and it happens a lot), you usually need to manually move all of this content over to another plugin, which you then have to also learn and wrestle with. Obviously, migrating your content to this new plugin requires additional investment of time and resources — and there’s no guarantee that the developer of the new plugin will support it over the long run.
What you end up with is pigeon-holed layouts built on fragile databases of content that depend on your plugin developer’s continued support. This poses a much larger issue, which we get into below.