Converting to WordPress: Benefits and Drawbacks

It has taken a great deal of work to convert to WordPress from a static-file site managed with DreamWeaver (a great tool, btw). In the end, I’m glad I did. The benefits are pretty massive, so there enough advantages to outweigh the drawbacks. There are a number of drawbacks, though. (I wish they could be eliminated!)

Benefits

Responsive

A responsive site is one that works as well on small, portable devices as large desktops. In effect, it “responds” to the size of the device it is on, rearranging things to make the site as easy as possible to use. Modern WordPress themes are responsive, so they work well on more devices — and, because they do, they are favored in the search engine rankings.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization is important, to make your articles easier to find. WordPress uses the full title of the an article as the access URL, with a title like, “this-is-my-article” in the URL. So instead of the short filenames I used to have, I now have longer titles that search engines know how to parse, which once again makes things easier for folks to find.

Social Sharing buttons

These days, sharing things on Twitter, Facebook, and the like is how people share things with others. That’s how things go “viral”, and how they are found — even more often than from a search. WordPress allows sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Other plugins allow sharing on LinkedIn or via email.

Spellcheck

Converting my site, I was astonished to find page after page of spelling errors that snuck themselves in while I was typing. Having those errors highlighted while editing has made it possible to remove many small bits of egg that were, in effect, all over my face.

Site search

Now when someone comes to my site, they can search for an article. And I can, too, which is a big plus when I’m trying to find that article I wanted to add something to.

Categories and Tags

With a bit of work, categories work like folders in the static file system. (You tell permalinks to display the category, and you create a menu structure that matches your categories. Then someone can visit a “folder” to get all of the articles it contains, the same way they did in the static site.

Breadcrumbs

In addition to the URL that geeks know how to access, a WordPress site can display breadcrumbs that show the category a post is in. For example: Articles > Essays > Stuff. Even non-geeks know they can click on one of those breadcrumbs to see other articles in that category.

Automatic TOC

I added the Easy Table of Contents plugin, and got a nice looking table of contents that displays at the top-right of an article. Looks even better than the JavaScript-generated TOC I had on my static site.

Many Possible Plugins

I’ve only scratched the surface of the many plugins that are available. So the fact that site can continue to evolve has to be considered a plus.

Way Better Graphics

I’m a text-content guy. My graphic sensibilities are limited, to say the least. WordPress gives me a beautiful graphic layout developed by real designers.

Drawbacks

404 Page Not Found errors

  • The new SEO names make articles easier to find when people are doing a web search, but they also mean that virtually every link in the site is broken, as are links people used to follow to get to your pages.
  • One of my pages in particular was highly regarded enough to be highly ranked in the search listings — which I only found out because someone told me. I know I can create a redirect for that one, so old links will still work. But out of 400 articles on my site, I wonder how many others will be harder to find, because they drop in the search rankings.
  • Over time, of course, the fact that they are easier to share will make them more popular than they ever were in the past, but the immediate effect will be a drop in search rankings, and therefore in their ability to be found.

Absolute links

  • There are no relative links in WordPress. So you can’t code a simple link that goes to a file in the same category, for example, or even one that goes from the site root to the file. Only full URLs are stored as links, with the site, the path, and the name of the article.
  • For that reason, it’s pretty hard to check links as you’re migrating articles, because of course the original site is still in place, and links that will eventually become invalid will still work until the old site is taken down.
  • That policy also makes it a lot harder to rename things or move them around.
  • After a rename, you can leave the “permalink” URL the way it was — which means it no longer matches the title, or you can change it — which means that links break.
  • Similarly, categories work like folders, if you include them in the URL. But if you change the category an article is in, all the links to it break.
  • A good search and replace plugin is invaluable, of course, but it also means more work. And it adds risk, because with a small “slip of the click”, you could wind up making wholesale changes to the site that are hard to undo.

    Note:
    I use the Search Regex plugin. It hasn’t seen any development in a while, so it’s reported as “untested”. But there were no reasonable alternatives, so I gave it a try. Once I figured out its idiosyncracies, it has worked great. (For more, see Using the Search Regex plugin.)

Not a true CMS

  • Along with absolute links comes the problem that WordPress is not a true Content Management System. So if an article’s name or category changes, references to those pages are not automatically adjusted. That’s something DreamWeaver was great at.

Potential Plugin Hell

  • It can take quite a while to find a good set of plugins, because every category has so many choices. You can limit the search to the ones that are compatible, highly regarded, and widely used. But even then you’ll generally have multiple choices to consider. (For more, see Adding and Updating Plugins.)
  • Fortunately, once you get the list down to a reasonable number, plugins are easy to install and remove — as long as you do it from within the WordPress site, which makes it ultra-easy to do.
  • Still though, there are times when plugins may conflict with each other. All you can do is to add them slowly, keep a watchful eye, and then either search for a solution or back out the last one you added.
  • If only for that reason, it’s a good idea to add plugins in priority-order. So the first ones you install are the ones you absolutely want. That way, you’ll always be taking out the last thing you added, and not trying to find which of 10 early installs is causing the problem.

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