WordPress has come a long way since starting as a new blogging platform in 2003, with new update versions coming out every 1-3 months, and new major versions coming out every 6 months. One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard people have with WordPress is that it is not an enterprise solution for web site or Intranet content management – that concern usually seems to be voiced by people that are not intimately familiar with WordPress, how it works, or the options available that make it a powerful solution, rivaling other platforms I’ve worked with for years, including Drupal, Joomla, and even SharePoint.
The term “enterprise” is generally applied to web platforms that are supporting large scale sites with regards to three main concerns: site traffic, site content, and site availability (maximizing uptime). Professional services also usually play into the decision of an enterprise platform, similar to that of Salesforce.com or other platforms, and the hundreds of third-party service providers that can help design, implement, and provide custom solutions for that platform.
Let’s review some WordPress facts regarding its capabilities, professional and community support, flexibility, and options available, all regarding enterprise use. We’ll also touch on some myths regarding WordPress in general that help lend a hand in the perception of its enterprise capability, followed by tips that can help make your enterprise WordPress more robust and handle any type of website you may have.
Enterprise WordPress Facts
Let’s start out by reviewing facts regarding enterprise uses of WordPress. It is the engine for some of the largest web sites, including portions of CNN, all of Mashable and TechCrunch, and is used for large enterprise deployments in companies like GM and Best Buy, as well as heavily trafficked sites of major celebrities including those of Kobe Bryant and Katy Perry. One of the best uses I’ve personally seen is a news platform and promotion system with a custom plugin that allows a network of hundreds of different regional sites to accept content, and then optionally cross-promote that content across the various sites. These various uses demonstrate that WordPress can definitely be used for large scale, high traffic, enterprise web sites. There are also services (from the same folks that bring us WordPress) that offer high-end professional hosting and support; more on that later. Here are a few things you should know about WordPress powering today’s Web:
- Over 32 million web sites
- Over 55% of web sites that are known to use a content management system (details here)
- Over 5% of the e-commerce sites on the web
There are a few myths surrounding WordPress that I’d like to discuss and address. I’ve come across a few major ones, stating that WordPress is NOT…
As with any public web platform, the security of that platform is a major concern, and I’ve heard it said that only custom coding is the most secure method of developing a site (propagated by a custom coding agency, of course). Security best practices include source code review, and WordPress is open-source, making it one of the the most comprehensively peer-reviewed source code in the world. Security patches are usually deployed within hours or days, and the deployment of those patches is usually two clicks. Security also relies on firewalls, password policies, and reducing attack vectors as much as possible. There’s an article on hardening WordPress right on their web site, too: http://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress
With over 19,000 plugins, and hundreds of functionality-focused themes, there are tons of possibilities when using WordPress to build a web site. I’ve seen excellent implementations of WordPress that function as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, a billing/invoicing system, online reservation system, a job board, bulletin board/forum, custom social network (BuddyPress), e-commerce platform, and more. It also has integration plugins with many other platforms, including Magento, MailChimp, Facebook, and tons of others.
A Website Content Management System (CMS)
WordPress includes out-of-the-box support for multiple users and permissions including subscribers (read-only), contributors (can submit content for review by editors), authors (can write and publish their own content), editors (can review and publish any content), and administrators (can add plugins and themes, make configuration changes). It includes version control of that content, so you can review and roll-back to previous versions if need be. You can also create custom content types, allowing for segmentation of content into not only categories and tags, but more departmental content with separate permissions for each section.
The speed of WordPress can be as fast as any other PHP/MySQL-based web site, with speed depending on the implementation, the server it’s installed on, and whether you are taking advantage of caching and content delivery networks. For any sites that get a good amount of traffic, I highly recommend using two simple tools, WP Super Cache, and CloudFlare.
By default, WordPress and most other database-driven content systems are fairly SEO optimized, because the content is being pulled and presented in an orderly way using a template for output, which search engines can easily spider and index. To make it even better, install one of the many popular SEO plugins, my favorite being WordPress SEO by Yoast. It prompts for many SEO options, sets up meta and description tags automatically based on the page or content being served, and includes tons of SEO options per post or page, so you can get as specific as you like with SEO-specific titles, descriptions, excerpts, and more.
The community of developers working on WordPress is enormous, and there are a lot of web sites dedicated to WordPress tips, tricks, and support, all of which are usually willing to help for free, because the community loves to help new WordPress users. There are WordCamps (informal WordPress seminars) organized in most major cities worldwide, as well as hundreds of WordPress-focused web developers and companies available for hire, many at very reasonable rates, especially compared to other platforms (the popularity of WordPress helps drives down the hourly rate), but be sure to ask for demonstrated proof of WordPress expertise. For example, I work on WordPress full-time (not a hobby), and offer regular WordPress workshops. There’s also the WordPress VIP service from Automattic, the company that authors and directs WordPress development, with both blog, cloud, and self-hosting options, with prices ranging from over $3,700 per month for basic service and support to $15,000 per month for the self-hosted full control service. Those prices are enterprise-worthy, indeed.
Tips for Enterprise Success
From doing large-scale system implementations (Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics GP, and others) in the past, I’ve learned that it’s all about the preparation for an implementation in a corporate environment. The top three implementation success tips I can offer that will ensure user adoption and overall success are:
- A top-down mandate from the CEO and top management
- Solid quick fixes and revisions to beta testing issues
- Too much training is almost enough
Here are some general tips for using and deploying WordPress for your next web site or Intranet project.
Multisite is Amazing
Instead of juggling multiple installations and databases, use Multisite. It takes 5 minutes to set up, and makes multiple web site projects very easy, it supports multiple users per site with separate user permissions, and makes updating the core WordPress files and various site plugins and themes very easy.
Take Full Advantage of Built-in Roles and Permissions
With its built-in user roles, you can add multiple people to help create content, and creating content is one of the biggest challenges I see most often. It supports contributors, which require review, so almost anyone should be able to try and contribute content, with editors able to review, make revisions, and publish or schedule publishing for a later date.
Use Custom Post types or Roles/Permissions
If need be there are great ways to extend the types of content you can manage by creating custom post types, or custom user roles or permissions. While I’d argue that the same functionality can usually be done with post categories or plugins, sometimes custom post types are needed, and they are pretty easy to add to a site.
Use Known, Trusted, Highly Used Plugins
Plugins that haven’t been updated in over 4-6 months I’d have concerns about using, and plugins not updated in over a year I’d definitely not use. WordPress.org lists the most popular plugins for common uses like contact forms, analytics, email newsletters, and the Jetpack plugin from WordPress includes many very common features as well.
This is easy to set up using a plugin like BackWPUp and backup files can be emailed out to a new gmail account, a DropBox account, Amazon S3, etc. Always, always back up not only your WordPress database, but also your wp-content folder, which contains all the plugins, themes, and media library uploads. Keep an eye on your backup logs for alerts to errors.
Test Your Restore Process
Just as important as backing up, testing your restore process is vital. The worst time to test your restore process is when your site needs to be restored, and you find out there’s a glitch, that the files are corrupt, that you ran out of space for backups, that you don’t know how to restore a database or the wp-content files, etc.
WordPress delivers a flexible, extensible, and amazingly quick to deploy platform, and it’s definitely enterprise worthy. I hope you now have new insight into the capabilities and options available to WordPress, as well as tips and tricks for not only enterprise use, but for any web site project you may have.