Editor’s note: Today, we present to you the exclusive interview with Bill Erickson, the person deeply involved with WordPress in all possible ways. He is a WordPress expert and consultant who has been actively developing with WP since 2006. Bill not only actively contributes to the WordPress community (20 plugins already and that’s just the beginning!), but also is a contributing developer of Genesis, a frequent WordCamp speaker, the author of numerous tutorials and code snippets.
We are lucky to have Bill sharing his experience of working with WordPress, views on other CMS platforms, and very useful tips for anyone who’s planning to migrate to WordPress or starting out with this platform.
1. Bill, what was the first project that made you use WordPress? Can you tell us about it?
I was working for Texas A&M University in the Marketing/Communications department, helping manage the business school’s websites. While I enjoyed building new sites, the vast majority of our work was text changes on existing sites. Other departments would copy/paste entire pages of their site in Microsoft Word, make a few text changes, then email me the document to update the site. I’d have to hunt for the changes in the document and make them on the live site.
I knew there had to be a better way, so began exploring CMS’s that were easy for non-technical people to make changes to the site. WordPress worked great and I’ve been using it ever since.
2. Following on the previous question, what is it that made you choose WordPress among other CMSs and make it a part of your career? What’s your favourite feature of this platform?
As mentioned above, the key feature for me was ease of use. WordPress was originally designed for non-technical content creators (bloggers), and so the UI has always been clean and simple even as WordPress becomes more powerful.
3. WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs in the world, but it has both addicts and haters. Do you have any key arguments to cope with the latter?
I don’t see this too much any more, but the WordPress “haters” beliefs usually stem from the idea that WordPress is only for blogging. WordPress powers 18.9% of websites today. Of those, 69% use it as a CMS only. Only 6% use it as a blog only. About 5 years ago you could say it was a blogging platform, but that’s just not true anymore.
4. Undoubtedly, as a developer and CMS professional, you keep track of what’s going on on the CMS market. Apart from WordPress, what are other platforms with potential in your opinion?
There’s a lot of great CMS’s on the market now. You could build most websites using any of the top CMS’s, and so the choice really comes down to which is your developer most familiar with, and which has the best interface for the content creators once development is complete. Some other CMS’s I’ve seen people use and speak about are Drupal, ExpressionEngine, Squarespace and Jekyll.
5. Do you get requests to migrate websites from other platforms to WordPress? What is the hardest part in the process?
As long as the CMS allows you to own your data, you can always migrate it to another CMS down the line. When migrating from other popular open source CMS’s, I bring in my database developer to figure out that CMS’s database architecture and write a script to pull that to WordPress.
Unfortunately some hosted CMS’s do not give you access to your database, which can make migration next to impossible. If you are considering an alternative CMS, you should check to see how easily you can access your data if you choose to change platforms in the future.
6. As WordPress consultant, you must be getting a lot of questions on WordPress management. Although it’s famous for being really user-friendly, are there any common issues that users are facing most frequently? What are the solutions you offer?
I would say deployment is the biggest pain point for the average user. They hear about how easy WordPress is to use so they purchase a cheap hosting plan and download a copy from WordPress.org. After that, they don’t know what to do. Even if they do get WordPress installed on their server (many hosts offer one-click solutions to this problem), they hear how important caching and CDN’s are to their performance and get stuck trying to implement these features.
This is why I always recommend managed WordPress hosts like Synthesis, Pagely and ZippyKid. They will install WordPress for you, configure the cache so your site loads super fast, keep WordPress up-to-date, and keep your site secure. They handle all the technical stuff so you can focus on content.
7. Bill, a big part of our readers are planning to move to WordPress in the closest future. They would appreciate your recommendations on making the whole transfer most successful, can you share a couple of tips?
Determine your budget and choose the best option for your budget. Where most projects fail is that the client hasn’t allocated enough capital for their chosen development approach, and end up hiring a sub-par developer. There’s great options at all price points, so choose appropriately. Here’s my recommendations, in order of budget:
1. The most affordable option is to use WordPress.com. They provide free hosting for WordPress sites. You can choose from their many free and paid themes. You can use your own domain for $13/yr (if you don’t opt for this, your url will be yoursite.wordpress.com, so I highly recommend it).
2. If you want a bit more control of your site, with the ability to install plugins and customize your theme, you can purchase your own hosting and self-host WordPress. You can use any of the free themes on WordPress.org, or purchase a theme from the many premium theme shops. I highly recommend StudioPress and build all my sites off of their framework. Hosting will cost anywhere from $5-50/month, and a premium theme might cost $50-300.
3. If you found a theme you like but need someone to tweak it for your needs, you can hire a WordPress developer. This way you focus your budget on the 10-20% you need changed in the theme and ensure those changes are done right. Tweaky.com and Codeable.io are good resources for micro-freelancing (having someone make one small change on your site). For larger changes, hire a developer familiar with your theme. I would say this is the best option if your budget is $3,000 or less.
4. Finally, you can hire a designer and developer to create a custom site specifically for you. The designer will create mockups based on your feedback, and once approved the developer will make a WordPress site that matches those designs to the pixel. I recommend hiring a developer that uses a theme framework like Genesis as that will keep development time/cost down. I also recommend allocating 50% of your budget to design and 50% to development. If those proportions get too divergent, you’ll have a sub-optimal result. You might spend most of your money on a great design but not have enough in the budget to hire a developer that can implement it well. This is the best option if your budget is at least $3,000.
I highly recommend finding the highest quality route for your available budget, as that will decrease the cost of improvement down the road. If you only have a few hundred dollars to spend, go for option 1 or 2. If you hire a cheap developer, you will hurt your site’s performance, open yourself up to possible hacking (if they poorly coded the theme), and drastically increase the cost of redevelopment since the next developer will need to fix their mistakes.
We are grateful to Bill for taking his time to share his thoughts and tips with us. If you’ve further questions on WordPress that aren’t covered in the post, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Both Bill Erickson and aisite Team will be happy to answer them.
P.S. So, apart from installing your new WordPress theme and optimizing your website, think about your accomplished and invisible website content migration with aisite. You are on the path of switching to WordPress? Find more info here or start your Demo migration right away!