WordPress has been a great choice for digital publishing for many years now. This is largely because it’s ubiquitous, developers are easy to find, it’s easy to use, and it has significant third-party support. Today we want to focus on some of the reasons that aren’t as apparent but are drastically influential for publishers.
One of the great things about the WordPress ecosystem is its plugin library. There’s a saying that goes “If you have a need, there’s probably already a plugin for it.” While there are plugins for most functional needs that arise within WordPress, the larger and more complicated your publishing process becomes, the shorter the list of plugins that suits your needs becomes. At some point, you simply need to have custom code.
Fortunately, that same system that facilitated all of those other plugins can be leveraged to build custom integrations suited to your own systems and processes. If you need some middleware for data or asset management on a custom platform, you can absolutely do that.
WordPress has a full featured REST API (that can be extended via code) and can optionally use GraphQL, so it’s entirely possible to manage WordPress, its settings, and all of the content via code.
In any large endeavor, you need to automate everything you can. It saves time, it saves money, and it provides consistency. The REST API could empower a developer to ingest articles from an external data source, create a WordPress post, assign it to an author, affect settings related to that post, and mark it for editorial review.
From updating publish dates, to changing post statuses, adding or removing tags and categories, changing featured images, and running A/B tests on content — hundreds, perhaps thousands of things can be done automatically with WordPress, making it ideal for taking a small endeavor to enterprise scale without a significant increase in cost.
In addition to content creation, the support and management of WordPress can be automated. On a personal blog, when an update is available, most people just push the update button and assume everything will work. At an enterprise level, updates like that should be scripted, and involve lots and lots of tests and processes to make sure nothing is going to break in production.
A great example of this is the Tide project, which runs automated quality testing for all WordPress plugins and themes on WordPress.org and makes those test results visible for both the authors and the end users of those plugins and themes. This concept can also be used on any code written for your codebase, to help ensure security, standards, and general code quality.
While there are standard practices in publishing, often publishers want their own systems and processes. Particular pieces of software exist for specific steps, some of which are custom built. Or, perhaps there’s a lack of process that needs to be accounted for. Perhaps some people use MS Word, some use Google Docs, and Larry from IT writes LaTex into emacs on his Linux computer.
The REST API makes it possible to use WordPress headlessly, on both the front and back end. This means that if you don’t ever want to touch the admin area of WordPress, you can make your existing software and processes create, update, and manage all your content without ever seeing WordPress.
Then by the same token, if you don’t want WordPress to be the platform that sends the website to the browser, you can build an entirely new front-end in any language you wish.
Once you get accustomed to the idea that you can use any tool to create and publish your content with WordPress as the core platform, your options become endless.
WordPress can have some scalability issues once you get to the enterprise level. Caching can resolve most issues, but some things can’t be easily cached, like personalization, search results, etc. But then we come back to the flexibility of WordPress, and with some engineering skill, those scalability issues become known, and there are ways to mitigate them. Systems like Elasticsearch and Algolia can dramatically speed up searching, and there are similar systems to solve just about any problem you can throw at WordPress.
WordPress.com is a site that hosts blogs that people can simply sign up for and use. Over 70 million posts per month are made across the network. They were able to work with the scalability issues and resolve them so that they can handle that kind of traffic.
As in all of the sections above, the real magic of WordPress is its flexibility. Even if there are components that aren’t a fit for your systems and processes, with a good engineering partner that has a deep understanding of how WordPress functions, these components can be adjusted to precisely fit your needs.