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The bloat of universal CMSes

Content Management Systems (like WordPress) and page builders have many use cases. This is their greatest advantage – that anyone can build almost anything.

The components that you’re not using won’t affect your visitors. They’re an unused option in your editing screen but they won’t slow down your website.

But there are two ways in which this bloat affects the sustainability of a CMS.

Irrelevant options affect the editing experience

This won’t be a problem if you treat your website as a one-and-done.

For companies with an active marketing department, the bloat can become an issue. We experienced that with some of our clients in the past.

Using a regular, prettified version of WordPress means that a ton of options in the editor don’t work. Even worse, some options didn’t work as intended.

Since then, we’ve completely changed the approach to make editing a breeze. We completely gut out WordPress and only include the components and options that you need on a website.

This makes the editing process much faster and reduces the complexity of training. You don’t see components that you can’t use. It’s a truly “what you see is what you get” experience.

As a bonus, while hardly noticeable, the loading times of the editor are improved as well. There are fewer components to show, so it all adds up.

Is maintenance of a bespoke CMS really harder?

It’s a myth.

They’re only problematic if built in a vulnerable way. Reputable content management systems rarely release updates that completely break standard functionality.

Most CMSes have your back thanks to backwards compatibility. This means that if you build a website in line with the standards, it’s extremely rare to face issues. The exceptions are usually around security – but we bet you wouldn’t mind if an insecure feature stopped working for a short while.

Here are the WordPress coding standards to prove that we’re not making this up.

I’ve had compatibility issues with WordPress – where do they come from?

A lot of conflicts are related to third-party plugins. Even though coding standards exist, not everyone adheres to them.

What’s worse, there are add-ons to WordPress plugins as well. This means a single feature relies on three independent authors. That spells trouble.

The dark side of website plugins

On top of potential code issues, the fragmentation of the plugin market is a danger to sustainability. The more vendors you include, the harder it is to track if your site is green.

How does a plugin affect your performance?

If the plugin connects to external servers, do these run on green energy?

And finally, are the developers focused on sustainability, or are they cutting corners left and right?

There are more questions to answer, but these three would give a headache to anyone auditing a website for sustainability after they see tens of plugins installed on it.

Does scale offset sustainability?

WordPress powers about a third of all websites. Even if not everyone uses a feature, there’s a good chance enough people do. Does that justify maintaining it all?

To an extent. A feature used by 10% of websites might require more maintenance than it’s worth. But if it’s profitable, the CMS authors can’t simply ditch it because “it’s not green”. (They can, but who are we kidding.)

Every configuration of a popular CMS or page builder is different. Yet, they get the exact same level of maintenance.

The “cost” spreads to everyone, but if you’re conscious about your sustainability, even the tiniest amount of work on a feature you’ll never use is a waste. Why would you care that 90% of the Internet uses it if you don’t?

Originally published Nov 11, 2023 5:22:17 PM, updated November 11 2023.

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