B2B SaaS Startups: It Is Time to Stop Using WordPress
WordPress is the world’s most popular Content Management System (CMS) with a purported 4 in 10 websites using it. However, as this blog will argue, WordPress is not a good choice for growing B2B SaaS companies with ambitions of taking their companies to the next level.
Introduction - WordPress Issues
WordPress is the world’s most popular Content Management System (CMS) with a purported 4 in 10 websites using it (exact stats vary, but W3Techs claims that WordPress is used by 43% of all websites). Since its inception in 2003, it has helped sustain a significant ecosystem of WordPress developers around the world, as well as professionals creating various themes and plug-ins (almost 60,000 at the last count). However, as this blog will argue, WordPress is not a good choice for growing B2B SaaS companies with ambitions of taking their companies to the next level.
WordPress and B2B SaaS
Ask the average person to list the leading CMSs and unless they work in an agency, WordPress will likely represent the only name they will be familiar with. It has strong brand awareness in a category flooded with hundreds of smaller competitors. However, as it passes its 20th birthday it is beginning to show its age.
While it still has a role to play for the right type of user (budget constrained with minimal website requirements), it is no longer fit for purpose for scaling B2B SaaS websites.
If this is the case why do many B2B SaaS companies still rely on it?
In part, this is due to the brand recognition mentioned above, but also because a significant majority of web developers and agencies still promote it for several reasons:
WordPress developers are plentiful and relatively affordable
“Rinse and repeat” methodologies help maintain healthy margins on web development projects
Many development proposals include attractive retainers given the ongoing technical management needs of the platform (recurring revenue is always attractive)
As a catch-all CMS, it can work for a wide range of clients from personal websites, to local service providers to commercial sites so again agencies can deploy in a range of different circumstances
So what are some of the drawbacks associated with WordPress and why do they matter for B2B SaaS companies?
B2B SaaS Assumptions
Before we dive in, I am making some assumptions here about the kind of B2B SaaS companies I am seeking to write about. I am assuming that:
Performance and site speed is important
They have some in-house developer capability (as software businesses)
Lead generation is an important requirement
Content creation, management, and promotion are also key (Inbound Marketing and SEO)
These assumptions are pretty standard, regardless of whether the startup is bootstrapped or VC-backed.
So what are some of the more common WordPress Issues you are likely to encounter?
1- Confusing UI/ UX
First off, there is no denying the WordPress interface is confusing, clunky, and hard for first-time users to navigate. As plugins are added, the dashboard can appear overwhelming with an array of ‘required actions’ vying for your attention. What was once clean and intuitive, can overwhelm all but the most seasoned of WordPress users. 20 years down the line it is not beautiful nor intuitive for its marketing users.
2- Performance Issues
An increasing amount of criticism being levied at WordPress relates to alleged performance issues. As ever, the cause often relates more to the use of WordPress than the underlying platform. The reality is that in-house use of it as a CMS over a sustained period tends to degrade performance be that through the uploading of oversized images, or the excessive use of plugins. Despite the causes, the average commercial WordPress site performs poorly when compared to Headless CMSs powered by Static Site Generators (SSGs) and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). On a recent comparison test we ran, comparing leading B2B SaaS sites in Ireland, WordPress speed tests averaged 2x more poorly than those on a Headless CMS.
3- Security Vulnerabilities
The security issues with WordPress are well documented. In part, it suffers because its sheer market dominance means the number of sites in play is so much higher than any other Content Management System. It also suffers due to the reliance on the PlugIn ecosystem where marketing team members can unknowingly introduce security vulnerabilities. These plugins are subject to regular updates, and in many cases, these are not actioned routinely and in a timely manner. The basic login page lacks 2FA (second-factor authentication) and the default admin username encourages brute force attacks.
In short, trying to manage WordPress security in-house via a junior member of the marketing team (as is often the case) is simply asking for trouble.
4- Reliance on PlugIns
While the range and extent of plugins which can extend the functionality of WordPress can be perceived as an advantage there is also a hidden cost to them. Firstly, the provenance of many of the almost 60,000 plugins is unknown. Over the journey of a B2B SaaS startup’s life-cycle, the marketing function will likely change frequently. Given the ease with which plugins can be installed, they can contribute to website bloat over time, negatively impacting page load times and increasing security vulnerabilities. The responsibility of managing and updating themes and plugins is often neglected as junior marketing members fear ‘breaking the site’ given the incompatibilities that can emerge.
"Every new plugin is a loading hazard. With additional third-party integrations for more powerful functionalities that integrate your marketing stack, you risk slowing down your website and decreasing your conversion rate.” Source: Mawla
5- Ongoing Maintenance Costs
The average tenure of marketing leaders in most B2B SaaS businesses tends to span 1-2 years, meaning that over a ten-year period there may be more than 5 marketing leaders who’ll come with their own tool set. Layering apps and plugins on top of other legacy ones without stripping them out is commonplace.
Similarly, over time the overheads of maintaining a WordPress site are beyond the skillset of time-pressed marketing team members and are best achieved via a retainer with a WordPress specialist (an overhead many functions are unwilling to countenance).
6- No Specific Use Case
WordPress caters to all sorts of websites; commercial, non-commercial, large, and small. As a result, the feature set (and the number of plugins) has continued to grow to cover a wide range of use cases. The result is feature bloat, and confusing UI/UX for all but the most technical of users.
Finally, in a recent survey focused on developers, it was noted that dissatisfaction amongst the developer community was on the rise.
The overall leader in the CMS space remains WordPress, as it has been for many years. However, with a satisfaction score of just 0.5, unenthusiastic users of WordPress outnumber enthusiastic ones 2-to-1, and WordPress has lost usage share over the course of our surveys. Source Jamstack Survey
Why do these WordPress Issues matter for B2B SaaS startups?
When taken together these WordPress issues / drawbacks are pretty significant for most B2B SaaS companies.
As B2B SaaS sites grow, optimizing performance will often be based on marginal gains. A slow site, with challenging UI/UX and security vulnerabilities, is not the platform you’ll want to build from. While the perceived switching costs are considered high, they don’t need to be and the default option of ‘doing nothing’ simply kicks the can down the road.
Continuing to invest in a WordPress-based infrastructure is simply not a sensible option for growth-orientated B2B SaaS companies.
Headless CMS - A Credible Alternative
I’ve argued that when it comes to B2B SaaS sites, WordPress is no longer fit for purpose.
So what represents some viable alternatives?
The unusually named Headless CMS category has emerged in recent years as a CMS well-suited to the demands of fast-growing B2B-SaaS companies. Headless CMS is an API-based approach to managing websites where the front-end and the back-end are decoupled or separated. A Headless CMS acts as a content repository, with structured content which is fed to various heads via API’s. There are numerous advantages to this approach including:
Speed- Unparalleled site speeds which WordPress simply won’t match (without significant external support/investment). Static sites are usually much faster than traditional (monolithic CMSs) because they consist mostly of simple HTML and CSS and rely on geographically dispersed Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to reduce page load times.
Enhanced Security -By serving a decoupled front-end from an edge network, your website can be protected against DDoS and other brute-force attacks. Best-of-breed solutions from the likes of AWS, Gatsby, Akamai, and Netlify, tend to be enterprise-grade also. Finally, a compartmentalized and modular architecture is considerably more secure, as a single vulnerability does not necessarily lead to a chain reaction that endangers the entire website.
Scalability - With a Headless CMS you manage your content centrally, from a single source of truth, and have the flexibility to switch developer tools whenever needed so vendor lock-in is not a factor. If you ever want to change your front-end design or tech stack you simply don't need to worry about your content.
Flexibility - When developers have the freedom to select the front-end tools they are comfortable with, it results in quicker code development and a higher level of satisfaction. The decoupled architecture provides flexibility by allowing the use of various front-end frameworks such as Gatsby, Next.js, and Nuxt.js. While your content structure can remain unchanged you can easily modify the visual appearance of the site given the front-end is essentially isolated. In short, you can swap out the front or backend individually as your site evolves.
More Economic: A headless CMS can establish connections with multiple presentation layers (or heads) effortlessly, such as mobile apps, websites, and IoT devices. This reduces duplication of effort, saving time and money.
An alternative option is to consider a platform like Webflow, which offers some of the benefits of a Traditional CMS with a more modern twist.
Finally, it is worth noting that the open-source nature of WordPress means that you can use it as a Headless CMS. A headless WordPress site entails utilizing WordPress for content management and a distinct frontend stack tailored for displaying the content. However, the general consensus is that this is needlessly complicated, and adds cost as well as introducing downstream maintenance challenges.
In summary, WordPress remains a popular CMS for good reasons. It is particularly well-suited for those on a tight budget who are happy to rely on themes and plugins to enhance their websites. However, as the short list of WordPress issues illustrate, it is completely ill-suited to the needs of fast-growing B2B SaaS websites. B2B SaaS sites strive to optimize performance to support lead generation efforts. A good starting point is to ensure that you are not hampering efforts out of the gate by remaining on a CMS that isn’t aligned with your goals. A combination of a Headless CMS and a static site builder is considered as web development best practices that prioritizes greater speed, improved security, increased flexibility and greater control.
Co-Founder / CEO