Clutch spoke with Blake George, the Founder of BMG Media, about the business implications of WordPress and Shopify, two popular website builders.
Can you provide a brief description of your company, and the role that you play there?
I’m the founder of BMG Media. Our organization mostly concentrates on custom development including a lot of WordPress and Shopify and also custom software on the proprietary end. 90% of our clientele is custom WordPress or Shopify. What differentiates our process from others is everything we do is custom. We don’t use pre-developed themes. We customize everything so the client gets what they need so that they have the ability to grow.
We’ve been in business 10 years; eight years officially. We’ve done over 1,000 websites for customers in every industry.
What should people consider when choosing a CMS or a website platform?
WordPress is 27% of the Internet from the last time I checked. The reason that most of these companies are successful is because they’re opensource and they’re first to market in terms of how active the community is in terms of developing for that software.
When you’re looking at a specific business like Shopify, for example, everybody can do e-commerce. Buying an item and adding an item is rudimentary in terms of what is available. What you really want to look for is if there is enough integration with what you want to do, and what you’re able to do in the future to make sure that you can utilize that system and not have to rebuild one or two years down the road.
If you look at Shopify, it’s awesome. You may not have the ERP integration for your drop-shippers or more custom items, and that’s where you would look at something like Magento. It’s a huge change in terms of pricing. Magento is reserved for first-class businesses in terms of size. The development is probably five or 10 times the cost. But it’s because you’re integrating with accounting systems that are very advanced. There’s a lot of custom infrastructure that you need to operate your business. I’m not sure they use Magento but something of that sort would be a better fit in my opinion.
Shopify is great for everyday business if you just want to sell candles or t-shirts or if you’re operating a retail store. What’s great about them is they have a POS machine too. If you’re a mom and pop shop, it makes nothing but sense. You have a POS machine inside your retail center assuming you’re not just online that integrates. The biggest problem they solve, which is why I’m a big supporter of them. For example, let’s say you own a clothing store from five or six years ago. You put a t-shirt online and you have the same t-shirt in your store. If that t-shirt sells in your store, a lot of times you didn’t have the connection to take that inventory down in your website. You could duplicate orders and not know how to handle it. You have a customer support issue at that point because the item should’ve been out of stock but someone actually purchased it. Now you have to go do returns and tell the customer why you don’t have it, maybe offer them a discount, etc. Shopify integrates everything all into one so you have inventory control which is huge.
In terms of WordPress, selecting what type of website you want to build on that CMS, the biggest are WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. I think that Drupal and Joomla are pretty outdated in terms of the opensource community that I discussed compared to WordPress. The possibilities are endless on the WordPress end. What you want to look for between deciding on WordPress or more of a proprietary system is how far advanced you’re going to get in terms of development. Let’s say you want to launch a native or hybrid app that works off an API. You probably are going to go a more proprietary route than use a pre-built CMS system only because you want to have that functionality and control of doing something that’s more custom and built specifically for your business. In most cases, what we found in every industry, WordPress seems to be the most unique and efficient way to build a small business website.
What differentiates Shopify, WordPress, and any other e-commerce platforms you’ve used?
From the e-commerce end, Shopify works really great. WooCommerce is probably the biggest WordPress plugin that handles e-commerce. There’s a Shopify plugin for WordPress, so if you have a WordPress site, you can integrate Shopify as an e-commerce arm inside your site. If you’re not going to sell anything online, there’s no reason to go with Shopify. It doesn’t have the functionality or features that WordPress has in terms of design, layout, and the comfort of editing and expanding your basic pages online.
What I mean by that, is the custom building of a team page. When you create a team page on your site, you want the ability to add, edit, and delete specific users. When we develop, it would be something like this: you add a new team member. What’s their name, position, email, phone number? Maybe there’s a bio or image you want to upload. Those are a lot easier done in WordPress rather than Shopify. You have more possibilities in terms of the basic pages that are more text and image based. There’s really no competition between the two. The competition only comes out if you’re going to build an e-commerce website.
Who is the ideal client for WordPress and Shopify?
Definitely small and mid-sized businesses. WordPress was originally a blogging site that’s morphed into more of a custom website where it can handle everything. Anybody with a brochure type website for sure. Somebody needing text and images on a page and being able to edit it is a perfect solution on WordPress. It gives the ability to a user to edit and not screw up their page in terms of an editor or however it’s developed if it was developed properly more than just an HTML website which would be its closest competitor.
Even a large business, if your business is not an e-commerce type business, the WordPress solution usually works for everybody especially when you get more custom. Let’s say you need a price calculator or some kind of logic. Because it’s PHP based, it makes a lot of sense. When you get out of the realm of having that WordPress install, you start to look at other languages like Ruby, Python and frontend languages like React or Angular. That would be more on the software end or more proprietary for your business.
Who should possibly avoid these platforms?
For Shopify, if the goal is to have more of a custom interface, I would probably avoid it for your e-commerce. Let’s say Customink.com. You can go in and add an image to a t-shirt and be able to print it on demand. For those type of sites, I would stay away from Shopify. I think it’s great for a mom and pop shop or everyday straightforward type of inventory.
For WordPress, the only people that should stay away from it is - that’s hard to answer because you need to know the functionality of what the customer needs to do to decide which route they should take. But 27% of the sites are on WordPress so it’s tough to say that a lot of people should stay away from it.
Talk about the importance of technical coding knowledge when building a site on either platform from a client’s perspective.
If done right, the client should be able to fill in the blank and manage their site. As I mentioned with the team plugin, for example, everything should be styled and hardcoded in a CSS file so that the client can’t screw anything up. They shouldn’t have to go into a WYSIWYG editor or some kind of editor and match style or create headers to keep consistency. The way we design and develop takes all that knowledge out. If you can use Microsoft Word, you should be able to use the site that we build for you. Uploading images, making sure the text is editable, all those things are pretty straightforward.
What a lot of companies do to save time and money is hardcode the actual page content inside of the editor which is a disaster because you have HTML code where you should just have straight text. What happens is, if you remove a quotation mark, you could break the whole page. You see a lot of that with amateur developers or people trying to save money and spit things out quickly. My company doesn’t do that at all, but you want to be sure when you’re picking an agency that nothing is hardcoded, and that you can edit all the things you need to without breaking the page.
What are the features or tools of these platforms that have impressed you?
That all goes towards having an opensource community. Having that big following, people are developing plugins every single day. Utilizing those to not rebuild the wheel I think is a huge bonus. For example, certain features like logging in or enhancing an editor, there’s no reason to custom build that every time for a customer because they’re just wasting money. I like the opensource community. In terms of plugins, a lot of the optimization plugins that cache the site or keep you up with Google, which is constantly changing, if you find a plugin that can keep up with the optimization or alert you when something is not in the right metric, those are the best.
Are there any areas that could be added or improved upon?
Everything can always be improved. The dashboard when you log into WordPress, I’ve logged into a thousand installs and the dashboard is always nonsense. It can be customized but they publish news that is irrelevant to the clients. I think they’re more based on the business aspect of the people building it. I think it should be more client focused. You don’t want them to be confused. I wish the dashboard had all the action items that a client would need if they logged in versus the webmaster login. They have it to a degree but that’s something I would redesign. There’s a lot of settings that you don’t want the client to break. You don’t want them to be able to hit a reset button and delete their site which in certain plugins you can do that. It’s common but they shouldn’t have access to it. The user levels in WordPress are straightforward more so for blogs - author, subscriber, editor that are not relevant to how WordPress is developing today in my opinion.
Same with Shopify. Once you’re the owner of the site, you have the full reigns and there are some limits in terms of security of how you can dictate which people can do what but at the end of the day, a delete button is a delete button. Not everything is read-only which I think is an issue.
What cost factors should clients keep in mind when considering this tool?
Everything is feature based. There’s not one price that everyone should pay for a website. For a custom website on WordPress, you’re looking anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 in terms of the custom theme, most plugin integrations, and any of the custom modules that you need to build.
For Shopify, I would say on the custom route, you’re going from $10,000 up depending on customization. You can get into themes for Shopify a lot easier because a lot of people are more minimal. Maybe that brings the price to $5,000, but you’re limited to a theme that someone else built that you have to manage.
In terms of management costs, it could range anywhere from $150 to $200 a month which includes hosting support. Most importantly, security maintenance. Cybersecurity is a huge issue. We utilize services like WebIron that we integrate with that work as reverse proxies to make sure the attacks get filtered from your site. That’s included in our security maintenance in case you have a Malware attack or something like that. Nobody can guarantee that you won’t get one. The largest companies in the world get hacked. Those are the things we like to include as a company. But they range. If you’re always optimizing your site and you need someone there on call no matter what, you can pay in the thousands a month for maintenance.
What is the importance of SEO and security when setting up a CMS?
From an SEO standpoint, there’s a lot of small things people miss. URL slugs for example and metadata on pages, proper keywords. It used to the norm to have a keyword that was universal through the whole site. Now it’s to the point where you need metadata for each page because they’re ranking separately. You need to have the relevance or Google will surpass it. Page load times are huge from the SEO standpoint. We had a client that was uploading pictures that were 12 megabytes on an image slider. They didn’t know any better and luckily we caught it so we could fix it and put in the proper measures to fix it without delivering grainy pictures. But you have to consider those things because every little detail counts and people don’t know what they don’t know.
From an SEO standpoint, the little things are huge. Organic SEO is a lot tougher now. You’re spending a lot of money for a limited ROI if you’re a small business. It’s very hard for a restaurant or a small business to rank against the bigger guys because they’re spending so much money. I think PPC is kind of at the point where you have to pay to play. If you’re a new business, you’ll get the fastest results and make sure you’re always seen on Google.
Even Google business pages, a lot of companies don’t set up a Google business page so when people actually Google them, they’re nowhere to be found. They don’t know what they don’t know so it’s our responsibility to guide them.
For security, our company is involved with WebIron. That’s who we choose to use. All the security systems out there, there’s a trillion bot attacks a day. It’s crazy how automated the bot attacks are. A lot of them are irrelevant. The problem is if you don’t stop them, even if they don’t negatively affect you or hack your website, what happens is they’re taking up server resources. No matter what, they’re going to slow your site down or you’re going to end up paying more in volume because you’re constantly getting attacked.
We had one site that gets 15,000 hits a week. In two days, it had a quarter million bot attacks. You’re controlling your own destiny because you can’t rely on the servers to protect you to a certain degree. Especially if you’re using someone like a GoDaddy or a shared network. There are so many sites on there and it’s very easy for you to get infected. Everything we do is on virtual service so we’re kind of in charge of our own destiny. Our security practices help against as much bad traffic as possible.
If you do get hacked, you may never know. The problem is, if you’re Sally’s Bake Shop, for example, and Malware attacks your website, it doesn’t affect you as Sally’s Bake Shop. They use it as another resource to go attack another million websites. Then you get a call from your server company saying we’re getting a lot of bad traffic stemming from your hosting. They call us and say they have a problem. That’s why having the security protocols and the proper passwords and basic security compliance in place is really helpful. If you have a WordPress site and your password is admin or password, it’s very easy for these scripts to pound in your website and do damage and you may not ever know. With Shopify, it’s a little different because Shopify is all hosted on Shopify. They’re in charge of your security. You can’t do much. That’s important to note. WordPress is sought after. Most of the CMSs are and that’s where you’ve got to be careful.
Any other comments?
It’s very important that the agency or individual you’re working with doesn’t hardcode the code inside of the editor, or in a way where you have to edit the code to edit your website. Everything should be very user-friendly. If you’re a restaurant like a burger shop, you can flip burgers really well. Your job is a chef. You know what to do, what temp it should be, etc. You shouldn’t have to have any web knowledge because you’re paying a professional to have that knowledge for you. I don’t like going into a restaurant and telling the chef how to do their job, and we shouldn’t as web developers have to tell the customer how to do our job. It’s important when you’re developing a site to make sure it’s extremely editable.
We have 5 additional questions. For each of these, we ask that you rate each platform on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score.
Functionalities and Features
WordPress - 5. There’s a lot of possibilities. There’s a lot of support in terms of opensource community support which is very helpful. Their plugin database and rating system really helps make decisions on what you need to do. It’s like the App Store, people think they have an idea for an app. If you look, there are already three people that have built the same app. It’s similar to the WordPress plugin and the opensource community is so vast. There's a lot of resources out there to help. You always hear the term, “What happens if you get hit by a bus?” It’s a lot easier to find a WordPress developer than a lot of the other CMS developers. Because it’s PHP based, it’s pretty easy to understand, so the learning curve is mitigated if something was to happen to your old webmaster.
Shopify - 4.5.
Ease of Use
WordPress and Shopify - 4. A lot of people can get 90% of the way but they might need help finishing it off or launching it. The first thing that comes to my mind is when you’re setting up Shopify and tax codes or shipping, it might get frustrating for clients not realizing they have to do certain things. That’s where an agency professional that has the experience has a checklist and knows the right questions to ask. It scales for those that know how to use computers. If you ask my grandmother to set up WordPress, it would probably be impossible. But if you ask my little cousin who grew up on computers and is 17 years old, they could probably do it.
WordPress - 4. In terms of customization, they don’t have the support because you’re at liberty for your own code. They do have a lot of resources online. I can Google something and find the issue, but it may not be a WordPress resource. It may be a random guy who had the same experience and found a solution.
Shopify - 5. They are a lot better because they actually have support staff that actually diagnoses the problem.
Willingness to Refer
WordPress and Shopify - 5. I think there are enough tools for them to design it themselves. If they’re going to get into coding, that’s where there could be an issue.
WordPress and Shopify - 5.