No More WordPress: Why ‘Just Use Email’ will no longer use WordPress for this website
I’m a confident WordPress user and part-time developer. But on this Independence Day, it’s time to declare my independence from WordPress’s “democratization of publishing” and leave WordPress behind. At least for this site.
I’m becoming more convinced that most basic websites would be better off without WordPress and other popular CMSs (Content Management Systems).
Feel free to read no further. This post is outside the scope of the Just Use Email website. It’s one of those dreaded “why I built what I built” posts where authors (ahem!) pontificate on their tech choices as if some sort of moral high ground could be reached in the world of technology.
7 Reasons Why I moved away from WordPress for this website
1. Tags, Categories, and Search are Overrated
There was a day when categorizing text seemed like a brilliant idea that would transform the internet into intelligent, machine-readable information that would allow us all to immediately access critical concepts in mere moments.
Let’s just say the internet didn’t turn out that way. Yes, some scholarly researchers dabble in this, but almost no one clicks around tags and categories on blogs. I’ve managed dozens of blogs and websites and have seen the traffic reports. It’s all basically a big joke.
Ditto goes for internal searching. If people want to find something, they often go to a major search engine. They rarely search your blog with your cute little search bar.
What all that tagging and categorization did do, however, was to clutter up your website with tons of extra pages with /tag/ urls and /category/ urls and make you think you needed a CMS to manage it all. Plus, you had the fun of wasting your time to tag and categorize posts with some grandiose idea that you were helping your readers.
Worse, our time as bloggers is actually helping Big Tech companies to better usurp our data (and often repress it) because their AI can’t seem to figure out that your post about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address didn’t involve Lincoln Logs (or vice-versa). Why help search engines one bit? Your blog is not a well-funded marketing campaign for a powerhouse startup. It’s just your blog; be real.
If you’re writing anything interesting at all, people will find you (eventually) and write about you on forums or other blogs and websites. Just let it happen organically, as they say. And if it doesn’t happen, why play a game to artificially boost your visibility on the web by catering to the whims and fancies of certain search engine ‘requirements’.
WordPress all-but requires categorization and tagging. There are ways around it (plugins), but it’s dumb and time-consuming and serves almost no benefit to most of my readers.
The built-in search on many WordPress sites is used even less.
2. PHP processing of paragraphs of text is wasteful
As you know, every page view of a WordPress generates a database call and a run of a PHP script. No matter what caching you do, nothing beats plain HTML. It’s hundreds of times faster, possibly thousands.
And because this site is plain HTML (and CSS), I don’t need a CDN (Content Delivery Network) or other wonky tech stack to try and prepare for the day my tiny website is slashdotted. Quite frankly, I don’t even care if it crashes my host’s server. It’ll be back up minutes (or an hour) later and everyone else can come visit it again.
But that’s almost impossible short of a massive campaign to crash my server - and why would anyone care about my blog (or any personal blog) to such a degree? Yet, every day, I see new “how I built this” posts on forums where the author talks about how they have a Git repository, some complex deployment strategy, and of course, a CDN. Pointless and Useless on a personal blog (unless you’re just doing it for fun or to learn about such things for work).
Nothing against PHP at all. It’s a great language and a solid choice for any web application. But this isn’t an application; it’s a blog full of text. WordPress started off as a blogging engine, but has grown too monstrous. There are hundreds of smaller, simpler choices, but outside of static website generators, they all use some kind of server-side processing language.
There’s already a server side processor: it’s called the Apache webserver and it serves up HTML to HTTP requests blazing fast (as does it’s competitors). There’s no need to use an additional server-side language to ‘render’ HTML on every page request.
But if you use a Content Management System like WordPress, you’ll have to use thousands of processor cycles (electricity, earth’s natural resources, etc), for every new page request. Caching does not completely eliminate this. PHP is still used. It just drastically reduces database queries.
This post is being written once and read by many. It won’t change again. I’ll save it as ‘no-more-wordpress.html’ and everyone in the world can access it instantly with no PHP, database, or other managed systems. In fact, it’s so clean (and embeds the CSS in the head) that you can download it and save it on your local hard drive (and even this entire website) and read it later - no third-party software needed.
3. JetPack by Automattic robs my visitors of their privacy
You can turn off JetPack (or not ever install it), but WordPress pushes it - heavily. It’s not only a free CDN for static files (like stylesheets) and images, but it includes statistics.
I can not emphasize enough how maddening the website statistics and analytics business has become. Large corporations track so much data about visitors they don’t know what to do with it. They waste most of it.
But not Google. They know exactly what to do with the Analytics data they store on behalf of their so-called ‘users’. Why major companies continue to use Google Analytics may be for another debate, but what’s stunning to me is that small websites and blogs use it.
Same goes for Jetpack’s statistics. In my opinion, WordPress has no business knowing about my traffic. Of course, it’s my fault for enabling JetPack. I previously wrote why I turned off the Email Newsletter functionality in Automattic’s Jetpack.
But did you know that not only does JetPack track incoming traffic and visitors, but it also tracks when my visitors click on outbound links? That’s rather invasive, if you ask me.
Moreover, I don’t care. Why would any small website owner truly care? Unless you’re the type of person that likes to watch paint dry, or watch airport departure signs change, it’s meaningless data.
I don’t have a goal on this website (other than to convince you to consider just using email more), so there’s no link I’m trying to get people to click on.
What bothers me more is that I have linked to some good resources here and now Automattic (and other analytic software if I had knee-jerked installed it as some do) would have some rough idea about the incoming traffic to those sites, even if those sites did their best to be private and not share such traffic data with Google and other search engine and analytic providers.
So, off it goes. Only I will know how many visitors I have (using the built-in Apache log analyzer AW Stats that every server already runs) which I’ll probably almost never check (because I don’t care) and I’ll definitely have no way of knowing what my visitors are clicking on. Nor should anyone else.
4. Theming for blogs is Overkill
Every wasted a few hours of your life trying to choose a ‘theme’ for your WordPress site? Ugh. It’s awful. They all look the same these days. Some of the best themes, in my opinion, are the ones that came with WordPress a decade ago.
All the new ones have bloated ‘hero images’, complex CSS that allows for 20 different devices, each of them custom, stupid dark modes, hamburger menus which we all hate, and gross embedded fonts so that no two blogs look alike.
Like we all want to convince ourselves we are unique by doing the same thing everyone else is doing: downloading themes and then wasting more time customizing them in WordPress’s dumb ‘customizer’ tool.
It’s just text. Get over yourselves. You aren’t designing the home page for the next Fortune 500 company. You probably aren’t even putting up a WordPress site for a local chiropractor (but if you are, I’d still recommend against WordPress if you can hire a competent web developer instead).
The worst pet peeve of mine is that almost no theme allows browser links to operate as they should. Visited links should be a different color. At some point, everyone began to believe that their website should look like corporate websites.
This is dumb. Although this can be fixed with custom CSS (by undoing the theme’s link-coloring schemes), it has become an extra step to return a blog, which by definition is mostly text, to what comes built-in with your computer or phone’s web browser.
There are some themes buried in the WordPress theme directory that are quite basic (some might say crude), but you invariably struggle to choose those because you are handed default themes from WordPress that suggest to all but the most adamant authors that they should have a ‘pretty’ website.
5. Hackers, Plugins, and Updates… Oh my!
WordPress by nature is attacked by hackers all the time. I’m a ‘pro’ at it and have never had an issue, but it is annoying to see the incoming traffic attempting to hack away at various old-school SQL injection techniques.
I also run almost no plugins, but heaven forbid if you do and don’t know what you are doing - or fail to keep them up to date. Or even set them to auto-update and just blindly trust the repositories have not been compromised.
All of this just becomes a headache. Life is short. This is just a simple HTML-based website. I prefer to ‘set it and forget it’. But with WordPress, you can never do that. You have to be constantly vigilant (or pay someone else to be), or run it on Automattic’s Wordpress.com business side of things and pay them to be, or pay for “managed hosting” elsewhere.
It’s just articles telling you to just use email. Do we seriously need all that?
I have a friend who ran a massive website for decades just fine on HTML. He finally switched to a Content Management System (not WordPress) and has had to deal with updates and migrations ever since. We have recently talked about simply going back to HTML. Sure he’d lose some ‘functionality’, but most of it is overblown… such as…
6. Comments. They are dull and embed you further into WordPress and other services like Disqus.
There are ways around commenting. You don’t have to use a CMS. You can use a third-party. You can write your own PHP script. You can even take comments received by email and just post the best ones yourself (which I might do on rare occasion).
I won’t bother to wax philosophically on why commenting on blogs is bad. There are plenty of others out there (including large websites) who have made the wise choice to turn them off.
If you like or hate this website, you can author your own opinion about it elsewhere: a forum, your own website, in an email to your friends and family. But I have zero time to host your public comments (good or bad) on my own website and then, worse, to moderate them as I will surely have to do at some point.
Twenty years ago, when WordPress and others built commenting into their software, it was revolutionary. Now, it’s just tedious, boring, and apt to generate more hate than love.
7. Pages, Posts, and Apache Rewrite
I’ve long deplored what is now called “Pretty URLs”. They were a convoluted way to obscure the true filesystem nature of Unix, which is what the web is built on.
The simple fact is, you are looking at .html file. It’s readable as such by a wide variety of browsers and other software. It’s downloadable to your machine as a .html file.
Almost every CMS and many static file generators take unnecessary pains to enable Apache Rewrite so that a page (file) like this, https://www.justuseemail.com/no-more-wordpress.html, gets rewritten as https://www.justuseemail.com/no-more-wordpress (with or without the trailing slash). The actual URL of this post is https://www.justuseemail.com/no-more-wordpress/index.html which allows you to use “Pretty URLs” such as https://www.justuseemail.com/no-more-wordpress/ without an ounce of Apache server processing (the Unix/Linux filesystem handles this far faster and better).
Nobody cares about Pretty URLs. Absolutely nobody. It was once kind of novel, but nobody cares if your file has no file extension, or ends in .html, .php, .aspx, .pl, or any other extension. No one really cared before that much, either. It just gave web developers something to do to make things more complicated so they could justify their jobs and companies could feel like they were doing something ‘high-tech’.
WordPress all but enforces this. (You can turn it off, but not easily).
Worse, WordPress makes a distinction between pages and posts. Posts are date-ordered articles, while pages are supposed ‘permanent’ articles, such as the About page or Contact page.
Hear me out. If your visitors don’t care or need to know the distinction about something, you are likely wasting your time dealing with it.
On larger corporate sites, there is (some) benefit here, but for most websites running on WordPress (which claims to ‘power’ over 1/3 of the internet), it’s pointless. In fact, it’s actually a common stumbling block for beginners as they try to determine why something should be a page or a post.
Don’t even get me started on WordPress’s ‘uploads’ folder with individual folders for each year, month, and day, as well as their enforced ‘permalinks’. It’s all over-engineering and serves no benefit to any reader.
If you need a date (known as a byline in journalism), just put one on the page and use HTML’s time tag. WordPress annoyingly adds an itemprop for dataPublished that is specific to a Schema.org ideal, but it’s not part of the HTML spec. (Not surprisingly, Schema.org was founded by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Yandex and, in my opinion, is designed to make us do more to markup our sites that do not benefit visitors, but those giant tech companies instead).
Although WordPress has evolved into a full-blown website builder, it has strayed grossly from its origins as a blog writing tool. The new clunky Gutenberg editor gives a lot of power to ‘page builders’, but makes actual writing in WordPress such a pain that many bloggers have reverted to the Classic Editor or are using an alternative tool.
By serving this site as static HTML pages, they serve at almost 100 times the speed before, save me a ton of time when composing new posts as well as time managing the site, protects my visitors’ privacy, and I don’t have to worry about backups, hackers, unnecessary categorization, or wasteful CPU cycles killing trees (or whatever goes on in them server farms).
Not that anyone will care, but I’m using Hugo from now on. However, there are many other static site generators that would work just as well.