My Wordpress Frankenstein Site Experience - Here Be Monsters

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In life, you are sometimes forced to take the path of least resistance. As a Hubspot Certified Marketing Agency, I've been able to avoid working with clients on Wordpress, until now. Why would I want to avoid working on Wordpress in the first place, you might ask.

It's a long story, but as a business owner who had to evaluate the available marketing solutions out there, I had evaluated the landscape and came to the conclusion that Hubspot was ideal for my own needs and budget, which were, at the time, focused on building my lead generation capabilities for my business, SAP BW Consulting, Inc.

Using Wordpress as a Lead Generation Website

Wordpress Frankenstein vs Hubspot

The story behind this blog actually goes back almost 5 years, when I was helping to optimize an existing Hubspot+Salesforce high volume environment. During that engagement, I got to know everyone in the company, as well as all the different systems. One of the people who I got to know well, reached out to me to make a proposal to help him generate leads in his new job. So, after analyzing what they needed me to do, which was to generate leads in the financial services industry, I made my proposal, which had Hubspot as the central platform as part of my recommended strategy.

Unfortunately, they couldn't quite see the value of going all in on Hubspot, so through a long series of events, they ended up having me and my team build out their website on Wordpress. As part of that process, we developed and implemented a content marketing strategy, as well as a multi-million dollar paid ad strategy. We've been executing this ad strategy of generating leads with wordpress for three years now.

It Worked - Up to a Point

Yes, it was initially cheaper to go with Wordpress. We went with a hosting service that offered both domain registration and Wordpress Hosting. So far, so good. However, inside my Google Ads Account, where I was managing close to, at times, $100,000 per day in Ad-Spend, Google was pinging me on website speed issues.

As I am not a Wordpress 'make it go faster' consultant, we hired a team to work on those issues. They did all they could, but eventually reached the limit of their abilities and our technical setup. They then recommended we upgrade from Wordpress Hosted to Managed Server, which we did. Cost were now rising steadily to own this hobgoblin of a system.

Google also provides their own recommendations, which you can get yourself for your own website here. Among the many recommendations that Google makes is to redevelop your site as AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and or as a Progressive Web Application (PWA). We'll circle back to the measurement issue later on. We've implemented AMP using a plug-in, but that isn't the same thing as building a site from ground up using AMP, which we have not yet done. The primary reason being incompatibility with our multi-step form tool.

Did I Mention All The Plugins You Need

One of the great strengths of Wordpress (or so I am told) are the number of plugins available. There are something like 50,000 of them. That leads to the first time suck in a project like these - choosing which one you need. Of course, most all of them have a free version with essentially zero support, while offering a paid version if you want to get support. Within that model, there are tons of upsell opportunities for these plug-in developers. We even ended up building one ourselves to fix an issue with GCLIDs.

There are also compatibility issues to be dealt with between and among plugins. How many plugins are we talking about? About 15+ usually. That's 15 renewals (more when you include your theme development tool, in our case, Elementor Pro and the paid add-ons from various providers you find you need for Elementor to do all the fancy tricks you want to do), all happening at various time intervals throughout the year. As well, each with its own User ID and Password idiosyncrasies.

iFrames - Forms - GCLIDS

Did I mention we didn't build the site - we hired a company to replicate what was already there. They chose to use iFrames to embed custom built forms in them to achieve the same functionality we had in the old site. Unfortunately, an unforeseen, and undetected during testing side effect, was an inability to pass Google GCLIDS to the Clients CRM. Sounds kinda nerdy, I know. Let's talk about the impact of wordpress gclid glitch.

You Starve Google's Adword's AI of Critical Feedback

You should first know that I've been running Google Adwords on behalf of clients for a very long time. When you get a profitable model running, there is really only one thing to do - throw more fuel on the fire and up your budget. One of the critical links in the information supply chain when it comes to Google Adwords success is the GCLID or Google Click ID.

What is the GCLID?

Because of the ever increasing focus on protecting privacy, when you run a paid ad, Google generates and appends a long string of alphanumeric characters to your 'click'. This GCLID gets passed along to the client's CRM (or other system) and when they close a sale, you tell google, hey, this GCLID (which is a stand-in for identifying someone without actually revealing any personally revealing data about a real person) became a sale and it's worth this much to us.

Now Google knows what kind of lead became a sale, and can do a better job of finding similar people out there. If you run an e-commerce site, and you have all your systems connected up properly, you can easily measure this complete sales cycle. But when your sale happens 'offline', usually involving one or more phone calls, perhaps face-to-face meetings, and most importantly, lengthy periods of time, you need to implement this OCT or Offline Conversion Tracking mechanism.

It's Statistical Process Control At Scale

Whether you know anything about Statistical Process Control (SPC) or optimization in general, just know that when you combine this GCLID tracking code data flow with the 70,000,000 million data points that Google is analyzing with every click, you can get some very high conversion rates. Think 30% to 60% and higher. But you also need your website to rock, and your messaging to be spot on. And you need to be reporting sales honestly.

Wordpress is SLOOOOW - And Not Mobile Friendly

If you're like most people, you have a smart phone and mostly access the web using your mobile phone. Our data says 80% of all converters convert on our mobile website. And for as long as we've been running Google Adwords against our client's Wordpress website, Google Adwords has been flagging the mobile site as slow.

There Are A LOT of Different Mobile Systems

Our developer has implemented a technical solution (@mediahandlers) and done a lot of CSS styling work to make the mobile version of the site work better. But here is where the Wordpress Frankenmonster took revenge. You remember how we started on a Godaddy hosted wordpress plan then migrated to Godaddy Managed Services earlier in this little misadventure?

Backup and Recover Are Not Enterprise Class

As someone with over 20 years of SAP implementation experience, I am used to and have the expectation of functionality equivalent to the SAP Change and Transport Management System (CTMS). What is the SAP CTMS and what does it provide we found we didn't have on our Wordpress Managed Services setup?

Background on SAP environments (highly simplified): SAP recommends, at a minimum, a 3 system landscape.

Development - Quality Assurance - Production.

Though many SAP clients will have a 4th environment for training, the 3 environments above provide the implementation team a way to do development, transport it (at an extremely granular level, as in a single object all the way up to an entire configured system) into quality. In quality, the team can then test it, usually with about 80% of the production data volumes. Once it passes QA, it can then be transported into production, where additional testing and validation can be carried out.

This approach also means you can reverse a transport, track down issues and generally, keep things running and get things fixed at what is called enterprise class operational levels.

Hubspot's Approach - A Brief Explainer

By contrast with SAP's CTMS system, which is really fairly expensive, even when you're fully in the cloud (where, in the background, they have these same setups, just called something slightly different), Hubspot provides a simple approach and and complicated approach, depending on your requirement.

The simple approach to managing changes comes down to having page level version control and a staging area where you can make changes in a more controlled fashion, with the ability to revert back to a previous version. This second part, the Hubspot Content Staging area, has saved me countless hours when making template changes, and reworking entire sites. The hubspot staging environment has never glitched. Not once. It also provides a simple way to have a client review proposed changes and confirm them.

Managed Server Wordpress Backups - Just Not Quite The Same

With our Wordpress Managed Server set up, which was fairly expensive, we had a backup system - but not a change management system designed for marketers. As far as 'configuration', there wasn't much involved except to turn it on for the target URL. Many ASSumptions were made about the backup and recovery system. The most important of which was that it worked. Au contraire.

About six months ago, our site got a malware infection. It turned out, that even though we had paid for a fully managed wordpress server, they had not fully configured the firewall and apparently, that was our fault. You can imagine my thought process on that little glitch.

So, we once again found we had to purchase additional security, and in this case, we first upgraded our security plan with Godaddy and then, after that turned out to be less than effective, we bought a Sucuri Security package (Securi turns out to be owned by Godaddy, but they apparently cannot and do not communicate with each other internally).

So now we had the option of having this Wordpress security system provider implement their firewall and 'Defense In-Depth' on our site. The first time they did this, it took us a while to detect it, but they had somehow restored a version of the site that was from about six months ago. The exercise of them fixing it, then us figuring out that the live site was now about a six month old version, happened at least 4 times. The fix was the same (yet not permanent); call the managed server team, which was able to figure out that the IP had now been directed to the hosted wordpress server versus the managed server file. Clearly, they have and continue to have, an internal plumbing problem. The 4th managed server guy was finally able to track down what was happening, but he could not recover a version of our site from slightly before the malware infection.

If you want to see what kind of security you should have, at a minimum, then a good place to start is to read the Hubspot Security Overview.

Sixty Blogs Missing From The Restored Version

Two Weeks Of Additional Time Required To Repair

Remember I said we were doing Inbound Marketing, just without Hubspot, though we do have the Hubspot Wordpress Plugin installed and working. Well, a big element of Inbound Marketing is blogging, and we had produced 81 blogs over the past year or so, with great results. If you've spent much time working with Wordpress, which is a blogging platform, you know it takes quite a bit of time to assemble your blog, never mind write it. You have to insert images and critically, link the blogs between and among themselves.

This is not a random activity when done correctly. Yoast Pro, another paid SEO tool we use in this environment, provides a lot of help with this process. But this recovery process, we found out ourselves, had resulted in the loss of about 60 blogs. We had backups, and have republished then, and relinked them. That was about 2 weeks of rework, then further time to get the Google Bot to recrawl it via a request using the Google Search Console.

Page By Page Backups - Where Are They

If you use the Managed Server Backups (which is what we did, after all, paying for this as part of the process), you have a backup and recovery system. But all you can really do is restore all files or the database or both. There is not an capability with this system to view previous versions and restore it. This is a huge advantage to working in Hubspot, version control right down to the page level.

Of course, there is an Upsell opportunity available for a higher performance backup system. But, one of the smart guys basically said, this isn't an enterprise class system so don't expect enterprise class backups. That's probably ok for an individual website owner, but when you're running a large operation, way too risky. There are actual technical standards that backup systems need to meet - this one does not.

Deeply Buried HTTP Links

While all this was going on with this beast of a site, Google Adwords started flagging ads for having insecure links. Though the site is HTTPS (meaning it has an SSL Certificate), buried within some of the plugins, were http links. This normally shouldn't be an issue, but Google has steadily been digging deeper into sites. So now, we found ourselves having to raise support messages with many of the Plug-in developers, to have them fix their stuff. Some were responsive and were grateful for the heads-up and quickly addressed their leaky boat. Others, not so much.

Wordpress Support - Not Quite Enterprise Class

I guess I have been spoiled by Hubspot support. It's always right there, just waiting for me to reach out. They are available using chat, via email or via phone. They will even call me when I can't wait around. Over the years, I've raised many many support messages, and they've always been absolutely impressive. Even when a newbie is manning the phones, they seem to be very talented, and always maintain a positive attitude - and I beat up on them plenty.

But, as it turns out, I have other experience with which to judge the level of support I am receiving for our Wordpress site. You see, in 1999, yes, that long ago, when I was first hired into SAP, in Saudi Arabia of all places, I was in charge of SAP support (actually, I was in charge of Pre-Sales, Consulting and Training, Business Planning and Marketing). SAP had me and each of my support people get certified by SAP on using the SAP support system. It was basically a big Q&A database in the sky, built on top of SAP R/3. It consisted of 3 levels of support, and we were able to provide level 1, and hand-off and coordinate level 2 and level 3 support. It was an extremely challenging job to deliver support.

Without going deep into that experience, what is important to know is that SAP Clients paid for support (about 18% of the annual license fee at the time, now more). Clients expected to be able to get someone on the phone and to get their problem resolved. Some of these problems were very deep, very complex problems while others were simple. There was no glory in delivering SAP Support.

Compare Wordpress Support to Hubspot

Although I am sure there are many different providers of Wordpress hosting and support, I am also sure that what we have experienced is not atypical. We've now contracted for Premium Wordpress Development support, and have been giving them tasks to do so we can get back to doing Hubspot development and marketing work.

They have a catalog of services available - which means you first have to be smart enough to know what the question is and then what the catalog item is you need them to do for you. There is no live human service advisor available. They have now done 4 of 15 contracted items since we contracted this month. The first resulted in resetting our website back to the six month old version. The rest, they've been slowly delivering but there is no task project monitoring system. It's fairly random. This would have gotten you fired in my days as a USAF maintenance officer. C'est la vie.

10 Lessons Learned

  • Wordpress, as a replacement for a Hubspot Inbound Marketing Website, is not in the same league. However, for building a brochureware website, it's probably fine.
  • As you try to emulate the systems and services that come with Hubspot, your cost will rise, and quite rapidly. But you will struggle to estimate what these will be in advance unless you have a basic setup figured out, like we do (which we didn't have 5 years ago).
  • Mobile speed is and will continue to be, a challenge to improve whether you use Wordpress or Hubspot. But the Hubspot CDN provides a clear advantage here.
  • Hubspot Analytics are hands down superior to Google Analytics. That's a controversial statement, I know. I actually always use both, and have 10 years experience with both, and am more than happy to show the difference.
  • Hubspot Closed Loop Reporting, meaning from click to sale and back, is easy to set up and a far superior approach to trying to get it all going with all the Google Systems, i.e., Google Tag Manager,Google Analytics, and many third party packages.
  • Hubspot's advertising add-on, which reports GCLID back to Google (which is a new capability for the add-on) is a game changer when it comes to paid advertising results. You can target highly specific audiences with very specific characteristics - down to an individual level.
  • Hubspot is a clear winner when it comes to Website Security
  • Hubspot Support combined with a dedicated partner is far superior to anything you've likely experienced, including with SAP.
  • The native integration between Hubspot and a huge variety of 3rd party service providers, such as Twilio and other integrations available to systems such as SAP, allow you to develop a tech stack that is far more robust than wordpress.
  • Wordpress likely has a plugin that will allow it to do somethings you'll find hard to do in Hubspot.

What Should Your Next Step Be?

If you're considering Wordpress vs Hubspot, then you should talk to us. If you're looking to generate more leads and sales, then we believe we bring unique experience and perspective to the table. Just click the button to get started.


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Lonnie Ayers

About the Author: Lonnie Ayers is a Hubspot Certified Inbound Marketing consultant, with additional certifications in Hubspot Content Optimization, Hubspot Contextual Marketing, and is a Hubspot Certified Partner. Specialized in demand generation and sales execution, especially in the SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Partner space, he has unique insight into the tough challenges Service Providers face with generating leads and closing sales using the latest digital tools. With 15 years of SAP Program Management experience, and dozens of complex sales engagements under his belt, he helps partners develop and communicate their unique sales proposition. Frequently sought as a public speaker in various events, he is available for both inhouse engagements and remote coaching.
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He also recently released a book "How to Dominate Any Market - Turbocharging Your Digital Marketing and Sales Results", which is available on Amazon.

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