Blowing Smoke: Are HTML sites a better bet than WordPress?

It’s kind of painful to look at that title. But today, a new client of ours forwarded a comment made by his current web developer:

[your site is] manually coded using HTML, CSS, Javascript, and JQuery in order to provide the greatest possible visibility to search engines over time. This is because WordPress websites, with their database driven back-end, score lower in search engine rankings because each page is not assembled until the visitor requests it, unlike [your site’s] pages which remain online, even when they have not been requested, and are therefore indexed by Google daily.

My jaw literally dropped, because wow…that’s wildly out-of-date thinking. Frankly, I don’t know if it was ever true (feel free to let me know in the comments).

When a crawler comes by a database-driven site, the server responds to the query by serving up the entire page to the crawler. That’s how Google knows what’s on the page beyond your main content: e.g., the text you have in a slideshow and what’s showing up as relevant related material in a sidebar. It also notes how long it takes your pages to load. But make no mistake, any properly-written web crawler is going to get the full content of the page.

As an illustration, take a look at the crawl stats for this WordPress-driven site we built. Google’s crawling an average of 135 pages per day. This is a well-maintained site with lots of great content and plenty of good quality inbound links. Note also that pages on this site load in about 1 second. There’s nothing here to suggest WordPress is sluggish or that Google has a problem crawling the site.

I could spend another hour debunking this claim, or I can just point you to this article. Note that Matt is the head of the Web Spam team at Google. If anybody knows the answer, it’s Matt.

WordPress is “a fantastic choice”

Matt Cutts praised WordPress for being SEO-friendly platform. WordPress automatically solves a ton of issues bloggers might have. It is a fantastic piece of software, makes your site easily crawlable by search engines, solves some 80-90% of mechanics of SEO and is the first big step anyone can take towards creating a popular online business.

Note that the video in this article is from 2009, when WordPress’s market share was well below what it’s become. The WordPress platform now serves up 60.4% of all CMS traffic and 22.7% of the overall web as of the day I’m writing this post. It wouldn’t be growing like that if it caused problems with Google.

What Google cares about is the quality of your content, and increasingly, the speed. I can hand-code a blazing fast HTML5/CSS3/JS site that would make Google extremely happy, but if the content is crap my page rank will suck. And if you were my client, you’d be paying me to update your site, since I doubt you know how to work with HTML and don’t have the time or inclination to learn.

In addition to the many other high-traffic sites that live and die by SEO (NY Times Blogs, Forbes Blogs, TechCrunch),the New Yorker is now moving to WordPress. I can’t think of a good reason for building a site in straight code any more, unless you’re talking about a three-page site or something.

Update (01.29.15): Microsoft has moved many of their sites to WordPress.

6 Comments

  1. Jophan on January 6, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Well, after I have moved my site to WP my traffic from google plummeted from over 3000 per month to 600. And yes, duplicate content like archives or authors pages was set to noindex. So, should i believe Matt or the facts?

    • brock carson on March 11, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      A lot of factors exists that could have caused that. Correlation does not equal causation .

  2. Dave Kuhar on January 22, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t speak for your specific situation. Did you handle 301s properly when you built the new site? Are you generating an XML sitemap? etc. My guess would be that you need to tune your site for good SEO. I’d start here: https://yoast.com/

  3. Matthew on April 15, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Jophan,

    We migrated a site to wordpress for a very heavily visited website. We got a call saying the traffic had decreased as well. We were given access to the clients analytics account. When our Analytics Team member looked at all the good data it turned out that most of the traffic before the move was from spam bots and 301’s, some 404’s and some shady other advertising stuff. We compiled the data for them. They have less traffic now but the traffic is converting and reaching its intended demographic.

    This has nothing to do with WordPress at all.
    With a good theme that’s mobile first Google could care less if it were wordpress or plain html.

    Hope this helps,
    Matthew

  4. Scott Walker on February 7, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Now that web page load speed is a ranking factor, an HTML5 static site becomes much more attractive than WordPress. WP requires all sorts of plugins and workarounds to get even slight improvements in page load speed. Unless the site is large, dynamic, or eCommerce, a quality HTML5 site beats WP.

  5. Dave Kuhar on February 7, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    It doesn’t take that much effort to make a speedy WordPress site. One of the most important factors I’ve found is paying for quality hosting. Nobody’s going to get great speed out of $4/month hosting on a shared server. Some caching and a CDN will take care of the rest.

    I’ll allow that I can write a simple site in HTML5 and it’ll be very quick, but those projects are so few and far between that I can’t imagine forcing my clients to come to me for every little change to get a 500ms increase in page speed.

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