WordPress vs CraftCMS
30% of the internet is built on WordPress. That figure is according to VentureBeat and it suggests how widely WordPress has become a default platform when it comes to building websites; this one included.
Behavioural economists Thaler and Sunstein, in their genius book Nudge talk about human defaults and how sticking with a default, even when there are better things out there, is really common practice. So as a company, or in this case WordPress, establishing yourself as the go-to, or the default is a really good move.
That being said, becoming a default is not easy so doing do, already suggests WordPress is great – but why are we so reluctant to explore different products?
There are loads of alternatives out there that we look at daily at We Are Star. Some of our favourites include the ever emerging Statamic and community-led Typo3 but recently, while doing research for a client, we landed on CraftCMS as the right choice.
The conclusion before we begin is that there are pros and cons to every one of them, but having built sites on CraftCMS and WordPress recently, we thought we’d put together a (fairly) neutral summary on the differences (and similarities) of CraftCMS and WordPress and hopefully show where WordPress may sometimes not deserve to be the default.
Round one, and the one everyone wants to know about, is price. On the face of it, this is a straightforward win for WordPress. Being ‘free’ compared to Craft’s $300 + $59 a year price tag, it might appear a routine win and a large contributing reason why people often opt for WordPress. But let’s explore this a little more.
WordPress sites almost always require more maintenance than any other CMS, including Craft. So whilst you save on licenses, you’re almost certainly going to be paying more to look after the site. Some of our sites need 3-4 hours of support each month just to update plug-ins, invariably with some downtime. Plug-ins are something that you simply don’t need on many other CMS’. A free license may end up coming with a hefty price tag for extras.
If you’re worried about spending $300 for a more robust solution, you may want to question the viability of your site. Any website hould bring significant ROI and if $300 is the difference between the website being viable or it being too expensive, your site may not be viable.
Winner: WordPress (but let’s look at total cost of ownership separately)
Another straightforward victory for WordPress.
One of the biggest advantages for WordPress and the main reason it is and will remain default is because currently, there are over 55,000 plug-ins available. No other CMS touches it and short of a revolution, no one will.
If you convince a client to use a non-Wordpress CMS, you can guarantee that the first feature request will be something WordPress had 1000 plug-ins for and your CMS requires custom development. It’s a tricky chat to have with a client to justify why, after convincing them to use another CMS, you then need them to stump up another sum of cash to develop a feature WordPress can deliver in 2 clicks.
Outside of WordPress, CraftCMS has one of the larger plug-in libraries but it’s still not close to WordPress. If you do pick CraftCMS – or any non-Wordpress CMS – you won’t have access to the mind-blowing range of plug-ins WordPress offers.
That said, as you’ll see in the Security round, using a plug-in might not always be the right thing.
Cyber security should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Any comparison of WordPress’ security compared to pretty much any other solution is like comparing a supermarket’s security to that of a military base.
Like a supermarket, it’s not that WordPress doesn’t have security, it’s just that they are far easier to target. In the same way if you’re a thief, you’re more likely to look at Tesco (or “Wal-Mart” for our American viewers) as a place to go and half-inch (“steal”, for our American viewers) something as opposed to a military base.
Hackers looking for a kick are more likely to attack your WordPress site, simply because it’s WordPress meaning there are more vulnerabilities and more ways in. Yes, your security guard might be monitoring everyone coming in through the main entrance, but what if the staff entrance has been left open?
It’s important to understand, the WordPress Core is very secure, but it’s also very limited. Almost any site requires a plug-in. Even something as simple as a Form – something which most CMS platforms offer out of the box – requires a 3rd party plug-in and the more plug-ins, the more vulnerabilities.
There are stories of plug-in developers intentionally implementing vulnerabilities into their ‘free’ plug-ins as a way to force you to upgrade to the more secure and highly priced ‘premium’ plug-ins. There are also stories of developers creating highly credible-looking plug-ins purely to inject malware into your WordPress site.
Yes, WordPress aficionados will tell you that there’s plenty of solutions out there; Wordfence for example, is a solid tool to keep baddies out and give you an overview of who is trying to hack your site and which plug-ins need updating, but that in itself says a lot. To keep your WordPress site secure, you need a 3rd party plug-in and the most popular come with premium versions if you want the full package, which comes with a pricetag.
And what about Craft? Well, you have a more secure core, lower reliance on plug-ins on a less common CMS meaning fewer people trying to hack your site.
WordPress is the King of plug-ins and while they have a number of SEO plug-ins to offer, the most popular is Yoast. Yoast is renowned as being one of the more powerful platforms for SEO and a reason many companies chose WordPress despite its documented shortcomings.
CraftCMS also has a number of plug-ins, the most popular being SEOmatic. It’s very similar to Yoast in both set-up, interface and functionality. However, it might just be in the lead as it’s getting a lot of strong reviews and lots of people believe it’s more powerful that Yoast. Industry-leading SEO resource moz.com uses SEOmatic to power its own SEO.
Out of the Box
WordPress is, in its foundation,a blogging platform and as such offers powerful blogging out of the box. This is excellent if that’s what you need it for, however, it lacks much else and requires plug-ins or extensions to perform sometimes even the simplest of website functions, for example form builders.
CraftCMS offers far more out of the box, as would be expected from a web CMS and it is not constricted to the blogging foundation. It isn’t limited by technical constraints and not does your core platform carry 15 years of technical debt.
WordPress is quite performant but does notoriously carry significant extra code on top of its templates and as such can slow things down more than you expect whereas CraftCMS is renowned for its speedy front-end.
Principally, it is built as an MVC meaning a far more lightweight code base. It’s well known for creating superior customer experiences. With it being a very open-ended CMS, it means it is flexible when it comes to content architecture. Developers will have 100% control of the HTML output of the front-end of their site.
WooCommerce is a powerful and customizable WordPress plug-in. Craft Commerce is also powerful. It is similar to WooCommerce but allows a greater level of customisation, along side Craft’s notorious performance benefits – even more critical to your online store. It’s not a comfortable win, more like a scrappy goal in extra time, but none the less, Craft is edging it slightly.
Winner: CraftCMS. But only just.
There are a few approaches for setting up multi-site architectures in WordPress.
It seems that this is possible in CraftCMS and straight forward in CraftCMS. The challenge is there are significantly less examples, experience and expertise, so inevitably, the overhead for considering the right architecture will be more complicated.
Total Cost of Ownership
TCO is a difficult one to quantify because of the unique nature of each site and of course, every client’s requests are different so we’ll have to talk in broad strokes here.
WordPress sites require more maintenance but they also get attacked far more; which we will address below. Where WordPress plug-ins make enhancements easier and therefore cheaper (you won’t need as much developer time which is a good and a bad thing) CraftCMS will require you to use more developer time but in turn, you’ll be getting exactly what you need, with less vulnerability.
Increased maintenance and support fees for WordPress are often balanced by the ease of installing new features through plug-ins. On balance, and it varies on a site-by-site basis, the conclusion has to be that over 3 years, TCO is probably about the same, though investments will be in different places.
It is a frustration of those not familiar with WordPress that the back-end / CMS aspect can be complex. WordPress is still set-up as a blogging platform so blog content or similar (news, magazine, type sites) is quite straightforward. However, other content types can depend on how a developer sets things up, how a plug-in works, along with a myriad of other factors. Therefore, editing content outside of a blog article in WordPress is notoriously awkward. Creating pages can be complicated, often requiring developer input for anything other than a basic content article. Page builders like Elementor and WPBakery add a more WYSIWYG feel but bring with them additional complications.
The saving grace for WordPress is that its popularity means many content editors are already familiar with this and are used to navigating the various possibilities a WordPress site can present.
When it comes to CraftCMS, it’s a blank slate ready for you to manage your content, and build more complex systems on top of it. The Matrix-block architecture makes managing the site super easy and can be set-up not based on the plug-ins or within the constraints of a blogging platform, but as a true CMS.
It has a similar look and feel to WordPress, but as the back-end can be customised, it can be set-up in a far more logical and easy to use way than WordPress. There are also no themes or templates in Craft, it is designed for ites to be made entirely from scratch.
Where WordPress still has its blogging background as its identity, Craft is a a purely bespoke CMS; something which is more time consuming (and therefore money consuming) but is what content managers demand. Far more people are familiar with WordPress, but few content editors would willingly move from CraftCMS back to WordPress.
Craft CMS: 6
As we concluded at the start, there are advantages and disadvantages to both platforms.
WordPress, for all its merit, does not have to be the go-to platform when it comes to building a site and CraftCMS really is a pretty amazing alternative. It comes down to weighing up what the most important factor is for the site you are building and go with whichever one offers a better option for you.
WordPress will continue to be the defacto solution for many.
But CraftCMS really does offer a very credible alternative. Developers prefer it, Content managers prefer it. Customers want slick sites. It’s better for SEO and it’s not carrying around 15 years of technical debt. Something that WordPress will continue to struggle with unless they do a ground up rebuild which would seem next to impossible.
That’s said, and this is true for all tech decisions: The right technology is only the right technology based on business requirements. If you’re picking tech without understanding requirements, how can you possibly build a framework to measure what is ‘right’ by?
Note: The above was based on some research conducted on behalf of a We Are Star client and scores, whilst reasonably objective are likely to be swayed somewhat by their requirements. For them it was clear CraftCMS was the better choice based on their requirements and needs.