Craft CMS vs WordPress: Which is the best CMS?
After working extensively in both Wordpress and Craft CMS over the years, we’ve learned a lot about the pros and cons of each content management system (CMS). For many years, Wordpress has been the most dominant CMS platform available in the market. Available since 2003, Wordpress usage constitutes 36% of all websites, and 60% of all CMS installs are Wordpress. Craft CMS, which initially launched its first beta in 2012, is quickly becoming a popular choice amongst agencies and businesses alike. However, it has a long way to go because Craft’s current usage is less than 1%. Currently, there are over 27 million active Wordpress websites, and only 27,717 Craft websites. While that may impact your decision, we’re looking at five primary areas of a CMS: performance, community support, security, content management, and costs. If you’re looking to compare SEO capabilities, you can check out our comparison guide here.
Craft CMS vs Wordpress: Community Support & Plugins
There probably isn’t a web developer out there who hasn’t touched a Wordpress build; which uses PHP, one of the most common programming languages used on the web. Most, if not all, web agencies support Wordpress. Wordpress has a huge third party market that offers pre-packaged plugins, themes, and dummy data that allows you to get up and running fairly quickly. Which is stark in contrast to Craft’s mission statement of having no themes to work from, which forces creativity from the ground up. Most third party SaaS platforms have some type of Wordpress or Woocommerce integration. Woocommerce, which is widely supported by most e-commerce fulfillment centers, is an integration that converts your Wordpress blog into a fully operational e-commerce store. More on Woocommerce vs. Craft Commerce can be found in the ecommerce comparison guide here.
Much like the iTunes App Store, there’s practically a Wordpress plugin for everything. This can help mitigate development costs significantly compared to Craft CMS. The one drawback to such a massive open market is that not all plugins are created equal or kept up to date. Plugins that aren’t regularly updated create opportunities for hackers to access certain pieces of your website. Also, don’t be surprised if a plugin gives you the notorious white screen of death. This is a common issue where installing a new plugin or update results in just a blank white screen, forcing you into a panic as you try to restore your crashed website.
Craft CMS has a much smaller ecosystem and leverages Twig, which is a modern template engine for PHP. While small, it is mighty and includes a very supportive community made up of mostly developers, content managers, and the Craft support team. Craft has its own plugin market, which makes it easy to manage updates and licensing directly from the CMS. It’s quickly growing in size as more developers want to capitalize on the low pool of competition, and recurring annual fees. Because it is regulated within Craft’s market, all purchasing goes through your Craft ID. Having a singular location to manage all your licensing and payments is a real joy if you’re managing several web properties. Wordpress plugins, on the other hand, are managed at the third party level, which can be a pain to keep track of.
The Craft community is heavily supported in Discord (a chat program similar to Slack), and getting answers to your problems is much quicker than posting on Stack Overflow. If live chat isn’t your thing, Craft has its own StackExchange, which is a community-powered Q&A platform that developers will religiously reference as they work through a new build. When it comes to third party integrations, Craft’s plugin market is just a fraction of what Wordpress has to offer. You’ll find the most popular integrations are supported, but lesser known software applications will require you to work within their API. This does give you more control of your website’s user experience and security, but be prepared to spend more development time in Craft. Updating those integrations will also mean additional developer maintenance costs down the road.
Craft CMS vs Wordpress: Website Security
While Wordpress is the most widely used platform, it has also become an easy target for hackers. In fact, about 90% of all hacked CMS sites were Wordpress, which is truly the biggest downside of Wordpress. Every third party integration, theme, or plugin becomes a vulnerable entry point for hackers to access your data, or potentially take over your site altogether. Pretty scary in the post-GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) world we now live in. Which is why we don’t recommend ever storing sensitive customer data on your website. A lot of time and money can be saved by using plugins, but you’re also at the mercy of third-party developers to support them. Site updates can be painful if plugin dependencies aren’t compatible. Software patches are vital to fixing security flaws. In this case, we recommend using a hosting service like wpengine. WPengine monitors which plugins are compliant and will keep your site up to date. Plugins must be approved by WPengine in order to work on your site, which...is for a good reason.
With Craft CMS, updates come at the cost of a $99 annual recurring fee, and it’s well worth it. The simple one-click updates keep your site safe and secure. Updates are released as often as multiple times a month. Craft does a great job of preventing SQL injection hacks, which is a common vulnerability of using Wordpress themes and third party plugins. Another great feature in Craft is being able to get into the weeds of user-level permissions. You can create custom roles and grant or prevent access on all levels and areas of the website. Wordpress only gives you 6 roles to choose from, which has baked-in permissions. Which is kind of scary when you can access Wordpress code right from the CMS. Editing Craft code requires you to crack open the source code.
Craft CMS vs Wordpress: Content Management
Craft CMS really shines in the content department. Managing sites are a breeze, particularly if you take advantage of the Matrix-block architecture. Every website is composed of a series of components, which internally we call ‘design units.’ Each design unit performs a special function, whether that’s full screen video, billboard image, rich article text, navigation, footer, contact forms, and so on. They are responsive and can be easily rearranged, disabled, re-added, you name it. If you see on your fancy heatmaps that users aren’t reaching enough scroll depth to convert, then testing alternative flows can be done in seconds. Craft CMS also offers live preview and optimization tools to catch those 14mb JPEGS that your interns may be uploading.
One major difference between Craft CMS and Wordpress are the pre-made templates. Craft CMS doesn’t use themes, nor would you want to. While most shops start out with a Wordpress template that they feel most reflects the goals of their business, they all tend to look alike. Craft CMS is a content first approach that’s meant to be designed and coded from scratch for every new build. The downside is that more planning is necessary in order to create the most efficient workflow for managing content because time is money. These workflows are already baked into Wordpress themes, which can reduce development time and costs.
Wordpress was originally developed as a blogging platform, and it still stands on that same blogging foundation. It was the developer community that built Wordpress into the website goliath that it is today. Most Wordpress websites are licensed themes that are slightly modified or not changed at all. In order for developers to make their themes easier to update, they often rely on third party plugins for the most basic functions like carousel sliders, which also explains why many themes have similar experiences. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be cost-effective if budgets are tight and development resources are null.
Wordpress launched Wordpress 5.0 Gutenberg back in December 2018, which significantly improved the CMS experience by using a block system, similar to Craft’s matrix-block architecture. With Gutenberg, you’re no longer working with one huge HTML file per template, it’s now created with blocks that each has their own unique interface options. Content is now simply a stack of blocks you can rearrange in any fashion depending on your page goals.
My biggest gripe with Wordpress is the laggy experience within the administrator's side of the CMS. This can be frustrating if you’ve got a large site with a lot of pages. Craft’s admin panel is much faster and more consistent.
Craft CMS vs Wordpress: Costs
Costs can vary between the two platforms. You can get away with developing Wordpress sites on a much lower budget. If you need a minimum viable product to get up and running in just a few weeks, Wordpress is your best bet. However, costs can quickly rise if there’s a lot of customization involved. Most hosting companies will also have a one-click install setup, making it easy to get a Wordpress website up and running within minutes. I recommend looking into a provider that will manage the hosting as well as all updates, giving you peace of mind in terms of security and plugin compatibility. WPEngine is our go-to hosting platform for Wordpress. While Wordpress is free to use, most of the premium integrations or themes have a cost ranging anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds.
Craft CMS has a lifetime licensing fee of $299, on top of the recurring annual fee of $59. If your website requires e-commerce, Craft offers Craft Commerce starting at $199 for a lite version, and $999 for more advanced features like sales, shopping cart, multi-step checkout, taxes and shipping. Each plan has a recurring fee of $39/year and $199/year respectively. Expect to also pay more in development costs with Craft CMS. Having a smaller plugin market also means additional costs for creating those integrations. The upside of this is not having a website that gets bogged down by all the third-party plugins. Craft CMS hosting services are much more limited than Wordpress, and can be a little more expensive due to a more limited pool of competition.
Craft CMS vs Wordpress: Speed & Performance
Website load times can make or break a conversion. According to Google, bounce rates increase up to 32% as page load time increases from 1 second to 3 seconds. From 1 second to 10 seconds, it increases the probability of bouncing by 123%. This ultimately translates to lost sales, leads, and a reduction in other KPIs like conversion rates, clickthrough rates, etc. Average time for the first bye in a mobile experience should be 1.3 seconds or less. Slower speeds also mean being penalized by Google. Wordpress is notorious for slow load times. Craft improves performance significantly with its bare bones approach. When built correctly, most Craft sites are able to score ‘100’ on Google’s PageSpeed Tool.
Depending on your goals, budget, and resources, your choice of platform can vary. Wordpress can be great for smaller projects with tighter timelines and budget. You can build an entire site without actually ever touching code. Wordpress is a very powerful and scalable platform that can serve companies from startups to enterprise.
As a web developer, my personal preference is Craft CMS. It’s a fresh breath of air to work with, and requires very little to no time for ramping up with the platform. While Wordpress wins in the apps and community support, Craft CMS is still the content king with it’s improved performance, security, and flexibility. If you’re looking for help with a Craft CMS website, Electric Enjin has been a Craft CMS Partner since they’ve launched, and we’re also prominently featured in their showcase of examples.