Headless freedom or plugin paradise? We dissect Craft CMS & WordPress, comparing features, benefits, & real-world examples to guide your CMS crusade.
Building a website isn't just about having an online presence; it's about crafting a powerful tool that fuels your brand's growth. But with a plethora of Content Management Systems (CMS) to choose from, the decision can be overwhelming. Two popular contenders, Craft CMS and WordPress, both offer unique strengths and cater to different needs. Whether you're a seasoned marketer, a budding entrepreneur, or a design agency building client sites, understanding the nuances of each platform is crucial for making the right choice.
This comprehensive comparison delves into the core functionalities, target audiences, and key differentiators of Craft CMS and WordPress. We'll unpack their strengths and weaknesses, compare their feature sets, and showcase real-world examples to help you identify the perfect platform that aligns with your specific goals and priorities. So, buckle up, and let's navigate the exciting world of headless CMS and traditional platform giants, empowering you to make an informed decision for your digital journey.
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 43.1%, and 61% 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 30 million active WordPress websites, and only 50,760 Craft websites. Wordpress 6 "Arturo" and Craft CMS 4 were both launched in 2022, both offering a new plethora of features. While CMS usage 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.
New to Craft CMS 4 includes substantial performance improvements for multi-site installs, nested Matrix, Neo, and super table blocks. Additionally, there are new conditional, alt text, & money fields which greatly improve the content editing experience. The unified element editor allows for a centralized content editing experience. Content that's edited is now auto-refreshed when opened in other browser tabs. Categories can now be saved as drafts. For the full list of features, check out Craft CMS 4 launch notes.
WordPress 6 brings an improved template browsing experience and makes it easier to create new templates. As always, performance improvements for both developers, caching API, and single sites with large user databases. WordPress 6 also increases the number of core blocks, with noticeable improvements to existing blocks available within the Gutenberg block-editor plugin.
Headless Craft CMS vs Headless WordPress
When it comes to headless capabilities, both Craft CMS and WordPress offer distinct approaches. Craft CMS embraces headless architecture wholeheartedly, providing a robust API and GraphQL endpoint for seamless content delivery to any front-end technology. Its focus on flexibility shines here, allowing developers to build custom experiences without the constraints of a pre-built theme. WordPress, on the other hand, requires plugins for full headless functionality. While options like WPGraphQL bridge the gap, they might introduce additional complexity compared to Craft's built-in solution. However, WordPress' vast plugin ecosystem can be advantageous for specific headless needs, offering integrations with popular front-end frameworks and headless-specific solutions. Ultimately, the choice hinges on your project's demands: Craft's native headless architecture offers streamlined integration and agility, while WordPress provides more flexibility and customization through its plugin ecosystem.
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. This 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 Apple’s 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 and entry points for hackers to access your website. Also, don’t be surprised if a plugin gives you the notorious white screen of death. This is a common issue when 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. On the other hand, there are well-established plugins you can comfortably rely on to supplement powerful features at the click of a button.
You likely won’t encounter a web developer who’s never heard of or worked with WordPress. With a much lower cost of entry into WordPress development, there’s the downside of having such a wide range of skill sets to work with. Some folks can build an entire website chalked full of features without ever touching code. Others will prefer to do a mix of both, and at the end of the spectrum, a fully customized WordPress theme developed from the ground up. Ultimately, you pay for what you get. You’ll also likely find answers and hired help much more accessible with WordPress.
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 also offers a plugin market, which makes it easy to manage updates and licensing directly within 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 downside of the smaller plugin market means investing more into custom development. We haven’t found this to be a major hurdle when building more robust websites, as we always aim to use as few plugins as possible. Plugins are notorious for bogging down the performance of a website.
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.Finding a trusted developer to help with your Craft CMS project is easier than ever with Craft’s partner directory. These agencies are officially sponsored and experienced with Craft CMS, so it’s less of a mixed bag in terms of experience when shopping for a Developer or agency. We’ve proudly been a partner of this program since 2016 and has often paired us with some amazing projects.
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. 41% of these hacks are due to vulnerability on WordPress’ own hosting platform, while 52% of all vulnerabilities derive from WordPress plugins. Having an outdated WordPress website also constitutes a majority of the hacks. 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. This 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 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 have 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.If security is your biggest concern, we recommend working with Craft CMS or WordPress as a headless model. A headless CMS, like JAMstack, will offer significant improvements in reliability, performance, and security. WIth a JAMstack site architecture, you can decouple your frontend with a static site generator. This makes page performance on either platform a moot issue. It also levels the playing field with the plugins, as you’re likely to use a different approach to integrating other technologies through API’s.
Craft CMS vs WordPress: Content Management
Craft CMS shines in the content department. Managing sites are a breeze, particularly if you take advantage of the Matrix block architecture, which gains some major performance improvements with the release of Craft 4. Every website is composed of a series of components and partials. Each component (using Matrix blocks) 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 with Craft CMS. Craft CMS also offers live preview and optimization tools to catch those 14MB JPEGS that your interns may be uploading. Internally, we use Matrix blocks to create almost every page. This gives content-creators the power to build new page flows within minutes. With Craft CMS 4, you can also use conditional fields, similar to what most form makers use, allowing you to present more efficient workflows for website editors. I always found this to be a headache when there are simply too many options and fields to work with. This either bogs down the backend performance, sometimes resulting in a database crash, and can be confusing for editors when presented with a component that has 20+ options and fields to work with. This is no longer an issue with Craft CMS 4. For a full list of new features, check out our Craft CMS 4 launch guide.
One major difference between Craft CMS and WordPress is the pre-made templates. Craft CMS doesn’t use themes, nor would you want to. While most shops start 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 to create the most efficient workflow for managing content because time is money. These workflows are already baked into WordPress themes, which can significantly reduce development time and costs.
WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform, and it still stands on that same 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. For developers to make their themes easier to update, they often rely on third-party plugins for the most basic functions like carousel sliders, forms, and SEO. This 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 slim.
WordPress alternatively offers it’s own component system with Gutenberg. With Gutenberg, you’re no longer working with one huge HTML file per template, it’s now created with blocks with each having unique interface options. Elementor is also another popular plugin that allows for codeless page-building components. You can also inject custom code when necessary. Tools like Elementor can empower organizations that lack development resources, as websites can be designed and built entirely using this system. Content is now simply a stack of blocks you can rearrange in any fashion depending on your page goals. WordPress 6 also promises new features to it’s block system, such as: block style previews, block UI locking, new block types, featured image expansion, nested quote blocks, and more.
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 content and assets. Craft’s admin panel is considerably 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. The 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.
Frontend website performance is entirely driven by code efficiencies, compression, caching, and having a tactical loading strategy. Images, video, and scripts can be lazy-loaded or deferred, and code can be minified and optimized through a process of tree shaking. Whether you're on Craft or WordPress, these factors can be controlled by the developer. It's tough to say one platform is truly faster than the other without a direct 1 to 1 comparison of the same site being built across both platforms. My hunch is that majority of Craft sites will outperform the majority of WordPress sites due to the themes and plugins used with WordPress. The backend performance is another story. I've experienced signficant lag when clicking around the backend of WordPress. This is certainly not the case with Craft, which relies on a very minimalist design interface. For that reason, I give the edge to Craft in terms of performance.
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.
Our Craft CMS Experts are standing by, contact us today for a free consultation on Craft CMS.