A content management system (CMS) is a platform that lets you easily create a website without relying heavily on custom-coded solutions. These easy-to-use website creation tools have exploded in popularity over the last 10+ years; in 2011 just 24% of websites utilized a CMS – now that number is nearly 64%. Given their popularity, it’s no surprise that many folks grow to have an attachment to a particular type of CMS, especially agencies like us who end up creating hundreds of sites for our various clients.
At a(m), we prefer to do our development in WordPress. It truly is the dominant player in the CMS game, as nearly 65% of all websites today are built on WordPress. Not only that, but WordPress accounts for a whopping 96% of all blog-based content management systems and powers 34.7% of the top 1 million websites on the web.
So, why use WordPress as opposed to another content management system? As an agency, we have been developing in WordPress for a little over a decade. But, when you combine the experience of our entire development team, they have a staggering 40+ years worth of expertise in the CMS. These numbers alone make it our go-to platform, but it becomes even more evident as the leading choice when you see some of the great functionality it offers.
We use the WordPress content management system because it allows us to self-host websites for our clients. Ultimately, a self-hosted system provides more functionality and flexibility than relying solely on someone else’s technology. We estimate that 50% of our clients, no matter how simple the website, have something unique about their business that they want to be represented on their website in a way that requires a custom coding solution. We need the flexibility of an open-source system to achieve this, which is why we consistently turn to WordPress.
Here at a(m), we have created and maintained a proprietary, Underscores-based theme. From there, it’s modified and molded to fit our client’s needs. Starting from a base theme allows us to speed up the development process because we’re not starting from scratch. And, given that we’ve been using our theme for years, we’re well-versed in what it contains and can easily add or remove certain elements to meet the needs of each client.
We think about so much more than putting up your website and walking away. From search engine and conversion rate optimization efforts to ongoing marketing initiatives, these efforts require us to monitor the website and then make adjustments. This is significantly easier to achieve when we have free reign to install tracking codes, create custom backend workflows, and can quickly and easily create new landing pages. We’ve found that even the most popular proprietary content management systems have limitations that prevent us from performing this marketing work exactly as we’d like to.
So, we’ve established why we think WordPress is wonderful, but that alone doesn’t make it the best option. WordPress really starts to shine when you compare what it offers versus a lot of its popular competitors. Below we break down some of the key aspects of developing in various content management systems, comparing WordPress and other CMS options.
WordPress vs. Joomla
With a global market share of 4.6%, Joomla stands out as being a free, open-source CMS platform. Created in 2005 shortly after WordPress entered the market in 2003, Joomla is not well-suited to novice developers given its complexity, but can be a good choice if you’re looking to create a complex custom website. While we love a good custom solution, sometimes it’s better to not have to re-invent the wheel every site build. Here are a few reasons why we still prefer WordPress over Joomla.
There aren’t a ton of available options for plugins or extensions with Joomla. Unlike WordPress, which has tens of thousands of available themes and plugins to extend the base functionality, Joomla is limited to a library of just under 6,000. This can prove difficult for certain builds, as we rely on a handful of tried-and-true plugins for search engine optimization, monitoring form submissions, and other relatively standard site functionality. While finding similar workarounds is always possible, we would prefer to deliver a surefire solution that we have years of expertise using.
Poor Backward Compatibility
One major issue with Joomla is backward compatibility for various modules or extensions. It’s been known to suffer everything from small issues, like no longer supporting certain PHP drivers (which can lead to failed database connections), to larger-scale issues, like entire sites going down because the architecture they’re built on isn’t compatible with the newest Joomla version release. Overall this leads to unpredictability and reworking of previously sufficient solutions whenever updates are made available. We’d rather avoid this scenario altogether and work with a forward-thinking CMS that also respects existing codebases.
While both WordPress and Joomla are free to use, there are a few more unavoidable costs that come with developing in Joomla. Monthly maintenance fees can range from $100-$1,000 as opposed to WordPress’s predicable $99.00 (if you even end up needing to pay for maintenance at all!). The biggest price setback is Joomla’s development fee, which ranges anywhere from $500-$5,000 for custom work. Alternatively, WordPress has a huge and dedicated community to find development support and insight, which creates almost no need to have to pay WordPress directly for development. As mentioned, a(m) has a proprietary base theme we use to start all of our sites, which means our development time and associated costs are much less when working with WordPress compared to any other CMS.
WordPress vs. Drupal
With a global market share of 3.0%, Drupal is a popular CMS in many government agencies and higher education spaces. Drupal was created in 2001, making it just slightly more established than WordPress. However, it has a steeper learning curve than WordPress and generally requires more customization. Not only that, but it is also lacking in some key areas relating to features and documentation. Below are three reasons why we prefer WordPress to Drupal.
The biggest reason we prefer not to work in Drupal is due to the lengthy development process. Drupal follows the key principles of a block-based editor, meaning that everything is built in individual modules that are then grouped to form a content section, which is then in turn pieced together with other sections to form a page. This process takes considerably more time (and therefore more of our client’s money) to develop than using the base features in WordPress.
When it first began, Drupal was a very simple CMS that couldn’t hold a candle to the impressive built-in features of WordPress. Since that time, Drupal has added many more “features,” seemingly just for the sake of it. Overall, many of these so-called value-add options are unnecessary for meeting the client’s needs, instead just serving as a way to entice less technology-savvy clients. Alternatively, WordPress has stayed relatively consistent over the last 10 years, changing minimally and ensuring that any new features (take their Gutenberg block editor, for example) are purely optional to add to your development process.
Unfortunately, development documentation is not overly robust for Drupal. Given that WordPress is the industry-leading CMS, there is a lot more documentation and public discourse associated with it. It is significantly easier to crowd-source solutions to WordPress issues than Drupal, and overall these solutions are much more common and mainstream than the somewhat complicated workarounds that need to be created for and in Drupal.
WordPress vs. Wix
With 2.3% of the total market share, Wix is the least popular CMS in this comparison. Make no mistake though, it remains in a tight race against Squarespace as a leading website builder and is gaining momentum. As of 2022, Wix hosts roughly 4,565,000 versus Squarespace’s 2,597,000, though neither holds a candle to WordPress’s 36,208,000 sites. While we recognize that a site builder is different from a CMS, they are usually used interchangeably by non-developers as a way to make a website. That said, there are several reasons why we solidly recommend a CMS like WordPress over Wix.
Generic Look & Feel
Wix makes it easy for anyone to create their own website given its large library of templates. This can be a huge bonus for someone looking to put up a quick site but can be frustrating because, well, you get a website that looks like everyone else’s website. You can of course update colors, fonts, and content blocks on the page, but it is usually quite clear that it’s a premade design, as you likely have seen many others like it in the past. We prefer to work in WordPress because we can create a design that matches your company’s visual branding and is tailor-made to show off your content in the most visually appealing way possible.
Unlike a true CMS, Wix is primarily a website builder tool. This can be frustrating for users, as you can only style elements on your website within the confines of their builder and templates. This is true not only of the page designs themselves but also of provided search engine optimization tools and hosting options. If you’re ever unsatisfied with Wix, your only option is to start over in a new CMS, as they won’t let you move your website from their hosting (which of course is an additional monthly fee).
After buying a website using Wix, you might decide you want to add a straightforward solution, like dropdown menus, SEO tools, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of those features don’t come included with Wix natively, necessitating you to purchase subscriptions to third-party applications for that functionality. These prices can quickly add up, often becoming more expensive than the plugin subscription models WordPress uses. What’s more, WordPress plugins often come with their own support and documentation, giving you a lot more freedom and flexibility than being reliant on a third-party application.
WordPress vs. Squarespace
Similar to Wix, Squarespace is considered more of a website builder tool than a CMS. It currently has a 2.7% overall CMS market share, but a leading 31% website builder market share, meaning it’s still a popular option for many. Squarespace’s popular “Add to Cart” feature can turn simple sites into online stores, which helps give it a greater range of applications than other builders. Still, it’s no match against an industry leader like WordPress. Here are just a few reasons why we would always recommend WordPress over Squarespace for site development.
Because we’ve been working in WordPress for decades, we are extremely well-versed in how it works and can troubleshoot all problems with relative ease. If we’ve built your site in WordPress, we are your personalized customer support team. With Squarespace, the best you get is a call center representative with a script of answers or a pre-recorded tutorial walking you through the motions.
Limited Plugins & Apps
Squarespace comes with all of the apps they deem important, with a small selection of additional applications you could install. Oppositely, there are literally thousands of plugins you could choose from to install on a WordPress site, with multiple options available to achieve the same end. This gives our developers the freedom to choose the perfect solution to meet our clients’ needs and opens the door to an endless amount of enhanced functionality.
Closed Hosting Environment
Because Squarespace is a “closed” environment, they control all aspects of the platform and manage all of the updates and maintenance work for you. While this can be a benefit for folks looking to be hands-off with their website, it can lead to some unfortunate surprises when updates come out and are automatically applied to your website without thought given to what the update may cause. Because WordPress requires the theme and plugins to be updated by a developer, we keep more frequent tabs on what is happening in the backend of your website and can determine when updates may negatively impact your site’s functionality or performance and delay their implementation.
Overall, WordPress is still by far the most popular, most secure, and most widely supported CMS out there, which is why we use WordPress as our go-to solution. We love the flexibility it provides and know we can configure it perfectly to meet the needs of our clients, something that can be woefully lacking in other content management systems.
If you’re interested in learning more about the rationale behind our development process, consider checking out Three Fundamental Tools for Starting Development or Magento Development: Is it the Right eCommerce Solution For Your Project?. We also invite you to check back soon for a deep dive into the various eCommerce site solutions we recommend (and why!).