If you’re in the market for a usable yet scalable content management system for your new website, there are a plethora from which to choose these days. We are fans of WordPress. As of early 2014, there were roughly 75 million sites using WordPress. If that statistic alone wasn’t impressive… did you know that Time, Snoop Dogg, Bon Iver, Google Ventures, and even Marc Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks are all using WordPress?

Let’s take a step back and define the term content management system (CMS). A CMS is simply a visual interface through which you can make changes to a website, without much or any knowledge of code. Whether or not you even need a CMS in the first place is a whole other debate which we won’t get into today, so for now, let’s assume you’ve decided to get one. Is WordPress a good fit for your needs? Read on to find out.

6 Reasons to Use WordPress as Your CMS

WordPress is a great solution for many businesses.

WordPress is free and open source

This one is a no-brainer. WordPress is a steal if you consider what you can get out of the box. And because it’s open source, it is constantly being iterated upon and made better with each new version. You don’t have to worry about a business discontinuing it or stop providing support.

WordPress is easy to use

For the most part WordPress is widely regarded as one of the most user-friendly CMS’s out there, especially amongst the ones that are open source. There isn’t an overwhelming number of technical terms you need to understand to get started. The learning curve is very gentle. This is not to say that WordPress is simple, which brings us to the next point.

WordPress is scalable & flexible

It’s important to consider features you need in your MVP, and also what you want to add in the future. Maybe you’re just looking for a simple blog right now, but would later like to run a high-traffic e-commerce shop. WordPress can get you there. Adventure.com is an example of a highly customized implementation. You can mold it into any shape that you want.

WordPress has the largest community

Of all the CMS’s out there, WordPress has the largest group of supporters, developers, and contributors. What’s great about this is that if you’re running into a problem, chances are someone else has had the same problem before you, and there’s probably a support forum with your exact question in it.

WordPress is great for non-developers

Obviously having a developer on hand to make changes on a whim would be lovely, but that’s not always realistic for businesses. Luckily, WordPress gives you enormous amounts of control, without any programming skills required. Themes are what dictate the look and feel of your WordPress site, and there are countless themes available for purchase. Many of them offer incredible control over both the appearance and the functionality of your site.

WordPress gives you a lot of things for free

Features that would take weeks or months to develop come right out of the box with WordPress. Some notable features include a sophisticated user login system with different levels of control assigned to the various roles (subscriber, author, administrator, etc), the ability to add new plugins that other developers have built, such as social media feeds and SEO tools, pretty URLs in the form of permalinks, and more.

4 Reasons to Be Cautious about WordPress as your CMS

To be honest, WordPress isn’t for everyone. Technical solutions are a complex system of features, and drawbacks. Below are a few challenges that come along with WordPress.

WordPress is free & open source

Yes, this is both a blessing and a curse. Because WordPress is free and open source, when something goes wrong, you don’t have a tech support number you can call to get it fixed.

WordPress can get bloated with plugins

WordPress is very popular for non-developers because it allows you to customize a lot of elements with plugins. That being said, the more plugins you add, the more bloated the code base becomes, and it can clutter and slow down a site. WordPress sites are the healthiest when a developer can help monitor performance, and conduct general maintenance.

WordPress is only as scalable as you make it

WordPress can turn into a shitshow if all you’re doing is adding on plugins, one after another. If you’re really looking to scale up, you’ll want to get yourself a developer. It will be up to them to make sure the code is well organized and that the site is performing adequately. This really isn’t a “fault” of WordPress, as any complex websites require as much, but it is something to think about.

WordPress is only as flexible as your theme allows.

For those of you who are looking to be the captain of your ship and not hire a developer (which is a reasonable choice for some), you’ll find that the level of control you have over your site is dictated by the theme you choose. Some of them will look very pretty, but won’t allow you to tweak much. If you don’t have a developer, your ability to modify your site is determined by whatever tools you were given by the theme developer.

7 Other CMS Options

It’s important of course to play around with the tools available and see which one feels right for you. In general, WordPress is a great one-size-fits-all sort of solution, but that’s not to say there aren’t content management systems out there that could better meet your specific needs. Here are a few other popular ones worth noting:

Drupal – Drupal is an incredibly robust CMS, and very powerful when used by a skilled developer. The learning curve for this tool is very steep though, and it is commonly criticized for not being very user-friendly. Best used with an experienced developer, Drupal lacks the plethora of themes  and plugins to choose from, and the size of community that WordPress boasts. Drupal is a popular choice for large enterprise sites with a team of developers.

Joomla – Another powerful CMS, although without quite as steep of a learning curve as Drupal. One drawback is that although there are a large number of plugins available, many of them aren’t maintained for the current version of Joomla and can be unreliable. Medium sized businesses are frequent users of Joomla.

Squarespace – Squarespace is actually more than just a CMS, as they also serve as your web and domain host. No need to go through GoDaddy or anyone else, you just sign up and you’re good to go. The user interface is incredibly easy to use and quite sleek. Squarespace also has gorgeous themes to choose from. Drawbacks are that you’re generally limited in how much you can customize without significant help from a developer.

Light CMS – Similar to Squarespace, Light CMS is also a web and domain hosting service. Incredibly usable with a number of beautiful themes to choose from, it’s easy to customize for both developers and non-developers. One drawback is that it can get quite costly, as it charges per page.

ExpressionEngine – A very powerful and popular tool, ExpressionEngine is great for users who want control over their website but don’t want the responsibility of managing the code and the files on the server. ExpressionEngine puts a heavy emphasis on its user interface, which can make seemingly simple development tasks overly complicated and involved.

Custom CMS – It is possible to build a custom CMS from scratch. This option is absolutely the most labor intensive of them all. This is best used for full-fledged web applications, usually hinging on a favored web framework, such as Ruby on Rails or Laravel for PHP. Building a custom CMS gives you the most control over everything, but is not for the faint of heart, or the financially disadvantaged.

How to choose the right CMS

When it comes down to choosing which CMS is best, it’s all about your needs, budget and development resources. By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to have a clearer vision of the tools you’ll want from your CMS.

  1. Do I have/will I get a developer?
  2. What do I need to be able to control and change? This could include things like blog posts, user information, contact details, colors, images, etc.
  3. How often will I need to change these things?
  4. How familiar am I with the various CMS’s out there?
  5. How much time will I dedicate to learning a new tool?

So what’s the best choice? Well, answer is one you probably won’t like, but here it is: The best tool for the job is the one you’re comfortable with, and if you have a developer, the one they know how to manipulate the most.

The truth is, you can argue until the cows come home over the tiniest nuances that make one tool superior to another, but it really just comes down to the developer skill and the ease with which administrators can make changes. Take cooking, for example. There are countless tools out there for cutting, chopping, dicing, grinding, spiraling and even noodling. But will they guarantee that you’ll make delicious meals all the time? Probably not. If you found one highly skilled cook, don’t you know that he’d dance circles around you with just a chef’s knife.

So whether you’re going to use WordPress or not, it’s important to take the time to play around and experiment. Get to know your choices and feel it out.

Comments
  • This is a great post, Annie.

    I agree 100% with your pros and cons of WordPress. The perception of it as an easy-to-use, out-the-box blogging tool with little scalability is gradually being changed, and we’ll continue to champion it with you!

  • Annie Sexton

    Thanks Mark! Yeah, I am constantly amazed by how far people can stretch limits of WordPress, it’s really impressive!

  • Josh Adams

    Great post Annie. What is your opinion on Adobe Business Catalysts?

    • Annie Sexton

      I’ve never used Adobe Business Catalysts, so I can’t really say much about it. I looked at some of the features and it doesn’t seem like something I would ever use personally, but I’m also not sure I’m the target audience, being a developer.

  • Felix Jacobs

    Wonderful post! I’m still currently deciding with what CMS I should use, I’ve read from here http://www.lionleaf.com/blog/should-you-develop-your-own-cms-or-use-wordpress/ that I can create one of my own and without WordPress. Would you recommend this as well?

    Thanks!
    Felix

    • Annie Sexton

      Hi Felix! It really depends on how complex your site will be, and what kind of developer power you’ve got. If it’s meant to be a complex tool, a resource, like a web application – think Twitter, AirBnB, Pinterest – I’d say a custom CMS is the way to go. But if the website is more informational, like a blog or a marketing site, I’d say WordPress is a solid choice.

  • Good post, Annie.
    Now I have somewhere to direct my clients and friends, who can’t decide which CMS they want to use. Will continue to read your blog in the future.
    All the best,
    Andreas

  • Julia Blake

    I like that you point out both good and bad sides of WordPress, coz it seems people all around me just go crazy about Worpress. Personally I wouldn’t prefer WordPress to some more well-developed CMS. Have you already reviewed new builder from MotoCMS, their Version 3.0? Interesting to know what you think about it, because this builder looks promising and rather feature-rich, plus fully responsive.

    • anniesexton

      I haven’t explored MotoCMS so I’m not sure about it’s benefits. I decided to only list the CMS’s that our team had experience with, that’s all. 🙂

  • Wendy Kiana Kelly

    Great article – I feel like you nailed it. I have been reading so many articles about choosing CMSs over the last year, and I often feel like the author simply gave their opinion without really thinking about a larger audience…

    That said — I have two questions 🙂 1. Why not mention Umbraco? 2. You didn’t cover creating your own WP theme, or go into detail about how plugins can work well within WP. I feel like adding a bit of info from Automattic might really add to what you already wrote.

    • anniesexton

      There are hundreds of options for CMS’s out there, so I wanted to stick to the ones our team had actually used before. The choices are endless! 🙂

      As for more details about creating your own theme, plugins, etc – personally, I could talk for days about that stuff, but I wanted to keep the discussion at a high level, and not get too granular, because I didn’t want to overwhelm readers all that information. That being said – that sounds like a great idea for a separate post!

      • Wendy Kiana Kelly

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Annie! I decided to jump in and ask about Umbraco because I rarely see it mentioned in these posts. It’s a great alternative & has been around for quite awhile. But i completely understand. There are so many options out there.

        And also, I completely get your reasons for not mentioning endless minutia about WordPress 🙂

        It does sound like a great separate topic, and I look forward to reading that one, should you choose to write it! Have an awesome day –

  • I could say that WordPress is really one of the best CMS. I used WordPress before for my personal website, It’s really quite easy to use, it’s user friendly and website maintenance is also easy compared to drupal.

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