Craft CMS vs WordPress

01. November 2023

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Craft CMS vs WordPress

Let's start at the beginning: Most websites nowadays are based on a Content Management System (CMS) - meaning a software that allows websites to be maintained without programming knowledge. And as expected, there are different systems that need to be compared and analyzed beforehand. Ideally, you already know the requirements for the content and design of your website and then start looking for the right CMS and a service provider who can implement these requirements.

As a digital agency with a focus on the development of individual CMS-based websites for companies, we have extensive experience with the most widespread Content Management Systems. Of course, this includes the dominant player WordPress, but also more modern solutions like Craft CMS, which is gaining more and more followers, not only with us.

What is the current situation?

WordPress is an open-source content management system with a high worldwide distribution. Its strengths lie in its comparatively simple structure, which allows for quick familiarization from both the developer and editor perspective. Also worth mentioning are concepts like so-called Custom Post Types (user-defined content types) and Shortcodes. Plus, there's the incredibly large ecosystem for plugins and cost-effective themes, which, however, represents a clear argument against WordPress in terms of high quality standards and modern programming paradigms. We pursue the approach of only using plugins where a proprietary solution cannot be implemented with reasonable effort. The intention is to minimize dependencies on third-party providers.

Craft CMS is a relatively young competitor to WordPress, which was first released by the online agency "Pixel & Tonic" in 2013. As the name suggests, Craft CMS is based on a completely new approach that allows a content management system to be configured exactly as required, almost by hand. This approach has been perfected over the years. Craft CMS, as it stands today, offers a very strong unique selling point compared to other systems with this approach. This unique selling point has proven to be extremely powerful in the implementation of individual websites with complex requirements.

Direct comparison: Craft CMS and WordPress

This article compares Craft CMS with WordPress and specifically addresses the advantages of Craft CMS over the aged WordPress. However, we do not want to conceal the fact that the realization of individual WordPress websites still makes up a relevant part of our agency projects. This will continue for a while, but the demand for solutions based on Craft CMS has increased significantly in recent years. This is not surprising, because Craft CMS is objectively speaking simply the better alternative in many points.

In the further course we look at the two systems in 11 relevant categories:

1. Installation and basic setup

If you have performed the famous 5-minute installation of WordPress, the simple installation process of Craft CMS is not much harder. However, the installation process at Craft CMS is much more modern because it is based on composer (a package manager for PHP) and a simple command line program that walks you through the installation.

Unfortunately, to this day, WordPress cannot be installed with composer by default, even though this has been standard for applications and software packages in the PHP environment for years. At least WordPress offers with the WordPress CLI also a command line program that simplifies many standard processes.

For our WordPress projects, we have created an individual base that allows for installation and later maintenance via composer. Craft CMS, on the other hand, offers this self-evident detail from the start.

Both systems can be installed classically via a .zip and server access (FTP/SFTP), although this is generally not an option for developers as it takes significantly longer than a setup via composer and the command line. As indicated, application maintenance is also much more effective with composer.

Winner: Craft CMS. Although the installation takes about the same time with us and is quite easy in both cases. Due to the installation process oriented to modern programming standards, Craft CMS clearly wins the point.

2. Flexibility

In the case of Craft CMS, flexibility stands for creative design freedom and Craft CMS definitely offers that. Developers start, so to speak, on a blank page and can dedicate themselves to their own or the customer's wishes without compromising. Which CMS can do that?

Specifically, Craft CMS offers with the "Sections" an extremely powerful tool in the overall view to map any type of content or content type flexibly. Any number of sections can be created - and this is the decisive part - and assigned to one of three section types. These section types define the type of planned content or content type.

The following section types are possible:

  • Singular entry: This type is used for special and unique pages. The most common example is the homepage or the contact page, which does not necessarily follow the other standard templates. Unlike the other types, singular entries only have one associated page and they do not have an author or a publishing/expiry date.
  • Channel: This type is classically used for similar content with similar properties. The most obvious example is a blog or a news section. This type can be compared with the custom post type from WordPress.
  • Structure: This type is used most frequently and is the basis of all hierarchical page structures.

In addition to the type of content, the templates to be used are defined via the sections. Similarly, any (also dynamic) URL routes. During the configuration of sections, all relevant settings can be made directly that are important for multilingual websites. WordPress, on the other hand, offers no multilingualism by default.

WordPress can offer similar flexibility. However, this is only possible with the use of plugins that expand the extremely user-unfriendly custom fields in its native form. The best known and best plugin in this area is "Advanced Custom Fields Pro". This plugin is chargeable, but it is worthwhile if you want to have a comparable flexibility to that of Craft in the construction of individual input fields per content type. The principle of custom post types is comparable to that of section types, although the latter offers more freedom and easier configuration.

Winner: Craft CMS. The overall package that Craft CMS offers with its configuration options convinces more here. Although WordPress offers flexible content types, you can see most clearly here that the system originated as a blog system. In addition - and this is a major plus point - is the native possible multilingualism of Craft CMS. This basic function is not included in the WordPress core even after almost 20 years and has to be upgraded through more or less good plugin alternatives.

3. Content Creation and Management

With the "Gutenberg" named content builder, WordPress finally offers a contemporary environment for flexibly managing content. Previously, such content builder functions had to be organized through external plugins. Until now there was only a single text input editor that could only lead to more attractive layouts for laymen with tons of shortcodes. Currently, the Gutenberg Wysiwyg editor still has some annoying bugs. Also, the general implementation does not appeal to everyone, so there are many vocal critics of the Gutenberg editor.

We like the development with the new editor, but we still prefer the possibilities of Craft CMS. With the so-called Matrix fields, complex content builders with drag & drop function can be created from scratch. Logically, this can also be done in a variable execution depending on the section type. This leaves hardly any limits to the management of content, fitting to the respective layout. The familiarization is usually very easy; we also offer Craft CMS training on request if desired.

Another very important aspect of content management systems is file management. WordPress comes across very rudimentary in this respect. Although all common file formats can be uploaded, WordPress by default stores everything in a temporal folder structure. This can be adapted, but ultimately this doesn't gain much flexibility. A feature completely missing in WordPress and that has to be added individually or via plugins is protection for individual files or file types. Since WordPress only has the media library and a public upload directory, any file can potentially be public or indexed by search engines.

With Craft CMS, so-called volumes are defined, with which an individual directory structure can be realized. For example, folders for PDFs or image data can be created and transmitted directly to CDN servers if needed. Also, protecting sensitive files is easily possible with this system.

Winner: Craft CMS. The even tidier interface of the content management system offers an even better user experience than WordPress. With the freely configurable matrix fields, even the most complex web layouts can be flexibly filled with content. The advantages in file management and better rights management round off the overall picture.

4. Themes and Templates

Websites on WordPress are implemented based on themes. A theme is a collection of files that are responsible for the appearance of a website. In addition to templates, the theme also contains the website assets used, such as JavaScript or CSS files. All page templates in WordPress are stored as PHP files - and this is where one of the biggest disadvantages of WordPress comes in.

Template files in WordPress are often a wild, unstructured mix of markup language (HTML) and programming language(s) (PHP/JavaScript). There is no separation between structure and logic which is practically present in all modern competitors through so-called template engines. In modern application development, it is common for no logic operations to be performed in templates. These take place beforehand and only the actual data is passed to the template. Thus, templates usually only contain a series of loops or if-else conditions.

Everything else at WordPress: WordPress does not have a template engine and will not get it in the foreseeable future. This alone already causes a lot of ridicule among experienced developers, but there are solutions: We, for example, have implemented the template engine "Twig" known from the PHP framework "Symfony" in our individual base which we use for our WordPress projects. This means that we can indeed rely on modern techniques for our own projects that have not yet made their official entry into WordPress.

In Craft CMS there are no themes. The system is practically installed empty and you have to configure everything from scratch. This initially sounds like a lot of work and above all more effort than would be the case with a WordPress theme. Surprisingly, however, this rarely proves to be the case. The time is made up for by the much more advanced application architecture and the associated effective developer workflows. Craft CMS also uses Twig as the template engine for templates. This is complemented by very intuitive data retrieval and filter functions.

Winner: Craft CMS. Overall, we have created an environment with our individual WordPress base that comes close to that of Twig. However, this is our own achievement and by no means a WordPress standard. Therefore, Craft CMS is the clear winner in this respect.

5. Safety

The biggest disadvantage of WordPress is its vulnerability to security holes. Due to its worldwide distribution and market leadership, WordPress is a very popular target for hacker attacks. Even if these attacks often seem primitive and are automated, the prospect of success is high. Too many websites, themes, and plugins are poorly or not maintained at all, offering a large attack surface. In addition, WordPress updates are often referred to as "patches" in professional circles because the fundamental problems are not solved.

The lower distribution makes Craft CMS less attractive for attackers. Nevertheless, the development team at Craft CMS is proactive in preventing security vulnerabilities from developing in the first place. The development team routinely checks the source code and tests it for vulnerabilities using automated test and monitoring software. In general, the source code and program architecture of Craft CMS is much more modern than that of WordPress, reducing vulnerability to vulnerabilities.

Another aspect that contributes to the security of Craft CMS is the directory structure of the system. Virtually all modern web applications separate public and private components so that without serious vulnerabilities or misconfigurations these are not publicly accessible at all.

Winner: Craft CMS. Especially because of the much more modern application core, Craft CMS should be seen as the winner here. The community of WordPress is huge and active, however, the barely overseeable offer of plugins and ready-made themes is a big security risk. We recommend checking every theme/plugin in general. Only the known themes/plugins or those that are reliably maintained should be applied to your website. We generally do not use any externally purchased themes for our projects, but realize each theme individually for your website.

6. Source Code and Program Architecture

The beginnings of WordPress go back to the year 2003. The application core was modernized, but never completely revised and adapted to more recent standards and conventions. Consequently, WordPress contains many outdated and unconventional components by today's standards. The source code of WordPress is often a mix of functional/procedural and object-oriented programming techniques at many points.

Craft CMS stands for a controlled development of its system - strictly oriented to current programming standards. The CMS uses the Yii Framework, which enforces a code base that ensures recognizable structure. Therefore, the application's source code seems much more organized and intuitive, at least compared to the architecture of WordPress.

As a disadvantageous circumstance, that WordPress is based on a partly outdated code base, something positive can be gained. WordPress produces only a few problems, even across major releases (e.g., from 4.X to 5.X), when it comes to getting the system running again in an updated environment. However, this is not such a big issue with Craft CMS and a time-consuming task as with the CMS "TYPO3" which was very popular in Germany for a long time.

When looking at WordPress' database structure, experienced developers and database administrators quickly realize that the database architecture of WordPress lacks some aspects of clean relational data structure. Instead, storage of key-value pairs is used intensively. Basically, experienced WordPress developers have no problem dealing with it, but it contradicts established standards and requires sometimes unconventional methods for individual requirements.

A different picture emerges with Craft CMS. Here, one works with traditional relationally linked data.

Craft CMS offers a GraphQL API in its Pro version, which can be used to integrate the content managed in the CMS into other, separate applications. This function turns Craft CMS into a so-called Headless CMS.

Winner: Craft CMS. The decisive factor for us here is the modern technology stack and the clearer system architecture, which enables productive work and better web applications.

7. Plugins and Extensions

In some cases, the basic scope of WordPress or Craft CMS is not sufficient and you turn to plugins. With plugins, you can retrofit missing functions. Before using them, we always weigh up whether a solution without a plugin is possible with reasonable effort. In some cases, however, it is obviously sensible to rely on plugins.

WordPress probably offers the largest ecosystem for plugins that can be found in open-source software. However, we view the mass of plugins in the WordPress environment rather critically. Surely there are exceptions, such as Yoast SEO, Advanced Custom Fields, Migrate DB Pro and certainly many more. However, a large part of the plugins are not well maintained, technically inferior, littered with annoying advertising or simply not safe. Often included are real performance brakes that should be kept away from your own website if you value a high-performance website. When you consider that even with plugins used 10,000 times and those that require a fee, there are sometimes hair-raising security gaps or annoying bugs again and again that make work difficult, our critical attitude towards this may become more understandable.

Craft CMS offers far fewer plugins in bulk, but the quality often seems better. However, we also stick to our line with Craft CMS and try to keep the number of external plugins in our projects as low as possible in order to minimize dependencies on third parties. Bear in mind: We can usually fix any errors in updates, but as long as a possible hotfix does not find its way into the official source code of the plugin, you cut yourself off from any further update, as you would otherwise overwrite your fix.

Plugins for Craft CMS can be purchased in the official plugin store, which is directly connected to the backend. There are also some free plugins, but license fees for the plugins are usually incurred. We like the principle that the company behind Craft creates a lucrative source of income for developers, which creates an incentive for quality plugins.

Winner: Draw. Due to the sheer number of WordPress plugins, a draw appears disputable here. However, mass is not always class and therefore we see a draw here.

8. Speed & Performance

Website speed is now an official Google ranking criterion (keyword: Core Web Vitals). A fast page promotes user experience and is considered a quality feature. Likewise, website speed is extremely relevant for classic metrics. Slow pages have significantly higher bounce rates and consequently, for example, poorer conversion rates.

For these reasons, a look at performance and loading speed is always recommended. A blanket comparison is hardly possible here, as both systems can be optimized for peak values with appropriate time investment. Ultimately, the web host or the IT infrastructure behind the website plays an equally important role. However, the effort required to create a website that is optimal according to Core Web Vitals is generally much lower with Craft CMS.

If, however, these aspects are disregarded, Craft CMS should easily win the comparison with WordPress. Especially in this category, it becomes clear that the outdated application core of WordPress is completely inferior to the modern MVC (Model-View-Controller) architecture of Craft CMS.

What stands out negatively about WordPress is the handling of external resources (CSS/JavaScript) for themes and plugins. It is not uncommon for non-optimized WordPress websites to have dozens of CSS and JavaScript files linked in the source code. Often these also include their content uncompressed. Also, the sometimes disadvantageous JavaScript dependencies of WordPress plugins are problematic. Libraries like jQuery have long since disappeared from the sight of modern-oriented development teams. Here modern libraries like Vue.js or even better pure JavaScript (also called Vanilla JavaScript) are preferred. On the other hand, practically every WordPress plugin that displays JavaScript functionality in the frontend loads jQuery and the jQuery Migrate required for backward compatibility.

In our projects, we generally rely on modern build processes based on Webpack and Laravel Mix which allows the website assets and their dependencies to be better controlled and the performance ultimately improved.

Winner: Craft CMS.

9. Search Engine Optimization and SEO Tools

Both content management systems offer powerful extensions via plugins that enable the most important settings in the area of OnPage search engine optimization. WordPress and Craft CMS provide clean URL rewrites on a system-wide basis. All other settings are left to the user or administrator. In the field of WordPress, the plugin "Yoast SEO" is practically the benchmark. The equivalent for Craft CMS, which is also used in almost every project, is called "SEOmatic". SEOmatic impresses with its excellent automation possibilities, whereas Yoast offers helpful additional functions such as a breadcrumb navigation, for example.

Winner: Draw. Both systems enable the optimization of websites. WordPress offers more SEO plugins, but Craft CMS users have high-quality alternatives available. You won't notice much difference if you use the right tools.

10. Costs and License Models

The prices for use is another area where Craft CMS differs significantly from WordPress. While the self-hosted variant remains open source and free, Craft only offers its users a free version for use in the private sphere or their sole proprietorship. If you are planning a professional, business website, you currently have to invest a one-off $299 for the so-called pro license. This includes one year of updates. From the second year, the license costs $59/year.

The licenses for the CMS apply once for one website. However, multiple websites can be maintained as standard in one Craft CMS. If you operate such a multisite system, only the license costs are incurred once.

It is worth noting that Craft CMS is not an open-source project. It is open-source, but unlike the GPL license used by WordPress, Craft CMS uses a modified licensing that prohibits modifications to the program core.

Winner: WordPress. If you make a pure comparison of costs, the point clearly goes to WordPress. However, we quietly note: "Think about You get what you pay!" The great success of WordPress lies in the vast customization options and versatility, coupled with - at least theoretically - low initial costs. The CMS itself is free and themes are very cheap to buy. If you can compromise on function or performance, this approach is the right one. In the business environment, where more individual and complex requirements are usually present, the initial license fees for Craft CMS quickly become relative, so that the license fees rarely play a decisive role in choosing for or against the system.

11. Online Shops and E-Commerce

WordPress and Craft CMS are primarily content management systems. Plugins transform both platforms into complete sales portals. The plugin of choice for WordPress is WooCommerce. Craft Commerce, on the other hand, is the official plugin for online shops based on Craft CMS. For the Pro license, you currently have to invest $999 initially. It includes a complete integration of more than 20 payment providers, extensive setting options, and many features. Depending on the type and scope of the shop, the price is either a cheap blessing or an expensive burden.

Winner: WordPress in combination with WooCommerce. Note: For online shops, we generally recommend Shopify.

Conclusion of the CMS comparison: First-class alternative to WordPress

Which CMS is the right one depends primarily on your project. The handling after the live launch and also the budget play a decisive role as well. For smaller projects with a tight schedule, WordPress is probably more suitable.

We, as an internet agency with a strong awareness of valuable web applications, can only say at this point that we love the freedoms and flexibility that Craft CMS brings with it. For us, Craft CMS is the clear winner in the comparison WordPress vs. Craft CMS. In the end, we can also implement your websites with WordPress if you are open to a system that is just as user-friendly and easy to learn, we will probably recommend Craft CMS.

The only disadvantage that cannot be easily dismissed is the license costs. However, if you consider that you are getting a well-maintained product, with an entitlement to support and a growing community, the initial costs are rarely a knockout criterion, especially in the business environment.

Based on experience, we can offer websites that we implement with Craft CMS at comparable costs as would be the case with an individual WordPress system. As you can see, we are absolutely convinced of the advantages that Craft CMS offers, but at the same time we are not blocking ourselves if you want a professional website based on WordPress.

Are you considering building your website with Craft CMS or WordPress? Talk to us: Project inquiry. We are happy to advise you.

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