When it comes to building a website, you need a content management system, or CMS. And for most businesses, WordPress is the first and safest option.
But is it really the best option?
When you dig into the nuts and bolts and explore the granular details of WordPress development, you may soon realize that it’s not as perfect as it seems.
But don’t let that frustrate you or lead you astray. Because for everything that WordPress is not, there’s a CMS alternative to fit your every want and need.
It’s just a matter of selecting the right system.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through precisely how to do this.
First launched in 2003, WordPress has experienced quite the growth curve. It’s now considered the most popular and widely used CMS on the planet – powering an impressive 37.6 percent of all websites on the internet. (By comparison, Joomla, which is the second most popular CMS, powers just 2.6 percent of websites.)
Initially created and developed by Mike LIttle and Matt Mullenweg, who launched it out of necessity when their blog software was discontinued, WordPress is built on MySQL and PHP. It’s also licensed under the GPLv2, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s free for anyone to use and modify.
At the time it was launched, WordPress didn’t have much competition. Today, the CMS landscape is littered with competitors. Yet despite this, WordPress still reigns supreme in almost every statistical category.
Why is WordPress so popular, you might ask?
Well, it comes down to a few reasons:
In other words, it checks all of the boxes. It’s budget-friendly, easy to use, and comes with ample support.
Is there anything not to love?
As attractive as WordPress is, it’s not perfect. And there may actually be a compelling case for using another CMS.
From a business perspective, there’s a reason WordPress only powers 14.7 percent of total websites (a far cry below the 37.6 percent watermark of total websites it powers on the internet). It has some shortcomings and it’s only fair that we explore them in further detail.
WordPress is often billed as a highly-secure platform. (And for the most part it is.) But it actually has some flaws and shortcomings that, when not properly accounted for, can wreak havoc.
The number one strike against WordPress on the security front is that it’s an easy and obvious target for hackers. Hackers know just how common WordPress is, so they’re more likely to dedicate their time and energy to identifying and exploiting flaws. And once a flaw is discovered on one site, it’s possible that the same flaw exists for millions of other sites (including yours).
One of the key selling points of WordPress is that it has so many different plugins. These plugins provide rich functionality – assisting with everything from design to SEO to (ironically enough) security. But with so many plugins, there are going to be security vulnerabilities and issues.
The problem with plugins is that anyone can create one and put it up on the marketplace. This includes hobbyists who mess around with dev work and might not truly know what they’re doing.
While most plugins are fine, each new one you install on your site creates one additional entry point for hackers to potentially exploit. On top of that, there’s the risk that a plugin developer could stop updating it – leaving you exposed.
We’re not against plugins, but these are some things to consider!
WordPress is renowned for frequently updating its system to patch security issues and provide users with the best possible user experience. However, there is one major downside to these updates. If you’re using a customized theme, there’s always the risk that the new version could break your website. Not good!
As mentioned, WordPress is a free, open source software developed by a community of people. This is a fantastic idea – and one that works really well for web development. Unfortunately, this can create issues on the support side of things.
While you can always find answers to questions on forums, Facebook groups, websites, and YouTube videos, there is no official customer support or development team. Thus when something breaks or there’s an issue, getting it solved can prove to be a time-consuming feat.
As you know, every website is hosted on a third party server known as a “web host.” If you ever need to switch website hosts, doing so with WordPress can be a bit more finicky and time-consuming than with others. The complexity of the site means it could take days or weeks to migrate a site (compared to just minutes for many custom websites).
Custom built websites are developed in a sequential fashion that allows them to be compatible with all versions of browsers and devices (if desired). And while this sort of responsive design is certainly possible with WordPress, it usually requires some extra work. This makes it more time-consuming and technical for the average user.
If you’re looking for a free website theme, WordPress has a handful of attractive options to choose from. In fact, there’s an entire library of default designs that can be downloaded with the click of a button.
But because of the popularity of WordPress as a CMS, it’s hard to use one of these themes and make your website look custom. Even if you tweak color schemes, copy, and visuals, your website will still look like a million other sites on the web. (The solution is to buy a custom theme or have one developed for you, but again, this is extra work.)
Going back to the security theme, WordPress has a default setting that allows an unlimited number of login attempts. Left unchanged, this is a bit dangerous. This means there’s no lockout mechanism like there is with an iPhone or Gmail account. If you forget your password, you can try 100 different combinations and it won’t lock you out.
If you’re prone to forgetting passwords, this is good news. But you have to remember that it works both ways. All a hacker has to do is infect your website with a tiny bug and he can then force his way into your page with an automated password code cracking tool that tries thousands of combinations until it ultimately zeros in on the right one.
But that’s not all. Even if the hacker can’t force his way into your site, the force of the attack can still overload your server and render it useless for a while.
Okay, so now that we’ve meticulously outlined why WordPress might not be the dreamy CMS that you’ve always imagined it to be, let’s explore some of the alternatives.
In other words, if you aren’t going to use WordPress, what should you use?
Here are a few highly recommended options:
Drupal is one of the most flexible CMS platforms on the market. It has virtually infinite options when it comes to customization and is well-suited for developers that have a strong understanding of CSS, HTML, and PHP. And with more than 44,000 modules available in Drupal’s directory, you’re able to customize your site in any way you please.
Think of Joomla like a blend of Drupal and WordPress. It gives you the power and versatility of Drupal mixed with the user-friendliness of WordPress. It comes with more features than WordPress (out of the box) and can be configured on the backend to modify every single element – including menus, banners, media, articles, redirects, and SEO settings. And while no CMS can replicate the WordPress lineup of plugins, Joomla is growing fast. They’re up to 7,800 extensions and counting.
If you run an ecommerce business and/or are looking to set up an online shop, Shopify is one of the first names to consider. It’s extremely popular, user-friendly, and easy to use. It basically lets you set up and manage an entire store via a single platform. (And if you’re interested in doing some of the work yourself, but have no coding skills, you’ll enjoy the drag-and-drop website builder.)
Magento is self-hosted and open-source. The core software is always free to use, though you’ll have to pay for hosting and Magento extensions. (Warning: They can be pricey.) It’s easy to think of Magento as an ecommerce version of Drupal. It’s secure, flexible, and can be easily customized. It does have a steep learning curve, however. So make sure you work with a developer with Magento-specific coding knowledge.
Like Magento, Prestashop is a self-hosted and open-source ecommerce platform that’s ideal for running sleek online stores. Unbeknownst to many, it actually has more built-in features than Shopify. And while the dashboard can look a bit complex, it has impressive capabilities.
While not as widely used as some of the other options on this list HubSpot’s CMS Hub is worth consideration. It’s a fully integrated CMS that keeps tools, teams, and data all in one place. And because it’s fully hosted, this means all of the technical aspects (updates, security issues, upgrades, bugs, etc.) are handled by HubSpot. This is a good option if you’re already using HubSpot CRM and want a high degree of cohesion.
If you’re simply looking for a blog and don’t have any interest in using some of the more advanced features that come with WordPress, Ghost could be a fine option. It’s a NodeJS-based software that’s dedicated to blogging (and nothing else). This obviously limits your future options, but that’s fine in some circumstances.
You’ve likely heard of many of the CMS platforms outlined in this article, but I bet you’ve never heard of Concrete5. It’s an open-source content management system that’s supposed to be as simple as using a run of the mill word processor. With block editors, you can add text, image sliders, video, interactive forms, and even surveys with limited skill and no coding required.
Building a website with Jimdo can be a really smart choice – especially if you’re looking to streamline the process and have someone/something else do the heavy lifting. Jimdo is billed as an AI builder, meaning it has a system that works in the background to simplify the process. And while it’s not nearly as feature-rich as some other builders on this list, it’s a pretty solid tool nonetheless.
It’s one of the smallest content management systems on this list, but Umbraco is nearing the 100,000 installation mark. This makes it one of the top five server applications on the web. It’s built with .NET technology (Microsoft) and is a CMS for .NET developers. Umbraco is built for large organizations. (Current users include Wired.co.uk and asp.net).
Looking to build a large online store that accepts multiple currencies and doesn’t charge a transaction fee for every sale you process? BigCommerce is your best option. As long as you meet your yearly sales threshold, you’ll end up saving money.
Wix is billed as the most reliable free web host on the web. It’s known for being extremely secure and comes with a dedicated support team that makes managing your website a breeze. Like others on this list, it has a drag-and-drop builder with 500 pre-designed templates that make it easy to develop a website in an afternoon.
This hosted website builder empowers users at any skill level to create and customize a website using a drag-and-drop editor, pre-designed templates, and a variety of other intuitive features. While it’s a bit more pared down than Wix (out of the box), Weebly makes up for this with its high degree of customization and mobile-optimized templates.
No CMS list is complete without Squarespace. It’s one of the most popular platforms on the web and is known for having a high degree of functionality without compromising on intuitiveness. And with a built-in analytics tool, you can carefully track your website traffic and analytics to zero in on what is and isn’t working for your business.
It’s important to note that no CMS is without flaw. Even the alternatives mentioned here have their weaknesses and vulnerable points of entry. Thus it’s all about finding the right fit, maximizing the upside, and eliminating as much of the downside as possible.
Some things to consider when choosing a CMS alternative to WordPress:
This list could go on and on – and it will look different for every business – but this is a good starting point. If you make your CMS selection through this context, you’ll end up in a better position one, three, and five years down the road.
At Dev.co, we mix strategic innovation with beautiful interfaces. We design, develop, and systematically deploy engaging experiences across a diverse tech stack – connecting you with the right dev team for your project.
Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations–delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.