As Harry Hill might’ve said on TV Burp: “Wordpress is a leading content management system. Umbraco is a leading content management system, but which is better? There’s only one way to find out: Fiiiight!!!”
The question of which is better, or what's the difference between them, is one we’re frequently asked when talking to prospects who are comparing our web design and development proposal based on Umbraco, and another based on Wordpress - it happened again just this week in fact. Typically they’ve either had a Wordpress site or have heard of it. This isn't surprising as Wordpress is the most widely used platform online, whereas Umbraco is newer and isn’t as common, but it is growing rapidly in popularity. Both are open source, license free content management systems, so what are the Pros and Cons?
WordPress started life as a blogging tool but, as its popularity has grown, has been customised and extended to become a full CMS [content management system]. It thrives on its simplicity, has a huge resource of pre-created templates and plugins which are available both for free and to buy, and it's supported by a very large developer community.
The most obvious one, and the key driver behind its popularity, is cost. The initial set up costs of a WordPress site can be very low especially for sites that don't have any bespoke functionality requirements. A basic install of WordPress is configured to meet the needs of a personal blogging platform and uses third party plugins to help modify this experience to allow for extra functionality.
There are lots of plugins available in the Wordpress.org library, many are free or cheap to install, which add all types of functionality and enhancements from custom form-builders to search engine optimization (SEO) tools. There are also loads of free and inexpensive off-the-shelf templates and themes which allow you to swap in your own content into pre-configured sites minimising the developer time required. WordPress is suited to smaller websites with limited functionality, but it is also used in bigger sites with various levels of additional bespoke development.
The biggest concern around Wordpress is security. Its popularity alone makes it a target, then its heavy reliance on third-party plugins and themes and vast network of users offers a large ‘attack surface’ that is difficult to analyse, manage and maintain making it a target for hackers and unscrupulous developers. WordPress has numerous well-documented vulnerabilities and it’s been estimated that up to 75% of WordPress sites have been compromised in some way. Whilst the use of plugins to quickly and cheaply add functionality is attractive, being overly-dependent on drop-in solutions developed by different individuals or companies can introduce security issues and even malicious code – beware the five dollar plugin from a Russian or Chinese developer! Most plugins work very well and are actively supported, but bespoke development to add to or adapt them can sometimes be constrained by what’s available. Alternatively it can require the ‘shoehorning’ in of multiple plugins to achieve desired results. Managing a suite of plugin dependencies can be both time-consuming and costly - this is particularly true when plugins become unsupported or break due to upgrades and compatibility issues with other dependencies. Plugins that are no longer supported will need to be swapped for alternatives to maintain functionality and prevent potential security breaches.
The next biggest issue is performance. WordPress’s reliance on third-party plugins to provide everything apart from publishing functionality, can mean that websites with lots of plugins can suffer from significant performance issues and degradation. Plugins introduce superfluous code which often leads to inefficiencies in the codebase leading to performance issues in both the back and front end of a website. Because these plugins are from third parties, there are limited options for a developer to improve performance without removing functionality or writing custom plugins.
There are restrictions from a design perspective too. Most WordPress sites use templates, which speed up implementation, but can greatly restrict what’s possible when it comes to design and they are, by their nature, generic. There are lots of great looking Wordpress templates, but they’re inevitably used in many other sites, sometimes tens or even hundreds of thousands of them, because they’re available off-the-shelf either for free or at a very low cost. The design process with a WordPress site is to choose a template, then understand the technical limitations and work backwards to a design which inevitably leads to compromise and the loss of individuality. The process of discovery, planning and then creating a bespoke user interface design is key in the delivery a successful solution that meets the specific needs of an organisation and reflects the uniqueness of the brand. This is the case in Umbraco by the way, where virtually anything is possible from a user interface and functional perspective - see below.
Finally, there’s scalability. WordPress does not natively offer the functionality to run multiple applications or websites from one install. This means that users must maintain multiple websites with different CMS systems and logins, or use an additional suite of plugins to achieve this functionality which must be updated and maintained to avoid performance, stability, and security issues.
Umbraco is a clean [developed from the ground up], modern and powerful CMS for building both simple websites on to larger, more bespoke solutions. Umbraco isn't bound to the use of plugins and can be configured to meet the specific requirements of sites of all sizes both in terms of design and in functionality. It provides a very user friendly back-end admin system which can also be customised to include as much flexibility and control as a client needs and is intuitive to use so needs very minimal training.
Umbraco is recognised as one of the most secure CMS platforms on the market. Umbraco undergoes constant testing, auditing, and updating. With any issues that surface, and inevitably in the online world there are evolving threats, Umbraco is quick to develop patches and notify the developer network, who also share information, to keep the Umbraco community’s sites safe. It’s worth mentioning that there’s a very dedicated global developer community [which includes the global network of Partners such as ourselves] who help to support Umbraco. They are always collaborating and offering ongoing improvements to both the core system and supported packages.
In terms of performance an Umbraco site will nearly always outperform WordPress - when correctly implemented of course. The platform makes use of caching and indexing to assist in optimising its performance and the overall delivery of content. With continuous development and improvements in the codebase, Umbraco runs fast and seamlessly for both the CMS and end-users across all the latest browsers and devices. It’s also worth mentioning that in the latest version, the Umbraco codebase was significantly reconditioned, and incorporated a new approach to caching to again upgrade its overall performance, reliability, and stability. Umbraco and its developer network are constantly working to improve the product and its performance.
Umbraco offers limitless design and functionality meaning that you're never going to be tied down to use a specific layout or template design as its design and functionality capabilities are pretty much endless. It allows you to run numerous websites, with entirely bespoke designs from just one install, and it can support other applications alongside this such as apps and smart devices. This allows for much greater flexibility and freedom in the design and build. Umbraco is built on Microsoft’s .NET ‘stack’ making it robust, secure, extendable and extremely flexible - it’s nearly always possible to achieve virtually anything within the development phase, as well as being future proofed for any ongoing developments. There’s also an extensive API platform to integrate with many third party systems such as payment gateways and marketing suites.
Finally, Umbraco can be tailored as a multi-site, multilingual solution. The system allows CMS users to look after various applications in one place and in as many languages as required all in a single system, which is something WordPress is unable to match. At bd2, we’ve built several multi-tenanted [sometimes called 'headless CMS'] platforms using Umbraco in which one CMS manages several sites globally each with unique interfaces but with unique and shared content.
Umbraco is effectively a blank canvas in its out-of-the-box state, and therefore requires differing levels of development effort to configure the solution to meet a given requirement. This generally means that an Umbraco solution is often more costly than WordPress to implement because there's more design and development time required. This is rarely a ‘like for like’ comparison however as it results in a bespoke solution that is tailored specifically to the client's requirements rather than a modification of what’s essentially a blogging platform using off-the-shelf templates and plugins - with all that this implies. Umbraco’s virtually limitless scope does require thorough upfront planning and a detailed specification to understand the solution needs. This up-front planning can also implicate additional costs, but the results are a far more tailored solution including a bespoke user interface, to meet a brand’s specific needs. This has to be designed and then built, so there is more for the development team to then implement.
The expansive list of third-party plugins and low setup costs make Wordpress a good fit typically for smaller and start up businesses, who are looking to take their first steps in creating a website and getting online quickly and cheaply.
The questions around Wordpress are mainly around security, the efficiency and quality of the code, its limitations in terms of design and the ability to customise and extend, which become bigger issues when looking at a larger, more scalable and future proof solution.
Umbraco’s flexibility, scalability, security and ease of customisation allows for bespoke user interface design, unique user experiences and almost limitless functionality and is why it’s grown to become one of the world's most used and admired CMS solutions.