When it comes to choosing a content management system for your website, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There are literally thousands to choose from, all offering a slightly different take on how a CMS should work. Despite this, one CMS has broken away from the pack to become the dominant CMS on the web, and that’s WordPress.
WordPress, like Joomla, Drupal, OpenCart and many other popular CMS platforms, is open-source. What that means is that the software itself is released for free, for anyone to use. Confusingly, there are actually two WordPress platforms – WordPress.com, which is a hosted service that you pay for monthly, and WordPress.org, which is the software itself that you can download for free and run on your own server. Whichever you choose however, the software is the same, and WordPress.com websites work with exactly the same plugins and themes as WordPress.org. Reportedly powering over 1/3 of the web, WordPress has become the default choice for many when picking a CMS, but is it the best CMS, and what alternatives are out there?
Whether or not WordPress is the best CMS is as much as matter of context as it is opinion. If you have a relatively simple business website with a small online shop, WordPress is likely to the top choice for your CMS. If you have a very small web presence however, it can sometimes be more cost effective to look at a basic Wix or Squarespace website which, although less customisable, may be easier for you to set up. At the other end of the spectrum, if you have a very large ecommerce website with thousands of products and categories, you may find Magento or OpenCart is more suitable for your needs.
Where WordPress really excels is in between these two extremes, and that covers a very wide market. Even then, there are plenty of valid alternatives to WordPress. Drupal and Joomla, while narrowing in market share, are still relatively popular platforms. Ten years ago it would have been very hard to choose between these platforms, and they all had a very similar levels of community support. However, what’s happened since then is a kind of snowball effect with popularity – WordPress has increased in popularity and as a result received more support from website and plugin/theme developers, who are eager to use such a popular and powerful platform. The knock-on effect of this is that WordPress further increased in popularity, and a positive feedback cycle ensued which rapidly propelled WordPress to the top – it’s essentially become the Amazon of the CMS world.
Looking at why this whole process started in the first place reveals a few factors. Firstly, when WordPress was first released in 2003, open-source CMS platforms weren’t dominant like they are now. The web was powered by huge swathes of bespoke websites using either plain HTML code, or proprietary CMS platforms that were very expensive to run. In those days, developers would spend tens of thousands of pounds (or more) developing their own CMS platforms, and as a result had to recoup this cost through charging annual licensing fees for people to use their platforms. Bigger companies would pay these fees in order to retain control over their content, while smaller companies would usually pay a web designer to maintain their content for them, who would usually charge a small fee each time changes were required.
Out of this, open-source CMS platforms quickly found a niche. Avoiding these costs, this new breed of CMS was able to offer businesses the best of both worlds – full control over their website content, without the expense of annual licensing costs. Of these, WordPress has emerged on top, and for two main reasons. First, compared to other CMS platforms at the time, it had by far the simplest installation process, and could be set up in just a few minutes with very little experience required (this is still today referred to as “the famous five-minute WordPress installation”). Second, it had a more intuitive interface that was easier to use than its competitors. Much like Google in its early days, the success of WordPress hinged on being simple to use while providing great results.
These days, the success of WordPress is almost overwhelming, with nothing coming close to taking over any time soon – in fact, WordPress is still growing faster than any other platform out there. If you take a look at the top 10 CMS platforms by popularity in December 2019, it’s clear how big WordPress has become:
- WordPress (27+ million websites)
- Wix (3.8+ million websites)
- Squarespace (1.9+ million websites)
- Joomla! (1.8+ million websites)
- Shopify (1.1+ million websites)
- Drupal (630+ thousand websites)
- Blogger (430+ thousand websites)
- Prestashop (285+ thousand websites)
- Magento (265+ thousand websites)
- Bitrix (223+ thousand websites)
There are many reasons not to use WordPress if it’s not the right fit for your requirements. It’s not as fast as a dedicated shopping platform like OpenCart, and it’s not as flexible as a powerhouse like Magento. Other than that though, if you compare it to any of its primary competitors, it’s way ahead of the pack. The level of community support is bigger than all the other platforms put together, and its ease of use, both from a user and development perspective, is groundbreaking. It powers some of the biggest websites in the world, including BBC America, the Walt Disney Company website, TechCrunch, the PlayStation Blog, Microsoft News and many more, and it shows no sign of stopping. Of course, like all the tech giants, WordPress will have its day and then fall to the side in order to make way for the next big thing, but for now, there’s nothing out there quite like it.