If you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to decide which CMS should I choose for my big project? There’s hundreds of articles and choices out there, but it seems like sometimes all roads lead to WordPress.
A few years ago the available CMS choices weren’t so hot, but in recent times a few great options have popped up so I wanted to take a look the best of at what’s available and why we like them — everyone seems to have a preference, but at The Apartment we choose the CMS that’s best fit for our clients rather than dictating the one we prefer.
The CMS that’s moulded into whatever you want it to be, WordPress is probably the most talked about and infinitely customizable platform of all time. There’s a reason people like it: WordPress is familiar, relatively easy to use and there are thousands of free themes/plugins to choose from.
If you’re looking for something to quickly throw together a site with little development experience, WordPress can be a great place to start since it’s free to get a hosted version and the setup process is mostly just filling in details about yourself.
In the case you’re a developer (or you’re working with a company like us!) WordPress can be infinitely customized to fit your needs — it doesn’t need to be just a blog.
We use WordPress to run the entire site you’re reading right now, with a heavily customized version that lets us enter case studies, testimonials and all sorts of other information, then use it across our site.
I’m a big fan of WordPress because it’s so extensible, and there seems to be a plugin for basically everything you can imagine — meaning that development is more straightforward. If I want to optimize SEO, for example, there’s a bunch of great plugins that do it better than I ever probably could.
The not so good? It can be hard to optimize WordPress for speed if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s infamously big, heavy and slow — but with the right optimization it can be zippy.
I’m currently a little obsessed with Craft. After a few years of building for WordPress it’s like a breath of fresh air — Craft is a barebones CMS that’s beautifully simple — to the point where you login for the first time and think is that it?
But there’s far more than meets the eye and this simplicity is part of the beauty of Craft: it doesn’t force you into a prescribed way of thinking like many other CMS’ and isn’t a blog platform that’s trying to be something else like WordPress can be.
The backend interface is delightful to use and only shows what you want it to. Each field for your page is defined as the type it should show in the administration interface and you’re able to arrange the layout for your users who’ll be filling in the content itself.
The most powerful feature, called Matrix, is mind-boggling once you start using it: you’re able to define multiple types of ‘block’ for a long-form post such as images, pull quotes or other things and let your users quickly change the style and layout of a post without actually touching any code.
If you’re not a developer, Craft isn’t likely for you. There aren’t any pre-made templates available as it’s more oriented toward those who need something custom made for their own needs — we’ve used Craft for a bunch of projects and it particularly excels at multi-language sites.
Craft has an incredibly active community of developers building plugins for basically everything you can imagine and they’re refreshingly lightweight.
I mentioned speed at the end of the WordPress option, so I wanted to point out that the performance of Craft is quite literally the opposite: it’s incredibly snappy out of the box and if you want to get even faster load times there’s built in CDN support and caching.
Craft CMS — $0 to $299 depending on requirements. Self-hosted download only.
In a world of CMS’ that require complex setup and hosting arrangements, Kirby is like being doused with cold water. Basically every other option you’ll find is driven by a database, meaning you’ll need an extra thing sitting somewhere helping it work.
Kirby is quite the opposite: it only uses flat files and there’s no database whatsoever. Your content is stored in text files, using Markdown, and there’s somehow, miraculously, still a great administration interface.
Not being driven by a database sounds like it’d be a bad thing, but for studios like us it’s actually great: there’s less hassle for our clients. First off, it basically never breaks since there’s less complexity, and secondly, if our customers decide they want to change hosting provider all of a sudden it’s as easy as just copying all their files across to their new home.
Like Craft, Kirby is incredibly simple and only exposes the fields you’ve defined to your users. For developers, writing themes is incredibly straightforward (it’s just like jQuery) and the administration panel is easy to use with drag-and-drop image upload, plus nothing more than you actually need.
Admittedly Kirby is more geared toward simpler sites, but it can be used for basically everything. Performance is excellent, given that it’s not hitting a database every time a visitor comes to your site, and there’s nice CDN support built-in.
Kirby — $17 to $89 depending on requirements. Self-hosted download only.
I’d be surprised if you were reading this and you hadn’t heard of Squarespace, since they seem to be everywhere right now. Squarespace is a CMS that’s well… not really a CMS.
If WordPress is the à la carte choice, Squarespace is the buffet option: it’s a do-everything-for-you service that takes care of the look and feel of your site, as well as your content itself.
You can’t download Squarespace or host it yourself, instead you’ve got to pay a monthly plan. In return, you’ll get infinite customization with a drag and drop interface, the ability to easily enter your own content and you don’t need to be a developer or a designer to make it look good.
The administration interface is awesome and makes doing everything a breeze. You can basically just drag items around the screen to where you want them, and it’ll handle the rest.
Squarespace does support custom themes from developers, so you can still use their lovely interface with your own theme from a studio like us, but it’s overwhelmingly used by people who want to get a simple, attractive site online without too much hassle — it even has a built-in e-commerce component if you want to get started selling stuff on your own site.
The catch with Squarespace is, of course, that the few themes it offers only go so far and you’ll likely quickly find that the one-size-fits-all offering doesn’t quite fit what you want. That said, it’s a great place to start out, since it only requires the investment of your time to get a site online.
Squarespace — $10 per month and up. Only available hosted by Squarespace.
There’s plenty of others…
This isn’t designed to be an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other great CMS’ out there, likePerch and Cloudcannon, which are also fantastic, but we encourage you to get in touch if you’re thinking of a project and aren’t sure what to choose — it’s always down to the best fit for you. We’d be happy to help!