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Making the Choice Between Umbraco and Wordpress

At Blend, we try to be selective about the technologies we work with: we strive to pick the right tool for the right job; given a client's budget, needs, and long-term goals, we want to use the content management system (CMS) that best fits their needs. 

1/6/2022

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Categorized

  • Development
  • Umbraco

One example — and one that comes up often — is a comparison between two very different open-source systems: WordPress and Umbraco. They're both popular, flexible systems that make it easy to get up and running with a new site without a big budget for licensing. 

We’ve found that there are some key factors that can make the choice clear.

Understanding the cost of content creation.

When people think about a web project, the focus is usually on what technology to use. After all, technology seems like the hard part. 

The reality is that the real work over time is in the content. Think of it this way: a big web project may involve hundreds of hours of work, front-loaded before site launch. On the other hand, if your site has two authors, and they spend 45 minutes working on your site each work day, over the average five-to-seven year lifespan for a CMS implementation they will have spent more than 1,400 hours creating content! 

All that content is stored in the CMS, which puts a lot of weight on how that content is built and organized, as well as on how efficient the content is to create and how those authors will spend their time. This isn’t even considering the time it takes to train new authors over that period, when ease of use and training becomes a big factor. 

Most people focus on the cost of implementation, but the true cost comes in content creation, maintenance, and training over time.

How Wordpress and Umbraco handle content.

With the cost of this content in mind, let’s consider the type of content Wordpress and Umbraco are designed to accommodate.

WordPress excels at blogs and news feeds, because it's a blogging platform at its core. Most of the plugins and ecosystem around the platform are focused in that direction, and the admin interface is primarily focused on making blog-post-style content: a page with a title, a text body, categories, and some supporting fields. It makes a lot of assumptions about what sort of content you're working with, but for blogs it makes the right assumptions. 

Umbraco is different in that it makes almost no assumptions about what kind of content you'll be creating. The team building your site will have absolute flexibility to build exactly what you need in terms of pages and blocks. While this might take more work up-front, for sites that depend on more complexity than a single “page” or “feed,” the work you put into modeling unique content types pays off in the long run. 

For example: Imagine you're a bank with 20 locations, and three years from now you decide to release an app that lists all locations that offer mortgage services. If you've built your content right, you can probably easily feed all that data to the app from your CMS, along with addresses, hours, and the names of your mortgage broker. 

In this example, an Umbraco implementation will ask you to think about those things up front. It's possible in WordPress, but far more common to just make a 'Page' and miss out on the long-term benefits of a more thought-out structure down the road. If everything is a ‘Page’, and you don’t have separate fields for ‘Address’, ‘Hours’, and etc, there’s no good way to separate that information out for re-use.

An ecosystem of growth.

Another key factor is long-term growth. Will your site stay relatively stable in its structure and size, or are there plans for expansion, added functionality, and increased content?

One of the blessings of WordPress is that there's a plugin for almost everything, which makes adding new ideas happen quickly. But this blessing has a downside: each plugin is its own small project, and you start to hit an upper limit when you have too many pages of too many types of content — none of these plugins are really designed to work with the others, and making even small changes becomes unbearably complex.

Essentially, WordPress sites tend to hit a growth plateau, and at that point you may find that rebuilding becomes easier than adding on. All of those quick decisions come back to bite you as all of this unstructured content needs to be painstakingly restructured into something organized.

Because Umbraco is less focused on 'quick win' extensibility, and more focused on planned integrations around structured content, you're more likely to be able to adapt in the right directions going forward. Another aspect where a bit more planning leads to a 'measure twice but cut once' approach.

Some last quick notes.

The difference between Wordpress and Umbraco goes beyond just the content model. Here are a few other factors to consider:

  • Is your IT team more comfortable with Windows or Linux? Umbraco is based on Microsoft's .Net stack, WordPress is based on PHP, which is primarily hosted on Linux. (Both systems can work on the opposite OS, but these scenarios aren't common for live web sites)
  • Should the CMS guide editors toward proper use of design elements? Umbraco does a better job around guiding users on a design system and keeping the content organized, since the administrative UI follows the site map and pages can be more selective around what types of components are used.
  • Do you plan to build advanced marketing features like personalization, audience tracking, and user journey mapping into your solution? WordPress will likely need an array of overlapping plugins to get you to a comprehensive solution, but Umbraco's uMarketingSuite offers a basic but complete solution with a single extension. (There are of course a lot of solutions that will work with both platforms but require some integration)

The final showdown.

Blend has built a lot of sites — both in Wordpress and Umbraco — and our experience shows that WordPress excels is in two areas:

  • Blogs: For blogs, WordPress is an easy choice; it's used by nearly a third of the sites on the Internet, and the system is already geared towards blogging so it's just a matter of customizing to your liking.
  • Short-term Marketing Sites: For short-term marketing campaigns or other temporary sites, WordPress is also a nice option because it's quick to get going, and the site won't be around long enough to worry about any potential long-term negatives in terms of expanded scope, content structure, or content re-use.

Nearly a third of all sites on the Internet use WordPress, so it's a natural choice when considering what CMS to use for your business site. WordPress allows you to quickly set up a site, grab a theme, and start producing content, particularly if what you have in mind looks like a news feed or a blog post. But for many projects, planning up front will pay dividends for years to come. 

However, for sites that represent a lot of content effort over a long time, particularly sites to represent a product or an organization online for years, we find Umbraco to be our tool of choice. The goal with these sorts of sites isn't just to build a site quickly, it's to provide a solution that will serve our clients over the full life cycle of the site and beyond, to enable the ability to leverage the content in multiple ways, and to make sure we're structured well to adapt to changes in site goals over time.

Intersted in how Umbraco can work for you? Learn how Blend can customize Umbraco to fit your web goals with our Umbraco Plan Picker! 

Thoughts on Umbraco.

We’ve written at length, both here and beyond, about Umbraco, the friendly CMS.

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