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Umbraco vs WordPress, which CMS should you choose?

Umbraco vs WordPress, which CMS should you choose?

There’s a convergence of the once unique features that set Umbraco and WordPress apart. WordPress is no longer just a mere blogging platform, while Umbraco is no longer within the purview of Microsoft-based systems alone. Both are extremely customisable and offer near-limitless scaling potential and extensibility.

Both of these Content Management Systems (CMSs) are used by a long list of notable organisations. As noted on the Umbraco.com website, it’s used by the likes of Mercedes, Microsoft, and McDonalds, among others. With a CMS market share of 64.1% and used by 42.9% of all websites, WordPress also has a retinue of A-list brands, including TED, PlayStation, IBM, and more.

Umbraco vs. WordPress – It should be a strategic decision

But choosing one over the other shouldn’t be a question of popularity. Nor should it immediately include an extensive feature comparison – when implemented correctly, both can be secure, fast, and modular. The reasons we choose a CMS often have little to do with technical features, but rather how easy it will be to achieve a desired goal. As such, we simply need to answer a few simple questions:

1. Is there an in-house development skillset?

The most notable difference between Umbraco and WordPress is the software / development stack used by each. This ‘stack’ simply refers to the software technology required to run the CMS, and, at the same time, the programming or scripting skills needed to maintain and extend the CMS.

Umbraco: As of Umbraco 9, the CMS can be run on Windows, Linux, or Mac. It is built with C# and requires the .NET 5.0 framework and MS SQL Server (minimum: 2012). Prior versions of Umbraco can only be run on Windows. At a minimum, you’ll need C#, SQL, and .Net 5 / ASP.NET Core competencies.

WordPress: Can be hosted on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and requires PHP (minimum: 7.4) and MySQL (minimum: 5.7) or MariaDB (minimum: 10.3). At a minimum, you’ll need PHP and SQL competencies.

As such, if you already have access to .NET developers, Umbraco is the likely choice. If your in-house skillset consists of PHP developers (or if there is no in-house developer skillset), then WordPress is your go-to CMS.

2. What is your desired time-to-market?

Perhaps one of the key differences between Umbraco and WordPress is the speed at which a minimum viable product can be created. “Minimum viable product” in practical terms, refers to the smallest unit of a branded online presence that can support your goals, whether it’s to start selling products or services or launch a community website.

An example of a minimum viable product is a branded website with all the basic pages (home, about, contact) and at least one product or service. Or, failing that, a single landing page that provides a means of contact or purchasing.

Backed by an impressive number of ready-to-use themes, page builders, and page builder templates, WordPress makes it easy to hit the ground running. Point-and-click installation of plugins which extend the functionality of a website makes it easy to display a portfolio, set up an eCommerce store, or sell online courses.

With Umbraco created as a “CMS by developers for developers”, the time-to-market is a little longer. Although the CMS also sports a library of templates and packages (similar to WordPress plugins), these will likely require additional customisation before launch.

3. What other apps / services do you use?

Gone are the days when your website and your other apps or services were isolated entities. Today it’s all about efficiency and communication between disparate systems to enhance customer experience, business intelligence, and the overall ease of doing business.

Planning demands that the choices we make are based on efficiency and economy. As such, in an environment where there is a strong reliance on integration with other Microsoft applications, choosing Umbraco is your best bet since it is built on the Microsoft Technology stack and provides more options (like using Microsoft SDKs), and could therefore result in streamlined integrations that require less maintenance.

Where the applications or online services you rely on are open source or web-based, WordPress provides the greatest number of code-free integrations. These include apps / services like Google (GMail, Drive, Calendar), LinkedIn, SalesForce, and many, many more. And if you can’t find a plugin that can facilitate integration, you’ll likely find what you need with automation services like Zapier.

(Note: Keep in mind that it is possible to integrate WordPress with Microsoft apps and services, and Umbraco with those natively more suited to WordPress. As such, here our only goal is to find the path of least effort.)

Why (some) feature comparisons are mostly useless

The reason I chose the ‘business decision’ approach with this post is simple: there are a substantial number of Umbraco vs. WordPress posts out there, many of which often rely on feature comparisons to promote one CMS over another. But given that a CMS is essentially a tool, the decision should be strategic: Which will confer the greatest advantage over the longest period at a reasonable expense of time and money?

The other reason is that most comparisons are unfortunately littered with inaccurate claims about the less preferred CMS. Let’s examine a few:

Security
Penetration tests are officially run twice yearly on Umbraco CMS and Umbraco Cloud. Does this make it more secure than a CMS in which the code is thoroughly reviewed and tested by millions of users, developers, and hackers as soon as a new release is published? No.

The core installations of both Umbraco and WordPress are secure. But regardless of built-in security, any installation can be made vulnerable through bad coding practices. Both CMSs have had their fair share of vulnerabilities, WordPress more so than Umbraco simply because it’s more widely used, and there are many, many more free and commercial themes and plugins.

Whichever CMS you choose, you should implement a protocol which ensures that the themes, plugins, and packages you choose provide the smallest potential for vulnerabilities.

Modularity
.NET is a modular framework that can be used to easily extend Umbraco functionality with a bit of coding know-how. Umbraco proponents will tell you that this is why WordPress doesn’t share the same impressive scaling and extensibility potential. And yes, WordPress, while endowed with an abundance of functions to simplify extensibility, is not a framework out of the box.

Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) and CrocoBlock’s JetEngine are two plugins that can turn any WordPress installation into a modular framework with enhanced site functionality. Various PHP frameworks can also be integrated with WordPress: here’s an example of CodeIgniter integration, and here’s one for Laravel.

Both CMSs also support various API connections that simplify connection to external applications.

So modularity on its own, unless you require a very specific functionality supported in one CMS and not the other, is a moot point.

Performance

Historically Umbraco was said to be slow. Google “Umbraco performance” and you’ll be presented with a litany of performance-problem results. But with the arrival of Umbraco 9 and, more importantly, moving the CMS to .NET 5 (a.k.a ASP.NET Core), pages now load in the single digits.

Out of the box, WordPress has never really suffered the same problem. But few WordPress installations remain untouched. Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to install a plugin that extends site functionality that ends up chewing up server resources, delivering content at a snail’s pace. Badly coded themes can have the same effect.

So which should you choose – Umbraco or WordPress?

With WordPress, you’ll enjoy a faster time-to-market, and point-and-click website development, design, and expansion. But, if you’re aiming to integrate with Microsoft Products down the line, or need a CMS that delivers audit trail and rollback functionality out of the box, then Umbraco might just be the right choice.

Which CMS will serve your objectives better?

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