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WordPress vs. Contentful – Everything You Need To Know

WordPress and Contentful are both great choices if you’re in the market for a content management system. The one that’s right for you is heavily dependent on the use case. In other words, there are fundamental differences you should consider before making a choice that will make things difficult later down the line, should you change your mind. 

Here are some of the main things you’ll want to consider:

  • Price
  • Flexibility
  • Community
  • The requirement to go headless (WordPress can do both, not just one or the other)
  • Additional team overhead
  • Support

In this guide, we’ll talk through our experience with both Contentful and WordPress (the latter being the one that runs the site you’re currently reading this article on).

Introduction to WordPress and Contentful

WordPress is, of course, the leader in the world of content management systems. In fact, not only does it have a 63.1% share of the global CMS market, but WordPress powers 42.1% of all websites on the internet (around 835 million and counting – WordPress is downloaded every 15 seconds, 24 hours a day!).

Although WordPress began life as a traditional CMS, it now offers a headless alternative, offering an ideal solution for those who have existing frontends, and need the content to be managed more easily.

WordPress has enjoyed such popularity due largely to it being open source (free to use, and host where you like), as well as both its scalability and very strong community support. 

It offers an ideal platform for everyone from individuals and small businesses right through to large corporations – including Sony, Meta, Time Magazine, CNN, Disney, Spotify, Microsoft, Etsy, cPanel, and The White House – to mention just a few organizations that use WordPress to power their websites.

With WordPress having been around since 2003, this makes Contentful about 10 years younger (with their official launch dating back to 2013). Their approach is more than just slightly different. They’re focused on a different market segment – primarily serving businesses looking for a headless CMS that can connect to their decoupled frontend (i.e., a frontend built with Next.js, for example, which they have a starter site for).

In a sense, this makes the WordPress vs. Contentful discussion an “apples and oranges” comparison, as one might put it. The more true comparison would be: 

Using WordPress as a headless CMS vs using Contentful

But that would not paint a full picture of WordPress, as it hasn’t been designed from the ground up to be used as a headless CMS. Especially considering that, despite this, it is still more than flexible enough that it can easily be used this way – with headless WordPress becoming an increasingly popular choice. 

To put it concisely – this is a difficult comparison to make. We have tried our best to give both platforms fair consideration, with the overarching note being that they are generally used in very different contexts. And, as usual, this post has been written by a team consisting of one or more people who have extensive experience with both WordPress and Contentful to lean on.

Contentful – Introduction & Overview

Perhaps calling Contentful a contender within the CMS market is seriously underselling what it provides. It’s actually a very powerful infrastructure designed from the ground up to completely change how content is managed and delivered – not just within a single website, but across multiple digital channels. And in today’s multi-platform digital landscape, delivering across several different channels is standard practice.

This is really what initiated the development of Contentful – a growing need for businesses to manage content and deliver it to several different channels. This is why it is not a straightforward CMS that is used to build and run a single website. Instead, Contentful was built with a headless architecture. This is a term that identifies the separation between the front-end presentation layer of a website, and the back-end content management system. Having the two operate separately allows greater flexibility.

Contentful’s focus on delivering a headless content management system allows huge flexibility as all content is stored independently from any one platform, with all content being delivered through APIs. This allows businesses to use their content anywhere, from websites to IoT devices, and from apps to social media and other digital platforms.

Diving into Contentful’s user interface, the initial impression is one that is uncluttered and simple. The dashboard has been designed to offer a seamless experience, and for anyone who has used other content management systems, the one from Contentful will feel like a breath of fresh air.

The initial view provides easy access to an overview of the content currently available, as well as a simple menu at the top that allows users easy access to the media library, apps, and the content model, which allows for the delivery of the content to various specified channels.

When thinking about managing content with Contentful, it helps to think of the process of creating content ‘blocks’ or fields a little, like developing a database, with each field containing a specific item of data or resource. This could be a section of text, an image, a video, or other resources.

This encourages a ‘top-down’ or parent-child approach to both planning and organizing your content. For example, when creating a blog post, you will need to break it down into individual elements, some of which will need to be customized each time (the title, the text), others may be optional (images or videos), and others may well be the same each time (author’s bio). Each of these fields can be created and defined, and then referenced within the blog post workspace (simply referred to as ‘spaces’ in Contentful).

For example, in the screenshot below, we have clicked on ‘Content Model’ in the menu at the top of the screen, which allows us to define our blog post as a ‘content type’.

Once we have created this content type, it’s time to begin adding or defining the fields – the different elements which will assemble to create a blog post, wherever that will eventually be delivered.

Having clicked ‘Create’, we now have the option to define fields by selecting the content type for each field. For example, our ‘title’ field will be ‘text’, our ‘featured image’ will be ‘media’, and our ‘author’s bio’, which itself will be a separate content type made up of several fields, can be added as a ‘reference’ type.

As you can see below, selecting a field type allows us to enter the details for that field, including more specific requirements or restrictions.

After creating the content model with the corresponding field types, delivering that content to a range of platforms is carried out through a powerful set of APIs. These allow for both the delivery and retrieval of content, and allow seamless integration with existing technology stacks, such as React and Angular, or many different e-commerce platforms. This delivery is both efficient and secure.

WordPress – Introduction & Overview

Perhaps given its huge popularity and widespread use, WordPress requires little introduction, but we intend for this article to be a comprehensive and fair side-by-side comparison, so we will offer this introduction to WordPress nonetheless!

Originally, WordPress was developed simply as a blogging platform, but in the 20+ years since its launch, it has evolved into a powerful, comprehensive CMS. The journey from a basic blog platform to a CMS powering over 42% of the world’s websites is due, in large part, to its adaptability and user-centric approach.

WordPress’s core philosophy is based on the democratic nature of content creation. Its original premise was that anyone, regardless of skill, experience, or expertise, should have the ability to create and manage an online presence. This inclusivity has resulted in an interface that is simple in nature, highly accessible to beginners, and yet still powerful enough to meet the demands of more advanced users.

The WordPress dashboard offers a simple-to-understand menu on the left-hand side that provides easy access to the most commonly used features – such as pages, posts, media, appearance, and plugins. For many users, these are the only five tabs they will need to use for the majority of the time, although more advanced users will find a range of powerful tools, from automating backups, optimizing the performance of the site, managing users, and user roles, customizing the security of the site, and managing a wide range of plugins that may provide services such as e-commerce, learning management, and much more.

Diving into the ‘Themes’ menu, users will be able to search for and filter almost 12,000 themes, offering an amazing array of templates and styles to suit almost every need. The majority of these themes will allow for a wide range of customizations, allowing users to create a unique website design that suits their brand image, regardless of skill. Customizing WordPress themes and content does not require any coding and very little expertise.

Similarly, the ‘Plugins’ menu provides access to over 60,000 plugins, providing a wide range of services, from contact forms to learning management systems, e-commerce facilities to photo galleries… and much more!

When creating either a page or a blog post within WordPress, you have a built-in block editor that allows you to drag and drop the type of block you want to use. Clicking on that block then allows you to directly edit the content, including adding text, uploading images, or adding tables. Formatting and customization is available on the right-hand side of the page.

Once your page content is ready, simply click the blue ‘Publish’ button at the top-right, and your content is live, and ready to be enjoyed by the world! Publishing great looking content couldn’t very well be much easier.

But perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of WordPress is actually its community. The WordPress community is a thriving collection of users, developers, and enthusiasts. Because of the open-source nature of WordPress, themes and plugins are developed, used, reviewed, updated, and encouraged to evolve to meet the needs of the users.

But even more than this, the WordPress community is one in which helping each other to learn and grow is a fundamental part of the experience.

The Cost Considerations – WordPress vs. Contentful Pricing

Within the world of digital content management, where every single dollar counts, the pricing debate between WordPress and Contentful isn’t really just about the numbers. It’s about the value and flexibility offered, as well as the long-term strategic investment. Both WordPress and Contentful provide ideal solutions to businesses looking to invest in a suitable digital infrastructure, yet their pricing models and cost-to-value comparisons offer a complex picture.

A very common misconception shared amongst the “anti-WordPress” crowd is the assumption that lower cost = lower value. Yes, the software is free, but this is a misleading point at which to stop and make assumptions. Because of its open-source nature, WordPress offers a very economically attractive proposition, with the costs being associated only with hosting, premium themes, plugins, and perhaps custom development. This means that the primary costs are in the areas that matter, the aspects of the solution that make it unique, ideally suited to the business, and which are also, largely, optional, with plenty of choices available.

Because of its entirely headless design, putting APIs first, Contentful offers a very different pricing model. A range of tiered plans are available, with the cost scaling according to the features required, the usage, and the level of support needed. At first glance, it’s easy to see that even the entry point is a much higher price compared to WordPress. But this is a platform tailored for enterprise businesses needing a robust and highly scalable content infrastructure.

When considering cost, the main factor to consider is the value that each platform can provide. WordPress, because of its versatility and huge plugin ecosystem, can at least equal, if not exceed, the functionalities offered by more expensive solutions such as Contentful. This is one of the many reasons why it has grown to the level of popularity and use it has done today. For many businesses, the flexibility offered by WordPress is a huge draw, providing an ideal balance between functionality, scalability, and budget.

But having said that, Contentful’s higher pricing can easily be justified by its advanced capabilities, offering an ideal solution for companies looking specifically for a headless CMS that can deliver content across multiple channels. This is an infrastructure tailored to be a future-proof approach that aligns perfectly with modern development practices.

Initial costs, however, should never be a deciding factor. Instead, consider the total cost involved, beyond just the initial setup and subscriptions fees. The long-term costs associated with the maintenance, scalability and adaptability for any business that is expecting to evolve over time will be much more significant to consider.

Yes, WordPress offers extremely low upfront costs, but it’s essential to consider any custom development needed, the ongoing maintenance, and any premium themes or plugins required. Of course, whilst these costs can easily add up, the WordPress community does offer a wealth of support, as well as many free resources, and these can be seen to offset other costs.

Contentful’s much higher upfront cost can be off-putting for some, but for those businesses that have more complex requirements and focus heavily on delivering across multiple channels, this initial investment can lead to significant benefits as far as speed, efficiency, and scalability are concerned.

The Learning Curve – WordPress vs. Contentful

As far as the learning curve is concerned, Contentful is significantly more challenging to learn than WordPress, and this could significantly impact on your timeline for release. The difference in the time it will take to learn each platform is not just a consideration – it’s a pivotal factor that will significantly impact any expected or required time constraints. Whereas WordPress was designed from the ground up to be accessible to all, Contentful is designed to meet the complex needs of modern multi-platform enterprises, and so will inevitably take considerably more time to learn.

Since Contentful has an advanced headless architecture and an API-driven approach to content delivery, it’s a much more complex product. This, of course, could be considered a double-edged sword, since, on the one hand, it is complex to learn, but this is because it is such a sophisticated solution for demanding multi-platform content management. If your business needs this type of solution, then it will require dedicated team training, and a planned period of acclimatization.

From setting up content models in Contentful, to integrating various front-end solutions requires not just an understanding of the Contentful platform itself, but also the broader programming and development concepts involved in the content delivery process. This will require a significant investment of time, especially for teams who lack a strong technical background.

WordPress is an entirely different story, having been celebrated for years for its intuitive interface and ease of use. Simply because of its widespread popularity, it is highly likely that team members will already have a certain level of familiarity with it, and perhaps may even already be proficient. The level of familiarity translates directly into much shorter onboarding times, much quicker implementation, and a faster journey towards deployment overall.

But although WordPress is very easy to learn, and offers simplicity, this is not to suggest that it in any way sacrifices functionality. With such a vast range of plugins and themes, it is possible to carry out significant customization and scalability, even without any technical expertise.

Ultimately, for organizations with a highly technically proficient team (or that are happy to invest the time and money in training), the robust capabilities offered by Contentful present a future-proof solution. However, for businesses looking for a much quicker deployment, and a platform that can be managed easily by almost anyone, WordPress comes out as a clear first choice.

Ease of Implementation

When it comes to implementing a CMS, the ease with which it can be integrated into your existing setup is crucial. Both WordPress and Contentful offer unique advantages in this regard, but their differences in design and architecture make a significant difference when it comes to implementation.

WordPress’s greatest strength lies in its versatility. Originally designed as a traditional CMS, it has evolved to offer headless capabilities as well. This versatility allows businesses to use WordPress not only for managing and presenting content with its own front-end, but also as a headless CMS, where the content is managed in WordPress but displayed using different technologies.

This flexibility is a significant advantage. For businesses looking to revamp their website without overhauling their entire content management system, WordPress provides an ideal solution. It allows for gradual transitions, where the front-end can be updated or changed without needing to migrate to a new system for back-end content management.

Contentful, on the other hand, was built from the ground up as a headless CMS. This means that the platform is inherently more suited for managing content across multiple channels, such as websites, mobile apps, or IoT devices. For businesses that need to distribute content across multiple platforms and devices, Contentful’s implementation provides a streamlined, efficient approach.

However, this specialization means Contentful is less flexible than WordPress when it comes to using it for a traditional CMS setup.

Scalability

Scalability in content management systems is essential for any growing business. To support expansion in the future, the chosen platform needs to be robust and flexible. When comparing WordPress and Contentful, it is crucial to consider how each platform scales to ensure the growth and evolution of the business won’t be restricted further down the line.

Contrary to popular belief, WordPress is not just for small sites. Its scalability has been proven time and time again by large-scale implementations, such as the case of Vox.com, among other major newsgroups, which last year made the move across to WordPress as they wanted their creative and development teams to focus on experiences and content, rather than platforms. This demonstrates that with the right setup, WordPress can efficiently handle high traffic volumes and complex site structures.

However, challenges in scaling WordPress can arise when it’s used in traditional setups, particularly for dynamic content delivery. That isn’t to suggest that WordPress can’t meet these kinds of demands, as they can be managed very effectively by partnering with leading hosting providers such as Rocket.net, Convesio, and Servebolt. These providers offer specialized WordPress hosting solutions that enhance performance, security, and scalability, making WordPress a viable option even for large, content-heavy sites.

Contentful’s scalability is built into its architecture from the ground up, with its design as a headless CMS. Its API-first approach makes it naturally scalable, capable of handling a wide range of content distributed across multiple channels and platforms.

Teams using Contentful often have a higher degree of technical skill, something that, as we’ve touched on previously, is necessary given its much steeper learning curve. This technical proficiency usually helps in allowing them to maximize Contentful’s scalability potential more effectively, especially in complex, multi-platform environments.

Security

When considering CMS platforms, security is clearly a paramount concern. However, when comparing WordPress and Contentful there are often quite a few misconceptions.

WordPress’s immense popularity inevitably means that it is often under the microscope regarding security. A common misconception is that, because WordPress is open source and has a vast user-base, it is therefore inherently insecure. However, this is a very misleading verdict.

As discussed in Patchstack’s recent article, “Is WordPress Safe”, open-source software such as WordPress can actually be more secure, because of the very large and extremely active community. This community is well-known for actively identifying and addressing any vulnerabilities, and WordPress’s structure makes it very easy for updates and patches to be implemented quickly and easily. This means that WordPress benefits from a proactive approach to security, rather than merely reactive. Of course, it would be foolish to suppose that any software was 100% bulletproof, but as WordPress benefits from very regular updates and a very active community, this means that its security is of a very high standard.

Contentful’s security benefits largely from its very nature, as a headless content management platform. As the content and the delivery are ‘decoupled’, this inevitably reduces some security risks, since vulnerabilities are less likely to cross over from one side to the other. Contenrtful’s approach to security is robust, with features such as role-based access control and SSL encryption, as well as industry standards such as GDPR and SOC2.

Ultimately, however, the main security challenge for both WordPress and Contentful is not with their core software, but how they are implemented and maintained. For WordPress, the risks are largely associated with third-party plugins and themes. It’s essential to implement regular updates, strong password policies, and a cautious approach to plugins and themes.

With Contentful, a different approach is needed. The security largely centers around managing the API access, and ensuring the integrations with other systems are secure. This more technical approach to security will require a high level of technical expertise to manage effectively, but done properly it can offer more control, as well as a centralized security management approach.

Customer Service & Community

In the world of CMS platforms, the type and quality of support can be a deciding factor for many businesses. The choice between WordPress and Contentful isn’t just about the availability of customer service – it’s about understanding the type of support each platform offers.

Contentful provides dedicated customer support, which is a significant advantage for brands that need a reliable and consistent support team, especially when dealing with the more complex, headless CMS architecture. Contentful’s support team is able to handle a range of technical issues, so for companies that depend heavily on their digital presence and need a direct line to technical support, Contentful is an excellent choice.

WordPress, in contrast, operates on a very different support model. It boasts an incredibly supportive and huge global community of developers, users, and enthusiasts. This community is an invaluable resource for troubleshooting, with countless forums, blogs, tutorials, and guides all available entirely for free. Perhaps the real strength of WordPress lies in this communal knowledge base, where solutions to problems are easily shared and accessible – no matter how simple or complex the issue is.

However, it’s important to note that for any specific technical issues, especially those related to hosting, the responsibility will usually fall to the hosting provider. Choosing a reputable and capable hosting service for your WordPress site is crucial, as they become your primary line of support for technical issues related to site performance and security. We recommend providers such as Rocket.net, Convesio, and Servebolt.

Conclusion

When it comes to managing digital content, picking between WordPress and Contentful isn’t just about personal likes or dislikes. You’ve got to choose a platform that not only fits well with your business’s needs and tech know-how, but also supports where you’re headed in the future.

So, when you’re mulling over this choice, think beyond just what these platforms can do right now. Consider their impact down the line. For many, WordPress often edges out a bit ahead, mainly because of its ease of use and massive popularity. It’s user-friendly and has a ton of resources, making it a solid choice, especially if your team is not too technical. Contentful certainly has its perks, especially with its sophisticated, headless structure, but WordPress generally feels more accommodating, especially for those long-term projects.

The ideal CMS for you is one that doesn’t just tick boxes for your current situation but also sets you up nicely for the road ahead.

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