First: This article makes no claim to be complete, objective or representative. The reason is that comparing Wordpress and React is like comparing apples and pears. But let’s give it a try nevertheless :)
The core of a website project is the Content Management System — for short CMS. With the CMS you decide on the entire technology you are going to use for the lifetime of your website.
We have developed the Penguin CMS system over the past 5 years after we stopped working with Wordpress. Today Penguin CMS powers over 100 websites with thousands of visitors per day. I quickly want to point out the drawbacks and benefits.
Why we and 100% of our clients stopped using Wordpress:
Design: You are constrained in the design and the way you organize your website. That is why all Wordpress sites look similar, and it becomes quickly expensive if you wish to create something unique.
Security: We never had security incidents on our systems (Penguin CMS). When we were using Wordpress, it got hacked twice due to security issues in plugins. That happened despite having installed several “Security Plugins” on the Wordpress site.
Updates: Updates with Wordpress are a big issue. There are breaking changes and some plugins stop working. Most of the plugins are developed by people in their free time and not by professional programmers — and do not meet a professional, secure standard. We had the case multiple times when updating resulted in a huge effort (resulting in cost).
Scaling: Wordpress runs on PHP, an old programming language. It is not really made for scaling; therefore, the page becomes slower when growing — either content on the page or the visitor number. There are tricks on how to deal with the performance on PHP, but it still is not made for many visitors and it becomes expensive in hosting.
Biggest issue — Technical Debt: Since Wordpress is the main player on the market, many of their customers own websites created with older versions of Wordpress. Therefore, they cannot come up with a new system that fixes all underlying issues that are deeply ingrained in their system. This concept is called “technical debt” — and Wordpress has a tremendous one as shown in the graph below. The result of the technical debt is the following: it might be fast to start a project with Wordpress, adding further features will get slower and slower over time. Example: We once created a shop for a client. After it went online, the client asked us to do another small update: to add an optional “school address” in the checkout. This was as expensive as setting up the whole shop, just because the “technical debt” made it so cumbersome to add a feature without breaking other features.
The main reason why many people still go for Wordpress is that it is cheaper in the initial project, and agencies tend to not tell customers about the effects of technical debt (low initial cost and high subsequent service cost). It is also cheaper and easier to find people programming with the “old” technologies.
The support for Wordpress: Often it seems to be an argument that Wordpress is a major CMS and therefore it should have good support. While it might be true for a standard template, it is not true for a custom website. Custom websites built on PHP and Wordpress are hard to develop further because there is no clear structure. I have often seen code where the developer did some “freestyle coding” to somehow just get the job done.
Customer’s choice: From the 100 biggest websites on the net, Wordpress.com is the only Wordpress-based website. All the rest run on other CMS systems because Wordpress is not scalable, professional and secure enough for them.
We use a system which is based on React. React is developed and backed by Facebook and is therefore truly scalable. It is developed to fit their security standards and is in use on facebook.com and many other of their platforms. React is growing at a fast pace and at this point is already used by Airbnb, Alipay, Amazon Video, Atlassian, BBC, Uber, Udacity, Yahoo, Salesforce, NFL, New York Times and many more.
React has a very clear way of programming, structuring, and workflows. This results in a very low “technical debt” and the project stays manageable in the future. You program real custom components which are reusable in the future. This also makes it easy to test the code.
Since it is made for scaling, there is a lower hosting cost and the system can easily handle massive visitor spikes.
Overall we implement the handmade design and no templates. We are flexible in the implementation and have everything prepared to grow in the future and extend functionalities.
To make this work, we use an architecture with a “static site generator” together with a “headless CMS”. Our chosen tools at the moment are React Static and Storyblok. This setup, together with some own tools, is what we call Penguin CMS.
At Penguin Digital we focus on creating a good user experience for our clients. That is why we have created several CMS systems and are still working on improving every day. We are a web agency based in Switzerland and Bulgaria with clients on five continents. If you want to get to know more about some awesome technology, the penguins, and our work, do not hesitate to contact us or visit www.penguin.digital 🐧.