4 CMSs: Comparing Craft CMS, Ghost, Netlify CMS, and WordPress

We’ve been developing on WordPress for just over a decade now. Beginning with version 2.3, we built sites with custom themes and no plugins; simple sites with essential information. As we’ve built dozens of sites, requirements have expanded with each development including extensive maps, comprehensive forms, and eCommerce. However, we continue to build the simple focused information sites we started with WordPress but the development landscape has drastically opened up. WordPress was one of the first stable, actively updated content management systems but now there are options including; Ghost a publication focused system, Netlify a platform that also includes a simple CMS, or Craft CMS which is focused on flexible content.

Starting Point

To explore all these new options, we’ve setup 3 example sites based on a variety of current topics, Automation, the Green New Deal, and productivity in Computing; these topics should provide endless angles to create content from. With the topics chosen, we then started to build universal theme that could be used across each of the the CMSs, the theme isn’t pretty but it helps set a level starting place when building each site.

A Fair Comparison?

Are each of these CMSs directly comparable? No. For one, WordPress is often bundled right on many hosting platforms, a featured shared with only few other long developed CMSs. Each of these site managers needs more custom setup to get going. However, even if they aren’t directly comparable, we are starting from a simple configuration all content management systems should be able to hit, a blog. Each site should be able to have a customizable homepage, leading to list of posts, then posts with layout options for images and other media. Ideally, getting started building these on an Nginx platform shouldn’t be too difficult. (Also each site has to work locally, more later.)

Craft CMS

Craft’s feature types are key the flexible content management of the system.

Craft CMS is often compared to WordPress as both are running on the same language, PHP. Our setup on localhost was download the community version and add the database information. Similar to WordPress, the database information is entered code, rather than through a browser interface. From there, setting up the sections and entries to make the blog took some work wasn’t difficult but should be apart of a placeholder content that helps users get started. Craft CMS has been more difficult to update, we are seeing a PHP issue that isn’t obvious to resolve.


Ghost has total focus on publishing.

Ghost is clean. From install to content creation, Ghost has an elegant interface and keeps clutter to an absolute minimum. As with Craft CMS, Ghost has a paid option but installing the standalone system can be done from the command line and is built in the speedy, straightforward Node.js. No database to setup, Ghost is self-contained and setup was a breeze on local and the server. The complexity with Ghost came in editing the template, then needing to restart the CMS to show the edits. Overall though, Ghost startup was straightforward.

Netlify with the Hugo Starter

Ghost has total focus on publishing.

The Netlify CMS is the outlier in the group. Not only does Netlify CMS run as a static HTML site, rather than the other sites which are complied when requested or “time-of-flight” but also Netlify CMS is known more for it’s eponymous CDN infrastructure than for it’s CMS alone. Hosting the static site on a shared server removes the advantages of using the whole CDN but we’ll explore hosting in the future. Many CMSs can output to static sites but Netlify is purpose built and leans on GIT for versioning.

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