WordPress and Netlify are two of the most robust content management systems on the market. Both are open-source and free to use, but that’s about where their similarities end.

WordPress is more popular — it powers about 35% of all websites on the internet. This is likely due to the fact that WordPress caters to users who don’t have prior programming experience and are looking for an easy-to-use CMS.

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On the other hand, Netlify appeals to developers concerned about website performance. WordPress’s heavy back end can impact a website’s speed and security.

If you ask a developer how to speed up a website, they might recommend converting to a static site. This is ideal for informational sites that change infrequently and require no user interaction.

For more complex sites, you need a database-driven CMS, like WordPress. To address site speed on WordPress sites, you certainly have options — install performance plugins, choose a better web host, and update the WordPress core, theme, and plugins more frequently.

Before we get into the pros and cons, let's address static site generators.

What are static site generators?

Static site generators convert certain pages on your website into static site versions. When a user requests a page on the static site, the request is sent to the web server, which then finds the corresponding file and returns it to the user. This process helps the site perform faster, and cache easier.

This process is also more secure. The static site generator doesn’t rely on databases or other data sources and it also avoids server-side processing when accessing the website.

Several static site generators can convert existing pages on your WordPress site so that you don’t have to start over from scratch.

However, static site generators do have a few downsides, including:

  • Incompatibility with page builders. If you don’t know how to code, you won’t be able to build a site without the help of page builders.
  • Trouble managing large sites. Websites that have thousands of pages, multiple authors, and content published regularly can pose a problem for a static site development environment. The frequency and quantity of making page edits can delay updates as sites must be rebuilt and tested.
  • Server site functionality. Everything comes in from the client-side, so you cannot ask for inputs from users (such as allowing users to create a login or post a comment).

Fortunately, many of these static website limitations can be addressed through Netlify.

Let’s consider the options between Netlify and WordPress.

WordPress CMS

Although some developers find working with WordPress painful, WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS for a reason. It offers several appealing features; however, its open-source nature of customization can create many new problems.

The possibilities for a WordPress site are endless. WordPress can be used to build small or large websites that accommodate a variety of functions such as e-commerce, portfolios, and blogs. You can determine exactly what you’d like your website to do with a nearly endless selection of plugins. The HubSpot WordPress plugin, for example, is a popular free plug-in that adds HubSpot’s functionality to a WordPress site.

HubSpot portal in WordPress dashboard via HubSpot WordPress plugin

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However, be wary of installing too many plugins or using plugins that are incompatible with your theme or with other plugins. Too much activity on your WordPress installation can cause your site to load slowly and create issues for user experience.

Theme designs make it easy to customize WordPress for your desired look and feel. You can choose from thousands of available options and install one with a click. Drag-and-drop editors allow you to see how your site looks as you populate each page with content (shown in the demo below).

Creating post in WordPress Gutenberg editor-1

When you want to give your website design a facelift, you can switch to a new theme. But, not all themes will be compatible with the plugins you need to run your business. Furthermore, some themes prioritize style over function, which can make your site buggy and slow.

Generally, WordPress is secure. Additionally, there are multiple plugins that can add extra security features. But, given that most of the world’s websites are powered by WordPress, it is the CMS most prone to hacking — to the tune of over 91,000 attacks per minute.

Even with extra security features, if plugins, themes, and the WordPress core files are not updated regularly, they can be vulnerable points for attack. These issues are cause for concern, but most companies don’t want to give up their dynamic websites entirely. Instead, website managers are turning to static site generators.

Netlify CMS

Netlify describes itself as an “all-in-one platform for automating modern web projects”, catering to more advanced users, such as website developers.

The Netlify CMS is based on JamStack technology, which was used to build the most popular static site generators. JamStack is referred to as “the future of development architecture”. It is built on serverless, headless technology, based on client-side JavaScript, reusable application programming interfaces (APIs), and prebuilt Markup. This structure makes it more secure than a server-side CMS like WordPress.

Netlify is not a static site generator; it is a CMS to build static and headless web projects. Content is stored in your Git repository, along with your code, for easy editing and updating.

When used in conjunction with static site generators, Netlify initiates its own repository for both GitHub and its services. Updates are executed and distributed across content delivery networks (CDN), delivering pre-built static pages to visitors — with Netlify picking the best one.

Netlify then distributes those static sites across its content delivery network. (Imagine what you can achieve in terms of page load speed when you're serving pre-built pages from the CDNs nearest to visitors). Because files are lighter, you can host your site in the cloud and avoid web hosting fees. Most developers find Netlify platform’s free tier plan offers more than enough for personal projects.

Netlify CMS pricing plans including free tier

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To be clear, the Netlify CMS is different from the Netlify platform, which can be used to automatically build, deploy, serve, and manage your frontend sites and web apps. According to Netlify, the Netlify CMS has never been locked to their platform (despite both having the same name).

Some of Netlify’s other features include connecting custom domains, creating custom-styled previews, as well as adding user interface (UI) widgets, editor plugins, and backends to support different Git platform APIs.

Netlify sought to simplify the deployment process with Netlify CMS, which allows developers to create websites and projects with a lightweight page experience.

Final Thoughts on Netlify vs. WordPress

Netlify and WordPress are two of the most robust content management systems, but they cater to very different markets.

WordPress is best suited to beginners and those without programming experience who want to create a new website. As their site grows over time, load times could get slower. It’s at this point that owners might consider using static site generators to create static web pages.

However, static site generators have their limitations. This is where the Netlify CMS comes in. It can be used to deploy static sites and act as a Git repository. It also makes it easy to edit content for static sites, versus editing files from the server manually.

If you’re looking for a CMS option that combines the cloud-based, streamlined functionality of Netlify and the customization and flexibility of WordPress (without the bloat), consider CMS Hub.

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Originally published Jun 8, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated July 13 2020

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