Digital publishers who are looking for self-hosted content management systems have dozens of options to choose from, but WordPress has become the de facto choice for anyone who is serious about online publishing. Why is that, and what makes the WordPress (WP) platform a better fit for publishers than Wagtail?
In this article, we will take a look at both self-hosted content management systems. We will discuss what WordPress and Wagtail are, what makes each platform unique, and why so many publishers are opting for WordPress over Wagtail.
What Is WordPress?
On WordPress’ own website, the company describes itself as open source software that publishers can use to create beautiful websites, blogs, and apps. Sixty million people have chosen to use WP, and the company’s self-hosted content management system now powers 32% of the web. That figure encompasses everything from small hobby blogs to some of the largest digital news websites in the world.
The basic functionality of WP is extended thanks to the 45,000+ plugins that developers have created to meet the needs of publishers. Plugins can be used to add online stores, galleries, mailing lists, forums, and thousands of other specialized features to any WP website.
WP is also home to a community of hundreds of thousands of developers, content creators, and website owners. These professionals gather at monthly meet ups in more than 400 cities.
WordPress software is not the same as WordPress.com. WP software, which is what we are discussing in this article, is a self-hosted content management system. WordPress.com is a hosted WP environment that is run on a modified version of WP and owned by Automattic.
How WordPress Works
Publishers can use WordPress software to create any type of website. Personal blogs, business websites, professional portfolios, government websites, digital magazines, news websites, online communities, and even networks of websites can all be created with WP.
Nearly everyone has heard about WordPress’ five-minute installation at this point. It’s a big selling feature, and that’s for good reason. TheWP platform is setup to put users at ease, with a navigation system that is incredibly intuitive.
Although WP comes bundled with two default themes, the majority of publishers use WordPress’ theme directory when they setup their websites. WordPress’ theme directory has thousands of themes to choose from, each giving websites a different flare. The company has also made it easy for publishers to upload their own themes in order to give their websites complete makeovers.
Using WordPress’ straightforward publishing tools, content creators can generate pages and posts in minutes. Individual pages and posts are then formatted, media is inserted, and the content goes live on the website. Well-designed publishing tools allow writers to create drafts, schedule publication, and look at post revisions through their content management system. WordPress websites are optimized for search engines right out of the box. SEO plugins are also available. (We’ll dig deeper into plugins a little later in this article.)
Complete flexibility means publishers who use WP have the option to keep their content private or make it public. Passwords can be setup to keep posts and pages secure. Individual user accounts can also be created to give administrators, editors, authors, and contributors unique levels of access.
Upgraded functionalities, like complex galleries, social networking, forums, social media widgets, spam protection, forms, and calendars, are all managed through plugins. These plugins are made available through WordPress’ plugin directory.
What Is Wagtail?
Wagtail is an open source content management system that was started in 2014 by the digital agency Torchbox. Wagtail was built on the Django framework. Wagtail is written in the Python programming language and maintained by a small team of contributors. The platform was originally built for the Royal College of Art.
Wagtail integrates into publishers’ existing CRM and marketing automation platforms, as well as a handful of ticketing, payment fulfillment, and event management systems. New versions of Wagtail come out every two months, with a mixture of upgraded features and improvements.
How Wagtail Works
Websites built on Wagtail’s content management system are organized into sequences of blocks, which developers use to rearrange different types of content. That process can seem too advanced to publishers who are just launching their websites or learning about how to build websites for the first time. Most publishers will find that Wagtail requires a level of user sophistication that they are not prepared for.
Because Wagtail was made with sophisticated developers in mind, the platform is not always intuitive. It does, however, work with some of the third-party tools that developers regularly use. Anything a developer can do in Python—including machine learning, image manipulation, and PDF generation—can be done in Wagtail.
Those publishers who feel comfortable digging around under the hood can use Wagtail’s A/B testing feature to optimize their clients’ websites. This is something that’s usually reserved for closed-source enterprise content management systems. Wagtail also offers a built-in API and a templating system.
WordPress vs. Wagtail
Given that WordPress and Wagtail offer a number of similar features, there is a question of which self-hosted content management system is better for digital publishers.
The truth is, almost anything that can be done on Wagtail can also be done on WP. The only difference is that WordPress makes it easier and cheaper. Newcomers appreciate WP because the software itself is incredibly simple. This simplicity allows them to get started quickly, with minimal setup and hassles. And to top it off, WordPress has a much lower total cost of ownership.
The day-to-day publishing experience onWP is far beyond what Wagtail can provide. Thanks in large part to WordPress’ incredible community of hundreds of thousands of developers, publishers have thousands of plugins and themes to choose from. These plugins and themes can transform their websites into anything under the sun.
WordPress has far greater adoption for a reason. Nearly 5,000 companies on StackShare use WP, compared to just 6 that use Wagtail.WP is used by global powerhouses like eBay, Mozilla, TechCrunch, and 37Signals.
Among publishing industry veterans, WP has become the de facto choice because of its product feature set, as well as its reliability and its community of hundreds of thousands of developers and content creators. The availability of reliable WordPress developers is so far beyond the number of reliable python developers, that it doesn’t make sense for publishers to lock themselves in to a system that will be harder and more expensive to manage.
With so few developers on board, it can take Wagtail a long time to release new updates. The company itself says it releases new versions once every two months.
Why Do Publishers Prefer WordPress over Wagtail?
WordPress has greater adoption and it is far more utilized for a reason. The platform is dead simple to use, and it can be customized as much as publishers want. Most novice publishers feel that they have nothing to lose by starting out on the WP platform. The platform itself is completely free. A number of the plugins that make websites more customized are free, as well.
In comparing WordPress to Wagtail, it’s clear that these platforms have very different end users in mind. Wagtail’s focus is much more on sophisticated developers, and publishers without extensive technology backgrounds can find the platform difficult to use. WP is straightforward enough that anyone should be able to use the content management system, not just web professionals. Non-tech colleagues—such as writers, editors, and other company administrators—should be able to update website content and add blog posts on their own when they are using WordPress.
Publishers, in particular, tend to be very concerned with search engine optimization. With WordPress, publishers can create readable permalinks to individual pages and blog posts. They can also install themes designed to meet the latest best practices for SEO.
Publishers who use WordPress are able to do everything they can with Wagtail — and much more. Thousands of plugins and themes fill the gaps for WordPress users. Because Wagtail’s developer community is much smaller, those options and capabilities are just not available.
These are specific things that WordPress does particularly well, leading many publishers to choose WordPress over other content management systems.
• Completely customizable
• Websites are simple to manage
• Thousands of plugins and themes
• Packed with features for every user
• Rapid website development
• Generates code in full compliance with standards set by the W3C
• Large developer community
When Is WordPress the Best Fit?
The vast majority of publishers will find that WP provides them with more options for customization and a greater level of flexibility. WP is built to help people get their websites up and their content out to the public. That means websites with a substantial blog component, with basic information architecture, work particularly well with the WordPress platform.
Picking from WordPress’ extensive plugin directory, publishers can add any number of features to their websites. They can even fine-tune their search engine optimization without relying on outside experts for support.
When Is Wagtail the Best Fit?
Unfortunately, Wagtail is almost never a better fit for publishers than WordPress. Wagtail generally requires long timelines, something developers and publishers rarely have, and it lacks the simplicity in design of WordPress. Overly-complicated features can make Wagtail challenging for publishers to use, as well.
The Wagtail platform is very young, which means it hasn’t been tested nearly as extensively as WP. Youth can give some software developers an edge, but not in this case. Developers can’t afford to leave their website performance up to chance, and using a platform that hasn’t been around for many years is a risk that developers should not be willing to take.
Finally, Wagtail’s developer community is still much smaller than WordPress’. The developer community that WP has cultivated over the years as impressive in its size and depth. Publishers should think long and hard about whether they are willing to take the risk of using a platform that so few developers are willing to be a part of.
Publishers will find that WordPress offers more of the features they are looking for, without the complexities that they are hoping to avoid.
Although there was once a perception that WP was designed for publishers looking for quick and simple setups, this is no longer the case. WordPress’ plugins make it ideal for larger projects, as well as smaller projects. WordPress’ large developer community helps to keep the platform fresh, and underlying worries about security and slow load times are minimized.