WordPress vs Wagtail

Publishers Are Choosing WordPress Over Wagtail — Here’s Why

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.

WordPress vs Wagtail Stack


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.

Best CMS Platforms

Choosing the Best CMS: Open-Source vs. Closed Source

Open-source vs. closed. For independent publishers looking to build or revamp their websites, there might be no greater question.

Choosing the right content management system (CMS) is one of the first decisions a publisher makes, and within the broad category of CMS platforms are both open-source and closed solutions.

A content management system is the backbone of a website, supporting the publishing and editing of all digital content. For publishers, choosing the best CMS is extremely important because nearly every member of the organization will interact with the software on a daily basis. Behind every blog and digital newspaper, there’s a CMS doing the heavy lifting. But some CMS platforms do more of the heavy lifting than others.

The first step to finding the best CMS is to look at whether the platform is open-source or closed. While WordPress is the most well-known and popular of the open-source solutions, there are a number of lesser-known platforms, such as Drupal and Joomla, that are also used by online newspapers, magazines, and blogs to publish content on the web. With a large community of users, open-source CMS platforms like WordPress are often considered to be the easiest and most straightforward option for independent publishers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are closed CMS platforms. Solutions such as Rivista, Haven Nexus, and Metro Publisher all fall into this category. Closed CMS platforms are like prefab homes, in that they’re designed to be used by organizations in a specific industry with little to do in the way of customization. While the initial costs with a closed CMS are sometimes lower, many proprietary systems come with expensive monthly or yearly premiums, and exporting data can be tricky.

Here are four additional questions to consider when choosing the best CMS for your publication:

What is the interface like?

Reporters, editors, and other members of your publication’s team will be interacting with the CMS on a daily basis, so it’s important to choose a solution with an interface that’s easy to use. Content needs and brand guidelines play a major role in determining how well a particular CMS will work for a publication. Although there is something to be said for personal preference, open-source solutions like WordPress usually win out when it comes to the interface and usability.

Can I customize the system?

Publishers who want a unique look or custom features on their websites will often be better off with an open-source CMS platform, since closed systems can limit the options available. Using plugins and extensions, publishers can customize their WordPress websites for a fraction of the price that they could expect to pay with a closed system.

Even publishers who feel comfortable with an out-of-the-box template website with a closed CMS should consider any changes or upgrades they may want to make as their publications grow in the future. Publishers who choose open-source platforms can make modifications at any time, with or without the help of a developer, depending on their level of expertise. While customizations on an open-source platform may cost extra, this is usually a one-time cost—versus an ongoing expense. Still, publishers should take pricing into consideration when selecting the best CMS.

How frequently is the system updated?

A closed CMS may not be updated as frequently as an open-source system. Publishers who opt for an open-source solution like WordPress benefit from the community, with a team that’s dedicated to enhancing features based on the latest advancements in technology and web security.

While there are some CMS vendors that do an adequate job of rolling out software updates at regular intervals, the vast majority of these providers have systems that are largely considered outdated. If you are thinking of going with a closed CMS, request a change log from the vendor to see how frequently upgrades are being made before making a final decision.

Will I be handcuffed to a system?

What happens when it’s time to migrate from one CMS to another? Exporting data from a closed system to an open-system or even one closed system to another can be challenging and very expensive. Open-source solutions, such as WordPress make it easier to be “platform independent,” meaning that you can expect a smoother transition moving data from one platform to another if you decide to make a change in the future.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the best CMS platform, most independent publishers with local news websites will find that open-source platforms, such as WordPress, offer the most flexibility with better pricing than what’s available through closed solutions.