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Why use Craft CMS?

by Andrew

Craft CMS logo

Craft is a Content Management System (CMS) that powers websites for some of the world’s largest brands including Netflix, Ray-Ban, and the Associated Press.

Craft provides all of the functionality of WordPress in a modern, performant, and secure codebase but addresses many of the criticisms of WordPress such as its inflexibility, over-reliance on plugins, and security. WordPress isn’t a bad system, in the right hands, it can power fantastic websites. But it also makes it very easy to make bad websites.

In this article, I want to go through what I see as the key benefits of Craft.

Author experience

A lot of effort is spent making great User Experiences (UX), but much less care is typically taken on the Author Experience (AX). Craft allows website developers to provide a CMS entirely tailored to the client's content and workflows.

Craft's Matrix field allows authors to easily create rich and interesting pages like this on The Face. Developers can create custom 'blocks' and authors can pick and choose them and connect them in any order, like Lego bricks.

Being able to change what things are called to suit the clients vernacular can improve the AX, making it feel "like home". For example, what Craft calls "Entries", the client might think of as "Content".

Developers are also able to create custom filters to view specific content. For example, on The Face we created views to allow them to see upcoming articles, sponsored articles, image-led articles, video-led articles, etc.

In many ways, Craft is less of a traditional Content Management System and more of a Content Management Framework that can be manipulated and integrated into the author's way of thinking.

Craft 4 (coming in 2020) improves the AX further by giving authors the ability to view their content in a calendar mode, or a board mode (a bit like Trello).

Flexibility

Because Craft is so flexible out of the box, there is far less reliance on plugins than other CMS', especially Wordpress. For example, because Craft has a robust custom field system built-in, there's no need for plugins like ACF for Wordpress.

Website plugins can make maintenance of a website harder because you multiply your dependency on third-party developers. You may not be able to upgrade a website until all of your plugins are available. They also open up security risks that are entirely unavoidable, at the time of writing there were over 3000 WordPress plugins with vulnerabilities, and even more in WordPress themes and Wordpress itself.

No software is entirely secure, but Craft has a good track record with good security practices and fast resolution times if a vulnerability was found. But crucially because it does so much out of the box, you open yourself up to less risk.

Craft isn't limited to just being a website CMS and is often used to power content used in diverse places. For example, we've used Craft to power Amazon Alexa, interactive TV screens, and mobile applications. The authors only need to learn Craft and can power all of these mediums.

Craft also has a JSON API and a GraphQL API allowing website developers to use Craft with native apps, React, Vue, or pretty much any internet-connected device. Or if you just want to make a simple site, the built-in Twig template language makes it easy to write flexible templates without PHP or worrying about the dreaded "Wordpress loop".

Cost of ownership

Craft costs $300 for a license. In our experience, the cost of the license pays for itself in almost no time at all because of increased productivity. According to our friends at Mud, the average UK freelance developer charges £290 (~$350) a day (in 2014).

Because of the reduced reliance on plugins, maintenance costs are also generally reduced. There are simply fewer things that will go wrong.

That means that it takes just a day of productivity improvements to pay itself off. It's easy to see how those gains happen for developers, but it's also important to consider the productivity gains for authors too. A simple, tailored, and productive CMS will save countless hours of content management over the course of the website.

Craft provides agencies with support packages from $900 a year. It's difficult to compare WordPress VIP costs because they're unpublished, but they're reported to cost between $60,000 and $300,000 a year - it should be noted that WordPress VIP also provides hosting plans.

Forward thinking

Craft is a forward-thinking CMS. Systems like Drupal or WordPress progress at a snail's pace because they suffer from legacy code and complex architecture.

But Craft's development is agile and keeps up with web development much better. For instance, they have recently added a Headless mode and a native GraphQL API, positioning it to be able to handle the next generation of websites and applications.

In 2020, it's launching 'Craft Cloud'. A headless version of Craft for sites powered by tools like Gatsby where clients can pay a subscription to have a completely managed version of Craft hosted for them by the team behind Craft. This will likely reduce the complexity and cost of ownership considerably because it takes server maintenance and system updates out of the equation.

In summary

There are a lot more benefits and features of Craft that their website describes. But these are the main points that I think makes it such an attractive option for developers and clients.

At the end of the day, Craft is just a tool and if you find a tool that lets you do the job well, use it.

There's nothing wrong in using another CMS but we've found the foundations that Craft lays lets us build better websites, faster, and more reliably.

We've used many CMS' in the past, including Wordpress, Drupal, Perch, ExpressionEngine, and Magento. In our minds, nothing balances author experience and developer experience quite as well as Craft does.

It makes for good websites for happy clients.

If you'd like to talk to me more about Craft, I'd be happy to chat. Drop me an email andrew@madebymutual.com