WordPress is extremely popular, powering 30% of the entire internet, and it’s used for many different tasks. We’ll take a look at what your options are if you don’t want to use WordPress for your website.
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This is actually an important question here, as people use WordPress for many different things.
WordPress started as a simple publishing software, designed to power personal blogs, sites like this one, and even major news organizations. In addition to being behind 30% of the internet, it’s also the most popular content management system by far, behind 60% of all websites using one.
And it’s that part—the content management system—that attracted people. It was an easy way to start a website without touching any code. Eventually it morphed into something that could power real websites, with multiple static pages, plugins for drag-and-drop editors, thousands of themes, and numerous other features. Sure, you can still run a basic blog, but you could also run a business website complete with an eCommerce shop and landing pages for marketing campaigns.
There’s no way to name one single alternative to WordPress, so we’ll break down each category and examine the other players in each field.
Honestly, WordPress is still very good in this regard, especially if you get managed hosting where you don’t have to configure anything. But, there are alternatives.
Blogger is easy, free, and doesn’t require you to manage anything. It’s pretty basic, but acceptable if you just want to publish your thoughts onto the internet.
Medium is a publishing platform that can be a bit confusing at first; it’s a place to read and write articles, and functions similarly to a social network where people can follow you and have your articles show up on their front page. Some publications publish entirely on Medium, and plenty of freelance writers use it as their personal portfolio when not writing for a company. In short, it’s a bit more professional than running your own website, it’s free to use, and you can even be paid for your work if it performs well enough.
If you’re looking for something a bit more laid-back, Tumblr is all about “microblogging,” short form posts to your own personal page, alongside a social network platform. It’s entirely free to use.
The term “content management system” (CMS) has a lot of meaning, and can apply to any application that helps you manage a website without touching the underlying code, or while having limited technical knowledge. For this section, we’ll focus on CMSs similar to WordPress that help to manage content on your website that is being actively created, such as written articles. CMSs that focus more on building websites are below this in another section.
The second most popular CMS after WordPress is Joomla, powering 3% of the internet. It’s generally considered a bit more flexible than WordPress, allowing you to use different templates and themes for specific sections, and having a lot more control built into the dashboard. On the other hand, this makes it more technical, and it may be a bit harder to use for some people, though their documentation is quite thorough.
In many ways Joomla is a true alternative to WordPress, albeit with a smaller user base. There’s over 8,000 extensions for the platform (compared to WordPress’s 54,000+). There’s no official template library, though many themes exist on third- party sites. It’s considered about as secure as WordPress is, perhaps more so as it doesn’t have as large of a target on it’s back, and a smaller base of potentially unsafe plugins.
Drupal is an open-source CMS. It functions similarly to WordPress, with published article pages as well as options for static ones. It also offers custom-content types, rather than just one “article” page. It has great user management, being able to create individual roles and permissions. It’s highly focused on security, and is a major selling point for government websites (NASA runs on Drupal) and other security-focused companies.
However, this focus comes at the cost of usability. It doesn’t have the same rich-text TinyMCE editor that Joomla and WordPress do, it doesn’t have great plugin support, and it’s generally a bit more unwieldy than the other CMSs. If you’re looking for a simple CMS, go for something else.
It defeats the purpose of using a user-friendly CMS, but if you’re a seasoned developer and have a need for more complex-content management than you can get out of the box, you might be best off coding it yourself.
This actually isn’t as hard as it seems; essentially, you have a database on the backend that stores all the content, and an API for reading and writing to it. You might want to build an admin panel for managing what gets put in, but it’s not entirely necessary to get your systems off the ground.
Then, you can use a front-end framework like React to easily connect to the API and adjust the page’s content accordingly. It may also help to have a state container system like Redux. There’s a whole world of customizability here, as React and Redux are just two of many frontend frameworks.
The other area that content management systems are used in is website building. With more and more people needing websites, it’s become big business to offer website building services to people without needing to touch any code.
This kind of editor is called a “What You See Is What You Get” editor (WYSIWYG), meaning you’ll edit the style and layout of your website directly, usually by dragging and dropping prebuilt elements onto the page. Despite being locked to the WYSIWYG editor, there’s a lot of customization to be had, and in some cases you’ll still have access to the HTML and CSS styling to make changes if you are technically inclined.
These services will almost always host your website for you, and will often charge you a small fee (though many have free plans). Additionally, they’ll often register a domain for you (assuming you pay for it, that is), and provide free templates to get you started.
But if you just need a very basic website, you don’t have to pay money for it. Google Sites offers free hosting for basic pages. Github Pages focuses on pages for programming projects, and while it’s does require you to use HTML it’s a very easy way to host a simple webpage (though you will be limited to the Github URL).
Forums aren’t an integrated part of WordPress; it is a popular thing to run through the use of plugins, especially bbPress (the sister project of WordPress). The forum space is populated with a lot of “Bulletin Board” applications, like the classic phpBB and MyBB, both of which are a bit dated by modern standards, although certainly still usable.
Discourse is a great application for running modern forums, though with it being very pricey at $100 per month for the hosted version, it’s certainly aimed at people that can afford it. Because it’s an open-source project, you can run it yourself, but you’re going to need at least a decent $40-60 per month cloud server for best results. You can view their online demo to try it out.
We recommend Flarum if you’re looking for a simple no-frills forum that looks great. It runs on PHP and is fairly easy to set up, provided you can use a command line (though you can get managed hosting). You can view their online forums to try it out.