WordPress vs ProcessWire – A small business CMS comparison for 2019

Laptop with the WordPress dashboard on screen

As a small business owner there are a few decisions you’re going to have to make when it comes to your website. Are you going to build it yourself, or will you hire someone to do it? Is it a simple showcase of your services, or do you need e-commerce functionality? Will a nicely styled blog fit your needs, or do you need a certain amount of customisation?

While there are many options for small business content management systems, there are two which we most commonly use at Black Void – WordPress and ProcessWire. Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have a better understanding of the pros and cons of each.

What is WordPress?

The WordPress admin
The WordPress admin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2003, you’ll almost certainly have heard of WordPress. It started life as a blogging platform, and although it has evolved far beyond that, the core functions remain the same – most sites are built around pages and posts, the latter of which will usually appear on a blog or news section.

Note that in this article, we’re mainly discussing self-hosted WordPress sites, as opposed to sites hosted at wordpress.com. We usually advise to self-host unless you’re looking for a very simple blog.

The technical stuff

WordPress is based on PHP and MySQL. Its popularity means that many web hosts have a dedicated WordPress installation option; in fact, there are companies built entirely around WordPress hosting, so finding a good platform for your site to live on will be easy.

Most of the customisation comes from the thousands of plugins and themes available, many of which are free. The plugins offer almost any functionality you can think of, from simple widgets to site optimisation, security, e-commerce, and even forums. Most modern premium themes come with a number of plugins and page builders built in, and allow for a variety of layouts and designs without ever having to touch the code. For advanced customisation, users can create a ‘child theme’ which overwrites the parent’s style and functionality.

Why we like it

If you want to build a site yourself but don’t have any coding experience, or you simply want to get a site up and running as quickly as possible, then WordPress is a strong contender. You can start by picking one of the thousands of themes available, then use the options to change the logo, colours, fonts and layout to suit your needs. There are specific themes available for almost any kind of business you can think of, so finding a suitable one shouldn’t be an issue.

You can then go ahead and augment your site with the multitude of plugins available. Need a contact form or map? Or perhaps you’re selling in a foreign market and need multilingual support? Whatever your requirements, there’s almost certainly a free or premium plugin to cover it.

Why it might not be suitable

The sheer amount of WordPress plugins available is both a blessing and a curse. While the most popular plugins are regularly updated and supported, some more niche ones can often fall behind. This can create security vulnerabilities. The core WordPress platform also receives regular updates. This means that sites do require a certain level of monthly maintenance which, while not too difficult, can still take time away from your other business activities. While unlikely, updating old plugins can also occasionally break your site in unexpected ways – usually we recommend performing any major updates on a duplicate staging site first to check for any issues.

WordPress’ dashboard, while perfectly functionality (and familiar to most people), doesn’t offer the greatest user experience. Certain things take too many clicks, and some basic functionality (like duplicating posts and pages) is still missing. Of course there are plugins available to fill in the gaps, but again this can lead to more maintenance, bloat, and UX problems.

What is ProcessWire?

The ProcessWire admin
The ProcessWire admin

Though less well known than WordPress, ProcessWire has been around for just as long (albeit under different names). It’s a lightweight CMS that incorporates a simple but powerful API, making it very easy to use your own HTML templates. Sites are built around pages, which are created in a simple tree format.

The technical stuff

ProcessWire is also based on PHP and MySQL – this means that while most hosts don’t have a dedicated option for it, it’s still relatively easy to setup. You can also get ready-to-deploy ProcessWire packages from services like Bitnami, making life even easier.

While it has substantially fewer plugins and themes than WordPress, the beauty of ProcessWire is that it’s incredibly easy to use your own original designs. The architecture is built around two main components; templates and fields. Every page is assigned a template, which has an associated PHP file to control the actual page structure. In turn, templates can have multiple fields assigned. Some fields come as default (title, body, images etc), and you can also add custom ones which can then be referenced in the template via ProcessWire’s API.

Why we like it

Compared to WordPress, ProcessWire is far more lightweight (especially if you take into account the amount of plugins that are usually added to the former). The admin interface was produced with websites in mind, not blogs, so it tends to be more user-friendly. The system itself was built from the ground up to be secure, so vulnerabilities are less of a concern (this is a little unfair to WordPress, as it’s popularity makes it a much bigger target, but it’s still something to consider).

ProcessWire’s architecture makes building bespoke solutions far easier, with custom fields offering great flexibility. The simplicity of integrating the API snippets into your original designs makes it a joy to work with for developers.

Why it might not be suitable

If you’re going to use ProcessWire, it’s probably going to mean building your own templates and functionality, rather than using an existing theme. Naturally, this means that development times are going to be longer. It also means that if you’re not familiar with HTML, CSS and PHP, you’re going to either have to spend some time learning, or hire someone to build the site for you. With the sheer amount of themes that WordPress offers, it’s fair to say that ProcessWire has a slightly higher learning curve in that respect.

The other thing to consider is that, while ProcessWire has a great community, it’s far less popular than WordPress. This can make it somewhat more difficult to find answers if you run into difficulties. You may also find yourself having to build custom functionality which could be easily found in a WordPress plugin.

The WordPress and ProcessWire logos

So which should you choose?

If you want to get your site up and running as quickly as possible so you can concentrate on your business, then WordPress is a solid choice. You can pick from one of thousands of existing themes, add your branding and content, optimise, and you’re good to go. WordPress is very much an ‘out of the box’ solution, and works especially well if you need a blog-centric/news site, or a quick and simple e-commerce solution. Just be aware that there is a level of maintenance involved.

Conversely, if you want something more lightweight where posting articles is not the priority, or are looking for something more bespoke, then we would recommend ProcessWire as a fantastic alternative.

As always Black Void is on hand for any questions you might have. Feel free to contact us if you’re still undecided or need a reliable team to help implement your chosen platform.