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Craft CMS or WordPress for web development

As web designers and web developers we’ve all likely been in a position where we are asked to take over an existing website. In most cases taking on the site includes taking on the core CMS as well. Standard systems like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla are usually easy to take on, as are the hosted CMS platforms like Squarespace or Wix. The disadvantage is that your team has to be familiar with these systems to work efficiently, although I find that if you’re familiar with the general concepts, adapting between these systems is not difficult.

Recently though I came across a website that was hosted on a bespoke Content Management System and the company that I was taking the site over from was less than helpful in assisting the site across. There was no other option than scraping the HTML, CSS and Javascript and to re-build it temporarily in a pure HTML environment, just to keep it running. I did that just to buy time and to keep the client happy.

From here I had some web development options

  • Keep the site running in HTML
    The disadvantage is that each page, including header and footer has to be changed individually if there was a update or change in design or content. The other issue in this case was that the website code was a mess and it needed urgent cleaning up.
  • Rebuild the website using WordPress
    This was a real option. The design was not difficult to reproduce with any page builder, or if I wanted to keep the html code, the option of using the “Advanced Custom Fields” plugin would have presented that option.

  • Use Craft CMS to utilise the existing HTML and rebuild the site
    Probably the closest that WordPress comes to Craft CMS is the “Advanced Custom Fields” plugin. There are similarities in how you can define fields and then use them in the code and in the Admin panel. But that is probably where the similarity ends.

For the purpose of this website, the third option presented the best opportunities. I had the opportunity to clean up the code as I went along first building the header and footer and after that building each page. The code reduced to approximately one tenth of the original code, making the website perform. Here’s the Craft CMS website for this Deck Builder.

I then kept the plugins to a minimum, choosing only a forms plugin, and SEO plugin and a Caching plugin.

If you’ve never worked with Craft CMS then I believe that you’re missing out. You do need to understand some HTML and Twig and you need to familiarise yourself with Craft CMS. To this end, Craft CMS has some excellent tutorials and I recommend going through the “Up and Running with Craft CMS 3” Tutorial. https://craftquest.io/quests/new-to-craft.

Here’s what using Craft CMS has done for me.

  • I am much closer to the code and the functioning code of a website. Forms for instance can be built from scratch and I have done that (on the initial HTML after I took over the website), so now I know a lot more about this and feel OK with using a plugin.
  • It’s given me the courage to build my own registration system (with lots of guidance from Craft CMS tutorials)
  • It’s opened up my mind to create websites and systems without using plugins that would stifle functionality and creativity.
  • Any HTML template can be used to create a Craft CMS website and the process is far more enjoyable (if you enjoy some coding and being in control) than plugging in images and written content to a WordPress page builder.

While I’ll still use WordPress for most websites that need to be created quickly, I think that many of my future websites will be built on Craft CMS. In the past 8 years of building websites, it is the purest form of website development that I’ve come across.

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