ExpressionEngine vs. WordPress

Posted on April 25, 2021

Caroline Blaker

ExpressionEngine vs. WordPress Image

Updated: 02/08/2023.

As someone who has developed websites in both ExpressionEngine and WordPress, there is no question I hear more often than "Why ExpressionEngine? Why not WordPress ( or SquareSpace , Drupal..)"

If you don't require * just * a blog and pages, or require another, either additional or alternative feature set, then another software may be better than WordPress. What makes one software better than another for a long-term objective like a website? Certainly one that outshines another in security testing, in scaleability, flexibility, and long term support might be considered "better," where WordPress easily takes "ease of getting started" and "ease of feature implementation." Many web developers got their start in WordPress without any concern for how long-term their objective might be. It can be easier to stay in familiar territory than to pursue other options, even when one such as ExpressionEngine is so easily identified.

Getting Up and Running

So few web softwares work as well as WordPress for onboarding and getting up and running. Hosted platforms like Squarespace and Wix also do a good job here. Their visual webpage editors do a lot to make sure everything looks just-so - anyone who is unpicky about design details will likely find an option for look and feel that works for them. ExpressionEngine, on the other hand, takes an ExpressionEngine developer to get up and running. It's a bigger haul and much more involved than hosted platforms or WordPress - and isn't a good choice for any non-developer looking to do a chunk of the work themselves.

On Customizing your Website

When comparing ExpressionEngine with WordPress - the two platforms are just as customizable one to the other. While websites present with the limited customization options of a Squarespace or Wix, using code from on a LAMP Stack Server gives access to actual website code where all the customizations take place. WordPress will install with a blog, pages, categories, tags and a few other features out of the box. ExpressionEngine installs without any of these features already built, because ExpressionEngine doesn't assume you're going to need any one particular thing. While most ExpressionEngine websites involve a page feature, those pages may be set up differently site to site depending on the concerns of the business and the ins and outs of the desired website. Both platforms have add-ons to customize functionality; WordPress installs add-ons with a click of a button and usually they work with just this action. ExpressionEngine add-ons normally have to be worked into the front-end of the website via an ExpressionEngine developer. The process of customizing a WordPress website and an ExpressionEngine website are different, but can achieve the exact same ends either way.

On Securing your Website

The best way to secure a WordPress website is to keep up with weekly/daily security updates and to use services (for a fee) to monitor for bad activity. With ExpressionEngine, no such concerns exist. ExpressionEngine has been designed to be a secure content management system. ExpressionEngine's policy of proactively designing for security and actively testing the software with hackers has yielded a brick house of a platform that needs updates annually, quarterly at the most. If website security is a concern, ExpressionEngine is the right choice.

On Scaling your Website

Scaling and website scaleability are wise to consider before any website project, even if the idea of growing bigger or needing more from your website feel totally out of reach. The way WordPress adds add-ons for ease of onboarding (see above) can sometimes conflict or counteract its ability to scale. What can happen with WordPress sites that achieve high levels of success is that they can start to fail. They can take a long time to load or white screens can appear. Sometimes plugins can conflict, especially when introducing new functionality on an old site. Sometimes, adding server resources isn't enough.

When we get unstable WordPress websites that need to be fixed, we put them in ExpressionEngine. Why does ExpressionEngine work better to scale websites? Firstly, we have the chance to go through all functionalities and remove duplicate or competing resources (code) and re-create the functionality of the website that's both more streamlined and less needy. This is because with ExpressionEngine, developers install functionality directly in front-end templates with an understanding of the entire code ecosystem they are working with. This isn't the case with click-to-install WordPress add-ons, which can topple a website in the wrong amounts and combinations. With a website moved to ExpressionEngine, handling more customers, more traffic, more authoritative demand on the website is no longer of any concern.

Solid WordPress Alternatives

Our favorite WordPress alternatives are Craft CMS and ExpressionEngine, which is open source. These are softwares designed for security, scaleability, and in ExpressionEngine's case, simplicity - making it a closely-aligned WordPress alternative. In addition, ExpressionEngine is deepening its commitment to all these factors with its long term release software initiative, meaning that ExpressionEngine 6 will be supported outside of additional major software releases, for an entire 5 years.

Person holding 3 balloons

ExpressionEngine developers are knowledgable about code and scaling.

ExpressionEngine vs WordPress: Cost Comparison

ExpressionEngine, now open-source, carries a a licensing cost of $300 - much less than the cost of security monitoring or dealing with daily software inconsistencies or failures. The additional costs of working with ExpressionEngine are generally comparable with those of working with WordPress, with the exception of the costs related to keeping the website out of the wrong hands. There are more bad actors trying to compromise WordPress than any other system and every release has needed a patch. Costs mount up for installing updates and keeping the site monitored and cached. For ExpressionEngine users, this is substandard. ExpressionEngine needs occasional software updates, not constant, and does not require additional software to keep it safe. With all that money saved - why not build new features instead?

Your web developer makes the difference

Many times, there is overlap as to the features of a website and what softwares can carry it successfully. WordPress is a terrific blogging platform, and it can be stretched to do more than that. I can tell you - people aren't approaching Aquarian asking for blogs. We're getting e-commerce, custom features, security, and performance. Part of making this our business is knowing how to get there without repetitive, overwrought solutions - and without software that stands in the way of these goals, like WordPress.

If you're considering WordPress or ExpressionEngine, know that frequently a website will start in Squarespace or WordPress and then progress to ExpressionEngine when hitting the limits of these platforms becomes an imposition. We have done some explaining of what those limits are here but specific limits can vary business to business. If you're not sure which platform is right for you, you're welcome to get in touch and from there we can map out what path might be right for you.

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