WordPress or Webflow? 🖥 8 aspects on the topic of Open-source CMS vs SaaS CMS

Wordpress oder Webflow?

Want to relaunch your website and looking for a suitable system? If so, you're faced with a trend-setting decision. Many entrepreneurs have difficulty deciding which technology they can safely use over the next few years. That's why this article explains how an open-source CMS differs from a SaaS CMS and what is the best choice for your projects.

Emergence and use of CMS

With a content management system, or CMS for short, you combine your layout with texts, images and other multimedia content. This enables you to choose new components for your page and get closer to your ideas of a good design with every click. Managing websites via CMS is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the ease of customisation made possible by the application's compact operation. The classic example is the open-source website on an FTP server, which simplifies files on an HTTP server.

But website builders and low-cost construction kits, also intended to simplify web development, are  becoming more common. Offers such as the 1&1 Homepage Baukasten, Jimdo or Wix generate thousands of websites every day, but their added value is severely limited. As a rule, the specifications for creation are clearly tied to the already existing code, which can only be adapted with great effort. However, due to the low costs, many users are prepared to forgo the advantages of professional options and accept the lack of flexibility.

However, this approach to building new pages is not only served by construction kits for private individuals. Professional versions, like Webflow, also found on the market, enable a customised web design application. This is a flexibly customisable SaaS approach with high-quality code. Knowledge of programming will allow you to use applications such as Webflow to make your own site secure and future-proof for years to come.

Open-source software and Software as a Service (SaaS), what are they exactly?

Those who opt for an OS approach, such as WordPress, usually use the applications initially free of charge. Open-source software is created by volunteers and available under various commons licences. Since the projects are almost entirely voluntary and therefore unpaid, the quality of work depends on the skills of the developers. If a developer discontinues an open-source software project, you will no longer have access to the application. So, you're always dependent on the developer's motivation and have no guarantee of functionality or updates.

The alternative to the classic open-source approach is the SaaS solution. Here you usually have a fixed subscription that you pay monthly. In return, you don't have to take on the development independently but benefit from a guaranteed service. This includes constant security updates as well as ongoing development, making corporate security a good solution in case of hacker attacks. With a SaaS site, there's no risk that development will suddenly stop.

Independent maintenance in the backend or intuitive front editing?

Open-source software usually comes with a complex backend. Since no direct adaptation of the page is possible in the frontend, you have to resort to a multi-layered backend. This also applies to adding text, inserting images or correcting a simple error. If you are not yet very familiar with the system or rarely work on the site yourself, changes quickly become confusing. If you make a mistake in the open-source software, you will have to correct it yourself. Free support and fast external help are only available with additional maintenance contracts.

Independent maintenance in the backend takes a relatively long time. When choosing a SaaS solution – especially when using the Webflow offer – you save this effort, and your site editor carries out changes directly. This way, adjustments are already available in the final view, which lets you assess the changes from the customer's point of view. In this way, the intuitively operable frontend becomes a much simpler approach that saves time and costs and simplifies the design of your new content.

Static Hosting or Content Delivery Network?

With classic hosting, your site is located on a server. This means that the site's functionality is always dependent on the activity of the server. In the event of defects or errors, you can only contact the provider's support hotline. Since hosting is not part of the open-source software, you are dependent on external offers. To save costs, the servers are often located only in Germany. This increases the loading time, especially for international access and causes delays. 

Another problem is the use of one server by several high-traffic websites. Although so-called shared hosting leads to low costs, it only offers a fixed amount of storage space and a predefined bandwidth. As soon as a site grows beyond this limit, hosting – and thus accessibility – can no longer be guaranteed. For growing sites, static hosting is not a good approach for this reason, as it makes it difficult to expand without additional rate increases.

On the other hand, with a functional content delivery network, your data is distributed across hundreds of servers.  This enables your site to be constantly accessible, as other locations compensate for individual server failures. Another advantage is the immediate proximity to the user. Due to the scattering of locations, there is always a suitable server in the desired environment, enabling fast response times and immediate reactions. If a single server fails, another location automatically steps in and ensures complete redundancy.

Additional investment for backups or automatically integrated backups anyway?

If you decide to relaunch with the help of open-source software, you'll have to create additional backups. Supplementary packages for implementing backups are usually available from hosts and third-party providers. However, depending on the size of the site, you will have to pay a surcharge for this, which will be billed based on existing hosting rates. 

To avoid these costs, you'll need to carry out independent storage, which can be problematic because open-source software backends vary. These potential differences make it difficult to create a complete copy of the page, which is why many operators opt for the paid subscription model.

By using a SaaS application, however, you create backups much more easily. Systems like Webflow work with fully automatic backups that are generated every time your site changes. This means that server failures do not become a danger. With an additional backup service, the website can be backed up at regular intervals.

Extra costs do not arise from the backup service within the SaaS solution. The costs for automatic backup are usually included in the price package. Thus, the available storage and the required bandwidth expand automatically as demand increases, which allows you to remain flexible with each expansion.

Jakob Nielsen Ph.D.

In der Aufmerksamkeits-Ökonomie muss jeder, der mit einem Publikum in Kontakt treten will, die Zeit des Nutzers als ultimative Ressource betrachten.

Jakob Nielsen Ph.D.
Vorstand der Nielsen Norman Group

PHP development or LowCode implementation?

Open-source developments differ greatly in their effort. The open-source software can be very favourable depending on the functions selected, especially for simple projects. However, as soon as complex extensions are required, the available customisation options reach their limits. If, as is usually the case in web design, work is done on a theme basis, subsequent extensions are difficult to implement. For this, the code must be changed, which is hardly possible without web-design experience. An extension of your site is usually not included in the maintenance contract.

If the relaunch of your site is to be visually sophisticated and flexible, a modern, visual development is the better approach. SaaS solutions such as Webflow enable customisation in the frontend, allowing you and your web designer to provide for expansion  quickly. Existing building blocks are simply picked up again and copied for this purpose, without any points of contact with the page's code. Complex extensions are therefore not necessary with professional applications such as Webflow.

Individual Plug-ins or Modern Integrations?

One of the commonest problems on open-source sites is the high loading time. Due to numerous independently installed plug-ins, it takes many seconds for the page to be accessible to the user. This is because, with many open-source solutions, you  must install each new function separately. In some cases, individual plug-ins contain code material that leads to the restriction of already existing functions. The number of plug-ins, therefore, also reduces the speed of the page, which is inconvenient for the user.

To keep all your plug-ins up-to-date, you need regular manual updates. Whether a plug-in still works after several years depends on the maintenance and expansion by the programmer. Many plug-ins for open-source software come from private sources and depend on regular maintenance. If development is not continued after several years, crucial functions may be missing. Also, if there are no developments, for example, in data protection, the lack of maintenance can have costly consequences. As soon as your site no longer meets the latest DSGVO requirements, warnings are possible.

If you choose a SaaS solution, on the other hand, you can avoid manual updates and maintenance. With so-called integrations, you can conveniently connect other services, such as Webflow. The connection is usually made via individual services such as Zapier or IFTTT, which offer thousands of applications from a single source. 

By using fully-fledged integrations, the speed of your page is maintained without loading numerous individual plug-ins. The updating of functions is also fully automatic via the SaaS system, which gives you enough time to design your site. Even before the relaunch begins, you can discuss the selection of suitable integrations with your programmer.

Maintenance obligation or further development?

As your website provider, you are legally obliged to guarantee functionality and security even when using open-source software. Since the security and functionality of the system can be hard to verify independently, laypersons often have difficulty finding their way around the site and cannot fulfil their obligation. To offer the required functions, additional support must be called upon for maintenance. This is already included in the offer in very few cases, which means additional costs for you. These costs do not provide you with new functions. They only serve to maintain functionality and security on your website.

You can save all of these costs with the help of a software-as-a-service system, provided directly by the SaaS provider and always up to date with no need for independent adjustments. Personal maintenance is not required as all settings are made in connection with the system. New applications and functions are added to the system to update your site.

Dependence on the developer or corporate-level security?

Security is also closely linked to the maintenance of your site. If you choose an open-source solution, you are constantly dependent on the developer's performance and have no recourse in the event of inadequate security measures. One example is the CMS WordPress, which has often been the target of serious attacks worldwide. Due to the large number of plug-ins, new risks arise daily, which can hardly be avoided. The numerous security updates usually only follow when the first damage has occurred. 

But constant security updates are not obligatory for the providers of open-source systems. Only the site operator is held accountable, so long response times are a risk for many shops and websites. As a rule, the maintenance contract is the only thing that can help you in the event of damage. The contract covers the obligatory services of the software operator, but due to deliberately open interpretations, timely performance is not always to be expected.

However, the security policy is based on different standards for SaaS providers. Here, holistic security departments are maintained that protect the software tool and the associated content in the best possible way. This means that website operators do not risk losing the basis of their business due to attacks or having to repair damage on their own. With SaaS providers, too, the specific services are noted in the contract terms.

Fazit

Summary

Even if the SaaS software offers significantly more comfort to the operators of a new site, the open-source approach can also be quite helpful. WordPress, for example, was programmed in 2003 as a platform for weblogs (i.e., originally not as a CMS), which is still recognisable today in many functions. For bloggers, WordPress as an open-source approach offers all the important services required for regularly posting new posts.

The same applies to young start-ups. A simple website is usually created at the outset in order to avoid spending too much money in the first few years of business. As a first test or transition, an open-source solution is perfectly fine and will not directly reach its limits in most cases. If you already have experienced WordPress developers or partners for other content management systems in your ranks, they can certainly help you plan your web project. From our experience, however, many companies lack the necessary know-how, which ultimately affects the quality, speed, usability and security of the site.

If you do not yet have the necessary skills for independent programming, a SaaS solution is recommended. With applications such as Webflow, you are also optimally positioned for long-term projects and can expand the site according to your needs. Maintenance is also included in the monthly fee, so you don't have to worry about the up-to-dateness and availability of your site. The SaaS approach lets your site load quickly in any location and takes the pressure off you to customise your web presence yourself. Together with a professional web designer, it is easy for you to carry out a secure and smooth relaunch through applications like Webflow.

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