Here at Salted Stone, we're confronted with this question on a weekly basis. On what platform should I build my website? What is the right mixture of costs, features, tools, and product roadmap? Does it really make a difference?
As an agency, we can and do build creative engaging websites on both platforms (and many others), so this evaluation is made strictly on the relative merits of WordPress and HubSpot as we see them in 2022. The only biases we'll bring are related to what we've seen in the past decade in terms of the satisfaction and outcomes these two CMS platforms have delivered for our clients.
Today's most successful websites are more than just placeholders or online brochures for businesses to share information with whatever audiences might visit. To engage with the right audiences in a meaningful way (and drive those audiences to action) requires a level of interactivity, fluidity, and personalization that would have seemed borderline impossible when we first wrote this post just seven years ago.
Websites need to be built for user experience, search engines, lead generation and conversions. They need to power inbound marketing programs by hosting and surfacing audience-centric content, run smoothly and look fantastic on screens and devices of all sizes, and provide marketing teams with a platform for stress-free ongoing updates and optimizations. Anything less will leave you at a disadvantage when it comes to creating great digital experiences for your audience and driving growth for your organization.
Both WordPress and HubSpot can deliver all the above, but the effort it takes to get you there can vary significantly between these two platforms, depending on a number of variables. Lets dig into these differences together:
HubSpot vs. WordPress
WordPress began as a basic blogging and website content management system (CMS) with a focus on ease of use and low cost of entry, making it a great choice for many businesses to build their websites on. It offered a radically simpler approach to building and maintaining websites when compared to legacy tools, and it's open-source approach to elements like themes and plug-ins created an ecosystem of innovation that was difficult to match.
However, as WordPress grew, that same open-source approach began to show its weaknesses. An open landscape of third-party plug-ins and tools offered a ton of variety and useful features, but also created significant challenges for many users. Security vulnerabilities in third-party plug-ins were exploited by bad actors, compromising entire websites. Updates to the CMS itself broke plug-ins and integrations en-masse, leaving websites out of commission or critically compromised.
Similarly, WordPress's ease of use was eroded by every plug-in, widget, and theme used. Because none of them were designed specifically to work together, website owners found themselves having to patch and adjust in order to create a seamless experience on the front end, and that delicate balance was easily broken.
WordPress site owners found themselves learning more HTML than they ever expected to troubleshoot problems or simple to make something the color they wanted it to be. As is often the case, the freedom to do almost anything you want is a double-edged sword. If what you want to do breaks everything else, it's on you to deal with the consequences.
WordPress offers the freedom to do a lot of different things with your website, and there are businesses who will need that freedom to accomplish very specific technical things or implement certain complex, bespoke solutions and integrations. However, it's been our experience that 99% of businesses, from SMB to Enterprise, neither need nor want that degree of "freedom" from their CMS.
In a real-world context, websites are maintained and managed by teams of marketers and other stakeholders, working together to keep content up to date and bring compelling digital experiences to life. Constantly worrying that someone is going to break everything and steep learning curves to discover how to avoid doing so are rarely things a business is excited about.
HubSpot was designed to be a fully integrated, robust marketing automation platform, and when the company introduced its Content Optimization System (COS) in 2014, it was a game changer.
A lot has changed in the past eight years, and in 2022, HubSpot's CMS Hub hasn't just closed the technology and capability gap between it and other close competitors — it has also exceeded almost everyone's expectations.
In fact, HubSpot has created the world's first true CRM-driven CMS, allowing brands to offer incredible personalization to and distill considerable insights from their audience, all while offering best-of-breed user experiences. From a front-end perspective, there are almost no limitations to what you can accomplish with CMS Hub, but perhaps the most important distinctions are to be found behind the scenes.
Think of CMS Hub as a walled garden — within the bounds of the platform, incredible things can flourish and grow, but risk and bad actors are kept out. Because HubSpot does not rely on an unregulated third-party ecosystem like WordPress does, you'll never find a plug-in broken by an update or find out that the company you used to get great custom-designed forms is actually a team of savvy cybercriminals.
It's true that there are some parts of the code that you aren't able to edit via CMS Hub, but in our experience, those are parts of the code that most people wouldn't (and shouldn't) want to edit anyway. What do you get in exchange for these slight and often unnoticed limitations? Peace of mind, security, and ease of use. To us, it's more than a fair trade.
A true drag-and-drop editor, powerful and flexible modular workflows, robust permissions management, and more mean that HubSpot is truly a marketer's CMS. You can bring your site to life day after day without worrying that everything is suddenly going to collapse like a house of cards when a new update is released or an overzealous but well-meaning colleague tries to make a few small unconventional updates.
Native CRM integration helps businesses deliver incredible personalized experiences at scale, and track and measure their site's performance at an audience level. Content marketing tools are easy to understand and quick to implement, and standing up a new landing page can take less than five minutes — with no need to track down a developer. If some combination of ease of use and reliable RevOps outcomes are your high priorities, you'd be hard pressed to find an option better than HubSpot's CMS Hub.
Which CMS should you choose?
In the end, it usually all comes down to one question: Do you need to use WordPress to accomplish some very specific, technical thing that is simply impossible with HubSpot CMS Hub? Keep in mind that a skilled partner agency can push what's possible with CMS Hub further than you might expect. But if at the end of the day, there's a non-negotiable reason to use WordPress, you can rest assured that it's a powerful, capable, and robust platform.
If you're not bound by any unavoidable constraints, we think that CMS Hub is the right choice for most organizations. Our experience with the platform from its inception has shown us that it makes websites more usable for our clients, and that alone can be the defining factor when it comes to website project success.