Why we have consciously uncoupled from WordPress

We recently moved away from the mighty WordPress and adopted Webflow, here's why.

June 10, 2022

WordPress is everywhere. Much like being ambushed by a birthday cake at a BYOB Downing Street event, you simply can’t escape what has become arguably one of the internet’s most widely used technologies. It quite frankly dominates the Content Management System space and over the years its transformed from a simple open-source blogging tool into a powerful yet relatively easy to use powerhouse, the backbone of pretty much every other website you come across online.

We’ve been in a turbulent relationship with WordPress for what feels like a lifetime. After a dalliance with Wix in the 2000s, we, along with countless others began to jump on the WordPress bandwagon whole-heartedly when it began to shed its blogging clothing and don its full CMS regalia. And as its endlessly extensible plugin-based model opened up infinite possibilities for this plucky platform, it’s easy to see why WordPress became the go-to CMS.

But here-in lies WordPress’ achilleas heal. Over the years, developers and web designers have had to hack WordPress and its countless plugins together in order to achieve the desired functionality modern websites require. Its relatively basic core functionality means every WordPress site needs to employ at least a handful of plugins and other coding hacks in order to get it to work the way the client needs it to. This has led to bloated, slow and messily coded websites with crippling insecurities owing to the ubiquitous nature of the platform. Many sites have convoluted workarounds and sticking plaster solutions to cover over cracks.

For many non-coders (like myself), page builder plugins like WP Bakery Page Builder and Elementor offered up the opportunity to visually design and build sites on WordPress without having to touch a line of code, which was great, except this led to painfully slow load speeds and clunky, inaccessible websites. WordPress also has a habit of being rather unreliable, as third-party plugins suddenly stop being developed or themes stop being supported. WordPress website owners often find themselves having to perform time consuming maintenance or even having to rebuilt their site entirely more often than they’d like.

When we came to redevelop www.jonarc.com, despite our frustrations with WordPress, we were going to plow on with the platform, because, well, we didn’t have many alternatives. We could have paid for a costly developer or agency to build us something bespoke but this presented challenges in itself, especially when we inevitably wanted to make updates and changes. Whilst we have some coding resource in house, we wanted a solution that the entire team could work with, so a bespoke coded solution just wasn’t going to be appropriate. We needed a visual design and build solution with low-code functionality that everyone could chip in with.

Enter Webflow

Thankfully, Webflow clearly have a gigantic digital marketing budget because we began to see a rather large number of adverts for their product on social media. Initially sceptical, due to the perceptions we had of platforms like Wix and Squarespace, especially around the inflexibility of those platforms (Wix locks you into their hosting and outputs rather clunky code and Squarespace is all template based), when we began to explore Webflow in more detail, we quickly realised how much of a game changer the platform really is.

Occupying the same market as the likes of Wix, Webflow is a low/no-code visual website builder that allows users to create beautiful, and most importantly, accessible, lean and powerful websites without having to know the ins and outs of web coding technologies. Unlike others in the sector however or WordPress websites that use a visual page builder, Webflow spits out sparklingly clean HTML, CSS and Javascript and very little else to ensure your shiny new website loads at lightening speed even on ropey connections. It doesn’t rely on endless dodgy plugins and unreliable third-party developers and features powerful interactions, animation and complex functionality right out of the box. It even has an extremely powerful and customizable CMS function, taking on WordPress directly at its own game.

Whilst its pricing plans can be a little pricey, the company offers a generous free tier and discounts for start ups that are registered with certain start-up incubator programs and accelerators. The prices reflect the rock-solid Google Cloud infrastructure that Webflow delivers its sites and platform through, although users have the option of exporting their website’s code and hosting the site on their own infrastructure or hosting package if they prefer (although this does render the CMS and forms functionality redundant).

The Results Speak For Themselves

For Jonarc, the results speak for themselves. Our new website performs significantly better than our old WordPress site by a significant margin. When we run a Google Lighthouse report, the site now reaches above 90% for the Performance, Accessibility and SEO metrics, with the site fully loaded and useable in only 0.9 seconds – that’s really rather quick.

The results for our new website from Google Lighthouse

Compare that to our old WordPress site, even with all of its caching and speed improving plugins and various other tricks employed to reduce load speeds, we were still hitting nearly 10 seconds before the website had fully rendered, which is absolutely terrible to be quite honest. The paradox of WordPress is that in order to speed your site up, you often need to use various plugins, but the more plugins you add, the more bloated and slow your sites become.

Google’s research shows that users will only wait a maximum of 3-4 seconds for a page to load before getting bored and clicking off your site. If your site doesn’t load instantly, even on a poor connection, you’re losing business, simple as that. If you’re an ecommerce business, the figures show that over 70% of consumers will think twice about making a purchase if they have to wait endlessly for a page to load.

Webflow does have some restrictions and WordPress does undoubtedly offer significantly more flexibility in terms of where you can host the site and how much you can customize the underlying code if you’re so inclined, however unlike any other low-code or no-code visual builder, you’re not harangued by restrictive templates or regimented functionality. Webflow allows developers to add their own code snippets and more complex functionality, its even possible to render React components within a Webflow site.

Learning The Platform

The learning curve for Webflow for non-coders is much steeper than that for Wix or even WordPress running the Elementor page builder, but once you get your head around how pages are structured in Webflow (which incidentally follows the same logic as coding it from scratch) you’ll be spinning up pages in no time. Webflow has an extensive online learning resource ‘Webflow University’ and there’s some great Youtube and Udemy courses to follow. We did a particularly useful one on Udemy to get us up to speed on some of Webflow’s most powerful and useful features.

The new Jonarc site in Webflow's visual designer
The new Jonarc site in Webflow's visual designer

The process for us at Jonarc to create the new site took longer than we anticipated, partly due to getting used to a new platform and the way it structures its elements and pages more than anything. When you’re so used to another platform, it can be hard to unlearn your workflow and adopt a new one and that was the biggest challenge. However, once we were comfortably using Webflow to its full potential, we were quickly able to create pages and put them live in no time at all. We’ve ended up with a site that we could design completely from scratch, visually at every step. As designers by trade, this is invaluable. No dealing with external developers and Chinese whispers causing discrepancies in the finished product. From our Figma mockups through to recreating them in Webflow as a living, breathing website, we’ve had absolute control over the design and build from the off.

So, should you ditch WordPress right away?

No, that would be silly. Webflow works very well for us but its not going to work for every website brief. We still look after a lot of client websites that are WordPress based and they perform well for us and the client, who are familiar with WordPress’ functionality and comfortable with making changes to their site. Switching to an entirely new platform would be an unnecessary step in the wrong direction.

WordPress continues to be an incredibly powerful, well liked and well supported platform and will continue to be the backbone of the internet. If you have access to an amazing WordPress developer who knows exactly how to juice the most out of it, then you’ll be able to overcome many of its niggles and drawbacks. But, if you’re launching a new site or redesigning an existing one and if you’re not particularly wedded to WordPress, we believe Webflow is the way to go. Especially if you’re a team of non-coders. We’ve checked a lot of WordPress based sites for businesses here in the North East and none of them can match the performance of our Webflow site.

As the rise of no/low-code continues, Webflow has positioned itself as a leader in the field and is opening up a world of beautiful websites to everyone with an eye for design. We will always love you WordPress, but we hope you’ll understand our conscious uncoupling.

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