WordPress vs. MODX: A Head-to-Head Comparison

Here at SmashStack, we have decided to expand our repertoire by offering WordPress websites in addition to those created on our traditional go-to platform, the MODX content management system (CMS). The reasons driving this decision are numerous, but they pretty much boil down to WordPress’ newer capabilities. After years of being mainly a blog platform, WordPress has evolved to the point where it can power general-purpose websites as well. The core competencies—PHP, MySQL, and HTML—required to build custom WordPress sites are the same as those for MODX sites, so this addition to our toolbox does not represent a huge leap for us.

The inevitable question we expect from customers and potential customers is, “Which one is better?” As with so many things in life, the answer is, “It depends.” Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses, from a development, site management, and end-user experience perspective, and without knowing the details of what a customer wants to accomplish, it is difficult to make one recommendation or another.

That said, here is a summary of our take on the advantages and disadvantages of each platform. We will factor in these considerations when making a recommendation to a client. For purposes of this comparison, we are assuming that some customization is required beyond the out-of-the-box functionality that is native to each platform.

Development

MODX tends to be more flexible for customization than WordPress. WordPress relies heavily on built-in or third-party templates, and if no template has exactly the look and feel you want, you have to take one that’s close and modify it. This can be a time-consuming endeavor, especially if the theme in question is poorly written or poorly documented. MODX is less reliant on pre-programmed layouts and thus has greater flexibility for the developer.

However, WordPress has a huge community of developers who constantly publish new themes and plug-ins. Because of the large selection, the look and feel and functionality are either already out there or are close enough to take and tweak; much of the customized functionality in MODX has to be built from scratch.

Site Management

WordPress includes an extensive and sophisticated yet easy to use back-end module for site owners to manage their sites. In many cases, it is more than sufficient for most site owners, who—given WordPress’s history as a blogging platform—typically are bloggers with few other needs. For sites with a large and complex architecture, however, MODX is often a better choice because custom workflows and other back-end functionality are easier to build and maintain by the client. A skilled MODX developer can build an intuitive back-end interface that meets a site owner’s specific needs that keeps sections with very unique and complex structures nice and organized.

End-User Experience

The quality of the end-user experience is pretty much a draw between WordPress and MODX because it depends largely on the extent of customization and the knowledge and skill of the developers. Because of its wide usage, out-of-the-box WordPress and the more popular themes have been thoroughly vetted, and most usability issues have been eliminated, thus providing a solid user experience. Because MODX starts with a cleaner slate, the skill of the developer is more important to the end-user experience.

Choosing Your Platform

Although our traditional bread and butter is MODX, our success is defined by what makes our clients happy. Ultimately, we know that as a site owner, you should ideally neither know nor care what platform on which your site is built. You just want it to look good, perform well, and be easy to maintain. Choosing a platform for your site will depend mostly on your requirements, what you want to do with the site, and what you want to get out of it—both now and in the future. We will consider the visual design as well as the functionality, particularly anything special that requires custom coding. We will evaluate the costs, advantages, and disadvantages of each approach and make a recommendation accordingly. You decide what’s best, and we will deliver.