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Improve your Craft CMS skills

Craft CMS Vs Webflow - Which Is Better?

10 min read
Craft CMS Vs Webflow

Choosing the right content management system (CMS) is crucial for any website. In this comparison of Craft CMS and Webflow, we cut through the noise to highlight the key differences between these popular options. With insights into their strengths and weaknesses, you'll discover which platform best suits your needs - whether you prioritise usability, customisation, or pricing. Read on to make the right CMS choice for your next project.

For most users, Webflow's superior usability, built-in ecommerce, and SEO tools make it the better choice over Craft CMS. However, Craft provides more flexibility for advanced customizations. So for simple sites, Webflow is preferable, while complex projects benefit more from Craft's customizable architecture and decoupled capabilities.

Background of Craft CMS

Launch Timeframe and Founders

Sp, what is Craft CMS? Craft CMS was created and launched in 2013 by Pixel & Tonic, a web design and development agency based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The founders of Pixel & Tonic, Brandon Kelly and Jake Goldman, recognised the need for a user-friendly, flexible and customisable CMS. After evaluating existing options and finding them lacking, they decided to build Craft CMS from the ground up.

The initial version of Craft CMS was released on April 25, 2013 after a year in development. It quickly gained popularity thanks to its polished user interface and flexible, modular approach. Pixel & Tonic has continued to actively develop and improve Craft CMS in the years since its launch.

Underlying Technology

Under the hood, Craft CMS is built on PHP using the Yii 2 framework. Yii provides a robust and high-performance foundation that enables the developers to create a CMS that is both full-featured and easy to use.

Some key technical details:

  • Object-oriented programming approach for modularity and extensibility

  • Twig templating engine to separate business logic from presentation

  • Composer dependencies and plugins for adding functionality

  • MySQL or PostgreSQL database support

  • Multi-environment configuration for staging/production

By leveraging proven technologies like Yii, Craft CMS combines the flexibility of a custom build with the convenience of an off-the-shelf system.

Hosting Options

One of the advantages of Craft is flexibility in hosting. It can be hosted in two main ways:

  • Self-hosted - Installed on your own web server or VPS. This allows ultimate control and customisation.

  • Cloud hosted - Services like Craft CMS Hosting provide managed hosting and automated installations. Easy to set up but less control.

The self-hosted option works well for developers who want to fine-tune the stack and infrastructure to their needs. Cloud hosting is great for getting sites up and running quickly without server admin overhead.

So Craft CMS can be deployed on shared hosts, VPS, dedicated servers, and cloud platforms. It's easy to get started with low-cost hosting and scale up as needed. Hosting flexibility is one reason Craft is popular with developers and agencies.

Background of Webflow

Launch and Founder Details

Webflow was founded in 2012 by Vlad Magdalin and launched to the public in 2013. Magdalin started Webflow as a side project while working as a web designer when he became frustrated with the lack of visual, drag-and-drop tools for building responsive websites.

After honing the initial prototype, Magdalin left his job to focus on Webflow full-time. He self-funded the early development until raising seed funding in mid-2013. This allowed Webflow to further develop the editor and launch officially in September 2013.

Since the launch, Webflow has raised over $70 million in funding and grown the team to hundreds of employees. But Magdalin remains the CEO, continuing to guide the overall product vision.

Core Capabilities

When Webflow first launched, it offered a revolutionary drag-and-drop editor that allowed designers to visually create responsive, mobile-friendly websites. This freed designers from having to write complex CSS and HTML code.

Other key capabilities available at launch included:

  • Built-in web hosting and CDN for delivering sites

  • Animations, interactions, and other advanced features

  • Export to HTML/CSS for client handoff

  • Stylesheet generator for creating custom themes

  • CMS functionality like blog posts and collections

So from the start, Webflow provided an integrated platform covering design, CMS, and hosting - all from a visual editor. This disrupted the traditional web design process.

Platform Model

Unlike open source CMS platforms, Webflow is a proprietary, cloud-based SaaS model. All the technology was built and is managed internally by Webflow.

Some implications of this model:

  • New features driven by a centralized product team

  • Consistent user experience across the platform

  • Limited customization compared to open source

  • Scaling is handled internally so sites don't go down

This closed, platform approach provides Webflow control over the end-to-end user experience. However it limits flexibility for developers compared to open systems like WordPress.

The tradeoff is Webflow offers a polished out-of-the-box solution that doesn't require extensive development work to customize and maintain. The integrated platform model has proven appealing to many designers, agencies, and small brands looking for an easier way to build, host, and manage sites.

Content Modelling Capabilities

Custom Fields vs Collections

Craft CMS and Webflow take different approaches when it comes to modelling and structuring content.

Craft uses a flexible custom field system that lets you define any number of content types, each with its own custom fields. For example, you can create an "Event" content type with fields for date, location, image, description, etc. This provides endless flexibility.

Webflow in contrast relies on collections and collection lists. You add content using preset collection schemas like blog posts, products, entries, etc. The schemas cannot be modified - all blog posts have the same fields for example. This provides more convenience but less flexibility.

So Craft gives full control to add any fields you need, while Webflow trades flexibility for simplicity with fixed collection schemas.

Relationships and Links

Related content in Craft can be associated together in complex ways using relational fields. For example, an "Event" can have a relational field connected to a "Speaker" entry. This allows for deep relationships between content types.

Webflow has a simpler linkage system using backlinks. You can connect a blog post to an author's entry via backlinks, but that's the extent of the relationship. There is no way to build complex relational structures between collections in Webflow.

Again, Craft provides the flexibility for advanced content modelling with robust connections, while Webflow offers a simpler linking approach.

Flexibility for Structures

The open-ended custom fields and relationships in Craft allow you to model content in nearly any way you can imagine. You can create both simple and extraordinarily advanced structures to perfectly fit the content requirements.

Webflow's collection schemas are fixed. This provides an easy starting point but less ability to customize as needs evolve. Creating specialized content structures requires working around the constraints of collections and backlinks.

So for projects that require flexibility in content structures - especially complex relational systems - Craft CMS provides a major advantage. The custom field approach can adapt to any content modelling needs, while Webflow is inherently more rigid.

For simple content models like blogs and portfolios, either platform can work well. However advanced use cases with variable fields and connections between different content types are better suited to Craft's flexible architecture.

Customization and Design

Visual Editing

One of Webflow's biggest strengths is the intuitive drag-and-drop visual editor. It allows designers to customize sites and create advanced interactions and animations completely visually - no coding required.

You can drag in elements like text, images, and buttons and manipulate them visually by changing styles, layouts, and effects. The real-time editor simplifies even complex design tasks.

This code-free visual approach allows faster design iteration and customization compared to traditional development. For non-developers, Webflow provides easy access to customised sites visually.

Developer Skills

Craft CMS relies much more on traditional developer skills like HTML, CSS, JavaScript/jQuery for the presentation layer and front end. The admin provides content management, while developers build the theme templates and stylesheets.

So to customize the design and front end of Craft sites requires solid programming knowledge. For developers already comfortable with web languages, this allows precise control over the implementation. But it raises the barrier for less technical users.

Webflow shifts control over the visual design and styling into the app itself. For non-developers, Webflow is more accessible. But for seasoned coders, Craft may feel more flexible.

CSS and JavaScript

Both platforms still provide CSS and JavaScript customization hooks for those who want more control. With Webflow you can take the output code and modify it further. Craft encourages developers to build on top of the frontend templates and stylesheets.

So neither platform locks you into just their native tools. Webflow generates starting code which can be enhanced. And Craft outputs content for theme templates to shape.

This blended approach provides a sweet spot - easy visual customization through the platform tools, while still allowing HTML/CSS/JS tweaking for advanced needs.

Overall Webflow simplifies design iteration and custom styling for non-developers through its editor. Craft requires more coding expertise for customizing the front end. But both leave room for developers to manipulate the end result with CSS/JS as needed.

Headless CMS Features

Native Headless Capabilities

Craft CMS was designed from the start as a headless CMS for decoupled architectures. It focuses on providing a rich back-end content management system that outputs data via APIs.

The headless approach was part of Craft's DNA from day one. It exposes content through JSON APIs rather than baking in assumptions about the front-end rendering. This makes Craft ideally suited for headless use cases powering different displays across devices and channels.

In contrast, Webflow started as a tightly coupled system optimized for content management and front-end rendering within the visual editor. The headless CMS capabilities were bolted on later in response to market trends.

Added Headless Support

Webflow introduced its headless Content API in 2018, five years after the company was founded. This allowed users to retrieve content through a REST API for consumption across sites, apps, and devices outside Webflow.

So while Webflow can now function as a headless CMS, it required retrofitting that approach onto a platform originally designed for an integrated model. The headless features still feel slightly tacked on compared to Craft's native architecture.

However, Webflow has continued adding capabilities like GraphQL support to improve the flexibility of the headless options for developers. The headless functionality is now one of Webflow's strengths.

REST APIs and GraphQL

Both Craft and Webflow take a modern API-first approach to decoupled content delivery. They both offer REST endpoints for fetching content from the back end CMS. Both systems recently added support for GraphQL for more performant and flexible API queries.

The platforms provide many similar headless capabilities - it's just that Craft was built that way from the start, while Webflow adapted later. For fully headless implementations, Craft feels more purpose-built. But Webflow's APIs now provide solid headless options as well.

So while Craft has a head start when it comes to decoupled architectures, Webflow has reached near parity in its headless CMS feature set through the addition of robust REST and GraphQL APIs. Both are now viable options for going headless.

Content Editing Experience

Inline Editing Capabilities

A standout feature of Webflow is the intuitive inline content editing directly on the published page. Content managers can simply click on any text block on the live site to instantly edit it.

Changes are saved automatically - there's no need to use a backend admin or submit the changes. This creates a seamless, instant editing experience for rapid content updates.

The downside is that inline editing lacks robust formatting capabilities. But for quick text changes without jumping between admin and frontend, Webflow is unparalleled.

Backend Content Management

Craft CMS focuses heavily on traditional backend content management via its admin control panel. All content editing happens behind-the-scenes by updating fields and entries in the database.

This provides powerful tools for managing content independent of the front-end template rendering. However it separates the editing experience from the published site, requiring admins to work in the backend CMS rather than on the live pages.

Collaborative Workflows

Both Webflow and Craft CMS support collaborative multi-user content workflows. They allow organizations to distribute content responsibilities across multiple editors and authors.

Webflow has built-in user roles and permissions for managing access. Craft utilizes both native user groups as well as plug-ins like Craft Roles for advanced user management.

So whether working solo or in a team, both platforms can scale to support collaboration. Webflow makes it easier for non-technical users with its intuitive editing. But Craft offers more flexibility for complex editorial workflows.

Overall, Webflow prioritizes fast inline content editing for individuals. Craft focuses on powerful backend tools for managing multi-user workflows. So your needs really determine which editing model works best.

Built-In Ecommerce

Native Commerce Engine

A key advantage of Webflow is its built-in ecommerce engine for creating online stores and handling transactions. Right out of the box, Webflow provides the tools for setting up a product catalog, cart, and checkout.

There's no need to install or integrate any third-party ecommerce plugins. Webflow has a native shopping cart and payments solution available from the start.

This makes Webflow a very appealing option for anyone looking to quickly launch a small online store or simple product site without major development overhead.

Requiring Add-On Plugins

Unlike Webflow, Craft CMS has no native ecommerce features. To build an online store with Craft, you need to integrate an ecommerce plugin like Craft Commerce or Shopify for Craft.

This provides more flexibility to choose different commerce platforms tuned for your needs. But you take on the additional work of integrating and customizing the plugin.

Out of the box, Craft doesn't support ecommerce. So companies selling physical or digital products should factor in the time and cost to implement a commerce solution.

Simpler Catalog Management

For managing product catalogs, Webflow provides a big advantage with its intuitive, visual interface for entering products into collections. You can quickly add products and fields through the editor.

With Craft, you either need to build a custom UI for the product admin using custom fields, or work within the constraints of whichever ecommerce plugin you choose. This requires more up-front and ongoing development work.

For small to mid-sized catalogs where you don't need lots of customization, Webflow makes the process much easier. Craft can handle far more complex catalogs, but requires heavy lifting to build out the infrastructure.

So if ecommerce is a top priority and you value speed and simplicity, Webflow and its built-in commerce platform have an edge over Craft's more flexible but labor-intensive approach. But Craft offers ultimate control and customization for larger, more specialized online stores.

SEO Considerations

SEO Optimized

Both Craft CMS and Webflow provide a solid SEO-optimized foundation out of the box. They utilize semantic HTML, make it easy to customize titles and metadata, and support SEO best practices like responsive design.

So the core platforms are search engine-friendly to allow for good indexation and crawlability. Sites built on either system can achieve strong SEO performance through well-structured content and quality inbound links.

Added SEO Tools

Where Webflow excels for SEO is the additional built-in tools it provides beyond basic optimization. For example:

  • Visual sitemap generator

  • Integrated SEO preview and analysis

  • Automatic alt text generation for images

  • Structured data markup support

These features make it easier to analyze and improve SEO right within Webflow, without needing separate plugins. The convenience of having SEO tools directly built into the editor is a major advantage.

SEO Plugin Support

Craft CMS has robust SEO plugin support to add functionality beyond the core platform. Developers can integrate solutions like SEOmatic, Sprout SEO, and Retour for enhanced SEO capabilities like:

  • XML sitemaps

  • Auto-generated meta descriptions

  • Integrations with SEO tools

  • Structured data and schema markup

So Craft users can get many of the same SEO features as Webflow, but through customizable open source plugins rather than proprietary tools. The tradeoff is convenience vs control.

Overall, Webflow provides more SEO convenience out of the box. But savvy Craft developers can assemble an advanced SEO toolkit through premium plugins tailored to each project's needs.

Shape April 2022 HR 202
Andy Golpys
- Author

Andy has scaled multiple businesses and is a big believer in Craft CMS as a tool that benefits both Designer, Developer and Client. 

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