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Gatsby vs WordPress

Wojciech Kałużny
7 min read

Is WordPress still the king of the internet in 2020?

It sure is. This is unlikely to change anytime. A third of all internet sites are based on WordPress.

WordPress boasts a ridiculously huge ecosystem of plugins, extensions, tutorials, themes and customization. There are empires built within its walls. Some of the biggest companies in the world run their dynamic websites on WordPress. It’s more than proved itself as a legitimate choice as the underlying technology for a website.

Does this mean it’s the best solution for your business? Not at all.

Are there better, faster, more modern solutions? Yes, and it’s worth considering before you make the blind jump into a new or revamped Wordpress site.

This article isn’t going to list all the various options you can choose instead of WordPress. We’re digging deep into the static site generator, Gatsby. Why? Well, it's running this site and we love it. It fits our needs perfectly. If you haven’t noticed, our site is highly optimized and it’s super fast. Just try clicking a few links like this one, or here, or even over here.

Okay, so we’ve established that Gatsby does a good job. So onto the important questions.

  • How does it look?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How do I use it on my website?

Before we answer these questions, we need to explain a little bit about what Gatsby is. We’ll keep it quick and avoid getting too technical, I promise.

What is Gatsby?

Websites are a composition of smaller pieces. Their most notably pieces are;

  • HTML (the bones of the website)
  • CSS (the website’s clothes)
  • Javascript (the website’s muscles and brains)
  • Data (the website’s memory and voice)

html-js-css simple analogy

Image source

Static site generators like Gatsby take all these pieces from their sources and builds them together into a finished product that is pushed up for viewing.

I should probably point out that my analogy is a little clumsy and there’s actually a lot more happening, but for the sake of simplicity this will do.

The diagram below contains a more detailed overview of how Gatsby works. This will probably only make things clearer if you have a basic understanding of web technology.

Gatsby.js overview

In a nutshell, Gatsby takes inputs, combines it with the website’s look and feel and spits out a static site.

Static sites are a buzz word in 2020 because they’re super fast and secure, which cannot be said for WordPress.

Since static sites are just HTML files they can live on content distribution networks (CDNs) rather than servers. What this means is BIG cost savings. No more managed hosting, no more server costs and most importantly - no risk of malicious software or time wasted fixing these issues.

WordPress on the other hand is installed on a server. When a user visits a page, commands are issued to the server to gather the bits and pieces that make up a page. This takes time. Gathering images, fonts, style sheets and all the rest can be a slow process.

So we’re on board with what Gatsby is now, but what about those important questions from earlier?

How does it look and is it easy to use?

It looks great. In fact, it looks like your favorite content management system. It can look like WordPress, Drupal, Netlify, Contentful, Shopify, and a range of other platforms.

Gatsby itself doesn’t have an interface for logging in and writing blog posts. It leans on other platforms to take care of this.

If your team has been using WordPress for years you can continue to use the administrative backend to write your blog articles and let Gatsby do the rest.

At Clean Commit we prefer Netlify CMS. It boasts a beautiful interface with all the SEO functionality you would expect from a blogging platform.

netlify cms gatsby

How much does it cost?

This is the one of the best things about Gatsby. It’s an open source, meaning it’s free to install and use. Sure, but so is WordPress and most popular CMS platforms… but a Gatsby site doesn’t need to run on a server, meaning it can be very cheap to run month to month.

There are a handful of services, such as Netlify, that offer free hosting of static files. If you’re a bit technical and know how to get things working, you can run a blazing fast, incredibly secure website for free. This offer doesn’t extend to bigger sites, but if you’re getting started out this is an excellent deal.

netlify hosting pricing

If you’re not technical but like the sound of running a free website, we’re here to help. Our world-class team is excellent at designing beautiful websites that will wow your users. Plus we offer really competitive rates so we’re not going to break the bank.

Drop us a line right now. What are you waiting for? We’ll send you a free quote.

What about people trying to hack my site?

A WordPress site one of our founders manages received 2,500 brute force (hacking) attempts in ONE MONTH.

Unfortunately, this is a symptom of running WordPress. It’s the most common platform in the world and hackers know how it works. They look for opportunities to exploit poorly configured setups.

Gatsby sites don’t have this problem. To hack a website, you need to take control of the computer (server) it’s running on. A Gatsby site doesn’t run on a server as we discussed earlier, so there’s nothing to hack. This makes it incredibly secure. It's also pushing out static html, css and javascript files, so there's not a lot to hack.

This benefit shouldn’t be understated. We’ve had several clients that were hoping to run a low-cost, low-maintenance website. After just one month of their site being live they reached out to us desperately asking for help because their contact forms were being plagued by spam and bots.

The solution to bots is throwing up a firewall like Cloudflare or Imperva. Cloudflare has a free plan, but both services are eventually going to end up costing money. Adding more money onto your monthly bills is not ideal.

Does this mean Gatsby can't do fancy, interactive sites?

Fancy, interactive and immersive website experiences are driven by Javascript. Gatsby delivers all the Javascript that is required.

There are good examples of Gatsby even being leveraged for e Commerce websites. There are virtually no limits on what the platform can be used for.

What’s the downside of Gatsby?

As a development agency, we’re hard pushed to say there are any big faults with Gatsby sites. But that’s actually the first downside. Unless you’re a developer, Gatsby isn’t something you can just pick up and install.

Once upon a time this was true for WordPress sites but there are a number of great services that offer easy WordPress installation and customisation (like DigitalOcean’s one-click installation!).

Needing development help is a bit of a downside, but keep in mind that once it’s up and running it doesn’t have an ongoing cost. The same cannot be said for WordPress or any other developer-less website solution. Services like Wix or Squarespace will set you back around $12 - $13 a month but these costs tend to increase quickly.

The other downside is that you can’t leverage the massive ecosystem of WordPress plugins for a Gatsby site. There’s a plugin for just about everything and if you’re trying to do everything yourself, you’ll quickly find that most tutorials on the website are written for WordPress.

It could be argued that this isn’t a true downside of Gatsby, but it’s worth mentioning. If you’re expecting to be able to do all the things your friend (the successful website owner) recommends, you won’t be able to do it yourself.

Gatsby has its own array of plugins and extensions for just about everything, but they’re accessible through a one-click install system like WordPress.

So what’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is this. Gatsby will be a perfect fit for some businesses or online stores. These are the big benefits you’ll get:

  • Incredible speed
  • Better rankings from Google (because of the speed!)
  • No more worrying about being hacked
  • Free hosting
  • Use of your favourite CMS (you can keep using WordPress)

What do you lose by using Gatsby?

  • WordPress plugin options (and the headache of updating them!)
  • The ability to make big changes yourself

We would argue that the pros outweigh the cons here. If you’re considering using Gatsby and have more questions or are still unsure if it’s going to be the right fit, just drop us a line! We love hearing from you.

Wojciech Kałużny
Wojciech Kałużny
WK is the technical wizard behind the technology delivered by Clean Commit. He picked up software development while completing his Masters of Law to keep himself entertained. He’s that kind of guy. While he’s known for his development skills, he’s also an excellent web designer and generally a jack of all trades in the technical space.

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