Which Content Management System Is Fastest?

When I talk to business owners about server hosting, we often talk about which content management system is best for their business. That discussion is often framed in terms of performance — they ask me which content management system is fastest.

It’s not an unreasonable question: performance matters; no one wants to visit a slow site. Slow websites cause lower conversions, reduced engagement, and a poor user experience. But it’s not a question with an easy answer. Many factors affect performance. Most importantly, the raw performance of a content management system, as measured by an artificial benchmark, provides almost no useful information because it’s likely to be completely overshadowed by other factors.

If you want the fastest possible website and there are no other considerations, a static site on great hosting is almost certainly the best option. But there are trade-offs: static sites can be labor intensive and they’re not usually suitable for non-technical people.

The leading content management systems are capable of incredible performance at enormous scale. There are many examples of WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal among the largest sites on the web. Most businesses will never have to deal with that sort of scale, so the raw performance of any particular content management system isn’t a concern — they’re all fast enough.

Or to put it another way, all the most popular content management systems have the potential to be fast enough, but even the fastest CMS is unacceptably slow without intelligent performance optimization.

Before thinking about performance, consider your use case. Content management systems are often better suited to a particular scenario or skillset. Do you want a minimal CMS to integrate with an existing site? Try Perch. Do you need easy configuration and management with a massive ecosystem of ready-made extensions? WordPress is the CMS for you. Will you be building bespoke sites with complex content management requirements? Take a look at Craft CMS or ExpressionEngine.

What about server hosting? While your choice of CMS won’t have a great impact on performance, your choice of hosting definitely will. Think about how many visitors your site receives and the server resources it’s likely to consume. Don’t skimp on the hosting: the fastest CMS will perform poorly if it doesn’t have the resources it needs.

Finally, consider performance optimization. If you load and execute megabytes of JavaScript every time a user loads a page, the site is going to be slow regardless of the backend. Use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights to discover optimization opportunities. You can approach front-end performance optimization from several angles, but I have found performance budgeting to be very effective.

You may be using your content management system for many years. It makes sense to choose a CMS that fits with the way you like to work, your technical abilities, and the nature of the project. Performance is important, but it’s not the only factor you should be thinking about when choosing a CMS.

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