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In our latest ‘Ask The Expert‘ blog, we had a chat with John Baxter, the Owner of LuckyTurn Media, a dynamic fully remote digital agency. John provides fascinating insights and valuable advice for aspiring Craft CMS developers.
I’m John Baxter, the owner of LuckyTurn Media, a fully remote Digital agency with staff spread across the UK. My role is part company owner & part developer these days! As a business, we create websites from concept to completion as well as manage and improve existing sites for a huge range of clients from SMEs to not-for-profits and global agencies. Our CMS of choice is Craft CMS (Craft).
What makes Craft different from other CMS systems is a question where the answer spans not only the tech, but also the people that make it and the community around it.
We started using Craft when it was in Beta over 10 years ago as we already knew the company behind it (Pixel & Tonic) from their work making plugins for another CMS we used at the time.
They took all their learning from the CMS they made plugins for, saw everything that was wrong there, and made their own system that not only addressed those issues but layered on top their excellence and ideas to create, from the ground up, a very modern and extremely capable content management system.
That is what differentiates Craft from other content management systems such as WordPress or Drupal, which we would probably see as the direct competitors at the moment. Let’s take WordPress for a moment to elaborate. WordPress is a blogging app that through its growth explosion, predominantly driven by its theme marketplace, has been pushed and pulled to be able to handle websites of other types as it has such popularity. But, under the hood, it’s still architecturally a blogging platform, with a fairly old and creaking underlying codebase which comes with its own limitations and risks that if you’re not paying attention, will come back to bite you.
As for Drupal, well, it really gained traction in local government and not-for-profits as it fulfilled the criteria of being Open Source (a government dictated procurement requirement many years ago) and had mature ‘big business’ features ahead of WordPress, but its codebase is also poorly cobbled together. Their major releases nearly require rebuilds of your whole website to upgrade each time, and from what we’re seeing at the moment a lot of people are jumping ship as of version 7 because to go up to 8 or more, it’s a huge investment. Craft blows it out of the water, in our humble opinion, as Craft has a far superior user interface (UI) and authoring experience (AX) as well as a cleaner, more modern and more practical developer experience (DX).
What Craft also brings to the table that neither can compete with, is a support contract that costs you less than £100 per year which includes support from the actual creators. If you want that from the creators of WordPress or Drupal (Automattic and Acquia respectively) you are looking at 5 figures per year minimum. We decided to also have an Agency support package with Pixel & Tonic that in part supports them further, but also means we can access priority support if we need it. Comparatively, similar value from WordPress or Drupal would cost significantly more.
We are a values-driven agency at LuckyTurn. We like to work with people who share our values of delivering great customer service with great care for our clients and a burning desire to see them succeed, and we like to use suppliers who share those values also. Pixel & Tonic are just such a company: they listen, they care, they focus on features that make our lives easier, that make it easy to sell Craft to our clients and prospects, and they are really doubling down on accessibility across the platform, which absolutely aligns with us. We really think this differentiates them from an agency perspective too as we feel like we’re working with them as a voice of the community, rather than just getting what you’re given and having to work with it, like with Drupal and its destructive releases.
Can I choose 2 favourite aspects? I’m going to choose 2 favourite aspects 🙂
First of all, when we’re pitching for a project and we’re in the meeting room, it’s Craft’s “Live Preview” feature that wins hearts and minds. In Craft, when you are editing a content piece (called an “entry” in Craft) you can click the “Preview” button and a “drawer” slides out from the right and shows you your real web page as you build it (even if it’s not published yet). Every time you add, edit or delete content in the entry, the web page on the right updates dynamically to show your changes. It makes content authoring so easy for marketing teams to see how their content looks before it goes live without having to save pages and refresh and open in a new browser tab etc etc.
Secondly, the “Matrix” field type in Craft allows us to give clients a way to flexibly add content components to a page so that whilst their site will be 100% on brand and aligned with the design theory, we have worked with them on, they are not ”boxed in” when they are creating content that is visually engaging. One of the biggest complaints we hear from marketing teams is that their current solutions limit them as to how they can generate pages that are media-rich and not all completely uniform and uninspiring.
Make sure to check out the fabulous craftquest.io that has heaps of training materials to go from zero to Craft hero in a short amount of time, and get involved with the incredibly helpful and talented Craft community on Discord: https://craftcms.com/discord.
If you are looking to do plugin development, check out the craft plugin store (https://plugins.craftcms.com/) which has links to the plugins available and their GitHub repositories so you can study existing plugin code and see best practise from the amazing plugin developers in our community.
We heard at the latest Craft conference in Barcelona that the underlying framework of Craft is going to be moved to Laravel in the next few years, so our advice to new developers who are interested in learning Craft CMS is to get a wriggle on, as the Craft ecosystem will in my very humble opinion explode in size when that happens. Also, it means that Craft will benefit from the thriving Laravel ecosystem and community also. Very exciting times!
On top of that huge news, Craft 5 is now out in an “alpha preview” that you can download and try out and will move to beta later this year followed by a full release in Q1 of next year. It brings enhancements to the content authoring experience, even more flexibility overall and enterprise-level features such as SSO, 2FA and passkeys for first-party enterprise-grade user authentication.