Sufyan bin Uzayr December 13th, 2012

An Easy Choice? WordPress and ExpressionEngine Compared

In a world full of multiple options, picking the right CMS can be quite a task at times. Each CMS comes with its own share of good and bad points, thus making the selection process even more difficult. How does one pick the ideal CMS? Which features does one require? These are only some of the questions that every user asks before he or she decides to use a particular CMS. Two of the most talked-about CMSs in the current computing scenario are WordPress and ExpressionEngine. Each has its own loyal user base, multitudes of extensions and features, as well as drawbacks. Both WP and EE are often compared, debated and discussed all across the internet. So, among WordPress and ExpressionEngine, which one beats the other? We shall attempt to answer this question in this article. However, before we go any further with the actual comparison, let me first take a moment to clarify my reasoning behind each category or sub-category of comparison.

WordPress and ExpressionEngine: The Comparison

What And How?

In writing this article, I have attempted to compare the two wonderful CMSs under the following heads:
  1. Usability and User Experience
  2. Community and User Base
  3. Support and Documentation
  4. Miscellaneous
Note that, however, the free versus paid rhetoric has not been considered. Why? Simply because you will consider a paid EE over a free WP only if you can afford it. Now, since you can already afford to pay for your CMS, you should definitely shell out money if you think the said CMS can bring an additional edge to your website, and you should not if you feel that the said CMS will not be worth the investment -- in this case, this article might prove useful for you. On the other hand, if one cannot afford to pay for EE, he or she will likely settle with a free option such as WordPress anyway, and there will not be much need for such a comparison. Furthermore, the first point, usability and user experience is by no means an absolute answer: what is usable for you may not be usable for me. I have tried to provide an exhaustive opinion on this point, because most likely, you will not use either EE or WP just for your website, but will also be passing it on to your clientbase. Lastly, it must also be noted that in this article, I have refrained from citing any concrete technical examples. Bluntly put, both WP and EE are not competing entities and thus, a purely technical comparison (such as doing this on that) will not be fruitful (if it were WordPress vs Drupal, the story would've been the opposite). With that said, let us see how each CMS fares!

1. Usability and User Experience

Let’s take up WordPress first. Is the CMS usable? Definitely yes. However, what sort of user experience does it provide? Ideally speaking, usability need not simply refer to the interface and appearance, though a good interface is almost always a preliminary requirement. WordPress brings to its users a great level of simplification and abstraction: no matter where and what I write about WP, this is one point I often find myself repeating: WordPress deserves a pat on its back for bringing simplicity to the end users’ lives. Agreed, I am openly biased in favor of something light-weight such as Habari or something more refined, such as Concrete5. However, the abstraction that WordPress offers is in a league of its own! Yet, what about the advanced users? What if you wish to migrate domains or change the URL of your blog? What if you ‘like’ tweaking the database? In its crude form (sans plugins and extensions), can WP serve your purpose in that case? This is where the simplification of WordPress acts against it: Concrete5 gives me a sitemap editor and SEO settings without installing any plugins or playing around with the code; WordPress does not. ExpressionEngine, on the other hand, assumes that you know what you’re doing (allow me to be blunt: if someone is shelling out over $200 for a single-license of a CMS, he or she should know the software well anyway). The CMS gives you channels, and each channel is given its own categories, custom fields and behavior. Thus, EE is not the CMS for your everyday blog or hobby site about osteopathy. In fact, EE is the option you should consider if your website is in need of multiple modules and features which are otherwise semi-hidden (or absent) in WordPress. In terms of user experience, ExpressionEngine will make your life very easy if you know how to treat it properly.

2. Community and User Base

WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS -- make no mistake about it, this piece of software has its own loyal following. You have the official forum, along with the plethora of websites all across the internet that offer your content related to WordPress. Basically, if you are looking for fellow WP users to share some knowledge and a cup of coffee, you will not have to look long and hard: there are just too many of them out there! This is one area where ExpressionEngine lags slightly behind. That said, it must be clarified that EE has its own loyal user base and a decent community. However, in terms of numbers, the community is less populated as compared to that of WP. Furthermore, you will not be able to find many blogs related solely to EE. Perhaps the biggest reason for the smaller community is the fact that EE is a paid software, as compared to the totally free WP. Lastly, before you fall prey to the numbers’ game, it must also be pointed out that some of the biggest names in the industry use and trust EE, so just in case you decide to use it simply for the sake of good company, you won't be a loner!

3. Support and Documentation

Again, WordPress has its own Codex, coupled with the third-party blogs. There isn’t much to talk about here beyond that. Coming to ExpressionEngine. Ellis Lab have a user guide at your service: however, the biggest plus is the support. Now, expecting such support from WordPress will be unfair, because all said and done, WP is not a paid software. However, irrespective of that, ExpressionEngine has a support desk, specialized paid support (starting at $49 per month, paid in addition to the $299 CMS pricing), and other related sections. To sum up EE’s performance in this section, just two words: professional support.

4. Miscellaneous

Let us now try to sum it all up. WordPress is ideal for end users and PHP developers. ExpressionEngine, on the other hand, seems apt for designers and front-end developers. If you wish to just play around and create a blog, or wish to extend its functionality by means of tweaking, look no further than WordPress. If, however, you’d like extensive control right from the beginning and are not the type who’d employ PHP skills simply to extend a CMS, ExpressionEngine is definitely worth the money.


Here is something I used to repeatedly ask myself, years ago when I was still experimenting with CMSs: WordPress lets you install themes at will; why can’t ExpressionEngine do that? Later on, as I got accustomed to EE and other CMSs, I realized that at times, WP needs to be tweaked to get a certain task done, whereas EE does that very task in a comparatively lesser amount of time. Naturally, both CMSs have their own pros and cons, and the more I used both of them, the more I fell in love with their respective strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, nostalgia apart, what do you think of WordPress and ExpressionEngine? Which of these two tools do you use and prefer? Have your say in the comments! (dpe)

Sufyan bin Uzayr

Sufyan bin Uzayr is a contributor to a variety of websites and blogs about technology, open source, web design, content management systems and web development. He is a published author, coffee lover.


  1. Very nice overview. I was looking at some websites from Viget Labs today and noticed they are using Expression Engine . I had wrongly assumed their designs were using WordPress- anyhow, that discovery led me to EE vs WordPress comparisons and your blog post couldn’t have been timed better.

    I have used WordPress exclusively over to build over 20+ websites. I find the CMS very flexible and able to handle the tasks my clients need to complete. Most importantly for me, the WordPress back-end is intuitive and easy to navigate so that once I hand the site over to my clients, they are not intimidated to get in there and publish away.

  2. Your article is slightly out of date: EllisLab no longer have a refund policy in place for ExpressionEngine (that only changed a couple of weeks ago). They also revised their support policy at the same time: support now has to be paid for but you get three months free support with your first purchase.

    I’ve used both WordPress and ExpressionEngine but stopped using WP a long time ago in favour of EE. I just found I could do more things and more easily with EE than WP and the control panel can be more precisely customised to each site’s individual requirements.

    1. That’s what I don’t get. When you buy a product with the promise of free support then that promise should be kept. End of story. If you can’t get that right then you have failed to fulfill a guarantee.

      I tuned into an EE podcast a while ago and alot of the addon developers weren’t happy at all with the responsiveness from the Ellislab team and the fact that they were making fixes to the CMS that should have been performed by Ellislab themselves.

      Overall the biggest weakness of EE is its small community base. Some add on developers I have dealt with provide poor support and charge a premium for their services. The amount of addons that WP has and responisve themes etc is not an option with EE.

      EE is great if you want a loyal client however but I think if you use EE you should have a few more programming skills to handle any issues that may arise.

  3. Good article, but a lot is missing. To start, extending ExpressionEngine does not require writing PHP, in fact, one of its great advantages is avoiding PHP almost entirely. The combination of available add-ons and built-in capabilities (using a plain-English tag language) makes this CMS powerful and flexible without resorting to PHP.

  4. EE actually just up a few things. A single liscense now costs $299 and the beginning monthly support is $49/month. That said, I do like EE for its easy set up of HMTL files. For some reason the PHP laced WordPress templates have been very difficult for me to understand. All I needed to get my head around the EE learning curve was the tutorials provided by mijingo.com. Of course, EE isn’t for everybody and may not be what your clients need either.

  5. It’s all about using the right tool for the job. A bit of a personal plug but i created a short video about EE vs WordPress at http://www.mediasurgery.co.uk/video-episodes/expressionengine/expressionengine-vs-wordpress-choose-the-right-tool-for-the-job a few months ago.

    It’s even debated is WordPress is a true CMS, it was built as a blogging engine and really is still that. For small site that is aligned with a blog WP is a great choice. For anything more than that and say an small e-commerce site or site with multiple content types EE is probably the way to go. EE’s real USP is its flexibility, that’s why there are very few templates out there for EE. Just about all EE sites are custom built. This takes time of course it does, quickly throwing a site together is not what EE was built for.

    Use the right tool for job.

  6. How about Joomla? Or Drupal? Both are better than Expression Engine… installable themes, millions of users, over 10,000 plug-ins/components/add-ons… and both are FREE opensource products. Joomla is the easier to use, Drupal has the most horsepower & security (it’s used by Whitehouse.gov, and many other large sites. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the only CMS’s with critical mass.

  7. So agree with Fred Davis, i know Joomla, Drupal, but i never heard of Expression Engine before, may be i will try it someday

  8. Here we go.. Great topic here, I like both of cms. But dont forget expression engine is powered by code igniter frame work with large community support. In default installed ee have a great function for develop community website. Either way wordpress do that with some extra work.
    So maybe you can choose ee to build community website with a simple way, and wordpress for daily blogging.

  9. Joomla? Seriously? People still use that?

    The thing about Joomla sites (and Drupal too) is that I can smell when it’s been used, you only have to look at the source code of a page.

    EE site templates are tailored to their content (starting with a blank canvas) not the other way around.

    To say that only WP, Joomla & Drupal are the only CMS with critical mass is just baloney, EE accounts for 2.3% of the world’s top 10,000 websites. Obama’s change.gov was powered by EE and in fact, the only reason whitehouse.gov isn’t EE powered is because of a bill to support OSS.

  10. @Steven Grant

    WP is worse than Joomla or Drupal for identifying plugins used, themes used and of course the CMS from the source code – by several orders of magnitude. By using WP as a platform your site has essentially become an online advertising billboard. I recently used a well known theme framework that had no less than 200 references to the name of the framework used in the source code of just one page.

  11. I am really happy found CMS like EE cause. I searching something same for my projects, and finally i got it.
    Thanks for the article, nice website disighn!

  12. As a designer who has absolutely no desire to become a PHP programmer, I use EE and occasionally Textpattern. I tried WordPress and really wanted to like it, but there is only so much that can be done with it in regards to customization before you are forced into learning PHP.

  13. For us the two play in different leagues. WordPress, or our current favourite Concrete5, are great for low budget, simple sites. When we’re working on a £5k+ project it’s EE all the way.

  14. Well….every discussion about “EE” that is out there, for which comments are still allowed, is (no offense) one web designer arguing with another about what a great “end user” experience this CMS or that CMS provides, or the ubiquitous, “EE isn’t free” argument. Well, let me tell you: there’s nothing friendly or fun or competitive about EE from the standpoint of the company STUCK, and yes, I mean, STUCK, using it. Have a WP or Joomla or Drupal or even EZPublish site and need someone to tweak it for you? You can find hundreds of web guys/gals to work on it, AFFORDABLY. Need someone for EE? You’re SCREWED. You can’t find anyone affordable, and it’s too brain-damaging to do it yourself. Need anything other than basic blog functionality? Oh, wait! There’s a module or plug-in that you have to buy in order to do that. I wrote our own first site using Boyink’s tutorial, from scratch. When I needed to have it updated, I was looking at a $5-$6K bill, just to get someone to even TALK to me. It would have been 20% of the price with WP, Joomla, etc. The EE guys think that EE is “the best ever” because, quite bluntly, they can charge ignorant company clients for a “custom” website using the same base templates that they coded over and over, and for which they simply change the outer “skin” or design. For a one-off site, what’s the benefit, as the whole thing requires custom code? It’s ridiculous. Worse, I cannot *believe* that EE guys will argue that WPress is not a “CMS,” because, bygod, EE certainly isn’t either. It’s a framework upon which you can build a CMS, from SCRATCH, with all custom code. The wiki is worthless, it has no templates at all (nothing you’d want, anyway), the forum is rusty at best, it *still* doesn’t even have a rudimentary gallery module, you can’t multi-link posts, and the table structure is clunky. Everything you need to make a full-featured, robust site at an enterprise level is owned/developed by SOMEONE ELSE, so if one of those companies goes out of business, you’re hosed.

    I can’t use WPress, simply because the tables I need are far to large, and WP would bog down, but EE is no damn bargain. And for those of you complaining that it costs money–so what? You all pass it on to the poor schmucks like ME who have to pay for it, anyway. In my opinion, I wish I had bit the bullet and spent more–even a LOT more–for something with more REAL power–not imaginary power, or made-up-by-add-ins-power–that at least had a decent website designer/maintenance base from which to choose, without taking it up the strata chocolata. I tell any company owner who asks not to EVER allow a web designer to use EE, because that’s a web designer’s way of locking you into their services for EVER, no matter how bad or late or lazy their work IS. The moment I can afford it, I’m going to find another CMS (a real one) to use for our business, because EE is nothing but aggravation. Their corporate philosophy has no basis in customer service, particularly in 2013, and they don’t care two damns for the people who are ACTUALLY paying for those licenses: the business OWNERS, not the web developers who make the sites. $300 is nothing; it’s the thousands you’ll spend to get the site done, and the thousands more you’ll spend every time you need to refresh it, that’s expensive; that and the exceedingly limited labor pool from which to find people to work on the site. I’ve lost track of the “EE designers” who’ve told me that they’ve all moved on to other CMS’s. The labor pool is minute and very, very “proud” of their services, a great deal of which is utterly unwarranted. Ever looked at the “Site Gallery” on the EE homesite? You think sites like those are worth THOUSANDS? Most of them look like the same 3 predigested sites, regurgitated over and over.

    I’m sure that there are still some business owners out there that are not savvy enough to look into what CMS is being used, but I for one make an effort to ensure that if anyone asks me what I think about ours, I tell them–run, do not walk, from getting “sold” on EE. For the business owner, it’s no bargain.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking whilst reading this article. It’s unfortunate for the client having to track down an EE developer. Sorry to hear that’s what you’ve had to deal with. This article does seem biased in favour of IE not wanting to start a he said/she said flame war over which CMS is better.

    2. I’ve hired out for EE extensively and have not had issues like this. Sounds like your approach to hiring is entirely wrong. Instead of searching specifically for an “EE developer”, simply find a reasonably priced developer that you like and hire them to do an EE job for you. They will pick it up quickly and everything will turn out fine (assuming that finding and hiring good freelancers is something you are good at).

    3. This really is the most bizarre rant to be perfectly honest with you.

      “I tell any company owner who asks not to EVER allow a web designer to use EE, because that’s a web designer’s way of locking you into their services for EVER”

      Maybe the obviously wacky web designer you are using. Any developer with even the most basic understanding of a web-based scripting language such as PHP, PERL or Ruby could pick up EE in a few days. I guarantee you I would be able to fix your EE woes, no matter what they are, for a very reasonable rate and in super-quick time. The thing is, I would never work with you because you obviously like to paint people with the same brush based on your own crappy experiences.

      You obviously know NOTHING about EE and have had a terrible experience finding people who can help you. I would suggest you calm down and take the time to find a good developer who can help you with an EE problem rather than looking for an “EE developer”

      “it’s the thousands you’ll spend to get the site done, and the thousands more you’ll spend every time you need to refresh it, that’s expensive; ” – some business owner you are. Jeez.

  15. I was asked by a company to fix another developers mess up on Friday and it had to be ready today. The changes included Content Updating, Fixing the Menu Structure and styling CSS. Tasks that would normally take me an hour on WordPress. This same task took me three days of trying to find my way around this complicated web of channels and what not! Isn’t the purpose of a CMS to ensure that there is ease of use?

    And i am sorry, I have not once come across a situation where i have not been able to make WordPress or even joomla work the way i need it to with a bit of code. So this story of EE is better because it is more customizable is rubbish.

    I have been developing for 6 years and did study this so i do know a bit of what I am talking about.

    What is even more frustrating is that they actually charge for this? People as the title says it is a very easy choice do not even attempt this “CMS”

  16. @Company Owner and @Wayne Spence

    It seems rather silly to criticize software simply because YOU don’t know how to use it. Your personal ignorance of, or thoughts on how EE should be more like it’s competitors is short-sighted, and really doesn’t encourage diversity or competition.

    If you prefer WP, stick with it. It’s a good CMS for certain cases. If you use EE, then LEARN how to use it. It’s a different approach. If you do, you may reconsider your opinions.

    To address not having affordable EE devs — there are plenty, very skilled and affordable EE devs. Perhaps you have little choice in your local area, but the joys of the Internet mean that geography presents few boundaries anymore. I myself am very affordable, but I wouldn’t even wish to try and contact you (@Company Owner) based on how you represented yourself above.

    As a final note, when it comes to the actual security of your website, EE so far wins hands down. No major security issues it’s over decade history, something WP can never claim.

  17. EE is definitely the most simple. Saying it lacks flexibility is simply not true :) you can do most things easily or a plugin exists for free already. There’s definitely a learning curve for making plugins though. To me, that curve is making an options page.

    Drupal is way less convenient and quick.

    And expressions engine is less intuitive.

    From a standpoint where you think of the client and their usability needs, wordpress works well. You can hide menu items that they don’t need too so that it’s more streamlined.

  18. Your conclusion “WordPress lets you install themes at will; why can’t ExpressionEngine do that?” makes me think you have missed the entire point of EE. There is a reason that so many of EE built websites are absolutely stunning to look at and that it is the most popular CMS among design agencies. The EE template system is designed to allow data to be integrated perfectly into any design. A templating system that allows one template to swapped with another on the fly is certainly convenient, but this can’t be accomplished without some abstraction of how the templates are integrated with the scripts and database. EE is the CMS that is used for 10k custom designs, it is not for swapping $30 themes on the fly.

  19. I offer both WordPress and ExpressionEngine to my clients. Most of my clients are small business owners on a budget and with the purchase of a professional WP theme, most clients get along just fine.

    However, my personal choice is EE. As I’ve worked with both WP and EE, I’ve found that as a non-programmer, I can manipulate and practically do anything I want with a website using EE. The coding language, custom fields and channels give me the power and flexibility I need to build out a website how I want it. I also believe that the add-ons that are available are handled with more care than in the WP community. Also the out of the box features can’t be beat for the low one-time $300 license fee.

    In WP I have to figure out PHP (I’m getting better at it) in the templates and try to tweak it. Its usually a few hours of research to figure out what I broke in a theme. Also, most themes are limiting in some way and again require extensive PHP knowledge to figure out how to change.

    There is more to say but not enough time to dive in more deeply.

  20. I am a volunteer on a small local library board. Because of my background in graphic design, I’ve offered to oversee the redesign of our “antique” website to bring it into the 21st century in both appearance and functionality. I have very limited web experience and have been exploring the CMS options, trying to educate myself before hiring a designer/firm to do the redesign.

    Our director would like to use WP. She says it will be easiest to manage once it is in our hands. But I find it limiting design wise. To me websites built on WP templates look like blogs masquerading as websites. EE sounds more versatile from a designer’s perspective. Then there are other librarians who have recommended Drupal or Joomla. Those sites look very institutional, though I’m not informed enough to know if this is due to the CMS or the designers working with them.

    Is there anyone in this community who, taking the particular needs and requirements of a library’s website into consideration, could make a recommendation as to which CMS would offer the functionality needed and yet allow for dynamic, exciting, smart, graphic design? And be user friendly enough for staff to maintain once it is completed?


  21. I can develop a site running with EE within 2 days. I can implement concepts exactly from a Photoshop design into EE without evening needing to think whether that design is possible.

    For WP, I need to throw the design back to the designer because the design is simply not possible with WP.

    Need to add a user defined field into a website? Easy does it in a few minutes with EE. WP, will take years

  22. Howdy! Do you know if they make aany plugins too protect against hackers?

    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked
    hard on. Any suggestions?

  23. We like how Expression Engine supports carving down the back-end to as simple a set of controls as possible. In our experience – users with an immensely simplified task publish and edit more frequently.

    Also – this simplified learning experience is then easier to pass on to new employees and to remember or relearn after a period of inactivity. This too extends the life of the CMS aspect of the site.

    I wish the license and plugin costs were a bit cheaper. However we believe the additional cost is justified if the customer looks at the long term value of actually using the system and publishing content.

    If the CMS isn’t used – what’s the point?

    For web saavy end users who want to do more than JUST publish and edit content, WordPress is a great choice.

    For the rest of the humans, Expression Engine makes it easy to help the customer focus on content and keeps the site designed intact. It’s easier for us to establish a simple workflow that users actually take advantage of with Expression Engine.


  24. I never understand this debate. WordPress is a blogging platform, EE is a content management system. You can shoehorn WordPress to handle content and create complex taxonomies but it’s not intuitive and it’s not easy. Expression Engine’s Channel->Channel Groups->Channel Fields structure is not comparable to anything in WordPress or Drupal (Joomla, gimme a break, not even mentioning that here). I have used both WP and EE for years and Expression Engine, every time, wins hands down when a client requires any kind of custom data structure which is, pretty much, every time.

  25. We stopped building on WP and Joomla about 3 years back and hardly get any support calls for our EE sites, even on quite complex ecommerce jobs. Training on smaller sites is now done over the phone rather than on site and the usual response at the end is “Is that all?”

  26. Just have a look at what happens when you try and offer an open source addon with EE to get a grasp of the EE community.


    “Comments like “don’t shit where you eat” and “this is a tight knit group” and an echoing chorus of “take this down immediately” have flooded the inter-webs today. To be frank, it all sounds very cliquey – this pitchfork-wielding mob want blood!”

  27. Wow since 2012 this post still great!
    My personal thing is that WordPress will be great ONLY if you find a Template that do everythings you need quickly, Expression engine still my favorite development CMS !

  28. WordPress is for cheap sites, at the expense of losing theme HTML control and functionality and being tied to third party plugin functionality, whereas Expression Engine gives complete control at the expense of more time to develop (so higher cost).

    WordPress does allow bespoke themes and plugins to be developed of course, but in that situation you may as well use Expression Engine.

    We always choose EE because we want complete control. We want our own optimised code and functionality and so its easier to support then. No wants to make bespoke changes to a third party WordPress add-on!

  29. Pretty intense debate, its been a few years and its still raging. Adding my 2 cents and 15+ years experience as a web progammer and developer, my veredict is: EE sucks! it has a super complictaed admin for clients, an imposible to use database structure, and the code cannot do anything beyond the simplest blog functionality, you cant even use a variable to store a value and use it later. If you dare to use php inside your templates then youll have to deal with the weirdest parsing order in history, its super slow, youll spend thousands on support, plugins, specialty developers, and if you need something just a bit complicated to happen youll need a custom plugin, which will have to be made in codeigniter which luckily is an awesome framework. You´d be better off buiding with that, or if you need something simple, and dont want to spend a fortune just use wp! it has the best support comunity ever. well thats my view, anyway

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