This post, originally published a year ago, has been updated as of December 3, 2011 to reflect changes on both platforms and offer new ideas. This is the single most-read post on our site, and daily searches of WordPress vs. Tumblr and Tumblr vs. WordPress is how people find it – so apparently lots of folks are debating this question!
The ever evolving world of blog platforms can be confusing so we try to help our clients understand the basic differences between the options they are considering. Much of the discussion regarding platform benefits is often slanted from a developers point of view, making it a bit frustrating and hard to understand for someone who isn’t living in the coding world. Therefore, we created this quick and easy overview to help our non-techy friends grasp the “so what” of both platforms.
Important Note! This is a comparison of using Tumblr vs. a self-hosted WordPress site, NOT using the free, hosted, WordPress.com version. WordPress.com is great because it’s free to have a blog there, but it is much more limited in design unless you pay for very expensive VIP hosting, plus we can’t do custom features on it so as a creative agency we don’t utilize it for ourselves or clients.
Benefits of BOTH platforms include:
- They are “free”, meaning there is no cost to use the platform software, though hosting and design/development for these platforms is not necessarily free.
- Free themes can be found and easily installed for either platform.
- Both platforms can be customized with unique design and development of features.
- Both platforms are Content Management Systems (CMS) that can be updated from anywhere you have an internet connection.
- Both platforms allow you to name your pages with keywords that can help them be found in search engines (though Tumblr has a search engine disability we will discuss below.)
- Both are somewhat easy to use, but training may be necessary if you’re not computer-savvy.
- Tumblr & WordPress both are VERY popular platforms that are well-maintained and will likely exist for some time to come. Both of them have export capability so if you need to move your content you can, though.
- Both platforms allow some importation of content from other CMS-driven platforms like Typepad and Blogger.
Functionality & Control
A WordPress site can easily be expanded to replace your current site if you choose. Here at Fresh ID we have redesigned a number of corporate sites as WordPress sites so that clients can update their content without messing up our design. WordPress is a robust Content Management System that has an easy user back-end that allows for page, plug-in, widget and sidebar updates to be made by non-tech experts. It can support multi-page navigation and serve as a robust and comprehensive website with database management and control. WordPress software can be hosted on a server that is user controlled allowing better control over stats and personalization OR you can use wordpress.com to create a hosted blog (making it more similar to Tumblr in that regard.) We often switch many corporate sites done in .asp or html to WordPress, so that marketers, customer support and others in the organization can update content immediately, instead of having to wait for Marcom or worse, the IT department to update site pages for them.
Tumblr cannot be installed on your server, ever… your site is hosted on the Tumblr.com platform, though you can use a unique url instead of the subdomain.tumblr.com address. You have complete control over your content, and can export it and move it to another platform if you want to take it off of Tumblr. For some reasons why we love Tumblr, read this older post called, aptly, Why Tumblr? that Kristi published some months ago.
BOTTOM LINE: Some people make a big deal out of the fact that WordPress can be hosted on your server, giving you “control” of all your content. While that is certainly an aspect to consider, it doesn’t rule out Tumblr (to us) as a viable business blogging platform. The Tumblr TOS clearly states: ”You own and control what you share on Tumblr” so content posted there is considered yours – but like Facebook and Twitter there is language around letting Tumblr use and aggregate that content for subscribers to see it, should they want to. (Placing it in featured areas, or possibly using it in a book or a television ad, etc.) This language is not uncommon to public-facing social platforms these days.
Cost and Usability
Tumblr is typically cheaper as it does not require the installation and configuration that WordPress does – the cost for hosting a Tumblr site is free, and our cost for custom Tumblr design is less expensive than it is for a custom WordPress theme, because it is much simpler to code (but also more limited.) Tumblr offers an extremely user friendly dashboard that makes updating posts easy for text and multimedia alike… it guides you in posting various types of media which no other platform does in the same way. Tumblr is also easy to update from your mobile device and most smartphones have a Tumblr app available that can be downloaded.
WordPress.com allows free hosting, but the design and functionality is more limited than what you will have access to if you host the WordPress software on your own server. So the “cost” is for hosting, design and development of custom functions, not for the software itself. WordPress also offers a fairly simple (for computer savvy folks) back-end and supports multiple media formats like pictures, audio and video.
When it comes to sharing content others have posted, Tumblr is the hands-down winner – WordPress does not have built-in community functions of ‘following” like-minded people, “reblogging” their posts, and “liking” what someone else has posted so that others in your friends list can see it. Of course, there are ways to use tools provided by web browsers like Firefox, or bookmarklets that you can keep in a toolbar, to share things, but with Tumblr this functionality is built in (to share posts within your community there.)
BOTTOM LINE: Tumblr is simply fun to use, for writing posts and sharing images and video content. WordPress is fairly easy-to-use, and if your requirements demand additional features that Tumblr does not offer, it’s no less easy to do posting of text, pictures and embedded video.
Design and Customization
With WordPress a developer can create different layouts for internal pages, posts and your homepage. This is nice for the corporate sites we do, as we often code about 5-6 different page types for a single site, and then apply the right one when we need it.
Tumblr on the other hand is limited with one type of page layout that must be applied to every page on the site. Tumblr has now added Page support for the platform, and you can have normal looking page names. Woohoo!! The url’s for those pages used to be really ugly by default and getting to these pages to edit them again was very difficult, but that has all changed for the better. See the url for the “About Kristi” link on the kriscolvin.com site to see the old ugly format. Page support was necessary because so many people using WordPress for a full site (and not just a blog) require pages and not just posts. Adding the page names in Tumblr is done in the “Customize” backend section.
WordPress supports widgets/plug-ins that can easily be added/customized without hard coding, but Tumblr that must be custom coded for pseudo plug-in functionality (having things in the sidebars of a theme.)
BOTTOM LINE: Both platforms can be customized beautifully and have navigation to other areas in-site and off-site, but WordPress is by far more extensible and flexible if you want to mess with your own site design and layout a lot. If you need to do big business with ecommerce, forms, listings, heavy content, advertising and the like, WordPress is the direction you need to go.
Social Tools and Integration
Tumblr is well-built for social integration. You can set up your Tumbles to post to Twitter as links automatically, to drive traffic back to your site. On Facebook, you can set up your Tumblr posts to come in whenever you make them, and most of my Facebook friends see my Tumblr content that way, vs. my Twitter friends who actually go to the site. For some reason people like to just hang out in Facebook all day if they are active participants there it seems. You can set it up so that RSS from other sites you might own will be fed into your Tumblr as links, text or pictures automatically. And using simple HTML or custom coding you can integrate just about anything with a widget or api function into the sidebar of your Tumblr theme (such as Twitter updates, an Etsy mini widget, a Facebook widget, Amazon book widget, etc.)
With WordPress, you have to use plugins to accomplish the same thing, though there are several. You would also have to use custom coding to find the right spots in the many files that make up a WordPress theme for more complex integration, though Twitter & Facebook & widgets of all types can be inserted easily using a widget in WordPress. Social sharing tools like ShareThis or AddThis usually require some understanding of development in order to implement into posts or a sitewide area, but it’s not too difficult.
Third-party services such as Flickr are jumping on the Tumblr bandwagon and adding sharing to Tumblr from within the site. For WordPress sites they give you embed code but you have to insert it into the HTML portion yourself vs. using an easy mechanism that just feeds the content into your Tumblr like you may have experienced with auto or push feeding content to your Facebook or Twitter account.
BOTTOM LINE: Both platforms handle sharing well, but you have to get the hooks in place to do it. Tumblr comes with a few more out of the box that enable the average person to connect things more easily and in less time than it takes to implement WordPress plugins and widgets.
Friends & Commenting
Tumblr has a key advantage over WordPress in the aspect of friends and followers, in that you can follow other people and they can follow you as you do on Twitter/Facebook, etc.
This gives you two key aspects of a Tumblr experience: people see your content in their own dashboard and can like it (they click a heart icon to signify that) or reblog it (share it with their Tumblr network and possibly beyond if they have Twitter/Facebook hooked up) AND you have content readily available to you, to share with others by reblogging or liking it. WordPress just can’t compare as it does not have the social networking aspect built in as a function of the platform.
On WordPress, blog comments are the way to develop friends and a “network” or community, and very popular blogs have many commenters who mainly participate and interact via the article postings in this way. Commenting on WordPress is built-in, whereas on Tumblr you have to (oddly) set up a separate account at a site called Disqus and then implement that into your Tumblr theme. A bit of a pain, and I hope someday Tumblr will make commenting automatic but I don’t know they will, Disqus is such a part of the way things is done. That said, people like Disqus so much they have been implementing it on WordPress sites also (replacing the default commenting system), so Disqus is a good system to use and offers some great features that can enhance comments functionality regardless of where you use it. It should be noted that Disqus is a global commenting system and not on your site only, so some corporations would not like this aspect of commenting as comments will be displayed other places and not only on your site.
BOTTOM LINE: Tumblr’s follow feature is one of the reasons we love it so much. Once again, pure fun to have neat things that interest you at your fingertips to reblog if you want to, or just to read, sort of like having your own personal newspaper.
Authors & Permissions
Tumblr is a one-id-and-password pony, whereas with WordPress you can have granular levels of permissions and multiple authors, with pics and bios on each post, and many levels of permission, from public to private, password-protected pages. We are setting up a site now with an Intranet area on WordPress that only the company’s board members can access, and it will have multiple posts and areas inside it, and that is all made doable with the WordPress platform itself.
BOTTOM LINE: If you need many authors writing only in their area, with limited permissions, WordPress does this but Tumblr does not.
You can sell goods and services from either platform, but there are more limits with Tumblr than with WordPress as far as shopping tools go. Basically Tumblr can have a Paypal or Google Checkout button added to any post or page where you have something to sell, as can WordPress or any platform where you can add HTML to the site in order to enable payment.
But WordPress has several ecommerce cart plugins available, and if you have the need for a “store” of any type or quantities of merchandise, you will find Tumblr too limiting. We used the free WordPress e-Commerce Plugin to design a custom store experience for our plastic surgery client, for their beauty and skincare products. This is a highly customized version, coded by Tom Jenkins who is a very skilled developer… not everyone could have done what we wanted with this WordPress store, so bear that in mind if you have dreams of a beautiful, customized experience using WordPress and a plugin.
BOTTOM LINE: If you have a few products you can sell via Paypal or another service you can add buttons to each item to sell, Tumblr is definitely feasible as a site that will allow selling. If you need a shopping cart and have multiple items and categories, WordPress with a plugin is a better way to go. If you need a complete ecommerce solution with cross-promotion and email promotion capability and coupon codes, etc. for a large ecommerce site with many items, you’d be better off looking at Magento or possibly Business Catalyst as a platform. Magento is strong on ecommerce, not so strong on content – there are many costs/payoffs with these platforms and each case is unique. We recommend WordPress for content and Magento for ecommerce for large-scale needs in many cases.
Search Engine Optimization and SEO Performance
WordPress content is very well-received by search engines and can be easily optimized with various plug-ins added to the back-end, such as our favorite “SEO All-in-One.” WordPress can also easily support ads which can be placed in different places on pages as you choose, using Widgets. WordPress also has clean code in the back-end which allows for faster performance, providing a better user experience.
Google has a problem with Tumblr, it has been reported. There is a coding trick that can be added in the HTML to optimize the way page title url’s are created, and it is recommended you use this trick and also read and follow the advice in this post. But Google reportedly doesn’t quite know how to distinguish real, quality posts from frequently reblogged ones, and so has not included Tumblr in keyword searches as it should. We hope this is something they will rectify in the future. We also believe the best SEO is to write good content and share it other places, so we don’t dismiss Tumblr based on SEO reasons but it IS important to be well-informed if you have content you particularly need to show up in search engines.
BOTTOM LINE: What is your site about and what kind of SEO traffic do you truly need? That’s what you have to answer first – not every site needs high-ranking search engine traffic (shocking, we know, but true!) If you do, you probably want to go with WordPress unless you have a very large, active social network that will help spread content around.
Multiple Blogs in Central Location
Tumblr and WordPress are both free, so you are free to have two or two hundred more blogs should you choose to create all that content. Tumblr makes it easy on the site and on the phone app, though, to hop between them or choose which blog to share content to, which I have found handy when posting a food image to my Weary Princess Tumblr vs. something random to my personal Tumblr. It is easy to add a second, third, etc. blog to Tumblr yourself.
WordPress used to have something called WPMU, which stands for WordPress Multi-Site, and it was a separate setup, but since version 3.0 they have integrated it into the core features and now you can run many blogs from a single WordPress installation… HOWEVER, I have not myself seen how to do that and think it requires a developer to help set that up right, and I am not sure you can use one login to access them – I will check with Tom and update this paragraph accordingly.
BOTTOM LINE: I love Tumblr’s easy-add for blogs and use it for personal sites, and in the past did use it for a corporate site with multiple niche topics. It works well. We tend to use WPMU not for multiple sites of our own, but for allowing users within a site to have their own blog – a totally different set of purposes.
Joining a Community vs. Creating Your Own Community
Tumblr has an awesome design function called the Dashboard. When you login, you will see content posted from anyone you’ve followed. When you sign up for Tumblr, you are essentially joining the Tumblr community, and within it are niche Tumblr’s on topics like food, animals, fashion, art, comics, cars, interior design, sports and more. You can explore the most popular tagged content and find people on Tumblr you want to follow this way, so that you always have a variety of content interesting to you to look at in your Tumblr dashboard. The only way to really interact with these people is to leave a message on their posts and try to get to know them that way, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter if they offer that information on their Tumblr. If you install Disqus you can invite comments on your posts and encourage a community to form around your content too, like any blog.
With WordPress, you don’t have this dashboard of content – - you have an admin area where you put in content, unless you use wordpress.com (they aggregate content in the system with tags too but you have to subscribe via a reader or add links to a blogroll to keep up with these blogs later.) Your site is the hub where you can create a community that interacts on your blog posts, with whatever your niche interest is as the central theme. If you want to go further than that and create a community like Tumblr where people can follow each other and private message friends, and talk in forum discussions, you can use a WordPress extension called BuddyPress that we love. This is how we created the Sporting Membership community for the pro soccer team, and we’re looking to do more with BuddyPress for clients since it is so powerful. BuddyPress out of the box is not sexy – it needs to be dressed up with design and development and that is not inexpensive, so be warned it takes time and money to develop, but if you need a community site we highly recommend this path. Check out some really stunning BuddyPress sites on this Pinterest board I created – you’ll need to click on the image for each to see the actual site design.
BOTTOM LINE: For playing with looking at content and generally wasting time online immersed in other people’s content, Tumblr can’t be beat! Given the short format of many posts (often a picture or video), it’s easy to see lots of interesting things in a single session. But WordPress with BuddyPress gives you the ability to create and market your own community – a service we see doing more and more of for clients going forward. There is a lot of community software out there, but we love Buddypress because it is allows us to custom develop around it and it offers our clients the ease-of-use of the WordPress CMS for inputting content.
The truth is, we recommend WordPress to some clients, and Tumblr to others.
We are about to deep-dive into Business Catalyst so it will also be a platform we recommend, based on need and business goals. (We never did get into BC and are sticking with WordPress for CMS and Ecommerce.) Making the choice between WordPress and Tumblr depends on what you want to do, who your audience is, what your technical threshold is for learning, and who is going to be using the site to write content, plus your gut instinct. Both are free to set up an account with to try out, so why not take a peek at both and see which one you enjoy using more? If you don’t enjoy using these tools, you won’t do much with them and that’s what really matters if you want to start blogging or posting content.
Both are great platforms in their own right, and we will continue to provide services and use both platforms for our content. What do you use for your sites or blog? Tell us in the comments.
If you’re an Etsy seller you might also want to read “The Etsy-Twitter-Tumblr Triumvirate” which describes why we feel connecting platforms together is the best thing an online seller can do for themselves.